Raised in a family who constantly moved cities, Steve Lall lived in diverse cities like Gangtok, Jhansi, Agra, Bareilly, and Delhi.

“Our family moved around a lot of forests, so I developed an attachment to nature quite early in my life,” says Steve.

After spending a decade as a fighter pilot, Steve returned to Jilling, Uttarakhand, to run his family estate and save it from rapid commercialisation.

“This house was bought by my mother in 1965,” he informs adding that it was sold to her by a man who was given the land by the Government of India sometime after the Partition.

“I used to come back here on leave from the Air Force and ramble around in the area. After I quit the airforce and returned for good, I met my wife, Parvati, and we fell in love,” he says.

Steve hadn’t returned with too many savings in hand. With Parvati by his side, he tried his hands at farming and selling produce but still lived hand-to-mouth.

To earn better income the couple began hosting guests at their estate. “People from various embassies, travellers from abroad, among others, would come and stay with us,” he says.

“We did small things here and there to keep ourselves afloat, but I’ve been more or less of a chowkidar,” he adds. The previous owners of the house had a fruit orchard on the land, but by the time Steve’s family got the property, it had dried up.

He tried to replant and eventually realised the best way was to look after the boundaries, ensure there was no damage in the area, and that nature herself would take care of the rest.

In about 30-odd years, Steve says, the forests have thickened multifold. This also saw the growth of flora and fauna that was native to the area. In 2014, his estate was covered by English writer and adventurer Ben Fogle for the second season of the show, Ben Fogle: New Lives in the Wild.

The show spoke of various people like Steve who left behind city life, working towards making a thriving livelihood in the countryside.

Presently 80, Steve has managed to keep the 140-acre Jilling Estate’s ecosystem clean and free of outsiders — both locals and multimillionaires looking to cut down trees for their own purposes.

Surrounded by forests, the estate is currently bursting with nature — agricultural land, orchards, interspersed with rhododendron, oak, chestnut, apricot and pine trees.