Straddling the borders of India and Pakistan, Kashmir may be one of the most hotly contested places on the planet -- but despite being at the center of a tumultuous boundary dispute, the people that call the region home share in common something far more important: a love of nature. And it shows.
In a recent show of solidarity with the forest and one another, more than a thousand Pak-Kashmiri villagers gathered in near the Pakistan-Indian border to set a world record by simultaneously giving their beloved trees a loving squeeze. For over a minute, the assembled crowd of men, women, and children were joined together in the simple, symbolic gesture of hugging a tree.
The event, which took place 150 miles from Pakistan's Kashmir capital of Muzaffarabad, was organized by a local social development organization to underscore the important role forests play in the region's culture and the livelihoods of its people, reports the Kashmir Monitor.
“This was an emblematic effort to show huge respect to our forests and to raise awareness among the local communities who largely depend upon the forests for their livelihood,” says volunteer organizer Amiruddin Mughal.
Although Kashmir in recent decades has gained international attention for the precariousness of its political boundaries, for folks living there, environmental threats seem much closer at hand. This region of the world has has long been known for its natural beauty, but in recent decades deforestation, soil erosion, and human encroachment as begun to pose a serious threat to both the forest and the numerous endangered species that call it 'home'.
The recent mass tree-hugging is currently being reviewed by the Guinness Book, where it is expected to break the current record involving 700 nature-lovers in the UK. Meanwhile, local environmental specialists, like Aftab Alam, hope that the collective tree-hugging will bring some much needed attention to an ecological problem too often overshadowed by Kashmir's more widely-known challenges.
“Awareness and education through such kind of events is only one side of our environmental landscape. Our generations may face catastrophic future if government and environmental agencies do not respond swiftly to tackle ecological challenges.”