Two thousand years ago, Rajasthan's Thar desert in North-West India was covered with trees. Those that survive today owe their existence to the courage of a remarkable Hindu sect. The Bishnoi faith was founded in 1485 by a guru who had survived a famine caused by deforestation. He forbade his followers to kill any animal or cut down any green tree. In 1931, the Majaraja of Jodphur sent men to the Bishnoi village of Jalnadi to chop down wood to fuel his lime kilns. One woman rushed to reason with the axemen and, when she failed, hugged the first tree to be cut. "A chopped head is cheaper than a felled tree" she said as she was cut down. Her three daughters took her place and were also killed. People flocked in from 83 neighbouring Bishnoi villages. By the end of the day, 359 more people had been massacred. When the Majaraja heard, he promise that the Bishnoi would never again be called upon to provide timber. Their communities thrive to this day, green oases in a barren landscape.
Forests precede civilization, and deserts follow it.