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Ex-Air Force Pilot Retired To Oversee 140-Acre Ecosystem On A Mountain Top

Jilling Estate is a pristine, peaceful slice of perfect greenery nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas in India's Uttarakhand province. It wouldn't be that way without the efforts of Steve Lall, a retired Indian Air Force pilot, and his wife, Parvati.

The area has come very close to being anything but a pristine, picture-perfect landscape — and Lall had something to do with that as well.

As a boy, Lall knew he wanted to fly.

And he did achieve that dream, joining the Indian Air Force in 1964. He even saw some action in wartime, in 1965 and '71. But, as he told Reader's Digest, life in the Air Force didn't agree with him, so after nine years he retired and headed home to his own little utopia, Jilling Estate.

Jilling had once belonged to a British family, the Stiffles, who planted orchards on the land. But after Partition, it became the property of the Indian government. They sold it to a man who then sold it to Lall's mother in 1965. When he got leave during his military stint, he'd spend time at Jilling and as so many do, he fell in love with the place.

And after his retirement from military life, Lall also fell in love *at* Jilling.

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He met Parvati there and they immediately hit it off. However, Lall's parents were not approving and so for four years, the pair had to leave Jilling, returning only after the birth of their son.

After taking over the place, Steve and Parvati tried making a go of it as farmers, but making a living selling produce from the estate's long-neglected orchards didn't bring in much money.

They weren't the only ones struggling.

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Their neighbors in the area were either extremely poor or fabulously wealthy, and either way, the forests suffered, with the rich people buying up land and chopping down trees to build large houses, and the poor seeking basic necessities.

"Locals would then come to our boundaries to chop off a few branches or leaves to feed their cattle and for firewood, for which I don’t blame them," Lall told The Better India.

That, combined with decreased snowfalls causing more drought conditions, brought the area's ecosystem to the brink. Even now, the Lalls have to be on their guard against forest fires in winter and landslides in the rainy season.

The breakthrough for the Lalls came from a friend named Klaus at the German embassy.

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Klaus suggested they allow a few of his friends to stay as guests at Jilling Estate while in the country and experience the Jilling lifestyle, as Outlook Traveller reported. The revenue from the guests helped the Lalls make ends meet, but they were careful to never take too many in at a time.

However, when a Xanadu-like secret like Jilling Estate gets out, more and more people will want to visit and so tourism in the area boomed. The Lalls could have capitalized — they were offered plenty of money from developers wanting to turn Jilling into a fancy resort. Instead, they planted more trees and redoubled their efforts to preserve the natural area.

Jilling Estate still welcomes a trickle of guests.

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But they have to be okay with spotty wifi connections, and the Lalls don't allow non-biodegradeable materials on the property — which seems like a small price to pay for some tranquility and serenity in nature.

"Today, I may have little to show in my coffers, but what I can show is the fruits of our efforts—healthy forests, thriving flora and fauna, an earthly paradise," Steve told Reader's Digest.

h/t: The Better India, Reader's Digest

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