If you have visited the various hilly regions of India, nestled in the mighty valleys of the Himalaya’s, apart from the spectacular scenery, one truth hits you hard – vast migration. There are many villages where homes are either closed or it has the women folk and children, with elders; most menfolk have migrated to the cities.
Thus it was so heart warming to read the story about this small village in Munsiyari, known as Sarmoli, which has managed to turn around the migration process. An Uttarakhand migration commission team surveying Pithoragarh, putting in place a report on the migration patterns from the hilly regions to the plains were surprised to see that Sarmoli had defied the statewise trend.
What’s working for them? Homestays! Tourists come here, live with families in their homes, with all facilities and comfort in a room with French windows, comfortable bed, bamboo chairs, a side table having books and a slab with tea pots and sink, like their own living room with solar emergency lanterns. People stay here for days and weeks and during the stay, they just not see the area, but explore local culture, enjoy traditional cuisine and share the works of their hosts and other villagers. This is a unique and responsible tourism entwined with conservation that is basically a livelihood initiative in Munsiyari, Uttarakhand, that is a learning experience for both visitors and villagers.
And all credit for this goes to a couple – Mallika Virdi and her husband, E.Theophilus. They came to this remote corner of Kumaon hills in 1992 and stayed there forever. Virdi has an M.Phil degree and she strived hard to lift the villagers higher on the economic ladder. Her relentless toiling and hard work ultimately paid off and she was elected the Sarpanch in 2003, of the Sarmoli Van Panchayat (an autonomous community’s forest). During her tenure, she just not made the forest of this van panchayat really dense and useful for the villagers, she linked forest conservation work to tourism for the sustainable livelihood of the villagers and tried the idea of responsible tourism practiced through 15 homestays, involving 25 households in three villages is bearing fruits as it is providing them regular incomes ranging from Rs. 150,000 to Rs, 200,000 per year.
Now that’s what we call responsible and sustainable transformation!