Monday, June 3, 2013

My first Amateur Travelogue from my diary of year 2006


“Someday I am going to do what I want. Some day I will be foot loose and free. Someday I will travel this land coast to coast. Some day when I have saved enough money.”


Life is calm but sometimes quite mysterious and astonishing and you can never be aware of in which fold of time you are going to discover something that is totally beyond the realities you are aware of. This part of the experience of my life initiated from Feb 2005. As I was attended a short course in Center for Science and Environment in Delhi on Developmental Research and Environmental reporting. After having so many technical lectures I came across a very unique and interesting sort of lecture delivered by Shri. Anupam Mishra from Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi and topic of his talk was about the case studies of natural resources conservation in Garhwal.

So, the story narrated was about Garhwal the case study of conservation beyond Chipko....!!

by the efforts done by Sri Sachidanand Bharti in village Upphrekhal and adjoining 130 villages to plant forests (particularly of Oak) making 2500 ponds, 30 Naula and rejuvenating the whole of a dead cremated river.

So, finally coming back to Srinagar and carving to meet the person for almost whole long two years I collected the contacts from hither and thither but somehow the efforts turned down vain because of certain constraints. Finally by the end of the year 2006 I could see the person himself and see his work in the month of November 2006.

I started my journey by way from Srinagar I was tired as just a day back had returned after pursuing my field visit from Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary and adjoining areas and even the people I consulted were not aware with the location of Uppherakhal as the telephone number suggested that the place was either somewhere in Kumaun part of Uttaranchal (now the state is known Uttarakhand after Govt notification few months back) or on the boundary lines of Garhwal and Kumaun. Anyways with a dilemma and suspicion about my destination in mind I started my journey towards Uphrekhal.

Early morning I moved to Pauri but as I missed my bus at 8:00 am I had to wait for the next bus at 10:30 am and that too because of less travelers finally moved at 11:00 am and that made my joining to destination late.
After going through the one of the beautiful tracts and patches while Oak and Conifers while passing through Khirshu, Pabo, Thalisain. I finally reached Thalisan, bus stopped here. I had befriend a few of my fellow travellers those were from near by villages from Uphrekhal and told me not for worrying anymore as they made me confident of and helping me to reach the village and meet Sachidanand ji with out any difficulty one was a primary teacher there in village Chaukhal and other an old housewife from a village near to Uphrekhal. So, after getting down from bus at Thalisaind after about 6 long hrs of journey from Pauri. As we got down we found the last trekker going towards my second last destination Baijro from where I had to catch the bus towards Chaukhal. Trekker was thickly packed with lots a people inside and even a few on the top of the trekker, showing the true Indian spirit of traveling with full freedom inside the vehicle as well as on the top of the vehicle. I somehow managed a front seat. Driver was at a slow pace and I was worried for the speed of the trekker. Finally after a journey through one of the very isolated vally I observed myself in Baijro a small market place. The bus to Chaukhal was about to leave and I just catched it hurriedly “Life could be so fast in these slow locations it hardly can be imagined”. Finally having an hour of journey made me land to Chaukhal, Uphrekhal was still about 18 km far from Uphrekhal and no other vehicle was available to reach there in the evening…I was tired. As I wasn’t aware about the place and people and no accommodation was available either so I was a bit worried. But much to my experience I was to sure to get a place to eat and sleep, as Garhwali’s are quite warm hosts in villages.

Suddenly there was some ray of hope; an even aged lady offered me stay with her in a nearby village. She was my fellow traveler I was hesitant but as no other option was left with me I moved along with her with my belongings. Walking for about an hour amidst woods and crossing two small rivulets on the way took me to a small cluster of houses probably a small hamlet. Adding to my surprise this settlement was still backward in terms of so many life supporting present aged advancements with respect to development and technology. No electricity was there in the village and few houses were there though said to be rich having solar bulbs. Village Chaukhal my night destination the lady at the end of the village knocked the door a lady with a lantern came out and called us. The family was surprised to see me their with them but was at the same time very nice and warm to me. We sat near the fire place (near to kitchen hearth) as it was cold and finally I became the part of their discussions. Family was nice host and served me well. I slept at late as we all were gossiping I had a lot queries about how they conserved and planted big jungles of Oak and Devdar. I was eager and they were proud to find a huge fan of them. This lady was some in her late 40’s. She told me about her thrilling experiences how they use to leave their infants behind in their homes in chilly breezy nights of winter and use to safeguard and protect these forests. She told me about the tradition of a big stick with ringing metallic bells on its top to let people know that guards are there inside the forests (basically womenfolk use to foray inside to protect these forests). I heard about the zeal and spirit but still was not able to believe the miracle that has blown the entire area from the soul to heart for conserving their resources."I don’t believe the things unless I experience them by myself" So, I was waiting with a straight hand dialogue with this Man of forests.

Day one

Morning at seven we started towards Uphrekhal a 14 km of trekking experience through mountains, water channels and woods. A thick layer of frost was there on the forest floor as a white blanket of nature covering its beauty. Khal in the local dialect means ponds and the names of villages are based on the ponds that earlier persist in their surroundings. When I started Uphrekhal holding my bag with my fellow companion lady she seemed to be very enthusiastic and was impressed with the stamina of a girl basically from plains (I belong to a small town of Raibareli from UP). At 9 in the morning we reached Gadkharak (in local dialect the name of the village tells Gad=Rivulet and Kharak=grassland amidst Oak forest patch); village of Bharti ji. I met his father, as this was his native village. His father is now not able to see this world from his eyes but still has a lot of potential and enthusiasm for life. I had tea with some interesting session with him but as I had to reach Uphrekhal so, I moved with out getting late with Bharti ji’s niece. Way was thronged with new complimentary oak seedlings, saplings and magnificiant ponds. After again an hour of journey at last I was at my destination of the tour: Bharti ji’s house.  I met with a lady there shared greetings and directly went to a near by and only small hotel Kashmeer sweets for tea. She seemed very happy for me as I reached there. After being fresh much to my expectations met the one and only in the area I wanted to meet Shri. S. Bharti but what he is in trousers and Branded jacket. I told that the image what I had of him was claded in khadi. This was just a transition not transformation, he told me. We plunged into lots a discussion related to his work. Much to my curiosity I should tell that Uphrekhal is just at the boundaries of Kumaun region. Buses of Garhwal are not so frequent as of Kumaon. Ranikhet, famous hill station is near by. Valley terms of small patches of forests and agro biodiversity comprising of potato, soyabean, gehet and other indigenous crops like kuttu flour etc. magnificent beauty of Himalayas, as a long chain was evident from the place. All Chaukhamba, Nanda Devi, Panch pooli, Nanda khat etc. were there to be viewed. Far and wide forests could me seen interspersed were the small hamlets and settlements of local people living standards were poor. People were poor but enthusiasts and seemed to be satisfied well with their subsistence economy living a satisfied life in this lesser known part of the hill state.

After having lunch we thought to go and visit a nearby Naula (a traditional natural water harvesting structure) it was some 6 km far and we all went walking having discussions and conservations related to conservation people’s participation etc. it was nice about the views actually how the people’s participation was insured for so long because with out any monetary benefits people really don’t involve for a cause and that for such a long time incentives. Basically in India and may be the reason behind is that people have lost their faith in leadership after increased corruption. Coming back to the point Naula that we were visiting was some one hour down from main road head and 30 such Naula were reconstructed under his one more community based movement for conserving natural water harvesting bodies of the area. The movement was “Pani Rakho Andolan” (Save the water movement). By late evening we were back after meeting a lot of local men and women folk busy with their daily chores having head loads of fuel wood and fodder. Experience was nice to see the still breathing soul and sprits of rural Garhwal in the lesser-known Eden of Uphrekhal with ongoing traditional practices of conservation in this very remote valley. Still, I was searching some thing thrilling beyond my expectations. See what is to be discovered next. Going back we went busy again with discussions, dinner and finally I moved to my bed as I was tired and wanted to prepare myself for the next day.

Day two

Night was cold and calm while, the morning was chirpy and pleasant with the rising sun forests around Uphrekhal were looking very attractive, lively covered with dew drops and sun rays was playing creating small rainbows in each drop of dew on the fresh leaves.

With the morning tea near the fireplace (hearth) to boil water I had very interactive session with Bharti ji. It was a sort of straightforward dialogue and discussion on several community based issues that made a clear impact on me that why and how a revolution started in this part of Garhwal. Being a keen follower of Padmshri Chandi Prasad Bhatt germinated some innate ideas and opinions to conserve and a thought to restore and rehabilitate his own forests and landscapes was the turning point of his life and resultant was quite apparent in the form of what I saw 


So, with all this discussions he moved to his school, as he is a schoolteacher who teaches and cultivates the thought of protection of environment among these kids the coming green generation from the area. After having our lunch we finally had to move for a study trip following Bharti ji. So, we moved discussing and viewing his work in a nearby forest. We also went to see his school, plantations down by him, ponds constructed by local people etc. how the water percolation helped in maintaining the water table of the land and keeping the landscape green, small ponds were made almost near to all the trees and slopes, some 2500 were told to be there helping in rejuvenating the whole new river locally known as Gad Ganga.

Pioneers like Alnus and seral stage trees and climatic climax species like Oak and Devdar plantations were there to reduce soil erosion at tops Acacia species were also present although. Plantation forest was already 25 years old some associates like Rhododendron, Lyonia have also emerged up there along with some useful herbs and medicinal and aromatic plants like Valleriana jatamansi and Potentilla etc.

This all showed that actually the whole forests are a rich repository of economy and can definitely add up to development if the value addition is done of a right resource at a right time. I was a bit attracted to the mission that was accomplished but still some dilemma was there in my mind. 

Coming back we sat outside and designed our strategy with a cup of tea for the next day as how we will be dealing and asking the locals what would be on priorities etc. although we were agreed on the single thing that we will just be initiating the dialogue among them and let them come out with the details. As we finished the tea Bharti ji wanted us to come and visit his native village Gadkharak with him it was grewing dark still we went with him and while, seeing this patch I really felt like these were not only Sanyam Ke Van but also Sangathan Ke Van (Forests of Unity). Seeing the growth and patience in the form of oak trees, huge ponds and images of the trees in the pond water. I congratulated him finally for his work and really found the spirit of the work as told to me by Sri Anupam ji in his presentation in Delhi. I was in a state of mind to create some sort of example like the same in the area I was working with one of my colleagues who is near to my thoughts and together we can definitely make a difference. This observations are going to be for life time adding to my achievements and experiences that I was going to cherish through out my life.

Day three

Day three started with collecting our things (just a few) to move to a couple of villages in interiors of the valley and to be the part of the live gatherings and meetings with the locals. Before being the part of the meetings we went to see oak plantation (about 70,000 saplings) it is rare to see an oak plantation as it is a very very slow growing species and the best part was that still this 15 year old planted patch of land was protected against bovines and livestock for grazing because of the clear concepts of conserving this area for future consumption, as sustainable resource to be utilized.
After this we started off towards our first destination Kandei village for a meeting with local people. This was quite surprising that people of about 100 in all strength had gathered there for just an eve back of prior notice. We were garlanded (prepared of marigold flowers and Prunus cerasoides (Painya) leaves of a sacred tree said to be saint tree in local) and after a formal address by Bharti ji and introducing other members of the team. Village members started speaking about the forests and resources; main hurdles that they spoke about were less participation assured by younger generation and mountains undergoing a phase of transition because of migration to the cities.
Few useful informative posters related to medicinal plants conservation and cultivation were distributed among few resource persons along with a gift voucher to the head lady of Mahila Mangal Dal, actually a bold women representative from the village. After having snacks of suji halwa and tasty choley we moved to our next destination. Hosts were just too good and warm as they even came to see us off upto the roadside.

We again trekked for next 4 km to our next destination village near to Toli and Daeda. After trekking for about 1 and half hour we reached the village. Our arrangements were done by the village people themselves with in a shop and food was cooked for us by the local people under the open cool, breezy, star studded sky. By the time the food was ready as we were along with Bharti ji for discussions related with the experiences, aims and ambitions, philosophy etc. related to conservation. Locals wanted me to speak just whatever was there about in my mind regarding this whole trip. I thought in more depth so I spoke a bit longer. Everybody has his own thoughts about the trip but, the best that I thought was by one who said that a mass movement or revolution in spite of addressing or laying too much emphasis on money matters we should try to put forward the record regarding the total people involved or ensured their participation into and that will definitely lead towards the story worth replicating and motivating.

Next morning planning was to move to the temple of lord Binsar Mahadev.
We had our dinner and I moved to our sleeping destination that was arranged with a local woman’s house. Room was quite very warm and I had a sound sleep. Morning after having tea with lady we started our trekking towards Binsar. Bharti ji was not accompanying us instead of him known as Doctor Saheb one of his fellows was there to help us. Daeda and Toli villages were there on the way. It was all about 8 km long trek uphill. On the way was the great wall of Daeda. The wall is almost 9 km long and 3 fit tall boundary all around the village made by the people for the people to protect their crop and livestock against the wild animals as this village is on the adjacent fringes of dense forest. Living standards are still poor and about 24 households are dwelling in these situations.

In the temple there was some annual ritual going on and as the meeting had to start by 12 noon in the village we started back just after taking rest for half an hour over there. Binsar Mahadev can be an excellent and beautiful tourist location with beautiful natural water springs coming out from forests and rock crevices. The temple is amid thick and pure Devdar forests.

We headed back and were in the village back at 12 local people were invited here for a small lunch organized by the organizers. They all were having their lunch and we also were desperate as well as supposed to have our lunch first before starting the dialogue. We were very hungry and had our share. All were quite and finished the food very soon. We all went for small relaxing session. Meeting started people felt to be hard-core followers of Bharti ji and he was back in the village for almost 20 years or so they were eager to see him after such a long time span.

After listening to women folk of the valley regarding their problems and issues about forests. The meetings ended by some 4 pm people were still busy chatting and sharing with Bharti ji after long…it was a sort of reunion among them.

As we had to move we started walking back after bidding good-bye to all of them. Our warm hosts accompanied us to certain distances. After crossing a stream at the next end our vehicle was waiting for us. We all were back to our destinations next morning having fond memories and remembrances to cherish through out our life.

(Photo credits: Anonymous many persons. I thank them all.)

1 comment:

  1. Right story before world environment day. Everybody should learn from the true citation given in the story.


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