Wednesday, 24 October 2012

“Be the Change You Want to See”:

“We got our homes and this land, the forests and all natural resources from our ancestors. We have to respect that and pass it on as it is, as we got it, to our children.”
It was humbling to talk to Dhan Singh Rana, the 60 years plus Sarpanch of Lata village in Uttrakhand. Lata and Reni villages are the seat of the famous Chipko Movement of the 1970s, where Gauri Devi along with other women surrounded the trees to stop them from being felled.
                                                                          (Ranaji with wife and grandson)
Travelling in Uttrakhand this time was a painful experience for me. From Rishikesh all the way upto Joshimath, I could only see signs of destruction (of the eco-fragile Himalayas). All those sleepy little towns, the beautiful valleys, sparkling rivers, traditional huts and humble people are all gone. Roads now are filled with landslides, vehicles (oh my god, so many of them!), random construction of bridges, concrete, grotesque buildings and dust everywhere. Electricity pole and wires hung from one mountain top to another criss-crossing each other as if placed without a thought. In a 150kms stretch I saw four dams being built. People have become rude, money minded and look at women with strange eyes. And this in just six years!
By the time I reached Chamoli, I was so desperate that I almost cried. A passing sadhu was commenting to somebody “O, jannat ke farishte, kabhi jameen pe aake to dekho!” and I burst out laughing instead. Later I thought, yes, that’s what it has become. Once a ‘Devbhoomi’ because only Gods could create and live in such pristine beauty, it is now just simply earth.
Leaving the highway and going further up was a relief.  The stunning snow peaks , thick forests and beautiful meadows were still there. The cancerous spread of ‘development’ hasn’t reached there. Yet.
                                                          (High mountains in the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve) 

                                                              (Nanda Devi, the second highest peak in India)
After talking to Ranaji and few others, however, it seemed otherwise. For him and the people of the villages beyond Tapovan (the village), it’s been a continuous struggle since the Chipko days. In the 70s, they struggled to save their forests. In 1998, Ranaji led the Jhapto Cheeno movement to gain the right to access their forests and pasture lands after the region was declared a National Park and closed even to the local communities (to read more about this click here )
Now, he and his community is fighting what seems like a losing battle – the building of another dam on the pristine Dhauli (white) Ganga, a tributary of Alaknanda river right in front of their village. The community is now divided, Ranaji says. The younger generation is getting too influenced by easy money, so they want the dam to come as it will give them money and an opportunity to get work. “Our children who are getting greedy will someday sell off the land and their next generation will curse us, believing we let such a thing happen.”

                                                     (Dhauli Ganga, Lata Village and the winding road to Joshimath)
A friend asked me the other day; who takes the call and tells people in these remote villages that they shouldn’t get access to all the amenities that we have in the plains in the name of preserving environment. Isn’t it their basic human rights? Yes he is right, all people should. But with rights comes responsibilities especially in an eco-fragile region as the Himalayas, where you are not only responsible for your state but also the entire country. Blasting mountain sides indiscriminately to make roads that will join all villages is not development. Creating dams on all possible existing river systems for electricity is not development. Development is when you make the lives of your future generations better and environment liveable. (If Bhutan can do it, so can you)
                                                             (the beautiful village of Tolma at the fringe of NDBR)
“Everybody in this country wants the others to change. We all want to earn quick money, we all tell lies and yet we look at others and say they shouldn’t do it. If you want any kind of change, you have change yourself first”.
We need more people like Ranaji in our lives and more leaders to be like him.  

If you want to travel / trek in Uttranchal, do it with Mountain Shephards. They work directly with the local communities. They have a fantastic stay option in Auli (Devi Darshan) and can also arrange for lovely homestays in Lata and Tolma village in the fringes of NDBR.
If you want to give something back to the community, buy your next round of diwali/ Christmas gifts from Angwal and Kilmora

If you want to volunteer for an NGO who works on livelihood and natural resource management in Uttrakhand, you can join Chirag

If you love the Himalayas and environment, then you can support WWF-India by donating, buying their products, volunteering or joining any of their campaigns


  1. Bipasha you are lucky indeed to be able to spend time and discover these remote and beautiful areas in India. It is sad to realise, how we are recklessly destroying it all in the name of development. Interesting read!

    1. thanks Shalini.....the thing is its not too remote anymore....yes, beautiful it still is :-)

      Bipasha M

  2. hi

    just wanted to say i'm so proud of you...i'm sure you know why:)

  3. Zoya, thanks! I am encouraged :-)
    hope you'll stop by often