By Lavanya Keshavamurthy.
My journey from Bangalore to Munsiari (Uttarakhand) via Canada seems almost like a fairy tale. When a friend shared with me a Times Now program called Amazing Indians - "Transforming lives in the hills" showcasing the work of Malika Virdi, I felt this was the kind of work that I was really looking for. So, I took a break from my studies and set off to this beautiful place near the border of Nepal and Tibet.
|Stunning views of the Panchchuli range|
The journey up to the beautiful "place with snow" at a height of about 2200m above sea level (Munsiari means "place with snow" in local language), with stunning views of the Panchchuli peaks in the Kumaon region, was physically exhausting as I traveled in a shared taxi from the plains of Haldwani through the lower Himalayas to the higher Himalayas. However, the exhaustion magically disappeared by the way I was enthusiastically greeted by the family who hosted my stay. In the 2.5 months I spent in Munsiari, I had the opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of 5 different homes, all part of the rural tourism program.
With Basanti – my first hostess, friend and farming guru
One of the traditional homes in the home-stay program
During the first few days, a typical day involved clearing cow-dung, looking after goats, watering the plants, helping in the kitchen, and knitting my scarf in front of the kitchen fire. For a few days, I worked with an intern from Poland on water mapping and water testing projects. One day, I planted potatoes in the morning and drove a tourist taxi in the evening & earned some money as a driver! A happy coincidence, and I earned some more money as a research assistant on a research project in the village. Towards the end of my stay, I worked with a dozen strong women to create a fish pond for one of the families I stayed with.
On the way to work
It was not all work and no play. On May 13th, there was fun and frolic at the annual Mesar Van Kautik – a festival celebrating the Mesar Kund water source. We ate, we played, we sang and we danced throughout the day. I had never danced like that in my life.
Never too old to dance
In and around
I also had the opportunity to trek to a dreamy little place called Paton in awesome weather. Though the main attraction on this trip was watching the majestic Yak, I was attracted to other things in the village such as the off-grid solar electricity, the home made rice wine, and the water mills around the place.
Dreamy village of Paton
The majestic Yak
End or beginning?
The 2 months I stayed in Munsiari seems like a long time when I look at the things we created together as a community and the experiences I gained. But, as I packed my bags to leave, the same 2 months seemed to go by in a flash. Over a conversation with Malika regarding my To Do list, I said 2 months are not enough to do all the things that I wanted to do; she said 20 years are not enough!
Friends from Munsiari
As my new-found friends from Munsiari said goodbye with tears in their eyes and packed local spices and Rajma, it felt like a 'Swades' moment for me. For them, it was probably an investment for my return to the place!
Author Bio: Lavanya is an aspiring farmer and wanderer. When she is at base camp in Bengaluru, she spends most of her time in her small, urban garden. She is associated with Ride A Cycle Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes cycling. Read more of her adventures in Munsiari at http://lavanyakm.blogspot.in.
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