Munsyari. In a normal year the month of May, in these parts of the state, is not much different from the preceding post summer months except the high-mountain dwellers readying themselves to migrate upwards, to their ancestral villagers. For the past couple of years the activities have somewhat been altered in the sense that the extraction of Keera-jari ( Cordyseps sinensis ) has added an altogether new source of rural livelihoods, never thought of earlier. This new economic activity has certainly changed the way our remotest villages, just nudging the snow-line, have begun to be perceived – high-land Eldorados ! The jury, as they say, is still out on whether this kind of human-pressure, which brings in not only a far larger number of up-land inhabitants to an hitherto pristine landscape, but even hired labourers engaged by the traders in these kinds of high-value ‘environmental- products ’. While very one strongly feels the need for a package of ‘good collection practices’ for such new high-mountain products, till date our Forest officials have progressed to a stage which has been termed ‘consultations on draft regulations’ ! One wonders at the sheer tenacity of our civil services who continue to practice, what may be termed, the strategy not to act till its back touches the proverbial Wall of crisis! Incidentally, the operating GO, as the existing Working Plan of the Pithoragarh Forest Division would show, was issued during the incumbency of this writer, way back in 2005 !
The state is yet to recover fully from the after-effects of the disastrous experience of Kedarnath tragedy of June 2013, in which officially more than 6,000 tourists sacrificed their lives and the un-accounted ones shall always be left to the imagination of the eye-witnesses or the experts. While the state government ought to be given full marks for the seriousness with which the affected site, region and the families, both insiders and incomers, were handled and consoled, several lessons are yet to be even properly analysed and transferred into the realm of policy-decisions e.g. regional development, road and regulation of tourism, of all kinds. One thing is certain, for some years to come, religious and summer-month tourism in the mountain regions, shall now always have a caution point, namely, the Kedarnath Experience, whatever it may mean to the recipients!
One patently wrong lesson that seems to have been received by the official proponents of tourism in the state, the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board and its affiliates, the Kumaon and Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigams, KMVN and GMVN, in brief, is to somehow increase the flow of tourists to prove that the Kedarnath Effect is no more visible and Uttarakhand is ready to receive all incomers. This writer has already done one piece in the Garhwal Post, entitled Khalia Top: How Not to Develop Tourism. This is a major Wrong Lesson learned, post Kedarnath 2013, and there has to be a Case Study undertaken on two such Treks of the Year, organized by the Youth Hostel Association of India in active collaboration with our Tourism Development Board. The details of these two so called Treks of the Year, first at Dayara Bugyal in Garhwal and now, the Khalia Top, in Munsyari block, are under close scrutiny via the RTI route and shall soon be made public and taken up with the Organizers, their Governing Bodies as well as the authorities who should have responded quickly, as they were responsible and were expected to have responded, when officially intimated of the great damage these have caused to the highly fragile ecological landscape. The main lesson, in brief is- Uttarakhand does need to welcome all incoming visitors but NOT AT THE COST OF ITS FRAGILE ECOLOGY! More on it, when the Case Studies are completed.
Then there are other kinds of tourism one has heard of. First, is what Robert Chambers called ‘Rural Tourism’, a variant of which we all were a witness to during our UP Hills days, when much planning went into taking the ‘Baba-logs’ on a trip to the Hills, to beat the sweltering heat in the plains on the one hand and justify touring in the ‘remote rural and hill regions’, on the other. Many careers were made and un-made depending on how the ‘accompanying family members’ of the officers touring the Hill districts rated the arrangements (‘bandobast’ of the old colonial days). Verily, of late, when Uttarakhand has started sharing its development trajectory with the other Hill States and the NE States, memories of these wistful ‘summer tours in Hills ‘ has been re-named as a kind of ‘internal colonialism’ by some observers ( Jack Ives and Bruno Misserli ), exercised by the mainland on the peripheral ‘mountain regions’. Many believe that not much has changed, even after 15 years of separation, when one finds district officials, even in the eight mountain districts hardly budging from their headquarters – leave aside our senior officers seated at Dehra Dun Secretariat. This writer tends to agree with this perception, when he finds district officials seen in newspapers, just before and after a VIP o VVTP visit only, hardly ever finding other occasion to meet the local people, or visiting remote mountain villages, on their own volition.
However, this period has encouraged a most welcome kind of tourism, which most of us who have voluntarily decided to stay-back in our ancestral moorings. Its healthiest version has been pioneered by one of our most distinguished scientist, Professor K.S. Valdiya. Prof Validya, for the last seven years or so has led execution of Science Extension project, which ensures he personally encouraging few of the most eminent scientists drawn from the country ( not necessarily those who hail from the state itself ) visiting some of the remotest educational institutions in the state, most located in the border districts of Pithoragarh, Chamoli and Uttar Kashi, and interact with the secondary school level children, through their easy-to-understand lectures and presentations, followed by counselling. On the 16th May the students and teachers of Government Inter College Munsyari had a four sessions-long such an scientific workshop, consisting of highly interesting presentations on Himalayan Geology, Bio-Technology, Space Application and Chemistry, by Professors Valdiya, from JLN Centre for Science Bangluru, BD Lakhchura, from Kumaon University, Kaman Singh Kathait from Lucknow and SS Valdiya from Ahmedabad. The students and teachers alike gained tremendously from this life-changing interface, for many of them. Later, there was a joint request from the participants to get so systematised that there are at least two rounds of these, every year. One wonders why such sessions with our younger generation, including the generation of teachers, cannot be organized, more frequently and in a more systematic manner! Hosted by UGVS, Gangolihat, the anchors or co-anchors could easily be our GICs and GGICs.
Going by the impression that this writer received from his friends circle that exists in most of the other mountain states of India, the month of May saw Uttarakhand hogging the nation’s attention, for all the wrong reasons! Many, old colleagues from his parent cadre of UP even reminded this writer that they had always believed that this was bound to happen – only our politicians’ cadre outsmarted even the most cynical critic of the separation of the state from UP. Be that as it may, everyone expected ‘development’ to take a back-seat and going by the coverage that was hogged by all the phases of the unsavoury stages of the Uttarakhand Political Saga, superficially it seemed, that these critics of separation, indeed have had the proverbial last laugh. As this writer is also a strong votary of a independent and autonomous Uttarakhand state had occasion to celebrate introduction of cultivation of tea in these remote regions. As he himself had been in the forefront of its re-introduction in his Hill Secretary days, he was happy to be told by Desmond Brickbat of commencement of a 100 Nali tea-nursery in nearby Ranthi village, with an ultimate objective of covering 200 hectares or 10,000 nalis or organic tea, in the sloping Munsyari watershed. A big welcome to Organic Tea finally in Munsyari, success of which is almost as certain as the sun-rise behind Pancha-chuli peaks, tomorrow morning. This development alone is adequate enough to compensate the despondency that has been spread around by our die-hard politician friends. Today, Uttarakhand boasts of some 900 hectares alone of the best Darjeeling brand of Organic tea cultivation, not a small achievement, by any standard. To improve the sense of cheer brought about the commencement of tea-cultivation age in Munsyari, only the other day this writer came across a successful second year of Tussar – cultivation, by some 15 silk-rears, right in the middle of the Tiksen market, the hub-centre of the small city, which Munsyari is not ! Like Uttarakhand, the climate and biodiversity of the block is amenable for both kinds of sericulture, mulberry-based as well as non-mulberry, or Oak-kind. The discussion with these die-hard development enthusiasts has assured this writer that Uttarakhand still has a tremendous reservoir of die-hard believers, who will take Uttarakhand to its destiny, notwithstanding the deeds or mis-deeds of our political masters.
This writer has just returned from a half-day long meeting of the Johar Club, a Sporting Club that only last year held the Diamond Jubilee Football Tournament, which was concluded by the local MLA, who also happens to be the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Harish Rawat. During the three-hour long discussions held in the Johar Club almost everything under the sun, sports-wise, was discussed, including a ten-year plan to take the sports activities forward in the region, except of course the ‘dirty-p olitics’, as someone quipped. Where will this increasing cynicism about the political maturity and sagacity of our politicians, which everyone expected in a supposedly more civilized and educated state, take the state were the most dominant thoughts that occupied the thoughts of this writer, as he walked back towards his residence, returning from the Johar Club Tournament meeting ? May be, remaining most distant from the political hub-centre of the state, is not always disadvantageous or so it appears. All the day to day worldly worries seem to go up in the air, kicked up like a football during the ensuing Tournament. So, to the proceedings of the forthcoming 61st edition of the Football Tournament, the residents of this remote region look forward to – and not towards the opaque proceedings of our going-muddier-by-the-day political wrestling bouts in which our proficient players seem to be fully engaged in.