Eco-travel

On a trail of the Ganga -PART VI

On a trail of the Ganga -PART VI

 

-Saraswati Kavula

 

A small Tibetan village, Bagori was just a kilometre away from Harsil. The walk was very pleasant, and the people a mix of locals and Tibetans too very friendly and pleasant. The children, who were playing in their school compound, waved and wanted to speak in English only. They waved out and jumped the walls to sit around and chat. The village was famous for its woollen products. The men reared the sheep and the women made the yarn and knitted the sweaters. The girls were surprised to see that I travelled alone. Sujata remarked, ‘I wish we could enjoy life like you, here we have to be constantly at work, knitting, making the yarn’. Sujata and her friends study at Uttarkashi, since there is no proper high school in these areas. For six months, we go to Dodi village near Uttarkashi, since it gets completely snowed in here”. But then school is on for nearly 10 months no?’ ‘Those who have to study stay there only, and come here for the holidays, like us, but the elders and sheep rearers and farmers come back to take care of the sheep and farms’.  They were all eagerly waiting for the results of the 10+2 exam which was due that day. ‘The boys will go to Harsil and find out. Some of our friends are in Uttarkashi, they will browse the internet, and tell us. The results are declared on the net.’ Sure enough, it was difficult to get a turn to make a call at the two telephone booths in Harsil. I asked Sujata, ‘Now that most of you are educated, will you take care of your parents lands, and do agriculture?’ Sujata, said, ‘No, I don’t think so, most of us go to the plains to Dehradun and Delhi to study further and many stay back to work in hotels and other such jobs’.

I noticed that some of the girls and many of the boys had coloured their hair. I was surprised. Sujata said, ‘we saw on TV and so it became a trend here!’ I asked her where she saw TV, ‘not here, in Dodi and Uttarkashi’. Bagori doesn’t have electricity, although the local army camp has electricity and so does Harsil. ‘Since we live here for only six months, the government is refusing to provide electricity connections to us’, one of the girls mentioned. 

 

“Ever since the Uttaranchal state was formed, the government decided that they will earn revenue in two ways- by producing electricity and through tourism”. My co-passenger on the Bus from Uttarkashi to Rishikesh mentioned. After my visit to Harsil, I was back on the way to Delhi, and had this interesting conversation with my co-passenger who was travelling up to Chamba. “They are planning all these Hydro-electric projects, but all that electricity is not to be used for the people of Uttaranchal, nor do we need so much, they plan to sell it to other states”, “Our environment is being destroyed to provide electricity to other states. In 1991, there was an earthquake of 6.1 magnitude, with Uttarkashi as the epicentre. Since, the population is less, there was not much death. But now, the epicentre has moved nearer to Tehri and all the areas below will get affected, right up to Delhi and Haryana’.

 

 ‘I suppose the authorities will wake up once there is an earthquake in Delhi’, I remarked. ‘No, there won’t be any change. It will be the poor who will die. All the rich and the powerful have constructed their buildings to withstand quakes up to 8 Richter scale’. ‘But the rich live in RCC homes, it is they who might suffer more’, I said. ‘You see these small buildings of RCC, most of the slum dwellers and poor people now live in those, they no longer live in mud houses like before, so, when a quake hits, their homes will be the worst affected. They will pay with their lives. Nothing will happen to all these biggies who live off the contract monies that come from the various projects, or enjoy the fruits of this ‘development’’.  ‘Tourism has become our second focus, but when the water gets diverted with all the tunnels and there is no water in the Rivers, why will the tourists come here? It is a strange situation for us!’ remarked my friend, a clerk in the local tehsil hailing from a small village called, Hanuman Chatti on the way to Yamumotri.

 

I mentioned that I could hardly find any local food in the entire route. “Doesn’t it affect the farmers, if local produce is not purchased by the hotels and since tourism brings so much money?’ ‘It is true, our farmers struggle, but are forced to sell their produce at very less rates, since everything from rice (since all hotels and shops sell Basmati) to vegetables and fruits are brought from the plains. In addition, all our land is being taken over by the foreign nationals. They come here and buy houses and land for dirt cheap rates. They just work for a month or two in their countries and since cost of living is so cheap, they manage to live here for the rest of the year. But not one of them pays an extra rupee to the farmer’s produce’. Most of Uttarkashi district is inhabited by foreigners who manage to purchase property through various means, like marrying local women.  ‘For them this feels like peace and heaven,’ remarked my friend, ‘of course, the free availability of Hashish is also another reason’.

 

‘Have you been to Yamunotri? (The birth place of River Yamuna) he asked me. ‘No, may be next time’. I replied. ‘This year there were hundreds of groups, school children and pilgrims and trekkers, they pass through my village and they have left a heap of trash behind. It is a regular feature for us’ he told me. Despite that, he invited me to come and visit Yamunotri next time, ‘You can stay in our village, in our home. You must come with your team next time and record the yatra to Yamunotri. We will be happy to see our village on TV’. The hospitable nature of these people never seems to diminish despite everything.

 

 -This series is now concluded.

 

( Photographs-Woman making wool yarn and Bagori Village by Saraswati Kavula)

 

 


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