Pantwari (Tehri Garhwal)

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.

Reverse migration

Atul Thakur & Radheshyam Jadhav, Uttarakhand village scripts a reverse migration story, March 25, 2018: The Times of India

Trekking boom brings youths back, opens up locked homes for tourists who come for fresh air and Garhwali food

Salindar Sajwan lives in a remote Himalayan village in Garhwal but he’s comfortable using online banking. A trekking guide, he readily shares his account details with clients so that they can deposit a booking advance via netbanking.

Sajwan, a Class 9 dropout, belongs to Pantwari village in Uttarakhand’s Tehri Garhwal district. Until a few years ago, like many others from the region, he would migrate to Dehradun or Delhi for a major part of the year for work. But encouraged by the increasing tourist flow to the region, he now no longer goes to the city for work. “I used to help other companies organise treks. Now, I have my own business. In a package of Rs 2,000 for a day, you will get a fantastic tent and a sleeping bag. And you will also get local food cooked Garhwali style,” he says.

Pantwari is the base camp for treks to the 3,022m Nag Tibba peak. Unlike Gangotri valley which sees a massive influx of religious tourists, this region in Yamunotri valley was untouched due to the lack of popular religious sites. That’s changed over the last three or four years. Tourists, seeking less crowded, quieter, unexplored destinations, are making their way to this tiny village of about 600.

What also helps Pantwari is its proximity to Mussoorie. “It’s just a three-hour drive from here,” says Amod Panwar, a guide and hotelier based in Uttarkashi. “Earlier only trekking enthusiasts who could endure the three-hour trek to Nag Tibba came here. Now, we get all kinds of tourists. Many come for a weekend getaway to enjoy beautiful views of the Himalayan peaks, colourful birds and rhododendron trees,” he says.

With good road connectivity, the area remains accessible through winter when most other treks in the higher ranges are closed.

Encouraged by the increased tourist traffic, locals have got into the trekking business, applying for loans to buy tents, sleeping bags and horses.

According to the 2011 Census, there are 968 uninhabited villages in Uttarakhand and 3.36 lakh houses are locked in the 13 districts of the state. But the scene is changing in these parts as employment opportunities grow.

Local entrepreneurs are competing with professional adventure firms by wooing trekkers with homegrown experiences. Balbir Rana, a villager, offers homestays in traditional Garhwali houses with slate roofs, mud walls and wooden floors. Locally-grown rice and vegetables are an added attraction. “Our local varieties, like red rice, are healthier and are grown without fertilisers,” he says.

Jagat Singh Bhandari, a mason who used to migrate for work, says that after years of little to no work in the village he is a busy man. Tourism has made locals prosperous and they are building new houses, or renovating old ones. “Many new shops have come up in the area,” says Birendra Singh, a shopkeeper.

Tourism has also had an impact on farming. Homestays and guesthouses are creating demand for locally grown vegetables and rice. “City people come here to breathe fresh air and have poison-free food. They even want to take back locally-grown grains,” says Deepak Upadhyay, a farmer.

Some professional organisations are tying up with farmers to brand their produce and create a market. One of them is Green People, whose founder Rupesh Kumar Rai says: “We are synchronising our ideas and business with locals. It is like a joint venture where every party involved benefits.”

Savitri Gosai, a housewife in nearby Mogi village, says there are still many deserted hamlets. “But we have enough natural attractions to draw people from cities and bring the villages back to life,” she says.

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