Article about Ankit and his Social Enterprise - Sunshine Himalayan Adventures by sunhimalaya

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									LIFE STYLE

           pread across a vast                                garbage, adding potential fuel to the       The villages, though picturesque,
           expanse of land, 80 km to                          raging wildfire in every dry season.        provided few livelihood opportunities
           be precise, it is probably                                                                     owing to their remote location.
                                                              Apart from the visitors, even the
           the last undisturbed                                                                           Added to this was the fact that almost
                                                              locals contributed to destroying the
           Western Himalayan                                                                              the entire Sainj valley lies within the
                                                              eco-habitat in their region. Till
ecosystem. At the Great Himalayan                                                                                .
                                                                                                          GHNP For years, locals had to
                                                              recently, umpteen tales of jobless
National Park (GHNP), the                                                                                 migrate to cities like Manali to find
                                                              youths resorting to looting forest
landscape is pristine and cascading                                                                       odd jobs or grow cannabis, albeit
                                                              wealth were frequent. In a way, they
mountain rivers flow gently, with                                                                         illegally. Some even joined the
                                                              couldn’t really be blamed though. In
slight murmurs. Easy to trek on, each                                                                     poachers, to make a fast buck.
                                                              1984, the region was notified as a
path in the forest offers a
                                                              national park which restricted the          The impending factors led to an
breathtaking view of the towering,
                                                              freedom of movement for the                 initiative by those who not only
white snowy flake peaks of Pin
                                                              villagers. It also meant that they          wanted to protect the sanctity of the
                                                              could no longer collect forest              hills, but       also provide jobs to
No wonder then, for trekkers and                              resources such as fuel wood and             tho                se who needed
tourists, the tiny hamlets of Goshaini,                       Gucci, the delicious but rare wild                               them. One such
Guntrao, Shilt, Shakti, Dhel, Neuli,                          mushroom GHNP is famous                                            instance is that
Lapha which dot the mountains of                              for, with the same ease                                              of Ankit Sood,
Kullu in Himachal Pradesh, provide                            that they would                                                        owner of the
the much needed respite they look                             earlier.                                                                 Sunshine
for from the mundane vagaries of
urban life. Ironically though, in their
quest for the calm beauty of

the hills, they end up

polluting it with



Green days are here again, youths of Neuli village and members of an
eco-tourism group with a tourist.

Carving a green living
Confined to their villages without employment, villagers dwelling in the vicinity of
protected forest reserves would either resort to destroying the natural reserves or
seek jobs elsewhere. Fortunately, all that is a thing of the past with ecotourism
coming to their rescue, discovers Stella Paul

                                                                       planet earth | 41 | september 09
Himalayan Adventures, a group that         population of avifauna, including the
introduced the concept of ecotourism       ‘Western Tragopan’ and a ‘Monal’ –
in Himachal Pradesh.                       majestic Himalayan birds found only
                                                                                      Eco tourist guides on a trek in the Great
                                           in the Kullu region. Now, the cases of
Alongwith contributing to                                                             Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh.
                                           poaching are rare, a record few other
development of the villages, Ankit
                                           national parks can claim.
felt that the involvement of locals
could also help increase the tourist       Local participation has also raised
inflow. “I realised that ecotourism        the level of eco-consciousness. For
could be the most effective tool to        instance, ‘Guchi’, priced at Rs 5,000
address issues like poverty and            a kg, is the most expensive variety of
unemployment. Also, it was the only        mushroom in India. The lure of
way in which we could involve              money once led many villagers living
communities in conserving the              around the park to randomly collect
environment,” elucidates Ankit, also       the mushroom, mostly through
a lecturer by profession.                  illegal entry. Now, due to vigilance
                                           by eco-groups, the villagers do not
Today, his Sunshine Himalayan
                                           try to strike a desperate deal of
Adventures boasts of about 30
                                           Guchi with tourists.
youths, who act as guides and
porters to the trekkers, biodiversity      Visitors also get influenced by the
study groups, bird watching                commitment shown by these eco-
enthusiasts and wildlife                   groups. As a result, those who throng
photographers. From organising a           the park now prefer local home-
trek to helping the visitors spot a rare   cooked food served by the trek             Nanda Devi mountain region.
‘Ibex’ or a butterfly, to picking up       organisers, consisting of locally          However, here, ecotourism was
plastic wrappers even while they           grown vegetables and easy to               chosen to end the growing unrest
walk, to mending a broken bridge or        procure forest products such as            among local communities.
reporting any illegal activity within      edible fern instead of pre-packaged
                                                                                      The unrest in Garwal began with the
the forest, this brigade is doing all it   food from cities afar. Once a month, a
                                                                                      creation of Nanda Devi Biosphere
can to save the forest. As a result,       special ‘clean the forest path’ event is
                                                                                      Reserve (NBDR) in 1982.
Sainj and valleys such as Tirthan          also held, where every piece of non-
                                                                                      Breathtakingly beautiful, the 2200 sq
and Parvati in Kullu have managed          biodegradable product like polythene
                                                                                      km of Himalayan wilderness
to keep their youth at home, but not       bags is collected.
                                                                                      surrounding the sacred Nanda Devi
without jobs.
                                           The growing awareness about                Mountain is home to 1,200 tribal
Takeram, in his early twenties,            medicinal plants can also be               residents, mainly ethnic Tibetans,
remembers how his job as an office         attributed to ecotourism. Just like its    known as the Bhotiya, living in nine
boy for 16 hours in Delhi would fetch      diverse fauna, Kullu region and            villages. Access was denied to all
him Rs 4,000. Now, in his own              GHNP have a rich reserve of flora,         and there was a ban on harvesting,
village, he’s earning Rs 6,000             especially medicinal plants.               grazing, hunting, trekking, and
every month.                                                                          mountaineering in the area.
                                           Labburam, now one of the most
‘Since the treks are organised all         senior guides, has an amazing              However, this meant near starvation
through the year, there’s no dearth of     knowledge of the medicinal plants          for the villagers, who were totally
work. Officials of the forest              and how they should be used. During        dependent on forest resources for
department also know that they can         a trek, if a tourist falls sick or has     their livelihood.
rely on us,” reasons Takeram.              minor injury, Labburam plays the
 However, there are risks involved,        role of a vaidya (doctor) with ease.
especially of facing the ire of the         “These days, many tourists show
illegal hunters, who live within their     interest in the herbs and the
villages. Raushan of Shakti village        medicinal plants. Some even take
recalls an incident where he had           back saplings and roots which they
discovered a huge cache of arms            can grow,” explains Labburam.
within a cave. But, since the cave
was a seat of the village deity, it took   Uttaranchal: Conflict management,
a lot of persuasion for the cache to be    through ecotourism
handed over to the forest officials.       Akin to Kullu valley, ecotourism has
Owing to the courage of youngsters         been gaining ground in the
like Raushan, GHNP has been able           mountains of Garwal Himalaya,
to protect its once dwindling              Uttaranchal as well, especially in the

                                                 planet earth | 42 | september 09
                                                                                       Assam: From guns to roses                locals NGOs, Green Circle and the
                                                                                                                                Khangchendzonga Conservation
                                                                                       At a time when the entire region of
                                                                                       Northeast is struggling to find a way
                                                                                       out of rising insurgency,                The major area of the project falls
                                                                                       unemployment and poverty, a              within the Khangchendzonga
                                                                                       brigade of youths in Dibrugarh,          National Park – home to 400 species
                                                                                       (Assam) have shunned violence and        of orchids, 80 mammals, and over
                                                                                       resorted to ecotourism.                  300 species of birds and butterflies.
                                                                                                                                Also the world’s third highest
                                                                                                                                mountain peak (8548 m), it is revered
                                                                                                                                as the protective deity of Sikkim and
                                                                                                                                houses the Dubdi, Sikkim’s oldest
                                          Photo courtesy: Stella Paul and Ankit Sood

                                                                                                                                monastery. A number of ethnic
                                                                                                                                groups, including Lepchas, Bhutias
                                                                                                                                and Nepalis, as well as Tibetan
                                                                                                                                refugees, live in this area.
                                                                                                                                The project’s aim was to conserve the
                                                                                                                                local flora and fauna, while providing
                                                                                                                                the ethnic communities a livelihood.
                                                                                       In Rangagora, which falls under the      And, that seems to have succeeded.
                                                                                       Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, over       Today, the ecotourism project has
                                                                                       20 youngsters have united under a        expanded beyond Khangchendzonga
Then, in 1988, the park was on the
                                                                                       banner called ‘Wave Ecotourism’.         National Park to Kecheopalri Lake
United Nations World Heritage list
                                                                                       Initiated by Dhaneswar Neog, once        and Pelling, a settlement near
and in 2001, it re-opened for tourism.
                                                                                       an illegal hunter and smuggler and       Pemayangtse Monastery. With local
However, the authorities chose the
                                                                                       now a die-hard conservationist, the      communities coming together, the
Indian Mountaineering Foundation
                                                                                       group organises eco-camps for            respective mountain villages and
(IMF), to organise treks and tourism
                                                                                       conservation enthusiasts “I have         valleys have transformed into
activities inside the restricted core                                                  learnt through my interactions with      ecologically sustainable tourism hubs.
area of the reserve. This led to strong                                                the tourists who come from different
protests by the Bhotiya community                                                      backgrounds,” reveals Neog. Fresh
who were denied the right to access                                                    catches from the Brahmaputra River
in the reserve.                                                                        are cooked with locally sourced
In 2003, when protests began to                                                        vegetables over firewood in these
threaten peace, the local villagers                                                    camps.
were allowed limited access and                                                        Some of the youth who are expert
explicit management rights to                                                          boatmen, take the campers on a boat
trekking in the core zone.                                                             ride through the park. Since these
                                                                                       youngsters are thorough about the
Soon after, villagers from nine
villages falling within the reserve                                                    Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, they       In 1996, before the project in Sikkim
and a local NGO Alliance for                                                           make excellent tourist guides.
                                                                                                                                took off, a special workshop was
Development, convened a                                                                Now role models for their villages,      organised for the locals. Each
conference on community-based                                                          these youths have shown business         participant was asked to “dream”
conservation and ecotourism.                                                           acumen by constructing thatched          and think of what the best vision of
Consequently, the conference                                                           cottages for tourists.                   his park might be in ten years. Most
became a platform for asserting the                                                    Sikkim: A green route to the land of     responded saying they wanted to see
rights of local people to manage                                                       the Buddha                               more forest cover, a litter-free forest
tourism in the NDBR in a sustainable                                                                                            trail and better income from tourism.
manner.                                                                                When the massive inflow of tourists
                                                                                       caused severe damage to the              With its focus on environmentally
Now, the villagers are pursuing                                                        environment, the Sikkim Biodiversity     sound practices and generating
community-based ecotourism to use                                                      and Ecotourism Project was               widespread economic incentives,
local resources, to earn income and                                                    launched in 1996. The project was a      ecotourism is gaining ground.
preserve local culture. In this, they                                                  joint effort of G.B. Pant Institute of   From being a picture of gloom,
are being trained and funded by the                                                    Himalayan Environment and                it has metamorphosed into an
Ministry of Environment and Forests                                                    Development, Travel Agents               inspiring tale that most others can
and the United Nations.                                                                Association of Sikkim (TAAS) and         take a cue from.

                                                                                            planet earth | 43 | september 09

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