I am sure, many of you know about Sarmoli homestay, but I must tell you, Malika Virdi, who has helped the village women with a nature based and community owned tourism enterprise and made the people out there realize the importance of livelihood & ecology is enthusiastic and warm. I could not meet her last time, but whenever we have spoken over the phone, it has filled me with amiability. She has brought a change in the way local people view forests, wildlife, helped them reconnect with their own place and instilled pride and interest of their village within them. She works with women for economic independence and lobbies for ecological and social rights. Local people consider her nothing less than a super power and I absolutely agree with them.
There are many activities, regional cuisine fair, treks, marathons, workshops happening with contributions of volunteers, which has given the youth and women in the village, a livelihood and a channel to manifest the history and richness of their area and tribe. It’s a learning experience for both the villagers and the visitors.
I met Shivya Nath at Hawalbagh, and would have loved to hang around with her at Sarmoli, given even she was there, conducting smartphone photography workshop. But while hiking to Mesar Kund, I lost my way, which I always do.
I think, I will need another few posts to tell you about losing the way on the hike to Mesar Kund, Gori Ganga River at Madkote, where I spent an entire day, enjoying the hot springs, and my other activities at Munsyari. For now, let me get back to the village and the villagers in this one.
This homestayprogramme had been started by Malika Virdi, to ensure a livelihood and economic independence for the women in the village. The people of the village who are a part of this enterprise has either converted one room of their home as a traveller’s abode, or Malika Virdi has arranged to get them loans, to build an extension of their house, for visitors. The rooms are furnished with basic amenities and clean white linens. It’s an experience, to stay with the villagers and share a meal with them over conversations. You can do your bit of exploring around or give back to the village, by helping them with their daily chores at home or at their farm. So, if you want to see the real India, this place is unfiltered, real rural India, providing you with a comfortable stay, and memories worth cherishing.
I spent one morning at the women’s Sangathan (self-help group), where they spend knitting woolens, and packing dried vegetables and sell these for an earning. Conversation with them was like a new lease of life. At such a remote place, they are lobbying for their rights, trying to meet their basic needs and still always wearing a smile. I loved my leisurely days at Sarmoli, hearing from them about legends and stories. We all love the snow capped mountains in photographs but how it affects their crops, the leopard attacks, to hear it was heart-wrenching. Basantiji and Rajuji ever smiling, shared tales of events occurring in the village for their development, glued me to stories of their cows, mules, regional food. I cherished the stories over homemade millet rotis, kumaoni kappa (locally grown leafy greens), malkadal (masoor/lentil), homemade ghee, pickles, millet halwa(sweet dish). Basantiji even packed lunch for me, when I went out during the day. It was all seasoned with unadulterated love.
It was an unwinding time completely. Each time I was amazed, by the smile on faces of every person out there. The 91-year-old grandfather, without his teeth, smiled and waved at me and asked me to join him for a cup of salted tea and many stories. The lady of another village house, Binaji, was cooking on an earthen stove, invited me to join her and told me how she made the rhododendron juice and about their upcoming village programme. The uncle talking of his sons, studying away in another hill station and proudness beaming from his eyes, showed his oats plants. The little Lakshya, took me up through the trail, to the small pond near his house and we played with tadpoles. The pets Kalu and Cuto at their place, followed us around, everywhere. Everyone has their own battles, they strive to meet their daily needs, always with an alarm in the heart, that a natural calamity may wash away their abode and small farms, next minute; yet they never run out of their smile and keen enjoyment of living. I do not fathom, where do they get their optimism from. Seeing them, and rewinding it in my memory, every now and then, I am grateful for the life I have. This journey has taught me, taught me things that schools don’t teach you; taught me humanity. I learnt this Himalayan village is a paradise on earth, not only for the beauty nature offers but for the people who make you believe that humanity exists. And it exists even today.
The day I left, Rajuji accompanied me till my car, Basantiji, waved at me till the time our eyes could see each other. As I left early, she packed breakfast for me as well. In cities, where do we get such self-less love?? I do not know if I have evolved, but I have been touched, immensely that I want to go back there sooner. Now, at any point, I go through a spider-web crisis, I pause, think of my time in Sarmoli, the people, their lives and I know which road to travel.
I long to go back to this place, to give back to the community which has given me a lot of wisdom and love.
Over to you, is there any place you would like to go back someday?