The inspiring and poetic image of life in hills is quite a hit on the internet but not many of us fathom the ground reality of the demanding life of the hills. The state of affairs have been so tragic that Uttarakhand has been dealing with the issue of out-migration even after a decade and a half of it's foundation. Let's get straight to the facts.
Out of the 16,793 villages in Uttarakhand, 1053 have zero population and another 405 villages have population less ten. Do you now have my attention?
The above data is as per the 2011 census and the number of ghost villages in the state have only increased since the 2013 earthquakes and flash floods.
Let's explain the problem
To get a clear geographical picture, Uttarakhand comprises of 10 hill districts and 3 plain districts. The 10 districts in the mountain region account for 48% of the population. The rest 52% have inhabited the plain regions which promise better employment opportunities, easier lifestyle and this shift is on the rise.
The reasons are countless for this mass out-migration. Lack of water, first of all, followed by poor transport connectivity and zero medical facilities. The per capita income of the plain districts are double that of hill states. These are only the basic issues that are somehow not been tackled in a state that was created solely on the promises of fulfilling the exact same issues. The timely assessments now haunt the authorities as the state is about to complete 2 decades of it's foundation.
The Ghost Villages of Uttarakhand
People of Uttarakhand are not new to this ominous term and what has unfolded in the last few decades is no less than tragic. Since the 1980s the mountain regions have been dealing with the issue of out-migration. The new state was formed since it was assumed that the remote villages in the mountains have not recieved the due attention within UP and a separate hill state was formed. That, however, was not the solution.
The image of locked village homes with the wilderness slowly taking over the houses is a usual image that finds place in mainstream news time and again. It's a pain more than nostalgia for people of Uttarakhand. There is still a search for vision for mitigation of an impending disaster that will overpopulate the plains and leave the agricultural land of the villages completely barren and the houses uninhabited. Not to forget, there will be a complete loss of a thriving culture too.
Is tourism the solution?
It's not a surprise that policymakers have found tourism as a solution to this problem. The state authorities very well know that revenue generated through the Char Dham Yatra in the same state every year. However, it's a fact that neither the authorities nor the policies are responsible for pulling thousands of people to remote locations like Badrinath and Kedarnath. It more to do with people and their faith.
However, what the authorities have worked towards is registering almost 680 homestays in different hill districts of Uttarakhand in an attempt to re-populate the ghost villages. But in this competitive travel industry the government must realise that to tackle this problem there needs to be a vision too make the homestays operational too.
There is some good news from the independent crusaders though.
The Goat Village in Nag Tibba is one such brilliant example. On the trek route to Nag Tibba Peak, this homestay settlement hopes to create more opportunities for the locals. Goat village has trained the villagers in hospitality and management and also helps to introduce them to new agricultural practices.
Project FUEL is another great example of independent organisations working towards repopulating these ghost villages. The organization has often invited independent artists to give a face-lift to villages like Saur in Garhwal and Khati Gaon in Kumaon. In Khati Gaon especially it was overwhelming to see the portrait of people who are left in the villages outside the walls of their houses. In Saur Project FUEL also organised the Ghost Village Festival to make people aware of the traditions and culture of the region.
Click here to check out the beautiful Art Attack in Khati Gaon.