Munsiyari’s responsible tourism, a learning experience for both visitors and villagers

Homestay owners take oath to not to disturb the natural surroundings.

By Rakesh Agrawal, ‘Ridh

High Himalayas from Munsiary(Photo credit-Ram)
High Himalayas from Munsiary(Photo credit-Ram)

For the intrepid souls who are looking an oft-beaten destination to escape the scorching summer heat, colossal snow covered Panchachuli piercing through the spotless azure sky, a string of five peaks where the five Pandavas said to have attained the moksha (salvation) and the verdant land covered by the dense forest of oak,rhododendron and many other, is Munsiyari, in Pithoragarh district, Uttarakhand. Munsiari means “place with snow” in local language, at a height of 2200m above sea level, is indeed a pristine slice of living for the troubled souls.

Here is the home-stay, where they live like family member in a home, yet with all facilities and comfort in a room with French windows, comfortable bed, bamboo chairs, a side table having books and a slab with tea pots and sink, like their own living room with solar emergency lanterns. People stay here for days and weeks and during the stay, they just not see the area, but explore local culture, enjoy traditional Kumaoni cuisine and share the works of their hosts and other villagers. This is a unique and responsible tourism entwined with conservation that is basically a livelihood initiative in Munsiyari, Uttarakhand, that is a learning experience for both visitors and villagers, “As visitors come here not as tourists, but as travelers who learn from our culture and tradition, we also get to know their way of life,” reasons Malika Virdi, 55.

Virdi, originally from Punjab, born and brought up in Delhi who has an M.Phil. in social works, came to this remote corner of Kumaon hills in 1992 along with her husband, E. Theophilus, on a project and was, “Awestruck with the grandeur and beauty of the area and simplicity of the hill people, that we decided to make it our permanent abode,” she tells. However, it was not easy as she had to take the villagers in confidence and made her as one of their own, toiling like hill women as a farmer, working in fields and forests, cutting grass and fetching wood and fodder. Her relentless toiling and hard work ultimately paid off and she was elected the Sarpanch (Head) in 2003, of the Sarmoli Van Panchayat (an autonomous community’s forest). During her tenure, she just not made the forest of this van panchayat really dense and useful for the villagers, she linked forest conservation work to tourism for the sustainable livelihood of the villagers and tried the idea of responsible tourism practiced through 15 homestays, involving 25 households in three villages is bearing fruits as it is providing them regular incomes ranging from Rs. 150,000 (about $2,300) to Rs, 200,000 (about $2400) per year.

Panchachuli from Munsiary (Photo-credit-Ram)
Panchachuli from Munsiary (Photo-credit-Ram)

The owners of home-stay have to take the oath that we wouldn’t disturb the natural surroundings and will not sell or serve liquor.

Many visitors want to experience hill farming, go on treks like to Khalia Danda, a hilltop at 3474 m, or to Chhipa Kedar or to Milam Glacier or Nanda Devi Base Camp.

Village and eco tourism has become the latest fad where visitors are exposed to the culture of the area but here no show is held for them and they don’t sell our culture on a platter for them, but they are more than welcome to participate in any cultural and religious function if it is being held in the village during their stay. Anyway, as many guests stay for days and weeks, they love to get their hands spoil in village farming and join village folk dance and song troupes and are more than thankful to carry a taste of Kumaoni society and nature back with them.

Fact file:

How to reach Munsiyari: From Delhi, take an overnight train to Haldwani, then a share taxi, taxi or bus to Munsiyari that is about 300 km and takes 10 to 12 hours.

Nearest Railway Station: Kathgodam (about 300 km).

Nearest airport: Pantnagar (about 350 km).

Rates: From Rs. 800 to Rs. 1500 per person, per day (including meals).

Contact: Malika Virdi: 09411194041, e-mail ID:K. Ramnarayan (Ram): 09411194042.

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