Changemaker Magazine

Touching lives

Homes or homestays?  

Two hundred kilometres by road from Dehradun and an 11 km walk from there is a village of 500 inhabitants. Kalap lies in the Garhwal Himalayan region of Uttarakhand. It is not so much a primitive place as a forgotten one, says Anand Sankar, a 30-year-old photojournalist and inveterate traveller.

Sankar went there for the first time in 2007. “I returned with not even a single photograph,” he laughs. He took pictures when he went back there in 2013, but half wishes he had not. “That would have been a great branding exercise, to call it ‘the most un-photographed corner of the earth’!” Sankar found nothing had changed when he went back after five years. He realised that, picturesque as it was, Kalap needed help. “I have often been asked ‘why Kalap?’ I am from Coimbatore, grew up in Bangalore… I honestly do not know the answer. All I can say is I did not find Kalap; Kalap found me.”

A series of events and incidents led him there. Once he offered a paracetamol tablet to an old lady with high fever. Her fever came down and she almost fell at his feet! “I was taken aback. I had only given a tablet that cost about a rupee. But I learnt that a doctor had never been to the village.” There are no cash transactions among the villagers, as the village survives on barter.

He sent out a request on social media, and oncologist Dr. Yuvraaj Singh responded. They conducted a health camp. “We ran out of medicines in the first couple of days,” says Anand. More frightening was that 40 per cent of those screened were suspected of tuberculosis. Sankar realised there were many issues that could not be ignored. So, along with people familiar with the village and its problems, he decided to start an initiative “to make Kalap better.”

One lady from Bangalore went to Kalap to teach the villagers organic dyeing. “They weave their own cloth (woollen). We are now working around the possibility of getting them to use organic dyes and make furniture throws and bags that could bring in some funds,” says Sankar. Since Sankar had a background in adventure activities, he trains the villagers in pitching tents, being guides etc. Village homes are being offered as home-stays. The idea is to get responsible tourists to the picturesque area and also generate some alternative and sustainable livelihood options for the villagers.

The only “barely functioning public institution in the village”, says Anand is the government school. A film on Kalap’s classroom shows how abysmal it is. Children sit outside and study, if at all they do. The teachers are absent most of the times and the midday meal is pathetic. “Most kids just throw the food away.” 

The society is predominantly agrarian and pastoral. Once the village cultivated nearly 19 varieties of grains, but now grow only ragi and amaranth. It is simpler and more economical to settle for the substandard PDS dal, rice and wheat. However, this has led to serious vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. The Kalap Trust addresses these issues.

“Realisation did not come in a day. I couldn’t help them as an outsider. I had to be one of them,” says Sankar. He stayed there for nearly 200 days last year to find out what it was like to be an inhabitant of Kalap. He says there are volunteers who want to come up and help, but he is very picky. “I seek volunteers who will actually fill a need in the village, and not just come there to indulge in an exotic whim.”

Anand and his friends are in talks with funding agencies and other NGOs to take their work forward. “Many people have voiced fears about opening up Kalap. There is an ever-present danger of exploitation, misuse and corruption,” admits Sankar. “But, there is no reason to keep a place isolated just because we, as outsiders, feel the villagers are better off isolated. They have every right to equal opportunities and after that it is up to them to decide which way they want to go.”

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 2:12:40 AM |

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