Residents of Himachal’s Jibhi village want to give back to society

They want to generate employment and ensure the place does not turn into another Manali

January 20, 2018 04:28 pm | Updated January 21, 2018 12:11 pm IST

Raju’s Cottage, a homestay that is very popular with visitors to Tirthan valley.

Raju’s Cottage, a homestay that is very popular with visitors to Tirthan valley.

I’ve had my third cup of lemon tea gently rocking on the cane swing in the verandah overlooking the resolute hills of Jibhi village in Himachal Pradesh. The gentle murmur of the local stream cuts through the silence of the Banjar valley. The only other sound I hear this early is my host Lalit Kumar’s soft voice cooing to his newborn in the kitchen downstairs.

I go downstairs and join him and his feisty wife Leena, who is instructing their homestay staff about breakfast. I ask to know more about his initiatives, which come across as rather ambitious for a young man in this sleepy little settlement, but then again, the stories of change in this region have been nothing short of surprising.

Kumar started out as a guide like many other youngsters in these hills, taking travellers on hikes around popular tourist spots until he realised he didn’t want to jump on the easy-money bandwagon.

He wanted to start something that would generate employment for the youth, to keep them away from addiction, and bring about a change in Jibhi without turning the quaint place into another Manali.

A river saved

This germ of an idea gave birth to Jibhi Adventure — organising mountaineering expeditions, treks, jeep safaris, adventure camps, and fishing and rafting trips for tourists. Trained in yoga and meditation, Kumar now also leads ‘healing walks’ in the enchanting Jibhi nature reserve because “there’s more to the mountains than outdoor adventures. We also have inner journeys to make,” he smiles.

Lalit Kumar who runs an adventure tourism enterprise and, a homestay with his wife.

Lalit Kumar who runs an adventure tourism enterprise and, a homestay with his wife.

 

Troubled by the garbage slowly ruining the hills, Kumar spearheaded the ‘Clean Jibhi, Green Jibhi’ movement and invited15 ‘green’ volunteers to organise cleanliness drives and promote environmental awareness among the locals. “I feel responsible for this place and want to give something back because my guests are using its natural resources,” he says.

In Gushaini in the neighbouring valley of Tirthan, I meet another local man, Raju Bharti, owner of the landmark Raju’s Cottage that has made it to nearly every ‘top rural mountain homestays’ list over the years. While most backpackers heading to Tirthan are aware of the accommodation Bharti runs, few know of his phenomenal battle to protect the river on the bank of which his guesthouse sits.

In 2000, a private project to build a dam on the Tirthan river, flowing through the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP), was proposed. Bharti opposed it on the grounds that the project would disturb the eco-sensitive zone.

When he was asked by officials to go to court, Bharti decided to take it head-on with the help of his father who, as a former MLA, had pushed for the formation of GHNP in the 70s. Bharti collected signatures of the villagers to file a petition. Nearly six years and over 30 court trips later, a judgment was passed in his favour, saving not just the river but also agriculture and the numerous livelihoods that depended on it.

A swing and supper

Bharti’s guesthouse is a beautiful place that can be accessed only by a pulley-driven trolley, and is a must-visit for travellers to Gushaini. Bharti believes the river has brought him immense luck with his business, and personally too.

“In the 2005 flashfloods that took away everything, the river spared my place. I was protected probably because I protected it,” he says.

 Shubham runs an Andretta pottery studio, and is promoting the craft among youngsters.

Shubham runs an Andretta pottery studio, and is promoting the craft among youngsters.

Not too far away in Andretta near Palampur, young Shubham too believes in the power of giving back. His late father, Jugal Kishore, left behind an enduring legacy through Andretta pottery, says Shubham who left his engineering degree to return to his roots and promote pottery among youngsters. He’s brought in a refreshing new perspective to the age-old art, with new ideas of fusing it with nature walks and sustainable travel to niche spots in Himachal Pradesh.

After easy days of driving around the area, I finally go see the Jalori pass that connects the Banjar region to Aani. The drive up from Jibhi slices through a bowl of cedar-covered mountains; the view is breathtaking. After half a day on the pass, walking through meadows and wildflowers, I head back to Jibhi where my swing and a hot dinner await me at my homestay, Leena’s Place.

Leena’s bottled some of her delicious homemade linguda or wild fern pickle for me to take back home because I’ve fallen in love with it; but most of all, what I will be taking back in dollops from the quiet valleys of Himachal Pradesh is the heady whiff of inspiration.

Born and brought up in the Himalayas, the writer is an adventurer who derives great joy from napping under the mountain sun.

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