“Take me to Kamla Pandey’s house” I tell my driver as we enter Sarmoli village in Munsiari. This is not a surprising thing for us who live in the cities but a woman’s name being known in a village is a symbol of her empowerment who otherwise is addressed as so and so’s wife, mother or daughter. Kamla lives with her husband and son and like many other women in the village has participated in the Homestay program.
Sarmoli is a village in Munsiari which is a hill station in Kumaon region of Uttrakhand. The Panchachuli peaks of the Himalayas welcome you here and present before you a spectacular landscape. Sarmoli tells the story of transformation of lives of women in particular and community as a whole with the help of tourism. Apart from giving the community a source of livelihood; the model is also helping to preserve the environment and biodiversity of this fragile ecosystem.
Rural Tourism: Theo, Malika and Ram came from outside and settled here. They work as a team; each giving this work the advantage of their experience and skills. They have sensitized the community about the importance of protecting their ecosystem. Malika spearheads the homestay program with women of this village. The women started a women’s collective for making local products like homemade snacks and woolens called Maati Sanghatan under Malika’s guidance. Maati began with few women in the village who protested against alcoholism in mid 1990s. Today it is a platform for women to earn as well as raise their voice against environmental degradation.
The video shows more about the movement:
This model of tourism is inclusive and responsible. Inclusive as it involves the community directly and the benefits go back to them. The women earn from homestays and some women are even trained in mountaineering and act as guides during treks. Responsible as this prevents construction of hotels and commercial structures which spoil the beauty and ecological balance.
Activities: This place is a gateway to many challenging treks like the Milam Glacier trek and a paradise for bird watchers. Theo and Ram are great repositories of knowledge about flora and fauna of this place. There is also shorter trek to Mesar kund and the Dhanadhar ridge. You can also be a part of the local festivals if you visit during that time.
Stay: There are more than 15 homestays. I stayed in the homestay which cost me INR 1000 per day with food! The homestays vary from old traditional designs to modern designs. The roaster system decides allocation of homestays to tourists.
How to Reach: The nearest railway station is Kathgodam. From there shared taxis operate and take around 10 hours through the winding roads to reach. Be ready for some back breaking journey.
So this time do more than just travel. This time experience the life of the hill community as it is and enjoy the charms of nature in a responsible way!