Alice Sharma on the story of a remote village in the Himalayas and one man’s struggle to bring change
Over 200 kms from Dehradun, deep in the mountains of Garhwal, nestled quietly amongst the Himalayas, lies a forgotten but picturesque village called Kalap. Its fate would have been the same as that of many other such places in far-flung remote corners of the region, if 33-year-old photographer and traveller Anand Sankar had not chanced upon it. He first went to the village in 2008 when he was still working as a photo-journalist in Delhi. Five years later, he returned to find the village just as he had left it. There was potential, but the village lacked even basic facilities of survival. He was surprised to learn that Kalap didn’t do cash transactions and the villagers survived simply via barter system. There was not even a single clinic there at the time. When a 70-year-old woman fell on his feet to thank him for a paracetamol tablet that reduced her fever, he felt compelled to help. He then posted about the situation on social media. An oncologist, Dr. Yuvraj Singh offered to help and they set up a health-camp in the area for the first time and ran out of medicines in the first couple of days. What was alarming was that nearly 40 per cent of the population screened was suspected for Tuberculosis.
“I was tired of writing about the problems. I wanted to be the solution instead,” says Sankar.
That is when he gave up his comfortable life in the city and moved to the mountains in order to help improve the lives of people. What made this transition easier was the fact that he preferred the quiet life of the mountains to the hustle-bustle of cities. Sankar now lives in Dehradun from where he manages the Kalap trust. The trust provides all the basic things to the people of the village that they earlier lacked and is sustained via crowdsourcing funds from India. It manages an “After-School” (as the government run school is in a dismal state), a clinic and also helps people create handcrafted products which are sold as a means to earn a livelihood.
In Kalap, the agricultural produce so far has been basic and mainly for sustenance purposes. The villagers grow wheat, millets, potatoes, and beans. The major occupation still remains rearing sheep and goat. With the trust, Sankar hopes to introduce a new skill set that will enable villagers to sustain themselves.Thanks to him, the village now has its own functional solar power grid. The project has been undertaken in partnership with the Chennai based company, E-hands Pvt. Ltd.
Coming from a family that has no background in entrepreneurship, his idea of moving to the hills wasn’t received with enthusiasm at home, “but they (his parents) got used to it slowly,” he says. Since Sankar had a background in adventure activities, he also trained the villagers in pitching tents, being guides etc. Comprehensive tours are also an option in Kalap now and provide alternative methods of revenue generation to the villagers.
After establishing the village as a responsible rural tourism destination, Sankar is hopeful enough to expand his work to other villages which are lost in time. “Right now we are only working in Kalap, but by next year, we hope to be working in the upper tone valley to help other such villages,” he says.
Summing up his journey and struggle through the village, Sankar says he is grateful as it keeps him busy as well as happy. ‘’The fact that I chanced upon this village is mere co-incidence, we will never know if I went looking for it or if Kalap found me,” he says philosophically.