Eco-tourism: A Livelihood Opportunity for Himalayan Villages


AAGAAS, UNDP joint initiatives

AAGAAS, UNDP and Nawaachaar  joint initiatives

I was in Pipalkoti ( Uttarakhand)  for the internship with the organization called AAGAAS Federation. AAGAA S is working in this region of Uttarakhand Himalaya since last more than 16 years. This village- Pipalkoti of District Chamoli  situated along NH-58 (Dehradun to Shri Badrinath). Pipalkoti also has tourist attraction during Yatra season.  Fortunately, I stayed in Bio tourism Park  Pipalkoti a campus surrounded by green yellow bamboo, many Himalayan tree species developed by AAGAAS Federation and simultaneously I got an opportunity of the 5th Himalayan trek from Pipalkoti to SaatTaal via- Patalganga, Ganaai,  Molta-Lord Curzon trail- Pana  and Jhinjhi village . It was UNDP/GEF/SGP/COMDEKS/Satoyama Initiative by AAGAAS   and partly supported by – NAWACHAAR project of NAWACHAAR SAMITI, District Department of Economics& Statics, District- Chamoli running by AAGAAS federation. With the aim of “Increasing the livelihood ambit of the targeted community members”, this organization conducting trek every year to promote livelihood in remote villages of Garhwal region. This organization under this project is also seeking for new trekking routes. Before this trek, people used to trek SaatTaal via Lord Curzon trail or Zhinzhi but AAGAAS take initiative to take people through Gandai and Molta villages. It was a nice experience to reach a village like Molta after 14 km long walk on rough terrains. But peoples were there used to it.

As a student of development, I had a keen interest in the role of development. So during the trek, I had one question like how do villagers get access to education, livelihood, and health care? I saw electricity and primary schools in every village as I long go in that routes. Again it was amazing for me that people of those villages somehow have this kind of facility while many villages in plain don’t have. Yeah! It was sad for me or many of us that those villages don’t have mobile networks. It was 4 days we didn’t connect with our parents while we were using BSNL and AIRTEL. At that time, we made fun of 4G advertisement of Airtel network. Except this, there were many problems like employment, natural disaster, health services, and education after primary level.


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As I found good livelihood sources are the biggest issue for those villagers. Rural to urban migration is high. Mostly young people have migrated to nearest cities. And those who were still there are facing problems. So the questions are, what could be alternative livelihood sources for remote Himalayan villages? Which types of intervention could prevent migration? How can villagers get access to good education, health, and livelihood in these types of harsh conditions?

Answers to these question are not easy. These are as difficult as solving a hard puzzle. But there are some ideas/initiatives which I encountered during my internship can help to answer all these questions at a certain level. Uttrakhand government initiative NAWACHAAR project is playing a key role in it. The role of AAGAAS federation is in this project as a supporting organization. Developing a Bio tourism park at Pipalkoti, conducting trek of unknown routes around Pipalkoti, developing villages as eco-tourist friendly are key steps taking by the organization. These are not only attracting tourist but also providing livelihood to local people for a short term.

I found it interesting when I considered trekking as a short-term livelihood. Here I am presenting a rough estimation of how a single trek can give short time employment to 20 people. First for trekking in Himalayan region trekkers need a local guide and porters according to luggage. After that in which village trekkers will go they will arrange for food from local people even sometimes shelter (if that village working as tourist friendly or developed as eco-tourism village) and it will give a new livelihood source minimum 4 people in each village. Therefore, suppose if trekkers are going to stay in 4 villages it will give employment to total 16 people. And again this will be going to make an attachment (in terms of their culture, way to host, and persisting problems) to those people and villages. A single trekking can also sensitize trekkers regarding environment and conservation of natural beauty surrounding the Himalayan region. Even in a trek, trekkers will not go with an empty mind, you will bring some ideas regarding livelihood patterns, agriculture, education, and health; as I did when I was in the trek. In return as a knowledge, body trekkers will come with some more effective ideas to improve villagers’ life.

In my field visit, I encountered to the craftsman of Urgam Valley mainly known for PanchKedar trek. I asked them what they think about tourism and tourist. Their response like tourism is an opportunity for them to sell their arts. When I asked them about do tourist create some problems for them? They totally denied and said tourist for us like a god. Many times they come to us and purchase our product. After talking to the craftsman I found eco-tourism can also help these people to get a market at their place. Even in Mana village I found Bhutia tribes knitting sweaters and shawls which they sell to the tourists come there. At Mana village, Bhutiyas only live there for six months after they migrate to other lower altitude places like Mangroli a village near Nandprayag. They get to market there for their handy products. So the development of eco-tourism will also help artisans to get market at their places. But still eco-tourism and people from this region facing lots of problems which I discuss in following paragraphs.

Problems with eco-tourism- there are many problems with eco-tourism itself which I found through my treks and research on NAWACHAAR project with AAGAAS. These are followings-

1-         Rural to Urban Migration/ Enchantment towards cities- In present lots of young population from the remote Himalayan region are heading towards big cities. As I found there are two reasons first lack of education, health, and livelihood facilities and another one is youths are more fashioned/romanticized toward cities. You can also say this one like ‘Chaka-choundhkiZindagi’. In a talk with Porter Shyam, he said ‘we are losing our culture. Young wants to migrate from villages. They are list bother about agriculture and even to live here’.

2-         Harsh conditions- I went to village Mana mainly known as India’s last village just after coming from the trek. It was the only summer and rainy season people live there after that they migrated from there to another lower altitude places. Generally, we can say it is a seasonal migration as Charwahas often do. But the reason behind this is the harsh condition of high altitudes. The whole village covers with snow in winter seasons. So the availability of transport, food, education, and health care are not available.

3-         Environmental degradation- There is one big issue with eco-tourism is, it increases environment degradation if there are less monitoring and awareness programs. Sometimes developing a new trek route causes harm in bio-diversities. The Even popularization of that places might invite such a huge crowd which also led to environment degradation. Places in Uttarakhand like Shri Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib are heavily crowded in Yatra seasons and also led to bring more plastics, solid waste, vehicles, etc. which also increases air pollution, problems like solid waste management.

4-         Inadequate education, transport, and health facilities- I have already mentioned this concern but here I am going to elaborate why this need other section. Young people migration towards cities are reasonable but, why are adults or servicemen moving towards cities questionable? As I found in this region people who have government jobs or some asset like to settle in cities because of better education for their children and better health facilities. For an example in a girl from Urgam Valley stayed in Dehradun for her higher secondary education and further she is staying in Gopeshwer. Both are 280 km and 64 km far from Urgam respectively. As PushkarLal resident of BarhgindaTalla village, Urgam valley said to me “here we have school till higher-secondary but for further studies our children have to either Gopeshwar or Joshimath. Same with emergency medical services, we have primary health center here but in an emergency, we go to Gopehwar or Dehradun. And here always uncertainty in transport. After 3 pm you will not get vehicles to Hailang( the  nearest village which connects Urgam valley to NH-58).”

This is no a story of one person this is a story of near about 500 families in Urgam valley and much more in the remote area of Garhwal region. Here central government promoting higher studies, collaborating with world top universities but still disconnected with rural people especially in Garhwal and other Himalayan region. Whole Garhwal region only has one central university in Srinagar (88 km far from Chamoli district) which is still need central government attention to became popular.

5-         Lack of government initiatives- If we look at the problems, initiatives taken by the government in this area are meager. Proper roads and transportation, primary health centers, increasing tourism which benefits local people, livelihood sources, lack of financial support, etc. Here I didn’t get government buses through the roads. Even from Dehradun to Chamoli we took private bus service because there was no proper government transportation. There are still private taxis who will ask you more money in emergencies. This is the reason peoples are not regularly connected with broader markets.

I don’t have too much to say as I am here only for a month and even I don’t have that much focus or strategy to study problems of this area. In the nut shell, I would like to say this area needs more attention as it has varying diversity in flora-fauna and even it has the scenic view of Himalaya. Eco-tourism need more awareness but with proper monitoring system on village level which will preserve their resources and keep maintain the beauty of this valley. This area also needs more sustainable projects which could develop a proper and adequate education, livelihood, and healthcare facilities to the people.

  • By an intern from AAGAAS Federation Akash Kumar, Azim Premji University