Pantwari is a sleepy town in Uttarakhand’s Tehri Garhwal district. In last few years, this town has become much more lively and bustling with trekking and other adventure activities. This is because it is the last motorable point from where the trekking for the highest peak in the lesser Himalayas of Uttarakhand state (Garhwal Division), Nag Tibba, starts. It is situated at around 85 km. from Dehradun and around 50 Km. from Mussorie. The altitude is set to be at 9,915 ft. for this peak.

As soon as you enter the town of Pantwari, you will see a number of jeeps and mules standing in a queue. It’s a peaceful town with small houses, where Garhwali families are waiting for you to come along with your tour operators and avail their hospitality services. Actually, the entire model is very carefully analyzed and well implemented on the ground by the national tour operators, who are now seeing the entire trek to Nag Tibba as a huge potential for attracting more number of tourists.

There are several tour agencies that are now collaborating with these local families for a various range of services like food, lodging, trekking equipment, mule services etc. In return, these families are getting paid for the services which they are providing to the young trekkers who are coming to explore and enjoy the natural beauty.

Economic Model: Integrating local knowledge systems with monetary channels

Naresh Bhandari along with his family served us the lunch for the day. He has a large hall where he keeps everything arranged in his big wooden shelves. His children are also helping him in serving the food for the trekking group. His wife is cooking hot chapattis and delicious “chole” (chickpea) for our group. Now, since they have collaborated with the tour agency which organized the entire trek for our group, their arrangement has entered into a formal structure as well as it has brought a certain degree of monetary stabilization for the family. As we left for trekking after having the satisfying local food, the entire Bhandari family had smiles on their faces. Similarly, there are many families (like Bhandari’s) who are getting the benefit from such kind of private adventure and trekking based initiatives.

(Dhaba of the Bhandari Family)

“We are really happy that you liked our food. We are getting lots of good guests and are happy to serve them with our food and other hospitality services”, says Bhandari, the owner of the Dhabha, a guest house and the head of the family.

The model is based on the concept of merging local services as well as local knowledge with monetary support. Another example is of a local guide who accompanies the trek leader of a particular group. The local guide along the trek shares all the local knowledge with the tourists about the variety of plant breeds which you will observe all the way to the Nag Tibba. He will also share with you the various traditions and cultures that the villagers have been following since ages. Last but not the least, he is the savior, because on a trek and with so many trails going the same way, the local guide is the only one who will ensure that you reach your base camp point safely.

(Local-Garhwali thali prepared by Naresh Bhandari and his family)

Rohit, who is the local guide for our group is having a smart phone and listening to all the latest released Bollywood tracks. He shared the local knowledge on flora and fauna with us.

“It was my first trekking experience and I absolutely enjoyed it. Nag Tibba is a heaven on the Earth. Watching sunset when we reached our basecamp point was truly amazing and the experience of staying in tents made me feel excited. I feel bit more relaxed and refreshed after finishing this trek. Thanks to our tour operator”, says Ankur Khare, one of the members of our trekking group who came all the way from Bhopal to experience this trek.

One of the USP for this trek is the accessibility. During winters, most of the treks situated in the higher ranges are closed due to non-friendly weather conditions. But, due to good roads and being situated in the lower range, it is turning out to be an amazing destination for adventure lovers.

“This type of model has really empowered the local people. On every weekend, around 20 to 25 groups are visiting this trek. Since the coming of these national tour operators, people like us have also got a formal structure on which we can depend and expect a certain degree of financial stability”, said Anil Rawat, our trek leader and working with a tour operator agency for last five years. Anil lives in Rishikesh and his collaboration with such agencies has made his communication and touring skills better.

On reaching Nag Tibba, the local guide and Anil shares their in-depth knowledge on different peaks that are visible from the top. Bandarpooch, Nanda Devi, and Draupadi peaks were some names which I can recall from his quick verbal explanation. Anil himself has completed one Himalayan expedition.

(Anil Rawat- fourth from the right and Rohit- fourth from the left, with the other trekking group members at the top of Nag Tibba peak)

Way Ahead

With more than 1,000 villages having no inhabitants at all (as per the data of census 2011), Uttarakhand is facing a major challenge of tackling migration in the hilly regions. Models and initiatives like these are really helping the villages in becoming self-reliant and grow economically. Moreover, the new and improved policies of homestay which are introduced by the Uttarakhand government for different regions are also helping the locals to some extent. Yet, a full-fledged framework coupled with elaborate economic support can create many examples like this and that too at a larger level.

(Author is the Lead – Public Policy and Communications at SDC Foundation. He tweets at Writer_Rishabh