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Having never been to the far-western region of Nepal, my perception of Darchula was based solely on stories I had heard. I considered Darchula to be remote, lacking basic necessities like food, accommodation, and transportation facilities. In the weeks leading up to my first field visit to the region, I was really nervous — hours of continuous walking was not something I was looking forward to.
I was accompanying Binaya Pasakhala from the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) livelihoods team to take twenty-four people from the Kailash Sacred Landscape (KSL) of Nepal to Pithoragarh District of KSL-India to learn about good practices on ecosystem restoration and livelihood improvement.
Upon reaching Khalanga, the district headquarters of Darchula, I saw all of my prior concerns had been for nothing. There was a nice hotel with good food, clean rooms, and most importantly, Wi-Fi. Khalanga to me seemed like a regional melting pot. On either side of the Mahakali River that separates Nepal and India, the people look alike, their language is strikingly similar, and the problems they face are jointly shared. The trip transformed my perception of Darchula, altering forever the unfair image I had created in my mind.
On 9 September, we crossed the Mahakali River on a suspension bridge and entered Pithoragarh in KSL-India. Our first stop was Lumti Village, where the Uttarakhand Forest Department has employed a number of practices to restore degraded areas.
Participants, Mr. Kailash Rawat (Uttarakhand Forest Department) and Dr. Binaya Pasakhala observing recharge pond and Napier grass at Lumti in KSL-India
Initially, participants from KSL-Nepal complained about not receiving equivalent support from governmental and non-governmental agencies in their districts for forest conservation. Surprisingly, this view changed over the course of the exposure visit. I believe this transformation began when the participants interacted with women from the tribal forest Van Raji community in Didihat, Uttarakhand.
While exploring their village, we were introduced to rain water harvesting tanks built with support from KSLCDI through a local NGO, the Central Himalayan Environment Association. The Van Raji women shared stories of how their village had evolved over time with support from different programmes; in the past, they would have walked for hours to fetch water, now they have access to water in their homes.
KSLCDI team Interacting with women from the Ban Raji community (in the forefront) in KSL-India
One of our youngest participants, 19-year-old Ashish Singh, commented, ‘If people who lived in caves 20 years ago can achieve so much in such a short span of time, we too can work together and become an example for other communities’.
On the second day of the tour, we met Rekha Bhandari, a local champion from Jajurali. She talked about her experience of establishing a successful dairy and vegetable cooperative in her village, and the problems she faced along the way. Her key message was the initiative to change must be taken by the community; support from the government and other organisations will come into play later when the community is consistent and determined to make the change. Her insightful message stuck with our participants, who vowed to share and practice many of the learnings from the trip in their communities.
Sunayana (far-right) with Rekha Bhandari (in blue sari) and some of the participants from ANCA (from left to right) Poonam Karki, Chandra Kunwar and Kalawati Badal
We often fail to accept our shortcomings and are quick to blame others for our problems. In the beginning of the program, participants were aware of ecosystem degradation taking place in their surroundings, but were not ready to accept that they were part of the problem. By the end of the tour, they realised they possess the ability to make the changes that they wanted in their community.
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