Towards Sustainable Tourism – Sewa Saahas
Uttarakhand is a traveler’s paradise. Apart from being the melting pot of divinity, adrenaline pumping treks and breathtaking views of the mighty Himalayas the region is a reservoir of the rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. Post the 2013 disaster when Sewa International began its relief and rehabilitation efforts in the districts of Rudraprayag and Chamoli, Sewa Saahas was an important vertical that was initiated to develop ecotourism and also to train the youth for disaster preparedness and management.
The idea of Model Eco Tourism Villages
Rudraprayag is one of the Panch Prayag (five confluences) of Alaknanda River, the point of confluence of rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini. Kedarnath, a prominent Hindu holy shrine, also a part of the much revered Chota Chaar Dhaam, is located 86 km from Rudraprayag and hence attracts tourists, especially pilgrims from the entire country.
Chamoli is another district bordering Rudraprayag and is a host to a variety of destinations of pilgrim and tourists’ interest. Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib, Valley of Flowers and Auli are some of the places thronged by tourists every year. Chamoli also happened to be the birthplace of “Chipko movement”. With its spectacular natural assets and views, Chamoli is set to emerge as a major tourist destination in times to come.
Unplanned urbanization and commercialization of ecologically sensitive regions have caused unparalleled damage due to natural disasters such as cloudbursts and flood. However, it is imperative to understand that tourism forms a key revenue generation activity for the state and a source of livelihood for much of the Uttarakhand population. Sewa Saahas constituted youth clubs to develop the villages of Byunkhi (Rudraprayag), Karcho ( Rudraprayag) and Vaan (Chamoli) as model ecotourism villages and to create a low impact and small scale alternative to standard mass commercial tourism in this fragile, pristine and undisturbed natural area. These youth clubs were trained for disaster preparedness and also act as tourist guides. A total of 25 trek routes have been identified which have been categorized as easy, moderately difficult and difficult. Some of these treks are of cultural importance as well as of breathtaking beauty to the traveler. The members of the youth club are also trained in adventure sports activities to provide a wholesome travel experience to the guests.
Byunkhi village is a small hamlet located 39 KM towards the north of Rudraprayag and 124 KM from State capital Dehradun. The village presents a picturesque view of the Himalayas and Kedarnath to all its visitors. The relative remoteness of this area has kept the natural beauty pristine and pure, untouched, by the rapid commercialization of the tourism industry. The village provides a perfect ambient environment for one to pursue meditation, yoga and other such endeavors. The rich biodiversity is a treat to the eyes for bird watchers and nature enthusiasts.
Places To See:
- Kalimath – Lying at an altitude of 6,000 feet on the Himalayan river Saraswati, at Rudraprayag, is the holy village of Kalimath. The Kali temple which is also revered as a Shaktipeeth is thronged by a large number of devotees every year. Kalimath is situated close to Ukhimath, and Guptakashi.
- Kalishila – Situated right ahead the Kalimath temple lies Kalishila, literally meaning a black rock, is believed to be an embodiment of the goddess Shakti in her true form. The rock hangs at 45 degrees outsides of the mountain. One has to climb over to the other side of the rock that peeps deep into the valley and move into a slight hollow into the rock, where Sri Yantra is located. A central point of the energy of all life forms.
- Koti Maheshwari/Ruchh Mahadev – Located at 17kms from Guptakashi, near the Kali river is situated the temple of Koti Maheshwari. According to legend, it is said that the goddess took hundreds of mystical forms and appearances to scare the demons away.
Situated in Joshimath Tehsil of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand lies the cozy Himalayan village of Karchhon. Pauri, Chamba, Almora and Tehri are some of the nearby places surrounding this remote village. Karchhon presents a majestic view of no less than 12 Himalayan peaks. The biodiversity comprises of a rich reservoir of medicinal plants and herbs that have been used for centuries by the local people. The village with its high rise peaks and twisted pathways presents an excellent location for adventure sports like rock climbing, valley crossing, wildlife safari, and trekking.
Places to see
- Auli – A famous hill station and ski resort, Auli attracts thousands of tourists each year for skiing and other adventure sports. It lies barely 3 km away from the Karcchon village. The place offers a beautiful trek route surrounded by oak and pine trees, with a view opening to the Nanda Devi mountains.
- Hemkund Sahib – 26 km away from Karchhon, the shrine is dedicated to the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. Hemkund Sahib is believed to be the place where the Guru was asked by divine forces to take a bath in the chilling lake after a period of intense meditation. The Gurudwara, lying in the vicinity of a glacial lake is surrounded by 7 mountain peaks, rendering it a divine beauty which is difficult to put in words.
- Valley Of Flowers – Just like a pearl hidden in an oyster’s shell, the valley of flowers is a hidden gem amidst these mighty ranges. A UNESCO world heritage site, it falls in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves due to the presence of endemic alpine flowers and rich variety of flora. The diverse area is also home to many rare and endangered Himalayan animal species like the Musk deer, snow leopard, brown bear etc.
- Badrinath Temple – (23 km from Karchhon) An important pilgrimage center dedicated to Lord Vishnu, witnesses thousands of devotees every year to pray to the diety. The image of the presiding deity worshipped in the temple is 1 m tall, the black stone statue of Vishnu in the form of Badrinarayan. The statue is considered by many Hindus to be one of eight self-manifested statues of Vishnu.
Located in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, about 94 km away from Karnaprayag, Vaan is a trekkers paradise, situated at about 2500 mt above the sea level. Apart from being a repertoire of nature’s beauty, the village is also of keen spiritual importance. The place provides almost a trance-like serenity to the visitor, thus connecting him to the universal energy of the divine.
Places to see
The village is surrounded by majestic Bugyals (meadows) and thrilling treks, to satisfy a traveler’s wanderlust. Following are some of them :
- Bhramtal Kukina Khal trekking route
- Radkadhar, Anatoli camping, Neelganga fall
- Lok Nanda Jat Vedioni Laato Devta Temple
Roopkund Trek – Another prominent place of adventure and spiritual significance is the Roopkund trek. Situated at an altitude of about 5000mt above sea level, at a distance of 26 km from the Waan village hidden in between snow-laden hills lies the glacial lake of Roopkund. The mythical story of the lake is as intriguing as the place itself is. It is said that the goddess Shakti, upon her return journey to Kailash was thirsty and thus pleaded her husband, Lord Shiva to quench her thirst. On her request, the lord pierced his trident right across the land, thus giving rise to this glacial lake. Upon seeing her beautiful reflection in the lake the goddess named the lake as Roopkund. The trek to this mystical lake is a must do for every mountain lover out there. Not just is it a once in a lifetime kind of adventure but it also fills a person with profound spiritual energy that is so intrinsically woven into the state of Uttarakhand.
WHY TRAVEL WITH SEWA SAAHAS?
While you may have contemplated visiting this land of natural and spiritual marvels many times, the heavily priced tourist packages might have pulled you off. We believe that travel must be sustainable and respectful towards the local customs and ecology of an area. Hence the conception of Sewa Saahas, an alternative way to travel responsibly and in a budget-friendly manner.
- Sewa Saahas brings together a unique blend of the quiet and solitude of the Himalayan travel experience and the adventure tourism that the mountains provide. Access to many adventure activities like rapling, valley crossing, ziplining and mountain climbing is a part of traveling with us.
- A chance to experience the authentic Himalayan life by staying at homestays managed solely by the locals of the region. The clean and Sattvic food is a delight to anyone tired of hogging onto the junk of the cities. Also, staying at a hotel can never match the joy of staying with a family and experiencing the realities of the place you travel to.
- To service-oriented citizens, Sewa Saahas presents a wonderful opportunity to engage in ‘Voluntourism’ Connecting with our SHG members, listening to their stories of change and success first hand, getting to work with them in tree plantation drives, or as simple as sharing any skills you have with these people who otherwise have very limited access to the outside world and emerging technologies. Imagine the transformation in the life of a rural woman or child, if you help them learn Facebook or Instagram to promote their small businesses or find the right buyers for their farm produce.
- Sewa Saahas has mobilized the local youth leading to the formation of youth groups who are trained in hospitality, tourist guiding, disaster mitigation, and prevention. These young men and women are perhaps the most important stakeholders in maintaining the purity and sacredness of the region. And thus are the best scouts and guides you can find to take you along little-known treks and meadows devoid of the chaotic crowds of the mainstream tourist spots.
- Last but not the least, travelling with Sewa Saahas would bring about a significant shift not just to your perception of how people live in the mountains but also provide the locals with exposure to the outside world, providing them an alternate source of livelihood and access to a community of new age travelers, who care for their environment as much as they do.