Laluri is a small village set in the beautiful Himalayan hills of Uttarakhand, India. It is a place that is still very much cut off from modern life – there is no internet, little spoken English and a natural spring instead of running tap water. This 200+yr old settlement is also home to an exciting initiative set up by local man Dev and artist Kasia. The main concern of Pahaadi – the name of the NGO and also the collective word for Indo-Aryan people of the Himalayas – is to keep people in the village. Many threats face the village of Laluri, the main one being nearby cities with enticing far-away jobs and modernisation.
Luckily for me, Pahaadi accept volunteers on workaway to enable people from all over the world to contribute to their mission. After a few friendly emails, I was on my way to experience rural Indian life in Laluri.
After a chat with Dev, it became evident why he has returned to his birthplace.
“People aren’t proud of their home. They want to move to the city to find work and make money.”
Limitations of the local people also became apparent. A lot of energy is spent daily on keeping the buffalo fed and watered which means women have little time for other activities after cooking and caring for young children. Being a Hindu settlement, they do not use the animal for meat, but purely for their milk which is around 2ltrs a day. Young girls are now turning to University and/or returning to Laluri to continue the women’s tradition. One girl in particular shared her frustration at the inability to be independent as a woman in Laluri.
As I wandered around I noticed how much seemingly good farm land is left unused. Dev highlights the issue: monkeys. They will eat and destroy almost everything. That and the unease of fetching enough water for the crops. With farming almost at a standstill, and only a handful of convenience stores providing work; the men also flee to the city to find employment.
So what is it Pahaadi aims to do in the fight to conserve traditional village life? At the moment two main projects are underway: building a mushroom farm and offering English lessons to young women, boys and small children.
Mushrooms grow fast and plentiful all year round and the aim is to employ up to 8 locals to run the farm. It will empower the villagers by generating employment, giving them purpose and reason to be proud of where they live.
In addition to this, evening classes are held everyday to help maintain pride and confidence in young people. Pahaadi also states:
“Due to lack of attention and good schools in the village, the children are left behind in overall development. Moreover physical, psychological neglect or aggression directed at a child by an adult causes harm to the child’s health, existence, development and dignity. To overcome these issues, we are running evening classes in the village.”
Other than dusty work and lesson planning, Laluri has so much more to offer. Learning to cook Indian food, being welcomed in for Chai, an invite to a wedding, exploring on Sunday (day off), enjoying a walk to the spring and views across the Himalayas are just a few other experiences I’ll never forget.
Pahaadi Society has future ideas for Laluri, too. At the moment home stays are being set up to encourage more travellers to stop by. This is another clever way to bring income to the villagers, without disrupting their daily routine. Dev is also researching ways in which to make water more accessible to all parts of the village.
It is projects such as these that remind me how wonderful human beings can be. Not only are Pahaadi devoting their life to the well-being of a small community, but this very community welcomes in strangers from across the globe with open arms.