Wan is a photographer’s delight, a picture-postcard village located amidst snow-capped Himalayan mountain peaks in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district.
It is also the last village at the end of a motorable road, which snakes through hairpin bends to connect the village in Garhwal to the rest of the world.
But the picturesque locales around Wan is not what its villagers take pride in; it is their connection to their roots that has made the village — and others settlements nearby — stand out in a state witnessing rapid migration from the hills.
Situated at a height of 8,000 feet above sea level and over 300 km from Dehradun, the village is home to about 300 families who live in small hamlets spread in an area of about 10 sq km.
With just one percent of its population working outside — in the Army or in government departments — Wan is showing the way in adapting to nature as a means of economic sustenance.
Official statistics show that a large number of people from the state’s hills are migrating to the plains in search of employment and for education, leaving many rural belts devoid of any people.
Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh in 2000 with the aim of ensuring development in the hills, which comprise 88% of the state’s geographical area. Nine of the state’s 13 districts are completely in the hills while two are partially hilly. In Wan, agriculture is thriving.
The people grow potatoes, chaulai (amaranth), soya beans, kidney beans and wheat in abundance along with herbs. The green pastures above the villages are ideal for grazing and many people are engaged in cattle and sheep rearing.
The young and old in the village collect makku (lichen), a combination of fungus and algae that grows on the barks of oak, brown oak, deodar and rhododendrons.
Used in natural dyes, deodorants, enamel paints and in medicinal ointments because of its antibiotic properties, a kilo of makku sells for anything between `80 and `120.
As the tourist seasons starts in May, it is time for tourist and trekkers to flock to Wan and most of the youth accompany them as porters and guides in the higher Himalayas.
Others would climb as high as 17000 feet in search of the precious ‘keerajari’ (ophiocordyceps sinensis), a fungus valued as a herbal remedy. Also known as yarsagumba locally, the fungus appears in the meadows as the snow melts.
However, villagers admitted that lack of basic facilities was a big problem in the region.
Mohan Singh, a village shepherd told HT, “More than 50 quintal of sheep wool is lying dumped in the village because very few businessmen reach this village to buy it”. Laxman Singh Bisht, a former zila panchayat member in Chamoli said lack of education avenues was preventing healthy growth of the children “though the people of Wan and adjoining villages are comparatively well-placed financially.”
As an example Bisht said a local guide was once given 1,100 Euros as a tip by a German tourist but he kept it for months together as mere papers without realising that the foreign currency was worth more than Rs75000.
The pathetic state of education was quite evident with only 3 teachers for 150 students in the village high school and about 40 children had to stay put at village Mundoli, about 15 km away, in rented rooms to do their intermediate because it is difficult to afford `120 daily on taxi fare.
Medical facilities are also non-existent and sick and pregnant women have to travel 50 km to reach the primary health centre at Deval. A 20 KW micro hydel generation project of the Uttarakhand Renewable Energy Development agency) is also out of order since August 2014. However, a recent visit by chief minister Harish Rawat has kindled hopes of better days in the hearts of the people. “It’s the first time ever a chief minister came to visit our village,” said Devendra Singh, a social worker of the village.