A Yatra was carried out in the Byans valley of Kailash Sacred Landscape (KSL); one of the most beautiful and culturally diverse valley from October 27th to September 17th, 2015 under Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI) with major objective to understand different shades and transitions across the landscape. A team of 18 researchers was alienated into three groups with different tasks and objectives. With my end, this Yatra offered me an opportunity to understand the challenges and opportunities in the Himalayan landscape general and Byasn valley in particular. The valley was beautiful and highly diverse with rich culture/customs, nicely sculpted households, and providing vital habitat for unique and representative biodiversity. Across the landscape, villages are situated distantly and have evolved their architect and settings as per the terrain suitability and their closeness to natural resources. Trade is the major activity in the region, involves goods carrying with diverse mode of transportation viz. human laborers, goats, mules and horse. The isolation of village communities have facilitated the development of unique indigenous knowledge systems that includes diverse farming practices, ethno-botanical uses, customs and rituals. The landscape is one the most revered places of Hindus and visited by thousands of pilgrims annually during the renowned, Kailash Mansarovar yatara.
The interviews, group meetings and discussions with villagers and my colleagues throughout the journey have immensely enriched my understanding on a variety of issues that impose on the natural resources management and changing socio-economic foundation of the rural society in the landscape. The inhabitant communities of high altitude villages are (Gunji, Nepalchu, Kutti etc) very strict to follow their rituals/customs and believes. However, with improved accessibility to resources and technology, the local economies are merging with mainstream economy and the socio-cultural norms are getting influenced by the process of modernization. The livelihood of many families in the valley is overriding trade with Tibet (China) through Lipulekh pass of local products in exchange of cloths, crockery and different kind of liquor which is in high demand in Indian part of the landscape.
The immense heterogeneity in land use and climate conditions along a wide range of altitude, accompanied by different cultural manifestation has contributed to diversification of the farming system and unique agrodiversity in the landscape. Local people are growing unique crop cultivars/landraces for subsistence, and surplus is sold (particularly potato and kidney bean). Selling the surplus is not providing enough economic return due to involvement of many level of marketing channel (i.e. local trader, middle men) pointed towards development of better value chain system and marketing options. Many locally adapted crop cultivars are losing the distinct identity due to change in food habit and lack of institutional support.
Migration of youth as well as families was very recurrent in the valley to explore better education, livelihood options, infrastructure and also due to remoteness of the area pointed toward the extremely harsh climate conditions and lack of basic facility i.e. school, hospital, road and network connectivity, low quality of social infrastructure etc. During the discussion, youth of the villages have articulated their willingness to stay back in their village, if they are able to secure substantial livelihood locally and access to technological interventions to minimize high level of drudgery.
During the Yatra we have documented 170 plant species belonging to 48 families. The region is habitat to various varieties of NTFPs including medicinal plants, wild edibles that offer part-time livelihood option to the unemployed youth of the region if undertaken properly. In general the serenity of the region offers great prospective to domestic and international tourism only need to highlight the valley appropriately at larger level since it is only restricted to Kailash Yatra. Increased and regular tourist influx could contribute to the economy of the habitants and highlight the area in gaze of policy planner and conservatives. This could be possible by providing better facilities to the tourist through improving the lodging and flooding services particularly more emphasis should be paid to home stays and local food products during tourist season, marketing of local products, presentation of culture rituals i.e. songs, dance, dress, etc. At very personnel level, the Yatra presented me the glance of Adi-Kailash and Om parvat and rendered my capabilities to a new dimension since it was my first Yatra of itself. It endowed lesson of accepting people in tough and harsh climate, and to take risky decisions in life losing conditions. The experience of living in home stays was quite unique and signified that local households have successfully adapted this avenue of earning with ecotourism.
Finally, I acknowledged the financial supports by KSLCDI project and Task Force 3 under National Mission on Sustaining the Himalayan Ecosystem funded by Department of Science and Technology (DST), New Delhi and help extended by Dr. K.C. Sekhar, Dr. Ravindra Joshi and research students during the Yatra. I sincerely thank and acknowledge the facility and help provided by ITBP to our group during the hard time of entire Yatra. In the last, it is indeed a great pleasure to acknowledge the support, cooperation and hospitality extended by the local people of Byans valley.
Author: Dr. Vikram Singh Negi