Friday, March 2, 2012

For once small town, Mukteshwar

 Perched high up @ some7500 Feet near Nainital, 390 Kms from Delhi is a small hill station called Mukteshwar. Famous for its Apple orchards and scenic beauty, this place is little town and boasts of its complete serenity. It was my fourth visit to this place, first year being 1999. I reached there on Shivratri which is like a huge festival here as this town derives its name from the famous 300 year old Shiv temple here called Mukteshwar Dham. We first visited this old temple to pay our homage. It’s also a point to capture best view of Himalayas here as it's the topmost point. We unfortunately couldn’t click any of that due to meandering nimbi over the intermediate mountains. Shivratri is one of the times of the year when people from nearby and far off villages would dress up in their best clothes and meet and greet and feast together. 

This place is surrounded by a huge jungle area which is under IVRI where scientists do their research on animals. This jungle area is beautiful along with the institute, but you need prior permission to visit it. There are some nice 1907 buildings made up by British raj. You could still look at them and be amazed how they've still remained 1 piece after so many years.

After having our feast with the town folks, we headed back to a small town called Bhatelia where we were staying in this resort. Bhatelia is like 6 Kms downhill. We preferred to walk back with our friends from town. We discussed this small hill station, its people, IVRI and regional politics as we passed through this Jungle of Oak and Cedars. The Place looked like one of those haunted but it was mesmerizing and I couldn’t stop clicking pictures. The evening brings its own design as different settings of wood, sky and water and their shadows mix with each other in different concentrations to form Red, Orange and yellow colored landscapes.

The nights are very cold and windy. So better have an extra layer of clothing. We had our home cooked pahari food by Pandeyji's wife. There are some nice varieties of green leafy vegetables if one is a fan. As night grew darker, so were our glasses. Conversations overflowed and then again reached their confluence as clock struck 12. I got to know another picture of this once small town which is now stretching its boundaries to engulf black money of the market. These locals are poor households with meager or no income at all. Mostly they depend on their farm/ cattle for day to day needs. They have got plenty of land but no money to invest it into business. People from urban are buying their lands at dirt cheap prices and turning them into resorts. According to a local Mr. Dhiraj Pandey, this is how whole black money market is growing. For people having black money, it is the easiest way to invest money and then reap benefits later on. Locals on the other hand aren’t being provided money lending facilities by the government. Also there aren’t any restrictions on selling land to outsiders or even limitations in construction as one can see there are multifloor buildings being constructed in this region and throughout. There are bald patches with concrete over it throughout the mountains. The land now has more waste and it could be seen scattered across the town. The weather has changed than what it was few years back; this year there was less snowfall. Looking at the present scenario, I wonder if  this hill station  that I fell in love with when I first visited, would sustain in near future. Even the locals have some kind of resentment towards outsiders. There is no real development in terms of education, employment opportunities or bare essentials. Youth is frustrated and involved in alcohol abuse. Elders are either working in big Hotels and restaurants or running their own tea stall. But there is no real profit for them. So now the host is guest in own land and resources. What is not understood by us is that these are fragile areas and there needs to be sustainable development. Government should take necessary action to make strict land policy and provide financial services to locals. Also there need to be awareness programs at different levels for locals so that they can be benefited and made assured of its success.

In this time of need there are few people like Mr Thadani and Mr Pandey who are involved in reforestation programs of different plant species and believe in sustainable development. They are also involved in community based activities for locals. This brings up the torch of hope. It also gives me some hope that things will change for good in future. 

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