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In the Munsiari district of Uttarakhand lies a tiny village of Sarmoli, set against the perfect backdrop of the snow-laden Panchchuli ranges. Slowly modernising but keeping its culture and beauty intact, this village runs its own Instagram channel, the first community-run Instagram channel in India. With just a little over 140 pictures, @voicesofmunsiari has quickly garnered over 6,700 followers. Read on to find out more.
Shivya Nath, a famous travel blogger from India along with Malika Virdi, an ardent mountaineer who has set up homestays in the village helped the Sarmoli community to launch an Instagram channel. @voicesofmunsiari enables the villagers to share their stories and their organic way of life as well as bring the village’s untouched and pristine beauty to the world. The idea being that this will boost tourism in the village and in turn provide financial support to the community. The villagers may only have basic English and have limited internet connectivity, but it doesn’t stop them from sharing stories and pictures about their village.
This village boasts of mighty mountain peaks, green fields, a peaceful community, awe-inspiring vistas, amiable villagers and warm hospitality. With the chaotic and fast-paced city life, it’s become more important than ever to escape into a peaceful, slower pace of life once a while to rejuvenate, and Sarmoli village is a perfect place to do just that. It offers a perfect retreat into the mountains and nature.
The women of the village play multiple roles, as hiking guides, social activists, entrepreneurs, homemakers and homestay hosts. Through the Instagram channel the villagers address climatic changes, other social issues and any struggles that they face.
Every spring, the Sarmoli community hosts a festival – Himal Kalasutra Festival. It’s a week-long affair and involves a different event every day, including bird-watching and a mini-marathon. Surprised? Yes, these villagers host a running event with an elevation gain of 2438.4 meters (8000 feet) over 12.4 miles (20 km). In 2016, the festival also included an open knowledge digital workshop by Wikipedia, yoga retreat and a forest fair. Everyone is welcome to take part in this festival.
The credit for the development of this village and rural tourism goes to Malika and Theo, who along with Ram, call this village their home and work towards the development of the village and preserving its environment. Malika runs the homestay programme and provides guidance to the Maati Sanghatam (Sarmoli women self-help group), where they make local products and work together to help other community members.
The Instagram channel has sparked tourism in the village. Visitors are flocking to the village to experience the village life, enjoy its raw beauty and snap amazing pictures. Together with the villagers, guides, trekkers and travellers from all over the world are bringing stories of these villagers to the world through their clicks and Instagram shares.
Th village is tiny hamlet, but offers plenty to see and do. Nature lovers can soak in the beauty of the surrounding green fields or go birdwatching.
Outdoor enthusiasts can trek to Thamari Kund, which is a natural lake nestled amidst paper trees. It’s a natural home of Musk Deer, which are found in great numbers. Or you can trek to Khaliya top, which is at a height of 11500 feet and once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted by the breathtaking views of the snow-capped peaks along with stunning stretches of meadows. Both these treks are easy and the locals, including the Sarmoli women hiking guides, will help you plan your treks and guide you throughout.
For homebody, there are numerous rustic homestay options where you can relax, experience the village life, enjoy the spectacular views of the snow-clad peaks and the valley below from your window, and watch the sky turn into a beautiful palette of colours at sunrise and sunset. These homestays include food and cost around 1000-2000 rupees per day. You can also engage in growing food with the villagers, learn to make bamboo artefacts, weaving wool, and how to use solar energy to cook.
Then there are temples and waterfalls to explore nearby. Many come here for the majestic beauty, serenity and slow pace of life that adds to the experience.
Visitors can reach the Sarmoli village by road – from Kathgodam, Haldwani (Uttarakhand) via Almora-Berinag Road, it is approx 280 kilometers (173.9 miles).