Tons Valley, Uttarakhand
The almost other-worldly beauty of the Tons Valley has the power to change lives. Here the mountains reach high up to almost touch the sky, the mountain streams make melodious music as they rush along, the jungles are thickly filled with tall and proud trees, the villages cling precariously and picturesquely on steep slopes among the clouds, the people live hard lives closely in sync with nature but are ever welcoming, the birds go about singing all day long and the air is sharp and fresh. This valley changed the life of Banglorean Anand Sankar and now he is going about changing the lives of the people who live there and who visit for a short while.
A former reporter, travel writer and member of the Blue Yonder team, Anand decided to move to Uttarakhand in 2013 to live and work with the local people in this remote upper Tons Valley after two visits to this region. Today he impacts the lives of 22,000 people living in 37 villages in one of the most remote and inhospitable regions of India. He runs two initiatives—NGO Kalap Trust and sustainable travel company Tons Trails.
He began work in 2013, in a small way, putting the tiny himalayan village of Kalap (www.kalap.in) on the tourism (and literally on Google) map! He did this the hard way by narrating the story of the destination, which can be reached only after a 11km walk from the nearest roadhead, and training the local people in hospitality practices such as running a homestay and guiding tourists. In 2017, other villages in the Tons Valley asked him to work with them too. And in 2018, the operations started covering the 37 villages in the Upper Tons Valley and Tons Trails was born.
Tons Trails is a social enterprise promoting sustainable tourism by offering immersive experiential adventure travel in this remote region. While the Tons River is known for its white water rafting and the Har Ki Dun trek route falls in the Tons Valley, only a few villages have benefitted from tourism so far. The tourist economy had bypassed most of the villages, which are dependent on agriculture and sheep rearing, that work with Tons Trails. This also means that most of the villages and the region are unexplored and offer an authentic experience for travellers. It also means that a traveller’s spending here has an immediate and high impact on the lives of villagers.
Tons Trails offers a carefully curated set of hiking, trekking and driving experiences that allow travellers to experience the natural beauty and the local culture and traditions of the region. These include itineraries created around the local festivals of each village here to trips that se the traveller living in local village homes, eating their cuisine, learning about the local folklore and legends and camping in the great outdoors on grassy meadows or by gushing rivers. A standout experience is built around the nomadic lifestyle of the shepherds here. For as long as anyone here remembers the shepherds of the Tons region, as is the case with most shepherd communities in The Himalayas, take their sheep to graze in herb rich high-altitude grasslands every summer. Tons Trails offers two trekking trips—the Nomad Trail for six days and the High Altitude Nomad Retreat for 11—that sees participants joining the shepherds to walk to and camp in one of the highest high-altitude grasslands in the world, a land of glacial streams, colourful flowers and medicinal plants.
Easier experiences like a trip focussed on the Kalap Village, which is accessible only after a 11km easy walk, are also available.
(Photos from: https://www.facebook.com/tons.trails/)
During their treks and walks it is the little things the Tons Trails does that make a big difference. Like the guides are from the villages, local artists regale the guests with folk ballads of the region, children are welcome and experiences are, in fact, tailored for them, local organic food is on offer and do not be surprised if the guide offers you a mug of hot badam milk during the hardest part of your trek to keep you going!
When you travel here, be warned that you will come back changed!
Price: $75 or about Rs 5,350 per day (average)
Read more: https://www.tons.travel/
The work of Tons Trail economically empowers local mountain communities and helps them preserve the unique cultural and natural heritage of this region. The company treads slowly and develops organically while becoming an important partner for the local community to grow not just economically. It supports positive linkages through tourism to sustain traditional livelihoods, deliver essential services (schools and hospitals) in partnership with Kalap Trust (www.kalaptrust.org) and further environmental consciousness. 25% of its profits go to Kalap Trust, a non-profit organisation that runs a free school and hospital for the local people. It has encouraged locals to start homestays and on many of its trips guests stay in village homes. It follows a strict 'leave no trace' policy on all its trips. Most of the food is locally sourced and produced. Plastic bottled water is banned. All recyclable waste is brought back and delivered to a collection point.