In all honesty, we didn’t think there would be much to look back on this year. What could one possibly capture in a year-end blog for 2020? The uncertainty and anxiety? The lethargy that defined our lives this year? But as we got to writing, so also came a few epiphanies.
Stand with Travel collaboration
Much before the official lockdown, all of us in Spiti proactively decided to keep the Valley closed to visitors since access to even basic medical facilities here is scarce.
For a remote region where many lives and livelihoods depend on tourism, the pandemic had devastating effects. The new normal for Spiti - 18 months of no income from tourism. The most affected people? Those who make our journeys to Spiti memorable - guides, homestays, cooks, drivers, donkey and yak owners, and porters.
In a typical year, farming would provide communities with an alternate source of income. However, the pandemic reached its peak in April which coincided with the start of the farming season in Spiti. This meant we could plant very little of the main cash crop - Green Peas. Additionally, it is tourism that adds to agricultural income each year. And thus, the crippling economic wheel keeps turning.
Our team identified individuals most in need and as a first step, here’s what we’ve been able to do:
- Winter clothes for 40-50 nuns who live in Pangmo
- A support stipend to sustain local travel guides and support staff - 11 people so far
- A year’s ration for 2 families so far
- Warm clothes and winter boots for 2 families so far
- Medical support - 3 patients identified for support with a year’s supply of medicines
- Scholarships for 6 students
We remember each of our volunteers and travellers with such fond memories. To know they still have Spiti in their hearts means everything to us.
Voices of Rural India collaboration
To further support our communities during the pandemic, we came on board as a partner for an exciting new project called Voices of Rural India. At a time of no travel, Voices of Rural India brings readers the next best thing: stories from rural communities, in their own voices! This one-of-a-kind, non-profit media platform allows rural storytellers to tell their own stories and monetize them.
Voices of Rural India aims to empower communities through digital journalism, while creating alternative revenue streams for communities affected by the pandemic. In the long run, it hopes to be a repository of stories and traditional knowledge of the villages in India.
Ecosphere’s very own Chhering Norbu has written three amazing stories on Spiti for Voices of Rural India. We’re pleased to share that these stories have also been published on other media platforms since.
Go read these incredible stories through the links below:
- Why the People of Spiti Eat Stones
- An Invisible Paradise in Spiti
- The Giu Mummy: Unsolved Mystery of a 16th Century Monk
The heart of a Volunteer, and this year from home
Our volunteers make the world go round, and we are so grateful for your continued support. The novel Coronavirus stopped the world in its tracks this year. But even a global pandemic had nothing on the spirit of the Ecosphere community.
Thank you for your time, efforts, and for sharing our love for Spiti.
Our Seabuckthorn products go online!
We introduced our Seabuckthorn berry products online for the first time this year and received an amazing response! It’s been wonderful to hear back from everyone. We heard resounding echoes of “Finally!” from those who’ve been asking about online availability. We also received excellent feedback from people who tried for the first time.
For the uninitiated, Seabuckthorn, often called a ‘miracle berry’ is indigenous to the Spiti and Ladakh regions in India. A perfect dietary supplement, its health properties have been a subject of volumes of research across the globe.
- It has 3 times more Vitamin A than carrots
- Has up to 15 times more Vitamin C than lemon and oranges
- Has more Vitamin E compared to most other fruits
- Contains 3 – 5 times more SOD compared to ginseng. SOD is known for its anti-ageing properties.
- The only plant in the world that has Omega Oils 3,6,7, and 9
- Its properties range from anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, to anti-radiation
While procuring the berry is difficult, you can enjoy it in the form of delicious Crush and Jam. Products made with love by people in the Himalayas! Interested in ordering our Tsering products? Write to us at email@example.com
Benefits of our existing projects
2020 was a year of tremendous learning. As the pandemic adversely impacted lives and livelihoods, we realized the importance of alternative income sources for the communities in Spiti. It also reinforced the incredible benefits of some of our ongoing projects in Spiti Valley:
With virtually no vegetables coming at all from the plains this year, our existing Greenhouses helped families tide over the pandemic comfortably. Communities had access to fresh, organically-grown vegetables all year round. From everyday greens to more exotic stuff like broccoli, squash, and even mushrooms – we did not have to compromise on nutritious food this year. A big thank you to all our volunteers for helping us build over 150 greenhouses in Spiti!
Solar passive rooms
In times of limited income opportunities, cutting down on expenditure wherever possible becomes essential – especially in remote mountain communities where resources are already difficult to come by. Our solar passive rooms in several villages capture the sun’s rays and keep rooms warmer for longer in the winter. Families are able to save a significant amount of money they would otherwise spend on firewood.
Solar water pumps
Most villages in Spiti still don’t have access to drinking water, especially in the winter. People often have to walk 2 hours every day across snow and ice, making their way down steep hill slopes prone to avalanches. All to collect 20 litres of water for their family’s drinking, cooking, cleaning, and bathing needs.
Takpa starts a project to recharge groundwater in Chicham
With glaciers receding at alarming rates and an increase in carbon emissions, Spiti Valley’s fragile ecosystems are at the forefront of climate change. Water scarcity is a major challenge in the cold deserts of Spiti. This summer, Takpa from the Ecosphere team decided to help facilitate groundwater recharge in Chicham by building a percolation pit.
Usually, streams and channels take water directly into the fields for irrigation. Post the farming season, this water continues to run in the fields and goes to waste. Given the acute scarcity of water in Spiti overall, Takpa recognized how a precious resource was going to waste.
In an effort to conserve water, Takpa has built two percolation pits where water from the streams/channels is redirected to a tank in a spring shed for storage, which then freezes over the winter. This frozen water will melt in the summer and consequently seep into the ground and help recharge groundwater levels.
Massive respect to Takpa and his efforts! As individuals, every action we take counts. This year in particular has been a wake-up call on our choices and how they impact the environment. We hope these meaningful conversations continue and drive change in the coming years.
Every winter, the awesome women of the Mentok Self Help Group come together to cook food for and feed Spiti's stray dogs. The bitter cold and food scarcity usually compel dogs to turn wild. They often resort to hunting in packs and preying on livestock, each other, or even attack humans - leading to immense distress for everyone around.
In the winter of 2015, along with the local administration, Ecosphere managed to motivate a local women’s self-help group (the Mentok SHG) to feed the stray dogs of Kaza. As a way to reduce human-animal conflict and enable peaceful co-existence, the women, get together regularly to cook food for the dogs and feed them, even when temperatures drop to a bone-chilling -25 degrees!
This year, the women have once again come together to look after the dogs. Ecosphere continues to provide sacks of atta for the women to cook rotis for the dogs. We also procure packets of Pedigree which we distribute to people in Kaza and neighboring villages. There are approximately 750 strays around Kaza and Tabo.
Thank you, to the Mentok SHG for
all they do and to everyone who’s supported the program so far. Your efforts
directly impact the well-being of the mountain dogs. In a year where nobody
should be left behind, it means everything!
If there’s any place in the world that defines community spirit, it would be Spiti. Life in this stunning cold desert is both beautiful and extremely difficult. Everyone gets by with help and support from each other.
The indomitable spirit of Spiti came through even stronger than before this year. A proactive local community and authorities remained adamant about keeping Spiti in lockdown. They stood their ground even when the rest of the country and Himachal Pradesh opened up to tourism. Their foresight and determination helped Spiti stay safe from the virus for most of the year.
Ecosphere’s very own Chhering Norbu is part of an expert committee elected by the community to make important decisions on behalf of the people of Spiti during the pandemic.
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