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TBI Blogs: This Tiny, Remote Village in Uttarakhand Has Its Own Instagram Account!

Technology has become ubiquitous, and has the potential for great positive transformation. A small village in the Himalayas is leveraging the power of social media and digital technology to attract tourism and support its community.

Around 11 hours by road from the nearest train station, Sarmoli could be just another mountain village tucked away in the remote Uttarakhand Himalayas, dealing with the impact of changing weather patterns on farming and tourism, struggling with average schools, and straddling India’s great rural-urban divide. All against the surreal backdrop of the snow-clad Panchachuli peaks.

There was a time when we only heard stories of such villages from adventurous friends. These days, we are more likely to hear about them on Instagram. Stories that either romanticize the lives of their locals, or sympathize with them.

But Sarmoli (in tehsil Munsiari) is not just another mountain village.

Thanks to the vision of avid mountaineer Malika – and Theo and Ram – who now call Sarmoli home, this is a village where locals come together every summer to run challenging marathons with an elevation gain of 8,000 ft. over 20 km., and have workshops around yoga, Wikipedia, and birdwatching in their annual Himal Kalasutra festival. A village where women juggle the hats of homestay hosts, entrepreneurs, guides, social activists, and homemakers. The philosophy is simple.

It’s okay if the village folk want to move away for work, but they shouldn’t have to leave out of desperation or boredom.

Inspired by their organic way of life during my time in Sarmoli, I had a crazy dream of leveraging Instagram to encourage the locals to share their life philosophy directly with the world. A visitor like you or me can hardly do justice to their struggles and aspirations, their relationship with the mountains and rivers, and their daily lives.

Wouldn’t it be something if they could use technology to tell their stories in their own voices?

A basic Instagram tutorial, followed by photography tips from a fellow traveller, led to the birth of @VoicesofMunsiari — India’s first Instagram channel run entirely by village folk, despite limited connectivity and English. A channel where teens and adults alike share pictures and stories of things that matter to them. These range from the 50-odd bird species in their backyard to the joy of school holidays and snow-filled winters.

You can see the challenge of keeping their spring water sources clean, and of course, the mountains that are home to them.

This is Mesar Kund of Munsiari . It is very peaceful place the most important thing about this place is its beauty . I like to sit here and listen the song of birds . Also it is good place for birdwatching . Many birds like barbets , drongos , eagles , woodpeckers , sapsuckers and many more other spices of birds you can see here easily . There are many tales about this pond . My Nani (grandmother) told that this pond was much longer than now it is , but year after year it started drying . There are two ponds . New one pond has been made by the villagers .

On May every year we celebrate a festival called ” Mesar wan koutik ” . I like this fair too much . Please come and enjoy ‘Mesar Wan Koutik ‘ . Also the beauty of Munsiari . Photo by Alka…😊 #mesarkund #uttarakhand #uttarakhanddiaries #uttarakhandi #uttarakhandtravel #uttarakhandtourism #uttarakhand_travel_diaries #uttarakhandtrip2016 #munsiari #munsiari☁🍀❄ #sarmoli #junglischool #travelling #bird #birdwatching #beautiful #photography #instagood #india #incredebleindia #like #like4like #like4follow #peaceful #peacefulplac

A post shared by The People of Munsiari (@voicesofmunsiari) on

I expected the interest to die away gradually, but the account has grown in reach and engagement, and also in storytelling and photography. One of their photos was even featured on Huffington Post India!

For this new generation of storytellers, the dream is a photo exhibition in Indian cities that showcases how a small mountain village is attempting to bridge the urban-rural divide, and potentially, an alternate revenue stream to support a new outdoor education programme in the village.

This can also bridge the digital marketing gap between potential travellers and the women-led homestay programme in Sarmoli.

To nurture these rural Himalayan storytellers, we are now crowd-sourcing smartphones to enable more locals to share their stories. At the moment, only a handful of families in the village own a smartphone, limiting the content on the channel. May 2017 will see a Photography+Instagram workshop—geared towards the village folk but open to adventurous travellers—in Sarmoli. It will hopefully lay the groundwork for the crazy dream of a photo exhibition in urban India. Hopefully, it will turn out to be not such a crazy dream after all.

How you can support Sarmoli’s Instagram project:

  • Follow @VoicesofMunsiari on Instagram and encourage these Himalayan storytellers.
  • Got a spare smartphone? We are crowd-sourcing phones with good-quality cameras to enable more locals to share snippets of their lives in the Himalayas. If you’d like to contribute a spare smartphone, please send an email.
  • Join the Photography+Instagram Workshop in Sarmoli on 8th-11th May 2017. Stay in the women-led Sarmoli homestays. Join us on a creative journey as we explore smartphone photography and Instagram in this beautiful mountain village. If you’d like to lead a photography workshop, please get in touch.

The author spent a month living in Sarmoli and learning about the unique way of life of the locals. Read more of her stories and experiences in Sarmoli here, and follow her on Instagram.

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Written by Shivya Nath

Shivya Nath: Just a girl who travels.