Until June 2013, Vimlesh Panwar was running a successful hotel in Govind Ghat, a town in Uttarakhand. The hotel was set up in 1990, and over the years, it grew to over 30 rooms. Since the hotel was located in the Valley of Flowers basecamp, it made comfortable profits.
But on 18 June 2013, tragedy struck when a devastating cloudburst turned Vimlesh’s hotel into rubble. The pressure to quickly bounce back from the disaster and regain his source of livelihood was immense. This was when Vimlesh’s friend told him about Tanjun Associates.
Founded in 2013 by Sumit Kumar Agarwal, this Dehradun-based grassroots enterprise works towards the skills and livelihood development of local communities. It trains people in the field of construction of structures using bamboo and ferroconcrete, weaning using natural fibres like cotton and hemp, while ensuring food and food processing.
“The use of bamboo construction intrigued me, and I was also impressed by the fact that it could be installed in a short duration. The construction of the homestay began in May 2014, and by the end of September, I got my first booking,” 47-year-old Vimlesh informs The Better India (TBI).
Badriville Resort has been standing tall for close to six years now and is located in Badrinath about 23 km away from Govind Ghat (where Vimlesh previously lived). The lightweight, climate-resilient bamboo structure withstands the heavy rains and about 15 to 20 feet of snow without a scratch.
Moreover, the building is earthquake-resistant by at least over 60 per cent, and with the pre-fabricated bamboo structure, it can be constructed in a month. The insulation features make the house unique, and Vimlesh informs that in the winters, the interiors are warmer by almost 10 degrees.
In conversation with TBI, Sumit and Vimalesh discuss what makes the bamboo home in the hills unique.
Building a Sustainable Home With Bamboo
One of the most exciting features of the construction process is that it does not split the bamboo in any way. Using the whole bamboo columns ensures the insulation features.
“Bamboo is a natural insulator because there is a huge air gap in between the columns. Hence, we use full bamboo and never split it. Now if you look at a concrete house, the west wall of the house takes all night to cool down. This keeps the interiors hot all day, and this is not the case in these bamboo homes,” informs Sumit who has worked in this field for 20 years.
Sumit also informs that the bamboo is treated in an autoclave that ensures that all the sap from the bamboo is vacuumed out. This vacuum pressure treatment and application of natural insect repellants makes the bamboo safe from any attack from termites or other borers.
The floors are made with Ferro-cement slabs (made using chicken mesh and cement) to make the foundation stronger. This is eight times stronger than Reinforced Cement Concrete, lending earthquake-resistant properties to the home.
The walls of the room are made using treated bamboo panels, and the roof is coated with a dark shade of paint that absorbs heat in the cold temperatures.
Vimlesh speaks about how his home (and homestay) is different from the other houses in the area.
“For almost six months, it snows here due to which moisture gets trapped into walls of other homes and articles like clothes or shoes inside become damp. But, we have never experienced this in the past six years of living here,” says Vimbles about Badriville resort which has 12 rooms.
Other than that, each bamboo housing project that Tanjun takes on comes with a bio-septic tank.
“Sanitary waste from toilets is treated here using pebbles, sand, and activated charcoal. Once the water has been treated, it can easily be used for gardening, reused in toilets and is good for growing Azolla (duckweed fern) which is a good feed for livestock, poultry, and fish,” states Sumit.
Any Challenges in Building the Home?
“Consistent and sustained availability of standard quality bamboo is hard as it is still not commercially farmed like Eucalyptus or Poplar. But, we buy from Assam and stick to one supplier from the region. That has helped in the operations,” informs Vimlesh.
Other than that, Vimlesh is happy that his homestay stands tall and has proven its tenacity to withstand rain, sun, and snow. While Sumit continues to work towards making bamboo homes more popular, he questions the very idea of using bricks standard in conventional construction techniques.
“We know that bamboo grows faster and is stronger. So, why dig the fertile soil and make bricks. A question that we all need to ask ourselves is, “Do I dig my house from the earth or let it grow from it,”‘ he says.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)