Do we think of the local community and try to understand how do they manage to live in extreme conditions? With limited livelihood options, extreme climatic conditions and disconnection from the mainstream world, life in the Himalayas is not easy.
There are some who visit the Himalayas as tourists and come back. And then there are those who travel, explore and experience everything. Dheeraj Sharma is one such person who decided to change the way the local communities of the Himalayas live.
It all started four and half years back when Dheeraj Sharma’s regular journey turned into an unforgettable experience, when he saw the poverty and difficulties all around him. “It is really sad to see the people who are so talented living a life like this due to lack of resources and opportunities,” Sharma says.
Sharma started travelling more and spent more time with the community to understand its culture, listen to its stories, etc. The more he traveled, the more he got attached to the community and finally, he launched a platform called “Devil on Wheels” to help the locals.
When Sharma travelled and visited the beautiful Himalayas, he realized that the wages of tour guides were very low. They worked for a travel agent who would pay them a lump-sum amount instead of daily wages, and that too once a year.
“These guides weren’t able to get their due share. They would get some percent of the total income which would be hardly Rs.50,000. That too they would get at the end of the season. I wanted to build a system where these people could get direct benefits,” says Sharma.
Hence, he came up with an idea to connect travelers directly to these guides. This way they get their daily wages and earn more.
What they do?
Started as a blog, Devil on Wheels is a platform now which has covered over 17 villages in the Himalayas and helped the local community with its various initiatives.
Apart from connecting the local guides directly to the travelers, DoW also donates medicines and stationery items to various shops and schools in the Himalayan region.
“It is a tourist focused initiative. We ask people if they would like to buy medicines/stationery kits, the upper price cap of which is Rs.500. Then they go and distribute these commodities in the villages where such basic things are unavailable,” says Sharma.
The idea is to keep the people engaged and involved. “We don’t do it on anyone’s behalf. Someone who wants to contribute actually has to come, travel and explore the villages himself,” Sharma says.
They also organize various clean-up drives where the team and other volunteers go and clean the mountains. “Around 30 people came together and organized a clean up drive in Kasaul and when other tourists and local associations saw us doing so, they joined in too,” says Sharma.
The core team of five which includes various responsible travel enthusiasts, organizes an annual meet up where all the members associated with DoW gather together to talk and plan a visit to one of the villages.
Sharma makes 5-6 trips every year to such villages where he is mostly accompanied by his family, friends and members of the core team.
The biggest challenges are the extreme climatic conditions. From being stuck in a remote village for 5-6 days due to heavy snow fall, to lack of proper accommodation, Sharma and his team have seen it all.
“Once we had made an off season trip to Spiti Valley and everything was shut down. But, a guy who owned a small place opened his hotel just for the two of us. It was overwhelming to see how much these locals value us,” says Sharma.
Sharma and his team now want to create a database of these communities so that people can directly connect with them. “Many people visit these places and there is some extra ordinary talent, but because there is no connectivity with the outer world, these people are unable to reach out to those who can help them,” says Sharma.
They also want to expand their initiative and cover the entire belt of Himalayas including Jammu & Kashmir and Uttarakhand.
“We are not an NGO. Our main goal is to promote responsible tourism as much as possible and connect the local community with other people so that they can get more livelihood options,” says Sharma.
So next time you are travelling, make sure you give back to the local community and help them grow.