In the Clouds

19 Aug

My travel companion on this trip in Asia, Andy, is a professional photographer who has travelled extensively for his work. Before we embarked on our journey to Uttarakhand where the Central Himalayas are situated, he shared some simple but wise words: ‘The harder it takes to get to a place, the more beautiful it tends to be.’

The toughness of getting to our destination is not to be underestimated, starting with the seven hours on an overnight train from Delhi which took us to a town in the foothills, before a thirteen hour drive to a town called Jasimpath which was our base. To get to Subhai village, we had to drive another two hours and hike ten kilometers up an incredibly steep mountain. When we reached the top we were left breathless by more than just the trek, awed by the view of the valley below. The mist moving slowly across mountains gave a strange but wonderful feeling of being up in the skies, within reach of the clouds.

The remoteness of these villages in the Himalayas is part of what intrigues us visitors, touched by the hospitality of the mountain people who live here. But to the residents it means months of being cut off from the rest of the country, particularly during winter.
As well as being geographically quite isolated from India, sharing close borders with Nepal and Tibet, the Himalayan region also faces exclusion on a political level in the way in which government representation functions- through numbers. That is to say, the more populous the state, the more representation through Members of Parliament it will receive. In the entire state of Uttarakhand, there are only five MPs to represent the state population on a national level, compared with seventy-five MPs in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh.

A primary school was brought to the 41 children of Subhai village by the government of India in 2007, following the ‘Sarva Siksha Abiyan’ (Education for All) movement which started in 2001. Whilst other states in India steadily move to improve the quality and standard of child education, isolated communities such as these are merely concerned with basic access to the facilities which they are still not receiving fully.  Bright-eyed and beautiful, the girls and boys of this village are deemed ‘statistically insignificant’ by their national government and with tough road conditions and harsh winters, teacher absenteeism remains extremely common.

It has to be said that policy-making is very intellectually advanced in India. A large amount of sensible and principled laws exist, but the fact is that they are very far removed from the practice at ground level. Although the Right to Education Act in India has taken on many forms in recent years, it is still far from being implemented in areas such as these, illustrating what is probably India’s biggest development challenge: the gap between policy and implementation, without the infrastructure to bridge it.

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