Kumaoni Ramleela: A Gender Positive Story of Change From The Hills

The shawls from the trunks are out and most of the woolens still carry a fading scent of naphthalene balls. People in the hills believe that winters don’t officially begin till the end of Diwali, but Ramleela taleems have begun in the town of Almora, and the girls need sweaters to step out for these practice sessions every evening. Taleems are recital practices for the Mohalla Ramleelas that will be performed during Dussera for ten consecutive nights. In the small world of these small towns of Kumaon, mohalla ramleelas play a bigger role than most of us can ever imagine. Talents are spotted by the elders sometime around August. There are children who can act, some can sing, and some can be quite a presence on stage. Bittu Karnatak who has been conducting Ramleela in Karnatak Khola has been going door to door to get permissions from the parents of these actors. All of these participants are girls.

0810-2019-0153484225609435705912.jpeg

Mohalla Ramleelas are community affairs all across Uttarakhand. Even the smallest of towns have 3-4 mohalla Ramleelas, and children from the neighborhood are invariably a part of it. Almora is Kumaon's cultural hub and Ramleela is somehow a more social than religious affair for reasons more than one. In 1996 it was the talk of this small town that in the Mohalla Ramleelas of Hukka Club and Karnatak Khola in Almora, female artists are beginning to perform lead roles. It was then initiated by some NGOs and women groups. I can still recall our extended family getting curious about the idea of watching women perform as Ram, Laxman and other major male characters. Some considered it an outright scandal. 

Nearly two decades back one evening, the elders of the family took special effort to walk from Dharanaula to Hukka Club; walking the dreaded 52 stairs (famously called the Baavan Seedhi) uphill to reach from one end to the other, through the cramped streets of this hilltown. It was indeed an event, talked about for months among my aunts. I, however, remember only the whiff of roasted peanuts, sleeping midway through the performance and the drowsy ride back home on my father’s shoulder. 

0810-2019-0140548225781230692566.jpeg


For years this event was unforgettable in the collective memory of the town for two reasons. Firstly, no one in this hilltown ever ditched the Ramleela of their own neighborhood and walked uphill in the dark to the other side of town on a freezing October night. The mere fact that women playing roles in the Ramleela attracted the crowd from the other end of town says a lot about the local fascination towards this change. Secondly, it was a historic event for the people of this town and they felt a sense of pride for pioneering a gender-sensitive change to the tradition of Kumaoni Ramleela that stood at the focal point of this deeply religious society. 

Kumaoni Ramleela first started in 1860 at the famous Badreshwar Temple in Almora. Most old people who have spent their lives in this town would love to tell you stories about how this town has changed in the last few decades. Nostalgia for the erstwhile humble ways of the hills runs deep. Ramleela was first performed in this town in 1918 at Pant Koli, a neighborhood where the Pant Brahmins of Almora lived. This Ramleela was later known as the Nanda Devi Ramleela and is still the most popular performance of the town. 

0810-2019-0155910225611861950391.jpeg


Bittu Karnatak, the Ramleela Committee Chairman of Karnatak Khola told me about the stories he had heard about the good old days when Ramleela was performed on the makeshift stage lit up with torches made of pine needles. He spoke about his childhood when they performed under petromax lanterns when his grandfather directed the actors in Pande Khola Ramleela. 

The Ramleela tradition did spread to other towns of Kumaon; and every hill-town, quite democratically, altered the dramatization of Ramleela based on their convenience. The tradition that propagated in Almora was influenced by various artists from different regions of India who visited this hill station, for escape and inspiration. The Ramleela performed here became an amalgamation of different ragas of Hindustani Classical Music along with inspiration from raginis and kavvalis. A great change in this tradition was also welcomed when dance Maestro Uday Shankar came to Almora in 1938 and started a dance academy. His classical inputs to the ballet-based Kumaoni Ramleela are still cherished in the local tradition. 

0810-2019-0157922225613874402213.jpeg

Over the years improvisations have always been welcomed, and women entering the stage of Ramleela in 1996 at Karnatak Khola and Hukka Club indeed felt like a seamless inclusion. To give context to this gender-positive social change we have to trace the local history too. The Anti-Liquor Movement in Kumaon in the 1980s was led solely by women. As breadwinners of several families destroyed by widespread alcohol addiction amongst men, women here were already at the social forefront and even led other social movements in the region like the Chipkoo Movement. 


Last year I traveled to Almora once again to see this tradition up close and found myself at the backstage of Ramleela at Karnatak Khola. In this relatively smaller-scale Ramleela set up, I saw kids dressing each other up backstage with the sound on the mic reverberating on stage, addressing the chief guests of the day. Some parents join their kids backstage to help them with the dress and make-up. For actors playing lead roles, Taufeeq is a make-up artist who has been working with them for years, voluntarily.


0810-2019-0101663225617615179347.jpeg

For the last 22 years, the lead roles of Lord Ram and his three brothers have been played by young girls. Vinita is an experienced actor who had been playing Ram’s character for the last two years. She has played Laxman for 6 years prior to that. She’s leaving for college next year so her sister, Lata, dressed up as Laxman, has been instructed to observe her sister well on stage. In all probability, it will be her turn to play Ram next year. 

Elder men save the roles of feisty looking villains for themselves. Bittu Karnatak, who plays Raavan, has also been instructing the kids, knows each one of them by their name, and is also compèring the show. Despite being the busiest man this evening he introduces me to all the kids. There are a total of 122 girls involved in the Ramleela this year as actors, dancers, and helpers. He, along with other experienced members of the Ramleela committee have been training all the actors since the 15th of August. In the three-month long taleem or learning sessions, the first 15 days are dedicated to the selection process which is based on their vocal talent. Chosen candidates have to attend the taleem every evening for the next 3 months.  Vinita as Ram had almost 118 recitals to learn and it has taken her years to achieve perfection. She practiced with the harmonium and tabla players, who assist her recitals with sur and taal, for the last few months every evening. The elders who come and watch these practice sessions also help these kids understand the meaning of the recitals they perform. 

0810-2019-0100601225616553433097.jpeg


On the day of Meghnad Vadh, as I sit backstage with the Harmonium and Tabla players, the veterans of the team; I notice how quickly they prompt the lines to Lata onstage when she forgets her lines. The audience is generous with applause too. The kids on stage are children everyone has seen growing up in the neighborhood.

On the last day of the performance, the actors arrive late. Like everyone in the town, they were busy watching a roadshow of the effigies on the streets of Almora, performed on the last day of Dussera. In fact, the entire town had been on the streets celebrating the whole day. The actors backstage are quite glum on the last day of the Ramleela. Vinita and Lata know that they have rather short appearances on stage today. When the curtains rise, the calm I see on their faces is divine, and an old male actor playing a priest does the Raj Tilak and initiates the coronation of Ram. Lata, who played Laxman, walks home with a 32 inch TV as a reward from the audience for being the most promising actor in this year’s Ramleela. Quite a generous reward, I feel, but the promise this tradition holds for our society is indeed priceless.









Here's how a couple in Kangra is documenting biodiversity with the help of local children

LRM_EXPORT_232391963854208_20190918_195450071.jpeg

I can say with utmost certainty that our minds were blown the first day we met Vikram and Apoorva two years ago. This couple lives in Kandbari, a quaint village in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Palampur, the nearest big town, is half an hour away. We took a taxi all the way to their home where a cherry blossom tree in full bloom was standing tall right at the gate. Kandbari village is known for many new age experimental social awareness programs because of initiatives like Aavishkaar and frequent workshops in Sambhavana Institute. Within the same neighborhood, at Vikram’s house, a special project has been brewing since he was almost a child.

This guy is interested in collecting dead insects, plants, beehives and whatever nature discards on the trails, fields, and forests. “Why?”, you would ask. His curiosity has been guiding him throughout. Apoorva is a management master who believes completely in this crazy dream. Inside their home, Vikram made me taste jam he made out of Himalayan Raspberries. I tasted the peppermint plant leaves too. In tiny boxes he stores his treasures which are dead and preserved beetles, spiders, butterflies, and insects of a wide variety. The collection is overwhelming, and Vikram and Apoorva take special interest in explaining each of these specially procured gems. This little house opened up the world of biodiversity in the region to us; and Sambit and I spent hours discussing and questioning why an insect would look a way it does or why it chooses to fly a certain way or why beehives are shaped a certain way. For several minutes I found myself staring at a dragonfly’s wings. The house inspires you in a way that suddenly you feel extremely aware of the lives around you. It makes you aware that you are only a little part of the large process that makes the earth operate. That’s what this peculiar presentation of biodiversity does to you in this tiny village of Kandbari.

Vikram and Apoorva also organize various biodiversity awareness workshops. Check it all out on Life Meets The Lens Instagram and Facebook.

lmtl-4.jpg




Their exciting one year program with Nat Geo

Fast forward two years, the couple has received a year long grant from National Geographic Society to engage in a biodiversity study with the local children of Palampur. As luck would have it, I got a chance to volunteer during the first residential camp they organised under this project. This time I was more ready for the experience than before. The camp was from 30th July to 2nd August. There were almost 20 kids from Kandbari Government School and a private school in Palampur, four volunteers, and two organisers. We all were there together in it to learn. Before organising the camp, during the selection process of these kids, Vikram and Apoorva had given kids from the two schools a special proficiency test to select a few who were inclined towards knowing about biodiversity around them a little more than others and would be willing to engage in this special program for one year. I got the opportunity to read some of these answer sheets, and these children writing passionately about nature around them was rather moving.

lmtl-1.jpg

An interesting FOUR-DAY WORKSHOP

The workshop was roughly divided into several modules. Kids were given theme-based exercises which enhanced their basic skills in observation, writing a journal, and photography. During this one year program, the kids are required to document biodiversity around them in Kandbari and Palampur. The residential camp was their initiation into this exercise. It started with several ice-breaking sessions, and fun and games that I developed a liking for during my stay there. Everyday Apoorva and Vikram would engage kids in activities like observing and documenting biodiversity that kids noticed in a limited patch of land. It sure did stir many young minds that were busy scanning every inch of the ground below them. Sure, as kids we have often found ourselves doing something like this outdoors, but here they were encouraged and educated in noticing beetles, butterflies, plants, and birds around them. What a lovely experience for kids that young, I would say.

IMG_20190730_130018.jpg

One particular class, I remember, that happened at the porch during a rainy afternoon, started by Apoorva writing the number 8700000. That’s the number of different animals, insects, fish, plants and other entities that make the world around us. The discussion then went on to explaining the term biodiversity to kids; and there’s no better way to explain it with the help of Vikram’s own collection. The kids were bowled over just as I was when I had first seen this collection two years ago. These exercises were the best way to challenge the limitless curiosity of a child.

In the next few days the kids were also introduced to photography and documenting biodiversity around them in a journal. Vikram who is a passionate photographer, obviously takes special interest in telling kids the few tricks that can help them operate a camera. The kids were sent out in the fields of Sambhavana Institute where they spent hours finding and photographing colourful butterflies, cocoons, moths, beetles and all things small that the monsoons had laid out for them on those trails. Isn’t it an absolute dream to spend your childhood days exploring the forest with a point and shoot camera!

lmtl-2.jpg


Once the kids understood the basic concepts of documentation and photography they were sent outdoors on a similar exercise but this time with a strict theme. For instance, the theme one day was Home and Food, on the second day it was Defense. It’s was quite interesting to see children come up with theories to explain an insect’s behavior and often they would be right.

Why is this project important?

The essential aim is to document the elusive collection of flowers, plants, insects and several entities in nature that are found in Kangra. But what makes this process special is the inclusion of children in this biodiversity study. It’s a unique way to nurture new minds to understand nature and get them closer to the outdoors.

Somehow our lives have become so busy that we have forgotten how to appreciate the diversity of lives around us. This is an initiative to teach these children to observe the world around them a little differently than others. To teach them the right words to describe an ant, a beetle, or a bird, and understand how their lives and our lives are interconnected.

lmtl-3.jpg

Interested?

Another residential camp will be organized sometime in March 2020. If you find yourself interested to be a part of the project as a volunteer, get in touch with Vikram and Apoorva. If you’re a biodiversity expert, your help is needed too.

Write to them on: lifemeetsthelens@gmail.com







How we spent two months in Sikkim with our guests from across India

Screenshot 2019-02-11 at 11.09.55 AM.png

The Doi Host road trips are usually planned 2 months before the scheduled dates. Sambit and I plan each day on these trip months in advance. For those of you who are curious about how we manage it all, let me break it to you that we are freelance writers and photographers, and The Doi Host is our passion project. We take people on road trips, travel along with them, and try to make this journey a little more personal and local for everyone who joins us.

In the winter of 2018 we planned a series of road trips to North Sikkim. Our three trip dates were:

24 November to 1 December

17- 24 December

26 December to 2 January

Those of you who have travelled with us before know that we usually stick to going to places that have become our familiar turf over the years. However, on each trip we do not forget to give the guests a taste of something new suiting their interests. I wish to write about our experiences during the two months of travel solely because the ones who joined us on these trips had such varied interests and made each of these trips so extraordinarily wonderful for us. Not to forget, the few days we got in the middle of these trips were spent to reconnaissance for a trip in West Sikkim that holds a special place in our hearts.

Read more about Homestay Hop in West Sikkim and Darjeeling.

We arrived at Bagdogra Airport along with our guests on the 24th of November. For this first trip of the season we were joined by Riyanka, Pramit, Deepa, Pallavi, Tanvee, and Aditi. To our surprise we got such a creative group of people that they indeed gave us different perspectives to view this journey. On this trip, in between hopping places and spending a lot of time inside the car, they found time to step out in the cold and indulge in solitary activities as well. In Lachen, Deepa sat and painted this local school building giving it colours of her own imagination. Tavee went out for a walk, fascinated by the intricate window designs in North Sikkim, and sketched endlessly to bring these designs on paper.

Screenshot 2019-02-11 at 11.02.44 AM.png


People who come on our trips do have their own share of quirks and this particular one can’t be forgotten. Riyanka and Deepa usually wear a saree on one day on every trip they have been on so far. Now when you ask me about the idea of wearing a saree to Gurudongmar at 18000 ft; it is UNTHINKABLE. But thanks to all the layers of clothes they wore, and the determination to do it all at 4 am in the freezing cold, they survived. Their excitement on the day was so palpable that I almost feel bad to have discouraged them in the first place.


I obviously cant list the day to day adventures of this feisty group, but I’ll let the photos do the talking.


Our home in between these hectic trips was Tag Along Backpackers Hostel in Gangtok run by our dear friend Manisha Sharma. In no time I was declared the official taster for all their experimental bakes, in return I would obviously help her with the day to day hassles that come with running a backpackers hostel. Tag Along is family, and Manisha made sure that I experienced the best of the local culture while I was there. I even attended a Losung Party (a Bhutia and Lepcha New Year celebration) at her friend Dr. Eden’s house. During these days in Gangtok I understood that in no other culture would you find such passionate dancers and musicians.

Post our first trip, Sambit and I went on an extensive journey to South-West Sikkim and Darjeeling for 10 days. We designed a homestay hop to West Sikkim that replicates the journey we took to Ravangla, Khecheopalri, Yuksom, Pelling, Martam, and Darjeeling. The most interesting part of this trip was the homestay hosts we met. Considering how passionately hospitable these hosts were, we decided to name this trip A Homestay Hop, a one of a kind unique experience of staying at local homes, and interacting with the hosts in order to get a clear idea of what life is like in these parts.

Click here to get to know our hosts on West Sikkim- Darjeeling Homestay Hop.

For our second road trip to North Sikkim we were joined by Romita, Rima, Anirban, Priya, Aishwarya, and Debapratim. Special mention for two facts here - Debapratim, who was the oldest and one of the most excitable on our trips so far. Secondly, we had a returning traveller, Romita. She had joined us for our Kinnaur-Spiti road trip earlier in August 2018. There have been guests who have come for two or more trips with us, and it’s so enthralling to see how these guests have loved the experience before and would love to give us a second chance. Thanks so much!

Due to excessive snowfall we could not reach Gurudongmar on this trip but we always try to tell our guests that it’s not the destination but it’s the journey that you must try to find joy in. I’m so glad they did. Here are the photographs from the trip.


Then came the time for the last and final trip. Now you may think that this would have been a tiring affair for the two of us but to be honest it was hardly so. We began our trip after spending an amazing Christmas at Tag Along in Gangtok. It kickstarted the trip with renewed enthusiasm and this time we were joined by two of our local friends Dorjee and Kunzo along with our guests, Pranjal, Renie, Riya, Pratima, Yatin, and Diptarka (Sambit’s cousin).

To give you a glimpse of the possibilities on this trip to North Sikkim here are photos by Renie who is an avid bird photographer and went out on several long walks to watch birds and sit still for hours to photograph them.

Many people on the trip experienced snowfall for the first time. I hope this trip to North Sikkim becomes a cherished experience for them. Pratima and Yatin were again second time travellers who had joined us for the Spiti trip earlier. FYI they are soon getting married and we hold some for this relationship as we have been told. How lovely is that!

Check out all the photos from this trip that consisted of the most high on energy folks we have had on this trip and who found ways to party at night even in a remote village like Lachen.


This trip season ended with a new year bash at Tag Along Gangtok. Throughout the trips we had our reasons to be high on energy, something we draw from our lovely guests.


























Meet Our Local Hosts For Sikkim-Darjeeling Homestay Hop

In February 2019 we will introduce our first team of local hosts to the travellers joining us. It has been an exciting journey for Sambit and I to travel to all the destinations on the South-West Sikkim and Darjeeling Homestay Hop and discover engaging locals who can help travellers find a window into their world.

We have tried to spot just the right hosts at these beautiful pitstops on our journey through the homestays of South-West Sikkim and Darjeeling. Local homes, local flavors, and most importantly the inspiring energy of the people of Sikkim are our highlights on this trip.

Click here for the Sikkim- Darjeeling Homestay Hop Itinerary

SO HERE WE INTRODUCE OUR HOSTS FOR SIKKIM-DARJEELING HOMESTAY HOP FOR THE FIRST TIME.

RAI FAMILY FROM RAVANGLA

Mr Sanjeev Rai and Mrs Priya Rai are our hosts at Ravangla. Their home at a quaint little settlement in the outskirts of Ravangla is a dream home for travellers. Amidst bamboo thickets and cardamom plantation, the hosts have designed a homestay around a century old ancestral home built by Mr Rai’s grandfather. His wife is quite a natural host and makes the homestay quite a warm and lively space. Mr Rai is an avid naturalist and absolutely loves to give a walking tour of his farm which has a collection of diverse organic local vegetation.

Rai Family from Ravangla

Rai Family from Ravangla


LIMBOO FAMILY FROM YUKSOM

Mrs Buddha Rani Limboo operates a family-run homestay at Yuksom. Her amazing family is her support staff and her home boasts of the great energy that only a home has. Her garden is her pride. We have tasted the juiciest pink raw cardamoms here. All meals come straight from the garden and we promise each meal to be a hearty one. At night under the starry sky, the distant lights of the Skywalk in Pelling shine bright making the perfect view from this home in Yuksom to end your day.

Limboo Family from Yuksom

Limboo Family from Yuksom

LATUP FROM KHECHEOPALRI

Latup Tsering Bhutia is our dear friend and guide at Khecheopalri who has transformed his home into a traveller’s den. He is an enthusiastic young man who knows all the hiking trails around his village like the back of his hand and would love to show people Khecheopalri, his home. In his backyard he has also constructed a wood fire oven, treating his guests with extremely delicious homemade pizzas. What more can we even ask for?

Latup Tshering Bhutia from Khecheopalri

Latup Tshering Bhutia from Khecheopalri

CHETTRI FAMILY FROM MARTAM

The Chettri family in Martam are essentially cardamom farmers. For those of you who don’t know, Sikkim is the biggest producer of cardamom in India. Amidst the farm and the apple orchards, the host couple run a small homestay. The family is also a part of a village collective that brings together enthusiastic and culturally aware youngsters who work to make Martam a tourism destination. Guests must not miss out on the interesting village walk in Martam conducted by a local organisation of village dropouts, creating a source of income for them.

Chettri Family from Martam

Chettri Family from Martam

JOSHI FAMILY IN DARJEELING

At the centre of the bustling town of Darjeeling, the Joshi family hosts guests at their beautiful home. Mrs Anjana Joshi is a great conversationalist and loves to tell her guests about the history of this town which they call their home. She and her daughter-in-law Sameera are amazing chefs who love to host guests for extravagant dinners, which you will be fortunate enough to have. Handsome, their lovely dog is everybody's friend. Their terrace also offers a complete view of the Kanchendzonga massif.

joshis.jpg

Gratitude Diary: To The Girls Who Joined First

It’s been almost one year since Sambit and I began our dream project and actively started conducting trips to the places we love. In this past one year, those who joined us for these trips became friends of Doi and we’re glad they’ve all kept in touch. That’s always how we imagined it to be.

However, this post is to tell you all about something more precious. As I sit down to write this post today, I’m informed by Sambit that 5 out of the 6 guests on our first road trip to North Sikkim this winter will be girls.

News like this has always brought us a smile and we’re happy to tell you that this pattern is in fact not new to us.

IMG-20181103-WA0016.jpg



Around mid-August in 2017 when we were prepping for our first ever Doi Host trip, we were uncertain as who would be our guests. Our trips are not open to large group of friends or families. This leaves us with a niche clientele which includes solo travellers or friends travelling in a group of 2-3.

A mixed group of people enquired but to our surprise, it became an all-girls trip quite organically. Solo women travellers joined without many questions or much convincing. We noticed a similar pattern in the trips that followed. Although more men than women enquired for the trips, every single time girls outnumbered boys when it came to signing up.


spiti 03-119.jpg

In an article on Vagabomb one year back featuring The Doi Host, we expressed something similar and we are glad it still holds true. Here we quote ourselves one year back.

“It has been the most exciting thing for us since the introduction of The Doi Host this August. On most of our trips we see women outnumbering men. If it means that we have the faith of women who are venturing out alone or maybe for the first time, we’re happy to be that platform."

Click here to read full article.

Reason for this trend? It’s quite obvious.

It was long overdue to say the least. It’s surprising to see that till now the number of women outdoors is still a minuscule percentage of the travelling population. I’m not talking about touristy destinations where families and friends travel over weekends. I’m stressing on remote areas, tough to reach and hard to enjoy. As a woman travelling alone I’ve been through the awkward scenarios of being the only girl in a train compartment, the only girl in a taxi, the only girl in a mixed dorm and even the only girl traveller in a village.

I assessed that it was only obvious that so many girls joined when we first announced The Doi Host trips; because, for a change, this gave them a solution to the difficulties of travelling alone in this country and move on from that oft-asked dreaded question, “What are you doing here alone?” We as hosts travelling with them is another added benefit since it’s a more hassle-free travelling experience for people choosing to go on a vacation without friends or family.

spiti trip 1-87.jpg


There’s strength in numbers.

When we travel in a group with a majority as women, it gives me immense satisfaction to know that we successfully surpass so many unnecessary questions, answers, and encounters that can make travelling stressful for women. Of course, there will always be a part of me that will celebrate women who choose to travel solo, but it’s a joy to know that The Doi Host is part of a solution that gets together exciting female travellers from across the country who bond over a shared passion for travelling.

I can’t forget to mention the superb boys who joined us on these trips and made the trips memorable for everyone else. Girls choosing to travel with us for a second time is as much a compliment to us as it is to their co-travellers.

We would like to thank the FIRSTS!

All those girls who first signed up for these trips and helped us spread the word - Ira, Shivangi, Pooja, Sreshti, Saumia, Preeti, Pooja, Krithiga, Anjali, Mansi, Anusha, Samiksha, Surabhi, Romita, Pratima, Vaishali - it will be difficult to name everyone here. You know who you are and it’s been a delight to know you! You chose us when we started and we didn’t have a brand reliability and a solid history to show you. What gave us even more confidence was that some of you chose to travel with us for the second time too. It makes us often wonder that we must have done something right. Thank you. You helped us stick to our core values as a brand and help us empower women outdoors. We’re grateful to you all and we hope you had a great time!

spiti 03-2.jpg

We’re happy to announce that in 2019 we look forward to organising all girls’ road trips to the destinations listed on The Doi Host. We hope to see some of you there!

If you like this article, share it, spread the word, and be a part of some incredible adventures with The Doi Host.

Photo Gallery: Collection of Moments from Road Trips to North Sikkim 2017-18

These are photographs from one of our favourite destinations, North Sikkim. The collection has photos from trips conducted by The Doi Host during December 2017 and February 2018. The trips started from Bagdogra where we picked up our guests from the airport and embarked on an 8-day long road trip via Gangtok, Lachung, Zero Point, Lachen and all the way to the frozen Gurudongmar Lake.

All photographs are taken by Sambit Dattachaudhuri.

Life Meets The Lens

Guest post by Vikram and Apoorva who have curated a unique experience called Life Meets The Lens, in Kandbari, Himachal Pradesh.

Museum3.JPG


Remember your Biology textbooks that you glanced hurriedly through just a few days before exams? We all remember being repulsed by the endless diagrams and the life processes explained in those textbooks. But we also remember having rejoiced in awe on spotting a mother bird feed its newborns in a nest, or when we peeled open a pea covering only to find a caterpillar, or even when we spent hours following an ant trail?

Life Meets the Lens is all about creating many such joyful moments to experience the abundance of life that our planet is gifted with. We have always been told that the number of living creatures found on our planet is so huge that it is almost beyond belief; but how many of us have stopped to observe even a tiny bit of this huge abundance?

We believe that in order to be able to understand life in all its glory, one first need to develop a strong sense of real first hand observations. One can appreciate the delicate beauty of interdependence of all living creatures on each other only when one witnesses all of this first hand. Through Life Meets the Lens, we wish to create a shared space for people to explore biodiversity and natural ecosystems. The idea is to create a community of nature enthusiasts who will come together as often as possible to explore and understand how life prospers in diverse forms even in the tiniest corners of this planet.

Daily hikes to the jungle, technical observations, specimen collections, microscope observations and many interesting group activities form the routine of these retreats. We explore and try to understand life through experiences, observations and dialogue. We also discuss many Life Sciences concepts such as creation and evolution of life, habitat, food, defense mechanisms, ecosystems etc. This unique retreat uses photography as a medium to spark conversations around Life on earth. Participants use their cameras to document and share their observations with each other.

We have also set up a small museum which is open for participants to visit and explore our collection which includes hundreds of little things from the forests around - dead insects, bones, skulls, seeds and so much more!

Vikram with the participants at the museum in Kandbari.

Vikram with the participants at the museum in Kandbari.

Our Location

Our retreats happen in a beautiful hamlet called Kandbari nestled in the heart of the Dhauladhar range of Himalayas. The village is 12-14 km from the town of Palampur in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Surrounded by water streams and dense forests, the location offers a perfect spot for biodiversity explorations and is the starting point of many treks to the deep forest. The village and the surrounding areas are home to hundreds and thousands of species of flora and fauna. It is a traditional mountain village with rich cultural values.

Vikram showcasing his collection during the workshop

Vikram showcasing his collection during the workshop

RETREATS AND WORKSHOPS

We conduct 3-7 days retreats for people from non-scientific background who have little knowledge about the natural world but are still looking forward to get to know it better. Usually, these workshops are offered to individuals who are 15 years and above.

We also conduct workshops for schools. Most of the biology, including biodiversity, is still taught through books and series of endless diagrams. Studying Life Sciences within the four walls of the room with textbooks being your only guiding point can drain any love for the subject that could have been experienced if studying it in nature. We believe that Life Science needs to be brought to life by taking it out of the realm of the textbook and be taught in the outdoors. For this, we conduct many engaging workshops for school teachers and children.

Besides this we also offer workshops to parents who might love the idea of exploring the natural world together with their children. It gives parents and opportunity to connect closely with their children and children also get a wonderful opportunity to explore natural science as one of the viable academic options for future.   


Aprrova with the participants at the workshop

Aprrova with the participants at the workshop

TRIP PRICE

We charge Rs 5500-7000 per participant for three days which includes workshop fee, equipment -collection box, observation lens, forceps, and gloves, stay and food (3 meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner).

THE IDEA

Well, the idea is to build a community of people who will learn to care about nature and all life forms in it. We talk a lot about conservation these days, without fully explaining the events that have lead to us talking about the need for conservation. We feel that people do not find themselves directly affected by the disappearance of different species on this planet. Nor do they understand how their own indirect actions have lead to the depletion of populations of other life forms. Before, we explain people the repercussions of their actions, it is also very important to create a love-bond between humans and other living creatures.

Collection of biodiversity at the museum in Kandbari.

Collection of biodiversity at the museum in Kandbari.

Our Team

Life Meets The Lens is an initiative of a self-trained naturalist Vikram, and Apoorva who has always been a nature-lover at heart.

Vikram, 30, is an avid Life Sciences enthusiast and an equally passionate photographer. He has spent over a decade trying to capture the glory of life in everything from the movement of ants to the dance of the bees, from the blooming of flowers to the wings of the birds. Although he has an undergrad degree in Botany and a Masters in Human Genomics, his love affair with biodiversity began when he was a little child. Born in the Himalayan town of Palampur, Vikram spent a great deal of his time as a child in the forest collecting seeds, dead insects, stones, skulls and bones of dead animals, feathers, mushrooms and everything else that he could sneak into the house without being caught. Today his collection has grown so overwhelmingly that we have now started a museum to showcase the rich diversity of the Palampur region.

Apoorva, 27, on the other hand, has spent most of her life so far in the chaos of big cities. A new world opened up before her when she left her job as a marketer and moved to Palampur almost two years back. She experienced a new life in the mountains, and lived closer to nature than ever before. She now believes that one can learn more about life and self if one spends more time observing the invisible forces of nature. She has an undergrad degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Masters in Business Administration.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/lifemeetsthelens/

Workshop video: https://youtu.be/wp8QaiAOkA0