Khalia Top: How Not to Develop Tourism ?

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 28 Apr 2016

Munsyari :  Munsyari as a tourism destination has been well known to the nature lovers the world-over even if those who are ‘ officially responsible’ for development of tourism in the state may not be ‘officially aware’ of it. ‘Home-stays’ now gaining popularity all over the state has as old a history in this area as one can possibly recall. This writer paid his personal tribute to one UP police officer, late Umed Singh Martolia, who after his retirement returned to Munsyari in 1983 and gave a practical shape to his very own concept of people-centric tourism development in these remote parts.

Martolia Lodge in Lonely Planet

Munsyari,” says an entry on page 230 of arguably the most trusted and popular traveller’s  Guide Book, the Lonely Planet, “ is a picturesque town where you can spend a night or two before commencing the Milam Glacier present there are a couple of very basic lodges in the main bazaar. There is also the Martolia Lodge, run by a local retired police officer, Mr Martolia, who is a very considerate host. The Lodge is two kms from the bazaar on the road heading north-east towards the Johar Valley.” Though Martolia Lodge, the first ever home –stay in Munsyari, was commenced straight-away in 1983, it took the retired police officer some 14 years more to get it duly registered with the UP Tourism department, in 1997. Since then, Martolia Lodge, has become a ‘must stay’ destination for all –comers heading towards the higher reaches of Johar valley. Even when Munsyari is fast growing into one of the most sought after tourism cum trekking destinations, with more than a dozen private Lodges, and expanded TRC of KMVN and so on, Martolia Lodge remains a favourite – having become a kind of Mecca of all nature lovers. A small brochure brought out by this writer as a tribute to the late pioneer of home-stays in Munsyari, rather entire Uttarakhand region, documents what lasting memories this great pioneer implanted in the hearts of all those, who came as guests but left as life-long friends  – of the Martolia family.

A Visitors’ register that Umed Singh Martolia commenced maintaining, on this writer’s suggestion, has visitors from Germany, Italy, many counties of England, Israel, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Austria, Taiwan, Greece, France, Belgium, Brazil, Netherlands, USA, Estonia, Hungary, Sweden, Scotland, Portugal, Mexico and Japan who have left behind heart-moving accounts of their stay and attention paid them by their  ‘considerate host-family’ ! Those were early days and as the local population were not so exposed to the outside world – his pioneering efforts were often a butt of jokes in local gossips- circles. However, he  kept on undeterred, convinced that his indeed was the right way to welcome visitors to the area. His hospitality was more than acknowledge by his grateful guest- cum- friends when they invited him to pay them return visit, allow the to return his hospitality,  they  arranged for him a fully paid and well-booked visits to their respective countries – Japan being his first such thank-you return-trip, followed by Hungary, France and till his final days requests kept pouring in to him, year after year ! After his demise this writer took up the responsibility to inform some of the invitations that as Mr Martolia is no more alive – so its not possible now !

Nain Singh Mountaineering Institute & Mountain Biking

Harish Rawat Government deserves full marks for giving Munsyari which was long due to it – commencing with establishing Nain Singh Mountaineering and Adventure Institute, which set up in a most picturesque setting of erstwhile Balati Potato Farms. This writer has already contributed a piece on the inaugural Training session, that most coincidently commenced on the 165th birth-day of that great Indian Explorer of the Tibetan Plateau, only last year. This has been followed up with yet another course, another first Skiing training course for the beginner – all well thought out, though deserving of better attention in future. Munsyari, received another big boost in adventure tourism front when a recce of its potential for Mountain Biking was organized, courtesy Uttarakhand Van Nigam. One suspects, that the  last effort, needs to be better thought-through and followed more systematically.

The Flip-side of Popularity   

These welcome developments implicitly have exposed certain warts which deserve immediate attention of all well-wishers especially those who may be held responsible for, as they say,  ‘ killing the  goose that lays golden eggs ”. The massive Nain Singh Training Institute, at Balati, has already been connected by a hurriedly –built all-weather road. It is also rumoured that the huge Masonic structure, with halls and rooms, has not been provided with sewage and waste-water and related sanitation mechanisms, an essential part of any such structure, particularly in the eco-sensitive zones near, the Khalia Forest Reserve. The logical destination of all these camps, as also various snow-ice related adventure activities is the well-known Khalia Top, otherwise also known as the Water Tower, for the entire Munsyari region. It is this Khalia Top, a stretch atop the Khalia Reserve Forest stretch, that due to storage of snow during the winters, allows the water in various streams that now provides sweet drinking water to the growing population, on the base of this ridge, around Munsyari township. Despite the Khalia Top being at the centre of a Reserve Forest circle ( see the accompanying sketch), it is learnt that Kumaon Vikas Nigam ( KMVN ) has not only constructed pucca hutments along the way and also on top, without any management of its sanitary up-keep, and these hutments remain unattended and full of plastic waste left behind visitors. This waste and garbage has been commenced and caused by this mindless and arguably unauthorised construction by KMVN. Complaints have increased from last year, as the popularity of Khalia Top grows. KMVN, is fast becoming a by-word of how not to promote tourism in these parts when tourists complain both about the quality and up-keep, rather the lack of it, of various TRCs it has supposedly constructed en- route to Milum along Johar valley. Several TRCs that have been constructed remain totally un-attended, with glasses broken and insides of accommodation reeking with human-detritus and unbearable stink !

The Death –knell : A Track of the Year at Khalia Top !       

A most disturbing news-item that has appeared the other day, declaring that from the forth coming 5th May Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam is joining hands with Youth Hostel Association of India and they will be organizing Camps of youth at this Khalia Top ! From the 5th May for the next 20 days they are jointly organizing trekking marches and already they have received registration from as many as 700 participants from all over the country – and they are still counting.  Anyone even remotely familiar with Munsyari is aware that Munsyari every years receives its maximum number of visitors during May – June only, an Annual Football Tournament gets organized, during the same period, almost every one who hails from the area makes every effort to be here during this very same period. One shudders to think, when such ad-hoc trekkings get organized, all aiming to finish Khalia Top, a Reserve Forest patch, the only guarantee of assured water-supply to the adjoining villages- given the poor trek record of indifferent management of the TRCs that have been build along the Milam route and remain unattended and stand vandalised before being used, perhaps this joint venture of the Youth Hostel Association of India and KMVN is nothing short of death-knell to the potential, that Munsyari regions stands for. The KMVN authorities would be best advised first to attend and improve, complete and maintain their vandalized TRCs, along the Munsyari-Milam route, ensure that the Hutments that they have already constructed near Khalia Top, against all principles of environment protection of Khalia Top and its green environs, are kept better and no litter is left behind by the tourists, no one is allowed to stay over-night at Khalia Top. Forest officials and Environment department is also being alerted in time for taking appropriate action to protect Khalia Top from such mindless excursions, and even if excursions are allowed it is KMVN and those responsible should be made to clear the muck and garbage that has started spoiling the pristine environs of Khalia Top. For long term protection of drinking water requirements of the growing population of Munsyari region villages, KMVN and other enthusiasts are best warned and advised to leave places like Khalia Top untouched, spared from their great efforts to ‘ Bring Munsyari on top of Tourist Map of India.’ Munsyari, as explained at the beginning, has had and continues to have its ardent admirers, even before KMVN was born ! Millions have been spent on preparations of so called Master Plans by our Tourism Development Board, which never got executed, and millions more have been spent on constructing TRCs along the Milam route – where no one stays and these TRCs are anything but the worst publicly sponsored advertisements that KMVN could have possibly spent money on. Will there be any halt to such mindless waste of public money, one wonders -, ever ?

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