About 2,300 meters above the sea level, in the woods of Munsiyari, nine of us from cities across India are doing nothing but exploring the forests and beauty of this place. We are trying to look for our souls that have become jaded in our everyday urban lives. All of us are in search for something new, it is not as if it didn't exist but we have not been able to rediscover it.
We walk along with the mountain women as we call them. They belong here and their walk steadfast and is one of ownership. Basanti has beautiful brown eyes and while her look is sharp, it also exudes warmth at the same time. She is the current leader of the Maati Sangathan - Women from Munsiyari have come together in a group to work towards social causes here and also for conservation.
Basanti is taking us to see a water body higher up on the mountain to see a kund that they have conserved by weeding it out. Here she leads all of us along with her mother Saraswati who also lives in the same village.
Our main focus is helping each other in sadness and happiness and lead a violence-free life. When people come to us with their problems and when we are able to find a solution and make them happy, it makes all of us really happy.
She tells us about her livelihood and what all she does. Basanti says, "I earn mainly from Himalayan Ark Homestay. But we are all also connected through the Sangathan. Our main focus is helping each other in sadness and happiness and lead a violence-free life. When people come to us with their problems and when we are able to find a solution and make them happy, it makes all of us really happy. I and my husband work together and run my house."
Apart from this, in the group we have Rekha who is a bird guide and a fellow from the Equation Foundation in Bangalore, which is a national organization that deals with the issues of tourism and works towards responsible tourism.
Like Rekha, many women here are financially independent and run homestays to supplement their income. It is strange how we undermine the capabilities of women from the rural areas. Here we open our minds to a few more women who are with us.
Homestay is just one aspect of their livelihood, but these women also make hand-crafted woolens. It is all natural made of the fur that they take from different animals to making wool. Further, they create vegetable dyes and then make different woolen things out of them like shawls, caps, runners, etc. They are one lot of committed women. And it is gladdening to see them incorporate technology in the process as they now use their smartphones to click pictures and send them to buyers through the internet.
"We sell woolens. There are about 12-13 villages here that have around 50-60 women. They make different types of woolen clothing. And instead of selling it themselves, they bring them over to our Sangathan. After they bring the stocks, then I do a quality check. I also make the inventory, work out the logistics and then as per the demand we have to send them to different places," says Beena, who also lives in Munsiyari. She uses her phone to click pictures of the items and send the samples to buyers.
Basanti's life is interesting as she is the primary earning member of her family. Currently, in her late 30s, Basanti loved her village so much that she married inside the village to stay here for the rest of her life and spend time with the Sangathan. She is connected to an organisation in Delhi from where she gets a monthly wage of Rs 3000. She says, "I live with dignity. And I also take care of all the household expenses and sending children to school, etc. It makes me very happy."
"I live with dignity. And I also take care of all the household expenses and sending children to school, etc. It makes me very happy."
Basanti went against her family's wish to marry a man of her choice. Her reason for that apart from love is that she wanted to stay in the village. And while her family came around to accept her decision six months into her marriage, she feels that what matters to her the most is her self-respect. She works day in and day out to fulfil the wishes of her family.
We as women from the cities feel so entangled in our own complexities that sometimes we forget to appreciate what we have and feel gratitude for it. Something that we should all learn from the Mountain women. They have limited demands, desires and finances, yet even when they talk about sorrows, they sort of laugh about it. They are happy, amidst the challenges of life.
Other than work and life, they are conscious of their surrounding common spaces like the forests, the mountain, water bodies. They work diligently towards maintaining them. How often do we get the time to listen? They don't just listen to others' issues but help solve them and if they can't then at least comfort them.
As we all reach the water body, she told us a story of two girls at the same place and one god who came and took them away because he fell in love with both of them. We all then interpret and re-interpret it to suit our understandings. We broke into dance as a few women sing mountain songs and danced with each other. It brings us all together in unison and we forget who was from the village and who from the city.
This is an all-women tour led by Antara Chatterjee, founder of Little Local in collaboration with SheThePeople.TV