Here’s Anand Sankar’s story–the man who brought the people and produce of Uttarakhand’s Kalap in Tons Valley closer to a world that had almost forgotten this quaint mountain village. By Vernika Awal
When Anand Sankar first reached Kalap, he noticed that the tiny village lacked basic amenities. Things like electricity, essential healthcare facilities, and internet were a distant dream. Through the years, Sankar’s work has slowly put Kalap back on Uttarakhand’s map, with its indigenous produce and an eco-tourism trail steadily attracting attention. While the pandemic has halted a number of Sankar’s plans, Kalap continues to be a shining success story.
1. Tons Valley is a not-so-known tourism destination. Tell us about Tons Trails and your sustainable tourism initiative.
Tons Valley is not a popular destination even today since it is poorly developed and remote. However, while lower Tons Valley has garnered some tourist footfall for white water rafting activities, upper Tons Valley is yet to make it to itineraries.
Life here is primarily agrarian and has an untouched aspect to it. Our [Tons Trails’] story started in 2013 when we inaugurated eco-tourism operations in a remote village called Kalap. Due to widespread demand from other villages, we then expanded operations to more villages. Today, we run tours in about 17 villages that have never seen tourism before.
2. What are the kinds of experiences you offer through Tons Trails?
We are not fans of mainstream adventure travel. When we started with product development, we wanted to blend the fantastic outdoors in the upper Tons Valley with its vibrant culture and heritage—both, natural and man-made. All our travels are along routes trodden by the locals while they graze sheep or move from village to village along a pagdandi way (unpaved rough paths). We blend staying in the outdoors with living with the locals in their humble homes. All our experiences are designed to give guests a holistic glimpse of the upper Tons Valley.
A good example of our approach is our signature summer itineraries—The Nomad Trail and The Nomad Retreat. In both, we take guests to charming villages and then hike up to traditional alpine pastoral lands to experience life as Himalayan livestock herders.
3. How has the pandemic impacted Tons Trails?
COVID-19 has completely decimated our products. All our experiences involve deep-interaction with the local communities. We cook in their kitchens and sleep in their homes or shepherd tents. Social distancing has halted theses experiences.
With business being severely impacted, we thought, why not help local communities in whatever way possible! We leveraged our customer base and our internet following to find new opportunities for the local communities. We started by marketing apples grown by local farmers. Now, we market anything that is grown or made in upper Tons Valley through our own venture, The Tons Valley Shop.
4. Tons Trails aims to empower local mountain communities. Tell us more.
We believe, local communities should be the principal stakeholders, and tourism should enable their holistic skill development. For instance, a lot of our tourism field staff has completed basic paramedic training. We encourage them to contribute by being community first responders (CFRs).
5. Are there any new experiences planned for 2021?
We are looking at launching a couple of river-themed experiences along River Supin and Rupin, the principal tributaries of the Tons River.