All the villages in Darma Valley from Sela onwards are migratory villages. By November, almost all villagers migrate to towns in lower places – mostly in and around Dharchula and Jauljibi where they have second houses, to escape the harsh winter. By May every year, the villagers come back to their respective villages to cultivate their farms, rear sheep and run dabha-cum-shops. There are some houses in Darma Valley villages which remain closed even in summer as the occupants of these houses have permanently migrated to towns and cities after getting mostly the white-collar jobs.
Since most of the villagers had their second house at the winter settlement places and also had some vocation like sheep rearing, they could, if they wished, continue to work in the winter settlement places without going through the rigmarole associated with the summer migration to their villages and forego the convenience of staying near the towns. I posed to a few villagers the question as to why they come back to their villages every summer and their responses were interesting ones. Some samples:
1. We cannot withstand the harsh summer of the plains. An old women of Dantu village told me that she feels very uncomfortable when she stays for a while in her daughters’ places in the plains of Uttar Pradesh even with fans.
2. We have our farms in the villages where we grow mainly Ugal/Paldi ( kind of millet, the seeds look like barley or jowar) and some vegetables which are our major sources of supplies for our daily requirements apart from getting some cash by selling the excess produce in the market.
Baling village in the midst of farms
Filum village across Dhauliganga river
3. As ancestral houses, there is some affinity which drive them to come and stay in their village houses. This also ensures that the houses remain well maintained.
Filum village across Dhauliganga river
4. Jaswant Singh Sonal, the old ‘Uncle’ of Son village told me that he spends winter in his son’s house in Delhi who is a doctor by profession but returns to his ancestral house every summer with his wife to keep himself occupied with some work like farming, tending of cows and also spend some time with two nephews and their families who stay close to his house. He also says jokingly that this also gives him time to gossip in the village. My guess is that Jaswant Singh feels he is an important personality in his village where many comes to seek his guidance whereas in Delhi he is one among many who are oblivious of his existence.
5. An ITBP personnel told me that the commercial consideration prompts many villagers to return to their villages every summer to cultivate their farms to produce Ugal/Paldi and vegetables. The land is very fertile. In villages like Dantu/Dagtu, single cabbage weighing 10 to 15 kgs is not uncommon. He explained to me that in the recent period, the Government has been doling goodies to the people of Darma Valley villagers of cash as well as supply of rice and wheat at a very subside rates ( some says it is around Rs.3/- per kg). Over a period of time, the Darma Valley villagers seem to have shifted from their traditional staple food made from Ugal/Paldi to rice and wheat as the former fetches them high price ranging between Rs.20/- to Rs.30/- per kg if they sell the produce in the market. To this, Phool Singh Naniyal, the Post Master of Nangling village retorted by saying that we needed cash to meet the cost of higher education to our children.
There is one more reason for the summer migration to their villages in that the government has been providing employment to the villagers under National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme under which all the unemployed adults gets employment for six month during summer in their respective villages in the area of forestation, construction of bunds, maintaining the trek routes etc. I specifically noticed in Baling village that most of the houses were locked during day time as many of the villagers were working on a site about one km ahead of Baling to construction of a bund. Chamu, our route guide, told me that during the last four years that he has been taking groups for Darma Valley trek, he has noticed improvement of forest cover in the valley.
Baling Villagers buling a bund on a mountain slope near Baling
A teenage girl in Tidang told me in a fluent Hindi ( I have never heard any person speaking in fluent Hindi in Darma Valley during our visits until I met this girl) that the beauty of the place brings her to the village in every summer where she has grown up. “All Darma villages are beautiful in their own way. You should make a visit to Sipu village you will like it” she said as I was moving towards my home stay.
I did not ask this question to any villager thereafter. I did not wish to hear any other answer than the one given by the Tidang girl. And whatever the reasons, I pray that summer migration of Darma Villages be continued in eternity. I can’t think of desolated Darma villages any more.
Indigenous Cold Storage System
Closely associated with the winter migration from Darma Valley to nearby towns is the indigenously developed system of cold storage by the villagers. Almost all houses in Darma villages have storage space below the top step of the main entrance to the house, sufficient to place a wooden receptacle in which mostly food grains are stored just before the onset of winter migration (by end of October every year). The top of the storage space is covered with a square wooden plank which gives an impression that it is a part of the wooden floor. The depth of the receptacle depends up on the number of steps on the main entrance. During the winter migration, the food grains stored in the receptacle remain safe and do not get spoiled as all the houses in the villages would be under the thick blankets of snow.
The vegetables like potatoes, radish and other local vegetables are stored in wooden boxes which are placed inside the pits in the farm land usually near the house. These pits are closed with stone slabs. The thick blankets of snow over the farm land in the winter keep the stored vegetables fresh when the villagers return in summer. The food grains and vegetables stored during the winter are used for consumption when the villagers return in summer as the new crops of vegetables and local food grains like Ugal/Paldi will be available for consumption only in September/October. The storage system also give the villagers some insulations against the high prices of food grains and vegetables. If they had not stored these items, they would have to buy these from the towns from where they will migrate to their villages in summer when the prices would be higher apart from carrying them as freight during summer migration.
Pictures by the author