The Lonely Himalayas is a cinematic effort to document the unprecedented socio-ecological changes occurring throughout the Kumaon region of the Himalayas.The acceleration of urban migration, coupled with the ravages of climate change, have left many Kumaoni villages abandoned, their landscapes irrevocably altered. By involving the youth of West Binsar Valley in filming this documentary, they are given an opportunity to learn a professional skill while examining their cultural heritage.
A mere stone’s throw from the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary lays the sleepy village of Mayoli. If you squint hard enough, you can see the Nanda Devi Himalayan range from the ridgeline, often obscured from the wreath of pollution generated from the swelling urban centers at the base. A legion of pine trees dutifully protects the aesthetics of the hillside. Under starlight, the leopards howl. Come midday, wild boars terrorize ayurvedic garden beds. The Kumaon region of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, India is unparalleled in its untrammeled access to the Himalayas. Within Kumaon, the Western Binsar Valley is renowned for its awe-inspiring solace and biological diversity. However, what may seem like a veritable paradise to foreigners feels like a prison to a younger generation tantalized by images of Bollywood excess, hyper-connectivity to digital surrealities, and the plethora of both professional and educational opportunities in urban settings.
“My mother does farming and raises cattle. I know how to do this work because I have seen it from childhood. In the future, I don’t want to do this work. I want to get out of this place.” --Deepa Kandpal, Media Workshop Participant
In search of a life quite different from their parents’, Binsar Valley youth abandon their agrarian villages and crowd the over-burdened infrastructure of India’s mega-cities. Upon urban migration, vital cultural components are lost, including traditions, regional-specific farming methods, folk songs, handicrafts, herbal medicines, even languages. As politicians unleash free market economic policies and succumb to neoliberal development schemes with multilateral institutions, India is globalizing at breakneck speed. Determined to stem the tide of socio-ecological change, fledgling NGO the Himalayan Ethno Botanic Garden Society (HEBGS) began working with village youth to reexamine their cultural identities. Utilizing the 15 years of documentary film making experience, HEBGS founders Pankaj Bhakuni and Sachin Bisht began a Media Workshop to teach basic film making and editing skills to Binsar Valley adolescents. Throughout the process, the teens rediscovered the traditions of their ancestors they had heretofore spurned.
Two Kumaoni friends leave the hustle and bustle of Delhi to return to their homeland in order to protect remote Himalayan villages. Two American backpackers stumble upon this mission while in country, become friends with them and volunteer at their campsite. While sipping tea over a campfire, the four decide to make this documentary.
This film will contain several sequences filmed by Binsar Valley youth who participate in a media workshop. Their interviews of village elders will provide a unique perspective of a generation at a crossroads. Layered on top of these components are expansive investigations of environmental changes occurring in Kumaon, such as biodiversity loss, topsoil degradation, forest succession, climate change, invasive species, glacial melt, and water scarcity. Alongside urban migration, other sociological elements discussed in the film are poverty, political economy, educational disparity, separation anxiety, and public health concerns.
Sociological change: A demographic transition is occurring in India on a vast scale. As the middle class expands, consumer spending and consumption increases. This inevitably causes a strain in urban infrastructure, such as roads, sewage systems, building, and electricity. As India modernizes, urban migration is accelerating from villages like those in Binsar Valley. As disparities in wealth continue to expand at alarming rates, many urban and seasonal migrants are often relegated to humble living quarters or makeshift dwellings in slums, a critical social justice issue. Mass urbanization is occurring for many reasons, among them a dearth of employment opportunities in rural settings, chain migration to unite with family members, and a desire for better educational opportunities. During this process, migrants are often subsumed into a larger globalized culture, as their ancestral culture often becomes diluted.
Ecological change: Due to climate change, the average temperature of the Himalayas is warming at a faster rate than the global average rate. Temperature increases are greater during the autumn and winter seasons with faster warming happening at higher altitudes. Over 67% of the Himalayan glaciers have retreated. Climate change will also increase the spread of vector-borne diseases (i.e. Malaria, Dengue Fever, Lyme disease, Bartonellosis, etc.) throughout the Kumaon region, thereby posing an increasingly grave human health risk for vulnerable populations. Biodiversity is declining throughout Uttarakhand due to these climatic changes. In Binsar Valley, traditional broadleaf forests are transitioning to pine forests. Many endemic species of ayurvedic herbal plants that have been used in medicines for thousands of years are no longer being cultivated, due to the insistence of farmers to prioritize cash crops for export. Biodiversity loss throughout Kumaon will likely affect rural populations, as their livelihoods are almost exclusively dependent on natural resources. Also, soil degradation and erosion are occurring at an alarming rate due to a lack of regeneration of topsoil and over-abundant nutrient loading in agriculture. Agricultural vulnerability to climatic shifts has been documented in the Kumaon region, in particular that of wheat and rice. These shifts will likely exacerbate issues of food insecurity in the region. Flash flooding has been occurring more frequently throughout Uttarakhand, including a dangerous episode in the fall of 2013, claiming over 5,700 lives.
This film has been a passion project for everyone on our team, and now we need your passion and support to bring awareness to this critical issue. Our fundraising goal is $3,000.
Here are some estimates on where the money will be spent:
- $1,250: Film-making equipment (camera, lighting, memory cards, video editing software, etc.)
- $1,000: Food and lodging for The Lonely Himalayas crew when traveling to various parts of the Himalayas
- $500: Marketing the film in the USA through promotional materials (fliers, posters, trailers), film screenings, website design, etc. This will be accomplished in Chicago.
- $250: Generation of donor gifts, including the packaging costs.
The above-mentioned fundraising goal is what we consider to be “bare bones.” In fact, it does not even include transportation costs (plane, train, bus, and the ever-exciting rickshaw). However, every additional dollar will make this documentary even better, while preventing the four of us from going broke during the film-making process! ;)
It is important for us to mention that Kickstarter has an "all or nothing" funding model. Thus, until our film is 100% funded, no deductions of your pledged donations will be made from your account. Even if our film reaches 99% on our last day of fundraising, you will not be charged one penny, nor will we receive one penny. This gives us considerable pressure to fundraise within 30 days, but gives you the security of only donating to legitimate projects!
Our stretch goal is $5,000. The additional funds will go towards making the film the best it can be and will allow us to film in more remote areas which may require additional transportation, lodging and food costs. Also, with additional funding, we can put more efforts into getting it out to the largest audience possible as well as entering our film into various film festivals.
We believe this film to be of utmost importance to document the ancient traditions of a culture at a crossroads. With your help, we can bring awareness to this issue as well as continue to engage the Binsar Valley youth through film.
Ryan Stock –Producer of The Lonely Himalayas, Ryan first ignited his passion about this cause while serving as a volunteer for the Himalayan Ethno Botanic Garden Society during the fall of 2013. Ryan completed a Master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Environmental Justice from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor in 2013. He served in the Peace Corps Dominican Republic (2007-2009) as a Community Environmental Development volunteer, working with a reforestation NGO in the Cordillera Central Mountains. Ryan also has a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Utah in 2006. Prior to producing this film, Ryan has extensive experience working in environmental education at the University of Michigan and Cuttington University in Liberia, climate adaptation in Great Lakes cities, environmental justice at the Sierra Club Detroit, sustainable agriculture in Gujarat, and zero waste initiatives in the Dominican Republic.
Shilpa Jhobalia - Producer of The Lonely Himalayas and former volunteer at the Himalayan Ethno Botanic Garden Society. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor by the State of Illinois and has counseled youth and families in areas of depression, anxiety, and ADHD. She formerly served as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic (2008-2010) in the Youth, Family, and Community Development sector. In the Peace Corps, Shilpa formed the Brigada Verde, an environmental youth group to implement a variety of environmental education programs and activities. She also worked with community leaders to develop a community library for the village of Las Delicias. Shilpa earned a Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Argosy University-Schaumburg, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Pankaj Bhakuni - Director of The Lonely Himalayas and Secretary of the Himalayan Ethno Botanic Garden Society (HEBGS). Pankaj spent 15 years filming and editing innumerable projects, most notably those filmed for the BBC. He even had the prestigious opportunity of interviewing Dr. Vandana Shiva in Dehradun! Pankaj co-founded the NGO HEBGS where sustainable Agroforestry is promoted to farmers throughout Kumaon. He also operates a vast seed bank of heirloom fruit and vegetable seeds, in collaboration with the Progressive Organic Farmers Group (POFG). Utilizing his industry expertise, Pankaj operates the Rural Education Development through Information Technology (RED IT) computer center from his office in Basouli, where several youth attend regular computer classes. Pankaj is also working on the completion of a new ecotourism campsite, Camp Junaili, for trekking throughout the Kumaoni Himalayas.
Shachindra Bisht - Director of The Lonely Himalayas and the Director of the Himalayan Ethno Botanic Garden Society (HEBGS). Shachindra spent approximately 15 years in Delhi and Bombay as a video editor editing documentary films for CARE, Water Aid, Human Rights Law Network, Help Age-South-East Asia and the Indian Institute of Fine Arts. He also has experience editing television commercials for innumerable brands. After leaving the city life, he co-founded the Himalayan Ethno Botanic Garden Society with colleague, Pankaj Bhakuni. He set up a media center in Basouli and introduced the village youth to audio visual technology through media workshops. He is also actively involved in setting up of HEBGS’ ecotourism campsite, Camp Junaili, and plans to organize outdoor training workshops by professionals to generate employment opportunities for the village youth.
Risks and challenges
Every worthwhile experience will have obstacles to hurdle. While it is difficult to anticipate what these obstacles will be, we are committed to overcoming them. Production delays are a slight possibility, given the sporadic electricity and internet in Binsar Valley, especially during winter and monsoon seasons. However, this is unlikely to throw off the progress of this film more than a few weeks, as most editing will be done from larger cities nearby with more reliable infrastructure.
Perhaps the largest obstacle we will face is the lack of film financing, which will ensure this film will not be made, which is why we’re launching this Kickstarter initiative! Luckily, Kickstarter has a forum for us to communicate with our contributors for any updates. We plan to utilize this forum to maintain an open line of communication with all our contributors. Collaborator mishaps may occur, although all members of The Lonely Himalayas crew are committed to the production of this film. The inception of this film grew through the spirit of volunteerism and love for nature.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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