Passion for travel led a Couple towards Working for Nature

April 2nd , 2021 | Smriti Ahuja Mishra

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Everything in nature is so interconnected

Hi, I am Smriti Ahuja, trained from National Institute of Design in Textile Design, NID and my husband Himanshu Mishra with a background in MBA in Marketing from I.I.T Roorkee. We met while travelling in Spiti Valley Himachal in 2015 and very soon discovered our passion for travel and love for nature. 

This love got us together and having met for a very brief time, we decided to travel together and work for communities. In the next year we got married, since in India it is not very friendly to travel with a male co-worker, but love pulled us through, the same love that led us to a discovery of how everything in nature is so interconnected.

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Leaving behind cities

Between 2016-17 we decided to leave our city counter parts, Himanshu had studied in Lucknow and have lived in Delhi for half of my life and moved to a small hut in Kainchidham, near our beloved Maharajji Neeb Karori Baba’s temple abode. Himanshu used to spend hours on the bridge which leads to the temple where the Uttar Vahini Ganga, also commonly known as Shipra river flows. It takes a turn from its adjacent town in Bhowali, where much of the waste that is dumped in Bhowali and connecting towns of Bhumiadhar, Bheemtal is dumped ignorantly onto the hill slopes on the way to Kainchi. He shared his grief with me, and wanted to do something about it. 

After leaving his corporate job in 2014, he started to work for the community in Bir, a paragliding station in Himachal Pradesh and with the help of locals and school children had carried out number of ‘Clean River Campaign’ and helped children understand crafts from waste materials especially single use plastic. These are the biggest nuance of our waste today, especially in tourist areas where there is no accountability to such kind of waste from biscuits, chips, soaps, banners are being thrown at the cost of the local eco system. Since there are no nearby recycling centers or an organized way of waste collection, these plastics then get either eaten by local animals like cows, monkeys, languor’s, birds or flow down to the streams easily where they destroy the fragile ecosystem and lead to further degradation of rivers which carries on its journey to lower foothills. Once these plastics are out in the water, it is almost impossible to reverse the damage to aquatic life. In India millions of people depend on the rivers for their household needs, it is the only source of water. People have been known to inhabit near the rivers since they support a large system of livelihoods.

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Waste turned into beautiful crafts

So Himanshu and me decided to do something about it. From his previous experience and my craft skills, he had learned the art of making Binna, a local technique of many Hilly areas to craft hand made products out of waste. These can range from small dhurries or carpets to useful household items from pen stands to mats, dustbins, storage bins etc. His favorite Amma in Bir used to teach him how to patiently move the fingers around waste stalks of rice, pertaining to a desired diameter. The plastic wrappers would be cleaned and sun dried and then cut into strips. The joinery was simple where each joint would slip about half an inch into the previous one. Within no time we were both collecting plastic wrappers from shopkeepers, coming back home in our little hut with a beautiful view of the valley and clean the collection till evening. Late evening Himanshu would be singing bhajans with the local ladies and their children, who were very happy to have an entertainer in the otherwise quiet dark nights and I would be making rotis on a small gas Chula. When some kids in the neighborhood saw what we were doing with the plastic, they were intrigued to help us and started collecting material from their schools.

With the help of our house owners and neighbors we were also invited to give a talk in another connecting village about waste management and plantation. Suddenly we had become stars in the small village which was very dear to our hearts.

This encouraged us to extend our stay and we then started approaching local schools in other villages of Ratighat, Kakrighat. The Principals were very happy to know about our passion to serve, and of course this was all free, so they were even happier to upskill the kids and having awareness workshops on waste management. This would sensitize them to their immediate environment. Women from other villages also showed a lot of interest and with their small infants still feeding used to attend our waste management sessions in schools.

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More work around waste and sustainability

So, Binna evolved into a village level waste management plan and got a tag line From waste to craft’. The products which then evolved were either for local use or designed for some interest to the passerby tourists. It extended to taking workshops in government schools both for primary and secondary schools. Slowly we ran out of funds and had to move back to the city like all villagers for work and then we started working on projects in sustainability, of course for some amount of money. 

Himanshu passed away in a fatal accident in 2019, when a sleeper bus driver dozed off and the bus was swept into the Jharna nala, a stream of Yamuna near Agra. I am still continuing in the direction of sustainability and consulting NGO’s and Academic Institutes in design and sustainability. We have a 2-year-old son called Prasann Himanshu Mishra, hopefully when he grows up, I would be able to get back to Himanshus dreams of cleaning rivers

The author of the story is Smriti Ahuja Mishra" and you can reach out to her  at smritiahuja.nid@gmail.com

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