This was the experience of nearly 150 students, who participated in a nature camp organised at Chomoling, in the Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, for ten days.
The camp was held at 4,400m above sea level, in the lap of the mighty Himalayas. It is a non-motorable place with the nearest transportation available only to a village called Kibber- 200m below Chomoling. Moreover, its main aim was to get the children of Spiti to appreciate what they have got and inspire them to guard their natural treasure.
The camp was organised by Mysore-based NGO Nature Conservation Foundation and its partner the Snow leopard Trust, which carries out conservation work across the country, to get the children of Spiti to care for their flora and fauna. It was conducted by Pranav Trivedi, a conservation educationist.
The conservationist points out the significance of such camps. “Organising nature education camps for urban children for almost 15 years convinced me about the role of such exposure in moulding children’s values, attitudes and behaviour. So, when the opportunity to work with children in the Himalayas came up, I gladly took it up. Because these children are still not physically away from nature, there are more possibilities of them appreciating the inherent worth of this beautiful landscape and its living diversity.
This would surely lead to more awareness and sensitivity on the part of these children.”
Students of sixth to ninth standard from seven schools participated in five three-day camps. All the requirements like food and accommodation were provided at the camp which meant all the grocery and cooking essentials had to be transported to Chomoling.
There were different modules with a variety of activities. The modules were chosen depending on the age of the children attending the camp. The activities were based on the idea of a treasure hunt where the treasure at each step was a message from Nature. Each message would get the children to do some activities which would enhance their use of the sense organs.
The most important rule at the camp, as conveyed through one of the hidden messages was not to harm any living creature. The children were taught how to feel and smell the plants, by gently rubbing the leaves with fingers and not ruthlessly pulling the entire plant off the ground.
Chomoling was a well-chosen place because it supports quite a population of plant and animal life. The children got to see the blue sheep or the bharal closely and also the nest and fledgings of the famous Golden eagle. All activities would end with half an hour of complete silence near a gorge overlooking the mountains that lead to the Parang La (a pass which connects Spiti and Ladakh).
The logistics of organising such a camp is mind-boggling. The most important aspect of preparations is the altitude as the only way to reach there is by foot.
All the camping and cooking essentials had to be transported to Chomoling using donkeys. The local youth did a lot to help the children understand.
They did everything from transporting goods to cooking, escorting the children up the mountain to teaching them the importance of indigenous flora, apart from local culture, which includes appreciating the local language (bhoti) and also singing and dancing in the Spitian style, around the campfire.
Being a part of the camp was a great learning experience for me. It taught me to observe the world around me. I spot a lot more birds these days other than crows and pigeons!