If it wouldn’t be for Rahul Sherpa, I would never come across the other side of this trifling village called Chota Mangwa located at one of the pinnacles of North Bengal. The magnificent view of Kalimpong Hills on one side and the gush of Teesta River on the other with the Mt. Kanchenjungha acting as a guardian, Chota Mangwa is indeed worthy of a visit. These were the basic reasons why I chose this place amongst others. After a walking through the tea plantations of Takdah, which deserves a story of its own, and a bumpy ride on a local trekker, I was dropped off at the mouth of Chota Mangwa. I entered an unknown house in search of some tea and whereabouts of a cheap homestay. Little did I know what was to follow ahead? The man, Mr Bimal was kind enough to let me stay with them for the night. His wife, Anjali was a beautiful tribal woman, soft spoken and owned an everlasting smile that makes you wonder what is it that makes her so happy! As I sipped my favourite beverage with the family they started exploring my world and work. Soon enough his younger brother came down leaving half his chore and insisted on showing my around. What could this place provide more than an incessant scenic beauty? This piece of writing is not about how beautiful Chota Mangwa is in its natural realm.
Rahul asked me if I was comfortable with walking. The approval made him happy and thus began the journey. At first pit stop, he took me to this small vegetation area where few women were picking up roots of some homely ingredient. It gave the look of a nursery. Inside was a Crop Demonstration under the seed production and multiplication unit. It was organized by the Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA). The villagers of this area took an initiative to use their land for productive purposes so that they do not have to depend on any external factor for income generation. Lacking the finances to do so at a large scale, they approached the Rangli-Rangliot Development Block. In association with the Director of Agriculture, this set-up was formed. It is running successfully all over the village and no native has the requirement to go to the market for their vegetables. Inspired by it, the locals have started using similar patterns of cultivation right at their back yards. This particular section displayed various vegetables but the highlighting factor was that there was not a single drop of pesticide or insecticide used. Every ounce of yield is completely environment friendly and run by the villagers themselves. The leader is an old woman who learnt from her parents the techniques of farming and she whispered that in her days it was not just about eating, but eating healthy.
I had to know the gem of their cultivation. The method they use is of cow dung compost. Our ancestors have used this method in the ancient times and have successfully managed to run the agrarian culture. With the advent of pesticides and insecticides the labour in building the compost started looking wasteful. One of the detrimental ensue that Chota Mangwa faced in the recent days was the excessive use of chemicals on the mountain slopes for the increase in output of Oranges. Last 2 years this region has hardly seen any oranges in the area at all. They seem to have stopped growing. Only now the Government has taken initiative to have ecofriendly citrus production. In the compost system, cow dung is mixed with leaves which are available in abundance. They dig up a big hole, one can imagine it to be like a bathtub kind of set up. It is filled with cow dung and leaves and left for days to decompose. As the moisture evaporates, water is sprinkled every day and after few weeks the manure gets ready. This is a sheer example of how nature knows how to take care of its own particulars if left to it. The manure can be used directly by mixing it with the soil or as a planting medium. I walked through the thin terrain of tea gardens to meet Mr. Thapa who manages the cow dung collection along with his lovely wife. It is amusing how this man thoroughly enjoys spending his entire day in the smell and what in general term we refer to as filth. “ These cows are my children, I take care of them and they bestow me with their dung. The whole village is dependent on them”-The wise words of a man who has seen much under the sun.
Rahul Sherpa and I then moved on to this little construction site where exactly three men were building an industry. An industry to make their own tea and sell it in the market directly! This is another fruitful initiative that the villagers of Chota Mangwa have taken. Nanda Daju, a local tea planter, formed an alliance with two small businessmen from Kolkata, West Bengal and they are now on the verge of opening their own tea making industry. It should be completed in coming 3 months. The idea is to employ the locals of the area so that they do not have to leave their land in search of employment. At the same time they will cut the entire cost of the middlemen who take the raw tea leaves from the tribal populace. The profit would be re-invested to expand the business. The interesting part is that the whole process of tea cultivation is also being shifted into the eco-friendly structure using the same cow dung compost manure. If one has been to tea garden, you can see the clear difference in the color and texture of the leaves that are now being grown using this method.
This concept of development in hand with nature is what makes Chota Mangwa a village of its own kind. I had the luxury of enjoying a fine exotic dining with the family and the taste of the curries filled with nutrition still lingers in my palette. The creativity of the inherent people has transformed this village’s socio-economic structure. The changes can be seen once you dawdle into the lanes and through the tea bushes. Every family tells you that they are happy with what they have, they eat what they grow and they are not ready to cut on their greenery for their progress. The answer to sustainable development is perhaps getting back to our roots and using the age-old methods to elaborate but leave enough for our coming generations to cherish.