Why not be a Rag-Picker! | Milaap

Why not be a Rag-Picker!

Walking up to every door and explaining the concept of judicial waste management is a work every Green Trail fellow, under IndiaHikes, is used to by the end of their first month. By the time I reached the crossing, a handful of villages up the trail, I stumbled upon Tumling. Now, this was one of the biggest villages my eyes met, the rustling of tourist voices made it sure. It was by absolute chance that I entered Mountain View Lodge in Tumling. While I entered all geared up with my set of words to explain the problem of plastic waste, I saw an elegant woman sitting with two other men. She immediately recognized the purpose of my visit and gave me a seat in her cozy room.

Tumling Village

This is the story of Kesharu Gurung, one of the most passionate women I have come across after my age long relationship with waste. Before I could begin my opening speech, she laid out the issues Tumling is going through and how the waste problem is destroying its absolute beauty. For a long time, she has been cleaning the roads and the lanes of Tumling all on her own. One can imagine the murmuring of expressions she has been facing as she picks up wrappers, packets, used pads and all kinds of left-overs. With a giant bag on her back and a heart filled with determination, she hardly remembers how many years has blown in the wind doing this work against all laughter and objection. “People hardly get the sense of what I do and often debar me from it”, says Nana Nana ( “Nana” means elder sister in Nepali). They also call her “Kabariwala” ( Rag-picker), a word which would hurt many egos, but she takes such pride in it. “ If cleaning my lanes, my home, makes me a rag-picker, then I believe we all should be one”, the idea sounds familiar to me!

Keshari Gurung

The first time meeting!

With the growing tourism, Tumling is adapting to the nature of the city-life the visitors expect in their subconscious level. This growth has led to the locals themselves concentrating in their blooming businesses. Sluggishly, the Pagan love for mountains, trees and valleys has lost in the echoes. Nana does not censure anyone around her. “We all are fighting a battle here; mine is to safeguard what is left of my birth land, for most it’s surviving the rat’s race”, she understands the melee her brothers and sisters go through.

Yak and the barren hills

Nana works with the Nepal Government in relation to trans-border issues in the Indo-Nepal border. Her biggest challenge has been to tackle the mass slashing of trees in the Himalayan borders. The massive deforestation has completely changed the guise of Himalayas, from what Nana would experience during her early days of trekking and exploration. The logs are used as a mode of firewood to boil tons of yak milk. This yak milk is a resource for the inhabitants of the adjoining area and the biggest source of their income. Nana believes that if the yak population is controlled in number and increased in quality, then one yak can give creamier milk which can be used for making cheese. This is the only way that the firewood consumption will reduce without snatching the earnings of her people. “We need to maintain a balance between what humans need and what nature needs”, it is poignant that we have managed to delineate ourselves from nature. Nana is also putting forward alternative combustion sources like paper brickets to be used instead of fuel. During the famous Yak festival, she plays a major role representing India's side and spreading awareness on the long term effects of deforestation.

Yak festival

" I love yaks, they remind me of strength" - Kesharu

Burning the midnight lamp, I built a relationship with Nana far beyond sisterhood, probably of waste-hood. When my fellow Green Trails mates and I went the second time with the mission to clean Tumling ourselves, it was Nana who sprang in and immediately left her set of chores. Despite telling her time and again that she did not have to accompany us, she insisted that it was her willful obligation. Honestly, it is impossible to shake this woman’s stand. After a 6-day trek, if she chose to walk up and down the hill with us to clean what is flung by others. She is far beyond young mouth’s persuasion. Not to forget Nana also runs sustainable tourism where she takes groups from all over the world for many treks along the Himalayan terrain. She shows them the culture of her tribe and how we have the option of exploring the exquisiteness of snow-capped mountains and leave them greener for our next visit. "When I take my trekkers, I make sure they come back again and again, and get the same peace of mind", says Nana.

Kesharu Nana and the trekkers

Sustainable tourism!

To add to this, Nana also has an adorable son she adopted. He studies outside and comes every holiday and helps his mother do what she does. How often do we hear the sentence '"it's not possible"? Well, here we have a living example of a woman who is a social worker, a peacemaker, a policy builder, an explorer, a sister, a mother and an inspiration-  all imbibed in one body.

Kesharu's apple of eye, her son

My last visit to Tumling will remain eternal with her golden words, “This is my home. If I do not care for it, I cannot expect anyone to come from outside and do it. It hurts me to see the naked mountains, the very mountains I would run up and down when I dressed as a young girl. My culture taught me to be a good human. My humanity rests with nature not apart from it”.

The last meet!