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Ecologically sustainable wildlife tourism is best handled by local communities and the homestays run by Mountain Shepherds in the villages of Lata and Tolma in the Dhauli Ganga valley in Garhwal illustrate just that writes Anusha Subramanian on

Abutting the wild and pristine Nanda Devi National Park, Mountain Shepherds is an offshoot of the Nanda Devi Campaign for cultural survival and livelihoods spearheaded by the Marcha Bhotia community of this valley. It is an initiative that is all about grassroots effort to evolve a new model of community-owned tourism and sustainability of livelihoods in the Garhwal Himalayas.

In 2002, almost two decades after the government banned tourism in the region to preserve its ecology, Sunil Dutt Kainthola, a psychologist and Dhan Singh Rana, a community leader from Lata village in Chamoli district, joined hands with people from the nearby villages in the region to launch the Mountain Shepherds initiative.

Their primary objective was to improve the living standards of the Bhotiyas by promoting eco-friendly adventure tourism. Says Kainthola, the head of Mountain Shepherds, headquartered at Lata village in Chamoli district, “We are trying to evolve a model of community-owned tourism where the community is not a mere beneficiary but among the main stakeholders in the tourism enterprise of the region.”

To this end, Mountain Shepherds directly plans treks to the sanctuary and other places in the Garhwal Himalayas including skiing in Auli. Many of these packages involve long treks with home stays that allow tourists to take in the breathtaking sights in that part of the Himalayas.

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