This post is Contributed by Dipanjana Debnath.
The charisma of the ghost villages is quite different from that of the ruined fortresses. A ghost village allows us an opportunity to have a close look into the lives of people who once dwelled there.
Uttarakhand has no dearth of such villages. Out of 16793 total villages, a whopping number of 1053 villages have been declared as ghost villages for not having many people left to tell the tale. One of those ghost villages is Saur in Tehri Garhwal, which is a 300-year old village with only 12 families living there. Saur Village is mysterious because of the excessive migration. A significant part of the village rattles in a miserable condition of relinquishment with old and dilapidated dwellings sans inhabitants.
“The Wise Wall Project” is a Project FUEL initiative, in association with RoundGlass. They choose this secluded village named Saur which is located in Tehri Garhwal region of Uttarakhand and gathered life lessons from the whole village, even from the migrated families.
They then illustrated those life lessons, folk stories and also the glimpses of villagers’ daily lives on the walls of the houses from where they were accumulated. Each story has some wisdom to offer, enabling us to wedge the gap between rural and city lifestyle. These paintings are a treasure-trove of knowledge, waiting to be delved into.
Project FUEL is an organization committed to collecting various life lessons. The founder of Project FUEL, Deepak Ramola says, “I’ve always dreamt of collecting life lessons from an entire community.
Considering India’s large migration problems, we decided to target a village facing issues revolving around the same. After looking up several villages in Uttarakhand, a state that is currently facing a large migration problem, we zeroed in on a village called Saur. The village is termed a ‘ghost village’ and has numerous articles dictating the same.”
This village used to house 200 families, until the point when most of them left for better work opportunities, having just 12 families behind. The possibility of this village just vanishing eternally and being known as a mere ghost village disheartened Deepak and hence he initiated The Wise Wall Project. ““An organization called DueNorth has been actively working to restore the village for ten years now, converting places into homestays and initiating arts and crafts with the local women. It seemed apt to build on their progress and take it from there,” he added.
They decided that the painting village’s life stories would be a great idea, which now boasts of being the first village in the world that exhibits an entire community’s lives on the exterior walls of each house. Led by Poornima Sukumar, an extremely talented wall muralist, these paintings are influenced by the Gharwal paintings with a hint of Mughal influence.
According to Poornima, “The whole village had a theme. We studied the history of the region and came across a story of the Mughal king Sulaiman Shikoh. He was exiled to this region and had traveled with an artist and his son. The two stayed on, even after the king went back, going on to develop their own style in the region, called Garhwal painting.” Deepak collected the life stories, while Poornima made sure these are illustrated beautifully and created an incredible visual impact.
As Deepak tells about his favorite paintings, he reiterated, “Stories of how the community came together, whether it was to pray, celebrate, or even just eat, were essential to evoke the feeling of community that once was.” A vivid wall in the heart of the village portraying this village’s ancient communication method is one of his favorites.
“Back in the day, every village head was given a radio by the Government. Akashvani Lucknow was the one the village of Saur tuned in to. The whole village would gather around to listen in on the daily news,” he added. When the villagers saw these painting, all their faces lit up with joy, as it started to occur to them that Project FUEL was there to do a lot more than just painting the walls.
“Another favorite might be the tiger mural we painted. It was spread across five houses, and it was inspired by a famous tale back in the village. Years ago, the goddess they worshipped appeared before a man, telling him of a tiger who had a thorn stuck in his paw that needed aid. After discussing the same with the villagers, they agreed that he had to go help the tiger. As terrified as the man was, he crossed the river, found the tiger, removed the thorn and came back to the village safely. For a while after, the Goddess was said to have walked along the riverbed over the next few weeks—leaving behind footprints! While all this is folklore, the strangest thing happened while we were painting the tiger mural. One morning, just as we were nearing completion, a girl who went to collect grass, came running back early in the morning, screaming about seeing a tiger. We all heard the growls and noises from the forest,” revealed Deepak, barely containing his excitement regarding this project.
Interestingly, as part of this project, Niteesh Yadav, a typography artist, created an entirely new ‘Saur’ font, rather than adhering to the typical Devanagari font. He went on to study the handwriting of these 12 families of Saur to create this font, which was extensively used in the wall paintings.
Additionally, Laila Vaziralli, Ghana, and Neerav Doshi are some of the artists who joined in a noble cause and shared their passion for art on the walls of Saur.
“It’s surprising how often we let the complexity of our lives outshine the simplicity of it all. While we were there, the villagers let us in on so many life hacks, it was amazing! We’ve even used the bark of the Bhimal tree, as a replacement for shampoo and conditioner—and it worked wonders!
Knowledge is wealth, and rural knowledge as wealth has been completely sidelined in our commercialized life,” Deepak said vehemently. However, many others also share this same opinion as him.
If you’re someone who is captivated by the rawness of rural lifestyle, natural beauty, the birds chirping at dawn and magnificence of the Milky Way at night, a living storybook amidst the mountains of Uttarakhand invites you for a rich cultural experience. So, whenever you plan your next trip, you know where to go. Tending to all your accommodation woes, these homestays with vibrant walls telling age-old tales make for a perfect escape amidst mountains, way better than any hotel.
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