The beautiful north, clean air, pristine environs, green tall oaks and inviting snow-clad mountains – the ideal getaway, the ideal retreat, the ideal retirement home and the ultimate solace, that's what the Himalayas have always meant to us, beckoning not just to us Indians but tourists from far and wide. For years they have sustained us and we assumed they will continue to do so despite our blatant neglect. Unplanned townships, urbanization and uncontrolled tourism have taken a toll on the beautiful north that we knew. Like the big cities, the small hill stations have suffered too and we are sitting on the fence watching the glory fade.
Well not all of us, there is at least one who wanted to change this for the love of his homeland. So post seeking his professional qualification as an architect at NIT and CEPT, Rahul Bhushan headed back to where his heart lay and worked on restoring it in all its renowned dignity.
Tourism not always a blessing
"The idea started from a very personal observation. Basically, Himachal is a tourist hub and that compels natives to forsake their traditional occupation and cater to the increased hospitality needs of the area for easy money. Tourism is not always a blessing", says Rahul.
Rahul's research thesis was based on preservation of local craftsmanship and contextual architecture as the young generation was moving out of their old houses and making concrete houses, an unhealthy move compromising their heritage value. The economic disparity also appalled him, farmers were one community that were not earning from tourism at all and had to pick up small jobs abandoning their primary vocation and undermining their potential. This bothered Rahul and it triggered him to bring the change he wanted to see.
Rahul began with restoring an old forest house and involved his friends from NIT and CEPT and local craftsmen in it. They concentrated on local art, Kath-Kuni architecture and the team literally labored over everything – landscaping, farming, diverting water supply from a stream, electric connections, plumbing, cooking stove, digging out stones and chopping trees, painting the building and building the furniture. After 3 months, he started hosting guests who collaborated with locals thus giving them a great platform to promote their culture.
Organic integration into the native vine
Slowly, steadily and organically, Rahul integrated the natives into this subtle conservation of his village 'Naggar' and stepped in to take more responsibility. He started educating the villagers on how best to reap the fruits of their culture and natural gifts. Before he knew the villagers were approaching him and he started educating at the Panchayat level. Another venture he is working on is establishing homestays with the craftsmen and they are embracing the idea of hosting tourists and students in their esthetic Kath-Kuni houses.
Go North – life is peaceful there
Most aptly he named his venture 'North' and has collaborated with over 20 master craftspeople on different projects, workshops and events, which benefits them, economically and even socially.
Their artist residency program has hosted over 30 artists working on community-based projects like forest cleanups, waste management, public art projects, conducting lectures and interactive sessions with local school students and people. This restores the pride that the natives had long forgotten to associate with their environs and time-honoured traditions.
North is an artist's paradise where nature's panorama and pastures inspire a self-sustainable way of living through natural building, organic farming, and befitting technology. North has a very futuristic approach and visualizes creating contemporary lifestyle accessories from traditional articles and antiques to innate handcrafted ones.
Learning on the job
North's philosophy is 'Learning by making' based on an experimental and experiential learning approach. Along with education and promotion they focus on building relationships with people and working without alienating.
For their upcoming project "Shaheed Samarak", Rahul is collaborating with 40 artisans, over 1000 school students, 500 college students, many local villagers and officials of Kullu valley and surrounding villages.
They have proposed rural livelihood project with Himachal Pradesh government for training of 150 craftspeople in 5 districts of the state.
You can brood over a resplendence lost or nostalgically sigh over the times that were or you can pick up your cutters and engravers and get on with it. Rahul Bhushan was perturbed by the rapidly changing world around him and did not wish for a miracle but decided to do the miracle himself and at this young age he has instilled life back into his environment, his North as he knew it.