'When guests stay with us, they get a glimpse of our past heritage'

Trilok Rana Singh

Trilok Rana Singh

Birding guide, Himalayan Ark

Trilok is a member of Himalayan Ark, a community-owned social enterprise that supports villagers to run homestays while giving back to their communities.

“I live in Sarmoli village, located about 7,500 feet above sea level, close to the Indo-Nepal-Tibet tri-junction in Uttarakhand. 

I come from a family of farmers, but cultivation has become challenging because of predation by wildlife from the forest around our home. In the past two decades, I turned to tourism and became a bird guide with Himalayan Ark.

With the pandemic, tourism came to a grinding halt. My guiding work suddenly stopped too. At that time, a local organisation was training carpenters in likhai – the ancient art of wood carving.

Growing up, I had always wondered, who built those ornately carved door and window frames, with no electricity or power tools? How much time would it have taken them? Where were these artists now? 

By my youth, people were no longer building traditional homes with stone and slate roofs. You could only see carvings on abandoned and dilapidated homes, or in the high-altitude villages of our valleys.

With time on my hands, I joined the workshop. I learnt that with no demand for traditional houses, hardly any artisans were left in the region to even teach the craft. Carpentry was originally practised by artisans of the Ohri caste, but they no longer pursued this profession. So migrant carpenters from the state of Bihar were employed to conduct the likhai training.

Till three decades ago, wood from walnut and yew trees was used for carving door and window frames, but neither is easily available in our forests now. I chose to make a mirror frame with walnut wood during the workshop. Using hand tools that were also crafted locally, I carved a simple but attractive traditional design of leaves. It took me seven days to complete the frame!

In the six slow months of the pandemic, about 20 of us got the opportunity to try our hand at wood carving. We made traditional objects like the mor pithak (boxes used to keep vermillion, sandalwood and rice for auspicious occasions), trinket boxes, trays, lampshades and even chairs. While some used walnut wood, others used the more easily available toon wood, both of which are fine-grained and lend themselves to carving.

The doors and window frames of our village homestays now have a traditionally carved façade that brings back a touch of the old beauty to our homes. When guests come to stay with us, they can get a glimpse of our past heritage. 

Those who want to dive deeper into our culture have the unique opportunity to try their hand at carving small artefacts to take home with them.

As for me, I gifted my work of art to my new wife, and it proudly adorns my home.”

Read more about Himalayan Ark here

Meet Bina here 

  •  Trilok Singh Rana 
  •  Malika Virdi 

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