Electrifying the Himalayan Villages, Joyfully
Paras Loomba has spent more time with his volunteer friend Jaideep Bansal in the last one year than his family and wife (who he recently married). Paras and Jaideep spend a large amount of time every year in the Himalayas to install solar micro grids in some of India’s most isolated hamlets.
Many in India love cold weathers (because they live in a tropical nation and believe colder climates are as romantic as in Bollywood melodramas). But Paras loves inhumanly colder temperatures though he has had the misfortune of living in Gurgaon (near Delhi, one of India’s hottest cities). When you are probably cursing the creation for its cruelty which cracks lips and skin, makes you gasp for breath and tires you within a 100 meter walk in the Himalayas, Paras can take a cold water shower without blinking his eyes once. This love for nature, mountains and cold weathers was to change his life irreversibly in 2012.
A successful international expedition to Antarctica in 2012 inspired Paras, son of an army officer, to establish the Global Himalayan Expedition. “It was my dream to visit Antarctica and meet the penguins once,” he told me during an Aloo Paratha breakfast in a guest house in Leh. He resigned from his lucrative corporate job before instituting GHE. “So what did you do before GHE,” I inquired. “Salesman tha. I was selling products worth Rs 3 crore every year. My annual salary was Rs 21 lakh. TDS kaatne ke baad 18 lakh,” Paras said nonchalantly in the middle of chewing paratha.
Paras and Jaideep met on a Himalayan expedition where the latter was inspired by the GHE’s mission of electrifying and educating remote Himalayan villages. Jaideep promptly joined them along with two volunteers from Denmark who contribute as much as possible, taking time out of their busy work schedules. “The first word we utter when we wake up is not good morning; we say okay so what can we do next,” says Jaideep, who took ill after incessant electrification efforts in Lankarchey Brok, a remote hilly hamlet in Kargil where this author spent four days with him.
Their efforts are highly pragmatic and feasible with a tinge of sentiments which make it work. When his social passion took off in 2013 to educate the Himalayan children of their land, water, culture and biodiversity, he saw that the lack of electricity will be a huge stumbling block in his mission, pushing him to restructure his agenda to electrification through renewable energy. In 2013, Paras visited a village in Markha Valley, where Dorje, an enthusiastic local, requested that his village needs a micro grid which will at least light a few village bulbs. Dorje is now one of the GHE’s core volunteers, relentlessly surveying Himalayas to survey how grids, schools and tourist infrastructure can be developed.
Paras’ deepest wish is to educate the children of Himalayas who have extraordinary physical and mental strength which the Himalayas have bestowed them with, but no access to modern education. But he chose to electrify before educate, which he appropriately perceived as more fundamental. Jaideep, who made a Lankarchey Brok kid say ‘Main school jaunga’ (I will attend school) five times, agrees. ‘I must clarify that we are not helping these villagers. We are taking immensely rich experiences with us. It is a two-way process,” retorted Jaideep when probed on how it feels to support the villagers.
Paras and his gang wants to provide cheap (and wherever possible, free) electricity and education to isolated Himalayan communities. “If we provide these two amenities then the rest will naturally happen. But we will take one step at a time. Pahle Omlette, phir electrification, phir education,” iterates Paras in the middle of ordering scrambled eggs.
So what motivates them to keep going? “People who say they have passion usually have very little time. I had passion, a lot of time and found people who are willing to work with us,” says Paras with a chuckle.
Global Himalayan Expedition teams also got electric bikes customized with the help of E-bike firm and introduced it in Ladakh. Paras’ Ladakhi soldiers drove the bikes to Khardungala, the highest motorable road on the planet, setting a world record. GHE volunteers are now in the process of officially launching an electric bikes’ venture which, Paras believes, will boost economies of Himalayan villages and offer some monetary rewards to volunteers.
Left -Paras Loomba R-Jaideep
Paras and his team will soon be found in some of the most difficult terrains of the Himalayas including Siachen Glaciers to electrify its villages. The team is also planning to electrify the unexplored villages of Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the next phase of its mission. The Himalayan winters have given Paras a break (which he plans to spend with his wife, family and friends, in that order). Of course, the desktop planning and research to light up Himalayas with LEDs will continue in his Gurgaon house. “I am leaving one lobe of my heart here and taking the other to Gurgaon” said Paras during our last conversation at the departure gate of Leh Airport. Meanwhile, Jaideep plans to resume his city work and life. And in the middle of all this, Dorje continues to walk in the snow-clad Himalayas in his shirt, trouser and black windcheater to explore how lives can enhanced in the great mountains that once molded the world’s oldest civilization.