Simply enter your keyword and we will help you find what you need.

What are you looking for?

Lokesh Ohri

Lokesh Ohri

Lokesh Ohri

In a world competing in the rat race, what inspired you to become an anthropologist?

Well, the sad reality of the rat race is that even if you end up winning it, you still remain a rat. Probably, I wanted to be a squirrel, and I wanted to compete with myself and no one else, so I opted for the subject of my choice, Anthropology. I had always been interested in cultures and communities, finding out new things about social groups with different cosmologies or ways of looking and experiencing the world than we do as urban souls. Anthropology gave me the opportunity to train scientifically to look at one such community, compare their world view with the most current philosophical thoughts and theoretical frameworks, and present this alternate worldview to the world at large. I learnt the language, went and lived with community, blended with the landscape, even walked miles with the devi-devtas of the community, and came back with a fascinating experience. I was fortunate that my project allowed me to work in the Western Himalayas, the region that most fascinated me.

What is the role of education and awareness in the conservation of heritage?

Our heritage is our identity. It is every citizen’s right and duty to be educated about heritage. Awareness plays a big role in saving heritage. Let me give you an example from Dehra Dun. One morning I received a call that a large tree on Chakrata Road was being felled for road widening. When we reached the spot, we saw that people felling the tree had obtained all requisite permissions from the authorities. We still felt that the tree was not obstructing the road widening work and could be saved. We met the concerned forest officer who empathized with us but felt helpless since his seniors had already decided that all trees would have to go. At that moment a teenage boy who was accompanying us mentioned to the forest officer that he had seen beaver bird nests in the tree. The forest officer quickly commented that since rare birds from a particular schedule were nesting on the tree, he could overrule his bosses in protecting their habitat. The tree still stands because that boy had noticed and known something that all of us had missed!
This is how education and awareness among young people can help conserve heritage.

What propelled you to write your book which is slated to be launched at VoW 2018?

The book is a definitive history of the Doon Valley that simply narrates the story of Dehra Dun by describing fifty walks and trails. We are not just talking history, but also writing about nature and the environmental challenges Dehra Dun faces. The walks are described by a character called Laata. Laata is a commonly found character in villages in the hills, who is able-bodied and intelligent, but an absolute simpleton and forever ready to help without asking for anything in return. Naturally, Laata’s family and friends want him to be more worldly wise, but he couldn’t care less for greed and smartness of the modern world. When Laata takes you out for a walk as your guide, the hills and their sights appear different. You don’t just go sight seeing, you imbibe their essence. This is the idea behind the book that we hope to release at VoW 2018.

How did the idea of BTDT emerge? And what are it’s goals in the near future?

Been There Doon That is a very simple idea that emerged out of walking. We at BTDT believe that it was with bipedalism or walking that man became human. Through walking, we can enjoy the hills and the rivulets, the historic sites and the wildlife zones without leaving a carbon footprint. Besides, only when we walk are we able to enjoy nature and culture at its own pace. Our future goal is to introduce as many individuals as possible to the simple joys of walking. I have realized that the walkers’ community is emerging as a formidable force in the fight to protect the valley’s heritage. We have walks, we have a weekly farmers’ market too and the community has actively engaged in improving the quality of life of people around them through waste segregation and recycling. We intend to take this work forward and reach every household. We have moved to other towns of Uttarakhand too, and another immediate goal is to have an active walking group in every district of the state.

How do you gauge the success of an innovative initiative like BTDT? What is your favourite walk out of the zillions you have already conducted?

BTDT’s success my be abstract to many people and indeed they often advise us to stop walking and instead plant trees or collect charity money for environment protection. But our conviction is that since it is those amongst us that are destroying heritage, they are the ones that need to be reached out to and introduced to the joys of heritage walking in order to change their mindset. Our work is measured in little success stories, a tree saved here, a bird rescued there or a site saved from vandalism. We are not interested in making tall claims or saying that we have answers for everything.
Out of the many walks that we do, it is difficult to choose one. They are like our children and it is unfair to compare. But, I enjoy the walk up to Jharipani and Mussoorie from Dehra Dun quite a bit. One, you are walking in Rudyard Kipling’s footsteps, two, you walk through forests, three, the shifting perspectives and views of the Doon Valley as you keep climbing up the mountain are thrilling to the core. The paanch-kainchi (as described by the locals) or the five scissor sharp bends on the road as you climb up, literally and metaphorically, take your breath away.

Do you think we have forgotten to preserve our heritage while zooming towards industrialization?

We have so much of history and nature around us, we have stopped caring for it. Industrialization and modern living can go hand in hand with responsible living. So many cities across the world have shown it. Amsterdam has taken up the ecological challenge by adopting cycling in a big way, Seoul has restored its canals. Chicago has cleaned up its rivers while Heidelberg, a town in Germany I lived in, has retained each one of its heritage facades. Dehra Dun and Mussoorie, I am sure, can be the pioneers in India in adopting development without destruction.

About the Interviewee:

Lokesh Ohri is an anthropologist and a heritage preservation idol. Ever since the inception of his career he has taken up numerous heritage walks reintroducing the notabilities of our heritage to the interested audiences to help them return intellectually enriched. He believes in promoting slow tourism to foster the restoration of the Kumaon Hills and many significant forts in the Himalayan region.