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An appeal for the smiling people of Jhuni

Chinmaya has teamed up with the local voluntary organisation Avani to give something back to the people he has filed in ‘Smiles from off the Road’ and is asking for help.

"If, like me," he says, "you feel gratitude for these smiles, do read on for information about the Jhuni project and how you can help."

The Jhuni Appeal

  1. Why we care
  2. An appeal for the sake of the people of Jhuni
  3. An appeal for the sake of the environment of the Himalayas
  4. What Jhuni needs
  5. Our proposal for Jhuni
  6. How you can help
  7. Background: Where is Jhuni? Who are Jhuni’s people?
  8. Progress of project


1. Why we care

Chinmaya says, "Jhuni’s people found a place in my heart after I met villager Khim Singh Danu and accepted an invitation to come to his little-visited village.

"What I found, as anyone who has seen 'Smiles from Off The Road' and 'Smiles 3 - Travels With a Hat' will know, was such spontaneous joy, smiles, laughter, song and dance, that I simply fell in love!

"But I found great need there too, and I made up my mind to try and give something back to the smiling people of Jhuni."

2. An appeal for the sake of the people of Jhuni

A tough life, but still they have time to smile...

Jhuni is at the end of the path. It is three to four hours walk down to the nearest vehicle access point; from there an hour by jeep to reach the nearest doctor. During the long winter the village is cut off by deep snow, and during monsoon it is frequently cut off by landslides and swollen rivers.

Jhuni’s younger children have a one-hour walk up a steep path to the bare 2-room primary school every day; those older children lucky enough to go to school undertake a treacherous two-hour walk each way to a neighbouring village.

Once night comes in Jhuni, the people live in near darkness, as there is no reliable electricity supply. Children must do their homework by candle light. Activities that might earn people a few extra rupees must stop until daylight returns.

Jhuni’s homes are full of smoke from cooking on wood-burning open fireplaces, creating unpleasant and dangerous conditions. It is not possible to escape the smoke: kitchen, living and sleeping area are a single room. In the harsh cold and snows of winter, when schools are closed and the fields idle, no-one goes outside at all except for the call of nature, or to fetch more wood for the fire. (The World Health Organisation estimates that 1.5 million people die every year from the pollution caused by indoor cooking stoves).

Jhuni’s women and girls are at the hard end of a cultural practice that will only be changed by education. They are expected to do more than their share of the work, and are fed less than their share of the best food. They are often run-down and anaemic and their children’s health is weakened as a result.

Installing solar panel on roof

Rajnish of Avani in Jhuni

3. An appeal for the sake of the environment of the Himalayas

One of the last true wildernesses left on Earth...

Jhuni lies at the edge of Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, a UN-recognised biodiversity hotspot of international importance. While the villagers have traditionally used the forests and pastures of this high Himalayan range in sustainable ways, the past two decades have seen their increasing involvement with the cash economy of the plains. The benefits - schooling and medical care - cost them money, and cash is hard to come by. The first result of this, twenty years ago, was the virtual extinction of the protected musk deer (its musk pod used by the European perfume industry) by poaching.

In the last ten years, local people have pursued an intensive hunt for Cordyceps sinensis (a strange caterpillar/fungus co-species) that occurs below ground in the high pastures and is valued by the Chinese for its supposedly aphrodisiac properties. The villagers’ presence in this fragile ecological zone, disturbing the thin soils and burning whatever bushes can be found to cook and keep warm with, has had serious environmental consequences. Needless to say over-harvesting has resulted in ever-diminishing returns, until today most Jhuni villagers say that it is no longer worth the effort.

This leaves them with a final option to raise cash locally: growing cannabis. While this native plant has traditionally been used by them as a minor part of their diet and medicine, it is of course illegal, and brings them into contact with some of the least desirable elements of the plains economy. Every field planted with cannabis is a field less for food growing, and this inevitably increases the villages demand for edible wild species from the Reserve.

View of Jhuni

Jhuni village

4. What Jhuni needs

  • solar electric light. The children’s schoolwork will benefit most from it, but everybody enjoys being able to see each other in the evening, don’t they?
  • smoke free stoves. Many health issues will be solved overnight from their introduction, plus who wants to cough the whole night?
  • alternative livelihoods. The legal ways to earn cash from harvesting wild animals and plants are now basically exhausted. No one in Jhuni actually likes the illegal ways - they’ll give them up at the drop of a hat if given the chance!
  • two solar panels to run 2 laptop computers (the latter already donated), one at the school, the other in a room within the village. Although these computers will mainly be used for off-line learning through CD-ROM and videos, there are one or two places near the village where a weak mobile phone connection sometimes allows a slow connection to the internet. These computers will literally be an opening into a wider world.

5. Our proposal for Jhuni

Phase 1

  • Provide 105 families each with a system of 15 W solar power and 20 AH tubular
    batteries with all accessories and two lights
    Cost per family 8,500 Rupees;
    Cost 892,500 Rupees
  • Transportation up to the road-head at Song (three trips)
    (families to be responsible for transporting the equipment from Song to Jhuni)
    Cost 20,000 Rupees
  • Installation of solar lighting
    Cost per family 500 Rupees
    Cost 52,500 Rupees
  • Maintenance Training for two Jhuni villagers at Avani: three months including boarding and lodging
    Cost 40,000 Rupees
  • Provide steel piping for cooking stove chimneys (families will construct stoves from local clay, after training)
    Cost per family 500 Rupees
    Cost 52,500 Rupees
  • Set up bank account with villagers elected / nominated by village as signatories (to safeguard against misappropriation, one representative from Avani will also be a signatory, so that money is never withdrawn without our knowledge). This bank will provide micro-finance so that each family can contribute 2000 Rupees (banked now or via micro-credit) towards battery replacement after 7 years, plus 30 Rupees per head per month towards a maintenance fund to pay the technicians’ honorarium and other expenses.
    This aspect of the project is important to make sure that there is money available after the batteries start to loose their storage capacity, so that the entire investment does not go waste after a couple of years. There will be a differential payment system, depending on the financial situation of each family, but their contributions are essential for the long term sustainability of the project.

Cost covered by Avani
Phase 1 Total Cost: 1,057,500 Rupees (£14,455)

Phase 2

  • Two 100 W solar systems for charging two laptop computers - purchase, transportation and installation
    Cost per system 50,000 Rupees
    Cost 100,000 Rupees
  • Training program in alternative livelihoods at Avani. Six young people from Jhuni to spend 6 months on the Avani campus, learning the basics of sericulture, spinning, weaving and dyeing, solar, accounting, computing, etc.
    Cost 120,000 Rupees including transport
    This element of the project will be managed under a formal contract so that Jhuni’s people are committed to a programme that creates self-sufficiency rather than dependence on outside funds. Sericulture involves rearing silk moth cocoons on the leaves of oak trees in the forests. Eventually villagers will be trained in spinning and weaving of silk. Initial return per family involved in the rearing programme is expected to be 5,000 - 10,000 Rupees per annum.

Phase 2 Total Cost: 220,000 Rupees (£7,500)

6. How you can help

Please make a donation now! We are very keen to raise the rest of the funds for Phase 1, (we have already installed 40 solar systems, and one villager is now completing his technical training at Avani).

The cost of Phase 1 is around $200 (£140) per family

How to donate:
Donations outside India will be handled and transferred to Avani by:
My sister Nichola Harrison
She will account to Avani for all donations received. Please email her at to confirm your details and details of the donation you are making.
Via Paypal:
By cheque/bank transfer email Nichola Harrison at

Donations within India
Beneficiary : AVANI
Acct. No. 11560362960
Branch: SBI Berinag, District Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand 262531
Branch Code: 2523 IFSC - SBIN0002523

Map of Jhuni area

A solar panel is being installed

7. Background

Where is Jhuni?

Jhuni lies at an altitude of around 2,500m (9000ft) in the valley of the Sarayu river, in Bageshwar district, State of Uttarakhand. The Sarayu is a tributary of the Kali River, which forms the border between India and Western Nepal. Just north of Jhuni the Great Himalaya range rises to the height of 7,800m (25,500ft) at Nanda Devi peak. Beyond is the Tibetan border.

The nearest vehicle access has now (2010) been pushed further up the valley from Song (900m - 3000ft), leaving a three-hour walk to Jhuni. The closest railway at Kathgodon is a ten-hour drive from Song and connects to Delhi in seven hours.

Who lives in Jhuni?

Jhuni’s people depend on subsistence agriculture, growing a wide range of food crops naturally without chemicals or pesticides. They keep cows, and sheep, which they pasture in the high mountains in summer. They harvest the surrounding forest for leaves for animal fodder. The main product from their animals is manure, their sole fertilizer for the poor soils of their fields.

The villagers are Hindus, who retain strong local traditions outside the Hindu mainstream, including worship of the goddess Nanda Devi and local village deities associated with springs, notable trees and rocks, etc. They are hard working, friendly and great lovers of music and dance, with a store of folk songs and dances. They have no habit of alcohol or drug use, are mainly vegetarian by force of circumstance, and have maintained themselves since pre-history in a harmonious balance with their natural environment. The dense forests around them, the pristine wilderness of the mountains above them, the incredible diversity of bird and animal life amongst which they live, are witness to the depths of their respect for Nature on which they depend so totally.

Sericulture for Jhuni

The remaining tracts of Kharsu Oak (Querquis semecarpifolia) unique to the Greater Himalayas are fighting their battle for survival and it may not be long before we lose these rich forests to climate change, over-exploitation and sheer neglect.

We are proposing to initiate a conservation-oriented livelihood program where people can harvest part of the foliage to rear a rare wild silk worm called Tussar (Oak), which feeds only on this species. People can make some income by rearing these silk worms; the unique wild silk, will then be fashioned into hand spun, naturally dyed, hand woven textiles by the artisans in the neighboring Himalayan region Avani is working in.

As the silk cultivation gains momentum, further training of Jhuni’s people in spinning and weaving will ensure production of high quality textiles in this remote and inaccessible villages, thus providing livelihoods to the villagers.

A person (family) can earn Rs. 10,000 - 20,000 in a season (by working for 11 weeks) by rearing silk worms. Other families involved in spinning and weaving will, after training, make a similar amount of money. They will be able to continue their traditional livelihood practices as farmers. This income will allow them to pay for technology such as solar lights, health care, education and, above all, will keep them in their village instead of migrating to an urban slum in search of some cash income.

Who are we?

Avani is a fifteen-year old non-governmental organisation (NGO) specializing in bringing solar power to and developing textile production in remote villages of Uttarakhand. You can see my film about Avani and read more on this page.

Installing solar panel on roof

A solar panel is being installed

8. Progress

Oct 2009
First twenty-five families receiving their solar lights!

Feb 2010
"Our Smiling People Benefit concert in Pune on 13th Feb raised Rs76,000 ($1,650). In addition Rs35,000 ($800) of Avani’s textile products were sold. A big thank you to all who came and supported!" Chinmaya

May 2010
"I visited Jhuni on 6th and 7th May. The first twenty four families are enjoying their solar lights. Dhunga Singh Danu, a nineteen year old, is two months into his solar technician training at Avani. Avani has set up a micro-credit scheme for the villagers to pay their contributions into. Fifteen more solar installations will go up to the village at end of the month. A personal tragedy occurred on 9th, when my friend Khim Singh lost his 17-year old son Ramesh in an accident. The boy was collecting ‘kira gaz’ (Cordyceps sinensis) above 4000 meters when he slipped on icy snow and fell." Chinmaya