Braving Slippery Slopes, These Uttarakhand Students Walk an Hour to School
For these students of Uttarakhand's Birmoli village, the search for decent education is an uphill task.
Camera: Ribhu Chatterji
Video Editor: Mohd. Irshad Alam
"Faced by streams and falling rocks, we are forced to return home when it rains heavily," says 17-year-old Himanshu, as he begins his one-hour walk to a high school in Uttarakhand's Pauri district.
It's a particularly frosty morning and adding to the 12th grader's woes is the cold February rain. How cold? Just one minute of a glove-free hand would bring about an instant sense of regret.
Walking with Himanshu from the hill-top village of Birmoli are two of his friends Aayush and Akash, both in the 12th grade as well, they all have a school exam to write.
"We go to a school in Chakyun that is 5km away because it is fully-staffed and the quality of education there is better than the closer one in Kandakhal."
Aayush says that a couple of years back, the school at Kandakhal wasn't fully staffed. Although the situation, he says, is better now, the three walk 5 kilometres every weekday to ensure that they get the best education possible.
A Risky Shortcut
It's not like there's no road to the Chakyun. But, the road is narrow and chipped off at several places, exposing its bed.
At several places, the road is just made of loose stones that have been displaced further by weather.
To save time, the three take a 'pahadi shortcut' which simply means walking downhill—almost vertically.
This shortcut doesn't just involve a narrow slippery patch along the slopes, but is also marked by frequent streams that are risky to cross during monsoons.
The tricky journey, however, isn't the only obstacle that these students face. With schools being shut in the past due to three successive waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, the trio had a hard time accessing online education.
"We face a lot of network problems here. Most students just have one phone at home, which makes online education difficult. We often miss out on studies because of this," says Himanshu.
Want Closer Schools
But the students aren't alone – those teaching them, too, face an arduous task each day. A few of the teachers come from the town of Kotdwar – an 80km journey from Birmoli that takes over two hours.
Despite the Himalayan challenges, the three haven't lost hope and want to join the Indian Army. As Aayush puts it, "It's my aim to join the armed forces."
After walking for over an hour, the trio finally reached their school in Chakyun. "We hope the government constructs a school closer to us so that our brothers and sisters don't suffer," says Aayush before making a dart for the school gate.
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