Tuesday, 27 December 2011

New year in Kashmir with us

We have been on far too many adventures in the past few years. We are currently working on building itineraries like no others have tried in South Africa. We have broken many conventions about tourism businesses in India. On our journey to transform tourism into a social enterprise business, we have explored opportunities of working in development sector, in community health care and in creating supplementary source of livelihood for various communities across the country.

We couldn’t think of anything better than putting together an itinerary in Kashmir for you this New Year in consultation with our long time friend and partner Anand Sankar, a seasoned journalist and photographer who have been on several adventurous trips with The Blue Yonder earlier. From Elephants ‘infested’ forests of Nilambur to monsoon rapids in Tootha River, we have enjoyed travelling together for meaningful experiences. This is one out of the five signature trips we are designing in partnership with Anand to different parts of India to get deep understanding about it’s people and places.

Rafiabad in Baramulla district of Kashmir had once taken its toll due to militancy in the region. After several decades of conflict and cross-border terrorism, local population is enjoying conflict free environment and is inviting us to travel to know them better and enjoy the winter in Kashmir. This trip has been put together as a result of over three years of consultation with locals.

Kashmir in winter has always been a breath-taking experience covered in a blanket of pristine snow as far as eye can see. The aim of this trip is to see the Kashmir, which has been hidden from view for more than half a century due to political turmoil.

Responsible tourism has world over shown how it can be a change maker when it comes to preserving culture, heritage and providing alternative and supplementary source of income for local population in destinations.

Here is your opportunity to see stunning ice-clad peaks, snow covered rolling highlands, endless forests of pine and gurgling mountain streams full of trout and meet up with the warm-hearted Kashmiris.

Trip date: Sat, 14 Jan 2012 to Sun, 22 Jan 2012

Max guests in this trip :6

Last date to book the trip: 2, Jan 2012


Saturday, January 14
Evening in Srinagar and Wazwan dinner .

Sunday, January 15

Breakfast and morning walk around Dal Lake. Last chance to buy essentials. Post-lunch depart for Gulmarg.
Spend afternoon exploring Gulmarg on foot.

Monday, January 16

Early breakfast. Till lunch, skiing. Post lunch depart for Rafiabad, Baramulla Dist. Reach Ladu Ladoora village and settle down into a traditional Kashmiri rural dwelling. Evening tea and gupshup with locals

Tuesday, January 17

Early morning departure with packed breakfast for Trek Route 1. Lunch at farmer's house enroute. Back at Ladu Ladoora by sunset

Wednesday, January 18

Early morning departure with packed breakfast for Trek Route 2. Lunch at farmer's house enroute. Back at Ladu Ladoora by sunset

Thursday, January 19

Post-breakfast drive to Srinagar. Freshen up at guest house, lunch and leave for Gagan Gir. Evening at Gagan Gir.

Friday, January 20

Very early departure with packed breakfast for pony ride on Amarnath Trail. Back for late lunch to Gagan Gir. Depart for Srinagar. Check in to houseboat on Nagin Lake.

Saturday, January 21

Free day to chill out in Srinagar. (Optional, day trip to Pahalgam).

For more details on itineraries and content, please contact us on info (at) theblueyonder (dot ) com

Photo credits Anand Sankar

Friday, 25 November 2011

More on our journey to South Africa

pic taken by Jeremy Smith at Bulungula

"There are companies which bulldoze their way into beautiful destinations and there are some, like The Blue Yonder, which not only tread gently, but also with dignity, respect and honesty. I can't imagine voyaging into South Africa without the hands of this sensitive, sustainable company to lead me along the right path, safe in the knowledge that my visit is truly welcomed by local people and communities. And that these are holidays designed on the hosts' terms, and with ethics at the heart of everything they do".

Catherine Mack, - travel writer specialising in responsible tourism,
Ethical Traveller
Follow Catherine Mack on twitter

Facebook: Ethical Traveller

pic taken by Jeremy Smith at Bulungula

IIPT (International Institute for Peace through Tourism) is most pleased to endorse the entry of The Blue Yonder holidays into South Africa – and hopefully soon to the other countries of Southern Africa – underpinned by its responsible tourism practices and its philosophy of doing well by doing good. Persons traveling with The Blue Yonder will truly have an opportunity to be “Ambassadors for Peace.”

IIPT Founder and President, Louis D’Amore

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Cape Town and Responsible Tourism

On the eve of WTM World Responsible Tourism Day (9th nov 2011) we were honoured to hear from the dynamic leader of Cape Town Tourism - Mariëtte du Toit-Helmbold.

“Industry reports from World Travel Market confirms that the global recession continues to have a significant impact on long-haul travel. Within this context people are increasingly seeking original and local experiences."

"Responsible and community tourism has gained momentum from a niche tourism sector to a philosophy that is one of the industry’s most exciting developments ever; uniting citizens from across the world into one interconnected, united movement, communicating a significant signal to businesses that the tourism industry mean to act, not just talk. "

"Cape Town is acknowledged internationally as has become one of the leading cities in the world when it comes to responsible tourism. Even though there has considerable progress been made in addressing the environmental impact of tourism in our destination, we cannot rest on our laurels. In order to achieve sustainability; the tourism industry must continue to place significant focus on harnessing tourism for local economic development, for the benefit of all communities and in managing the social impact of tourism."

"Cape Town Tourism is continuously looking for better ways to instil the responsible tourism philosophy and expand on existing sustainable tourism mechanisms in our region and is looking forward to working with The Blue Yonder – one of the world’s pioneers in Responsible Tourism.”

Sunday, 13 November 2011

South Africa : first international destination from The Blue Yonder

The Blue Yonder, launched an exciting range of journeys to South Africa at the World Travel Market in London on 9th November 2011.

With a strong focus on storytelling and promoting sustainable development in the Rainbow Nation, the tours will give travellers ample opportunities to get beneath the surface and understand many dimensions of life in 21st century South Africa. Each journey has been carefully created to offer guests a fun and fascinating insight into local culture, wildlife and customs, while providing the maximum possible benefit to the destination communities.

The Blue Yonder South Africa will launch with an initial portfolio of ten itineraries, focusing on four areas: Cape Town and the Western Cape; Durban and KwaZulu Natal; Johannesburg and Soweto; and Kruger National Park.

Tours include among others a 14-day Fair Trade Whales and Wildlife Safari, and a six-day immersive experience in Cape Town, built around some of the city's most dynamic and transformative social development projects. Each tour partners with Fair Trade-accredited accommodation and operators wherever possible.

The Blue Yonder's founder Gopinath Parayil explains the decision to base the company's first international venture in the Rainbow Nation. "It was in South Africa that we first heard the words that became our mission statement: 'creating better places for people to live in and for people to visit'. That phrase came from the Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism, and it distils the essence of what we try to achieve through our holidays."

Fiona Jeffery, Chairman of WTM London, says "I am glad to see The Blue Yonder going international and offering holidays to South Africa during the WTM World Responsible Tourism day at the World Travel Market. We have known The Blue Yonder for past six years as a travel company that has evolved into a social enterprise in India. The leadership they have shown in the travel industry is truly inspiring. The WTM World Responsible Tourism Day is the celebration of such inspiring stories and we wish them all the best in creating better places for people to live in and for people to visit."

“The Blue Yonder's intoxicating mix of authentic cultural experiences and responsibility arrives in South Africa from Kerala with 6 years of know how and experience and is a must for South African visitors.” Justin Francis, Founder – responsibletravel.com

Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold, CEO of Cape Tourism said, “Cape Town Tourism is continuously looking for better ways to instil the responsible tourism philosophy and expand on existing sustainable tourism mechanisms in our region and is looking forward to working with The Blue Yonder – one of the world’s pioneers in Responsible Tourism.”

We are so pleased that The Blue Yonder has started to promote travel to South Africa. Not only is this a good example of like minded organizations who believe in the power of tourisms contribution to sustainable development collaborating globally, but also creates new opportunities for us in accessing travelers from India and elsewhere through their network. A fine example of South-South collaboration.” Paul Miedema, Founder Calbash Tours and Calabash trust.


The Blue Yonder was founded in 2005 as a social enterprise dedicated to preserving natural and cultural heritage along the River Nila in the South Indian state of Kerala. The company now operates tours in several regions of India, including Kerala, Rajasthan and the Himalayas, and has been at the forefront of promoting responsible tourism as the best path forward for the travel business worldwide.

The Blue Yonder's Indian journeys have featured as one of the "Top Ten Green Breaks" in British Airways' High Life magazine, and in Condé-Nast Traveler as one of "Eight Great Trips that Give Back". The Blue Yonder also features in Rough Guides' Clean Breaks: 500 New Ways to See the World, and its River Nila packages are rated among the six best responsible holidays in India by Footprint India Handbook.

For more information, visit South Africa website or contact Gopinath Parayil for press enquiries.

Monday, 3 October 2011

ITB-Asia 2011 Responsible Tourism events

ITB Asia Responsible Tourism Event and Networking powered by ITB Asia

Venue: Level 6, 601/F27
Date: 21 October, 2011
Time: 1100 – 1300 hrs

Organized in co-operation with
The Blue Yonder and Wild Asia.

The Responsible Tourism event will feature experts and practitioners in responsible tourism who will share their insights and know how for implementing sustainable best practices within your organization.

· How to engage and motivate staff to support your sustainability strategy

o Arnfinn Oines – Responsible Conscience, Six Senses Resorts and Spas

· Making the shift towards responsible tourism

o Zhang Mei, Founder Wild China

· Voluntourism: Are we helping or harming local communities?

o Gopinath Parayil – Concern Without Borders

The event will also feature three Inspiring Responsible Tourism stories in the region and networking sessions. Last date for applying is 5th OCT 2011. More details here

RT Clinics at the ITB Asia Responsible Tourism Center 2011

Organized in co-operation with The Blue Yonder and Wild Asia

Venue: Level 6, 602/T15

The Responsible Tourism Centre at ITB Asia is introducing a new engagement activity for trade show participants to speak with experts in sustainable tourism. The clinics combine RT experts from various fields including sustainable architecture, digital marketing and tourism management. Make an appointment for a discussion with them at the Responsible Tourism Centre booth.

E-mail contact:
rt@wildasia.org or itbasia@messe-berlin.com

Clinic 1: How to choose sustainable tourism partners in Asia
Expert: Dr. Tran Trong Kien, Founder and CEO, Buffalo Tours
Date: 19 October, 2011 (Wednesday)
Time: 1400 - 1500 hrs

Clinic 2: Social media in tourism marketing
Expert: Eric Lewanavanua, Business Tourism Manager, South African Tourism
Date: 20 October, 2011 (Thursday)
Time: 1000 - 1100 hrs

Clinic 3: Sustainable architecture
Expert: Ian Hall, founder of Arkitrek
Date: 20 October, 2011 (Thursday)
Time: 1400 - 1500 hrs

Un(t)ravel: A unique get together in Bangalore on Responsible Tourism

It was a balmy Saturday morning in Bangalore, the earth fresh and brown from the rains of last night. Jaaga (meaning space), with its shape shifting grid structures that could be put together in a myriad of interesting patterns and ways seemed like an appropriate venue to talk about ‘untravelling.’ ‘Come discover travel that is out-of-the-box, exciting and responsible’, our invite had boldly claimed. Would the traveler bite?

Untravel was a day long experimental, perhaps a first of its kind public event where we hoped to bring together travelers, travel entrepreneurs, students and responsible travel companies, to talk about making a difference while having a great trip.

The Blue Yonder opened the day by leading a hall filled with curious people through stories of how travellers could contribute to positive change in the places they visit. TBY spoke about recreating the sound of music along the banks of the Nila, engendering sustainable livelihoods through local homestays, building a local school for traditional music, and nurturing the world’s largest palliative care unit in Kerala run mostly by volunteering. The audience was enthralled right through - glued to their seats and eyes widening regularly through the talk with all the possibilities being laid out in front of them.

Informal stands like these gave opportunities for travellers to interact with innovative companies.

An open discussion came up next on all that makes up responsible travel. Jose Ramapuram of Orange County talked about a policy on responsible travel being an essential guide to their functioning. They believe strongly in stewardship and the idea that business should be for the ultimate good of all, but going the responsible way actually drove their costs down and made perfect business sense, he said. Pradeep from the ANT, an NGO working with weavers and craftsmen in the North East, spoke about craft creating an interest in their customers to explore places and people beyond the regular tourist circuit and sustain livelihoods for the locals in turn.

Mainstream travellers respond to stories that they can connect with, visceral experiences that go beyond the regular, said Prateek of mygola, a travel planning company. People are increasingly looking for the offbeat stuff, ways to immerse themselves in the places they visit, and therein lies the case for attracting them towards travel that is kind, he said. Sridhar Pabisetty of Tour of Nilgiris spoke about reaching out to the community in the places they visit - riders in their annual endurance cycling event help forest dwellers in Nilgiris, firm that they are the only ones who could preserve the bio-diversity of the region. Kalyan Akkipedi who was hitchhiking across the country to understand the poor in India said a traveler must first go outside his comfort zone. Resilience, he said, brought in the greatest change.

Post all the chicken soup for the travelling soul, the audience thronged the stalls to interact with travel providers, swap stories, and learn more. Workshops on committing a travel memory to drawing, being a healthy traveler, photographing on the move, and bicycling to work, were a source of much fun and excitement.

So, where can I go tomorrow? We wound up with a baithak inviting budding offbeat travel entrepreneurs to discuss their stories. People spoke passionately about a whole load of things – from going on trips to rescue wildlife to organic farming and backyard history tours.

Would we be able to attract a happy-to-travel yet spoilt-for-choice crowd to come see the world through a new lens? A world hidden away from swanky resorts and to-the-minute tours, and thriving on first principles – lending a hand to your host community, respecting the place you visit, leaving no footprints or simply racing the wind on pedal. For all of us at The Alternative, the day revealed to us that a lot of people out there were indeed interested and happy to be involved, it is just that we were probably trying to discover each other through some means.

Most people came by and talked about how it was refreshing not just to listen to a new perspective, but meet so many like-minded folks working on responsible travel. Some were thrilled about having so much choice in planning their next trip and contributing to social good, while others were enthused about coming back for more such sessions to connect.

The responsible travel story seems to be finding greater resonance with mainstream travellers. People are waking up to the fact that they need to help and now and in some sense they owe it to the people and places they leave behind. To everyone we meet these days, we say “Hop on board the Untravel bus. May we find inspiration.”

Aarti Mohan - Editor of The Alternative

Join the Untravel Facebook group to be a part of all the conversations, events and happenings around responsible tourism. Help us increase this tribe of untravellers!

Stories, tips, photos and more from travelers here:

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Indian youth gets an opportunity to be the change

Creating better places for people to live:
For nearly a hundred years, the picture one had of India was that of a predominantly rural country with a dominant agrarian economy. For the first time in as many years, that picture seems to be rapidly undergoing a change, for India’s urban population has added 91 million people more than the 2001 census- than the rural population. And Indian cities are feeling the heat- literally and figuratively. They are increasingly facing water shortages, open defacation is the highest in the world, putting the entire sanitation mechanism under severe threat, slums are on the rise, and cities that have high instances of water and air pollution, and increasingly facing more instances of road rage, conflicts and tensions than ever before.

India’s rapid urbanisation has not just resulted in significant challenges, it throws up a set of valuable opportunities as well– there are few certain answers before any of us. This unprecedented urban growth could help us alleviate poverty and move towards a more sustainable and equitable future, that is not just dependent on agriculture. However, it could also overwhelm our cities and exacerbate inequality. Can we address this before its too late?

There is one such organization that has decided to be the change agent- The Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), a proposed University dealing specifically with issues related to urbanization and trying to find solutions that are holistic and interdisciplinary. The aim is to generate professionals who will be able to reshape and redesign India’s urban imprint with their creative, sustainable, interdisciplinary approach to local issues. One of its initiatives is San-kranti - a youth platform that invites India’s young to join a unique community of change-makers.

The aim of this challenge is to identify an issue that impacts urban India, explain the significance of that issue in the larger context of the city or town and identify the most sustainable and holistic solution for it. The amazing thing is that in over 2 months of launch of this initiative, over a 100 teams have registered for participating in this initiative. Some eminent people, experts in their own right in different disciplines have engaged as mentors for these teams. The 20 best teams will go on to participate in the India Urban Conference in Mysore, a joint initiative by IIHS, Janaagraha and the School of South Asian studies at Yale University.

The India Urban Conference (IUC) is a series of events designed to raise the salience of urban challenges and opportunities in the ongoing debate on India's development. It creates a wide multi-stakeholder and cross-regional platform that situates India's urban transformation in the context of current governance, economic, socio-political, ecological and cultural trajectories and consequent choices of development pathways. The IUC seeks to create an open-frame 'space' for a multi-level dialogue on applied research to inform policy, practice and civil society action.

It is no wonder that I am filled with new hope that this collective thinking and action will transform urban India in the coming years!

Meena Vaidyanathan

(The author is a partner at niiti consulting a mentor for participating students on the san-kranti platform)

Follow San-kranti on facebook and twitter

Monday, 1 August 2011

Call for inspiring stories from destinations - ITB Asia Singapore

Inspire others with what you have done for the destination where you work in. Is the local community, environment and wildlife better off because of what you've done? If yes, tell us! We're keen to find out.

This is your chance to WOW industry players, potential buyers and the media by showing them that responsible tourism is possible and powerful in making a difference if done right.

Send us your story and you may have the chance to present at the 'Responsible Tourism Event' supported by ITB Asia this coming October in Singapore. Three successful entries will have the privilege to present their stories in a five minute presentation as the curtain opener at the Responsible Tourism Event.

The selection of successful stories is based on the authenticity of the story, creative and innovative elements and the power to inspire other toward making responsible tourism a reality.This initiative is in continuation of the 'Inspiring Stories from destination competition' organised at ITB Berlin in March 2011. Winners at Berlin were Andaman Discoveries, Blood Foundation, Nutti Sami Siida, Nepal Far West, and Atlast Kasbah Ecolodge.

On top of that, selected 10 entries will also be featured on Wild Asia's website as part of the 'Rethink Travel' series where travelers explore the wonder of destinations and how they can enjoy a different kind of travel; one that's earth & people friendly.

Submit your stories in any of the following form:

  • In words; no more than 1,500 words
  • Video; no more than 5 minutes
  • Slideshow; no more 20 slides
  • Podcast; no more than 5 minutes

Email your entries to rt@wildasia.org by 5th of October, 2011. Please title your email "RT Stories for RT Event at ITB Asia 2011" and include your Name, Email, Organization and Destination in your email. Successful applicants will be notified via email by 7th October, 2011.

We can't wait to hear your story!

For more details about the Responsible Tourism Event supported by ITB Asia in October 2011, click here.

The Responsible Tourism Event is a continuation of the successful RT networking events that started in 2009. Organized and supported by ITB Asia, Wild Asia, The Blue Yonder and The Green Circuit, this annual event hopes to bring together sustainable tourism practitioners to share, engage, learn and be inspired to make a difference.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Zambian President to be patron of IIPT African Conference

Zambia President Rupiah B. Banda to be Patron of 5th IIPT African Confernce: Meeting the Challenges of Climate Change

Stowe, Vermont, USA – 23 April 2011 – The International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT) announced today that Zambia President, Rupiah B. Banda has agreed to be Patron of the 5 th IIPT African Conference: Meeting the Challenges of Climate Change to Tourism in Africa and the Developing World” to be held in Lusaka, Zambia, May 15 – 20, 2005.

In making the announcement, IIPT Founder and President, Louis D’Amore said, “We are most proud and honored to have President Banda as Patron of the 5th IIPT African Conference. His patronage adds immense stature and prestige to the conference and demonstrates the importance that Zambia has placed on this timely event.”

The aim of the 5th IIPT African Conference is to showcase models of ‘best practice’ in mitigating and addressing the anticipated impacts of climate change to tourism in Africa and the developing world.

The Conference is hosted by the Zambia Ministry of Tourism, Environment and Natural Resources, and organized by the International Institute for Peace through Tourism (IIPT) in partnership with the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), World Travel Market, Regional Tourism Organization of Southern Africa (RETOSA), as well as other prestigious partners and supporters.

The conference will bring together leading experts on tourism and climate change, ministers of tourism, senior representatives of UN agencies, senior government officials, senior industry executives from the diverse sectors of the tourism industry, educators, and practitioners from more than 40 countries.

Topics to be covered include: Climate Change: Policy and Planning to Practice;

The Central Role of Parks and Wilderness Areas; Perspectives on Sustainable Destinations; The Human and Cultural Dimensions of Climate Change;

Establishing Guidelines and Business Strategies for Sustainable Tourism;

Coastal Tourism Strategies and Water Management – and other critical topic areas.

The conference will also include the first ever “Traditional Leaders Forum on Tourism” to be held in Africa with Ben Sherman, President, Native Tourism Alliance, North America, as a special guest.

About International Institute for Peace through Tourism IIPT is dedicated to fostering and facilitating tourism initiatives which contribute to international understanding and cooperation, an improved quality of environment, the preservation of heritage, poverty reduction, and the resolution of conflict - and through these initiatives, help bring about a more peaceful and sustainable world. IIPT is dedicated to mobilizing travel and tourism, the world’s largest industry, as the world’s first “Global Peace Industry,” an industry that promotes and supports the belief that “Every traveler is potentially an Ambassador for Peace.”

International Institute for Peace through Tourism

685 Cottage Club Road, Unit 13, Stowe, VT 05672

Phone: +1 802 253 8671

Fax: +1 802 253 2645



Monday, 18 April 2011

Viswanathan Gurukkal - Vallabhatta Kalari

display of strength at Vallabhatta Kalari Sangham

"And, it is this that strikes me again and again. A compulsion to conserve and preserve, be it heritage homes, elephants, or art forms. The Vallabhatta Kalari Academy is just a few kilometres away from the Riverside resort. A classic example of a kuzhi kalari -a sunken arena - kalari payattu, the ancient martial art is taught here by the last descendant of the Muduvangatt family whose head was the commander-in-chief of the royal army of the Vettath Raja. Tracing a lineage of ten centuries, the kalari has managed to keep its traditional grandeur despite the lure of commerce.
As I walked into the kalari, the earth cellar like area with its thatched roof, mud floor and array of weapons laid out on the sides, I felt I had stepped back in time. Then my eyes trailed to the kanni-moola [ the southwest corner]. Here the kalari deity sits adorned with flowers and lit with oil lamps. A silent spectator, constantly assessing, perennially judging all that happens before her eyes, Bhadrakali, the deity radiates a presence that tolerates no deviation from tradition. And, it is this I see as the kalari comes alive. The short stick and long stick fights, the dagger, spear and sword fights, in the hand combat and finally where a blindfolded student located a dagger hidden in the arena floor and then used the dagger to slice a cucumber placed on another student's body... it's only when the cucumber fell apart, I realized that I had been holding my breath....perhaps so did the deity, I thought. No matter how often you saw this, one couldn't discount the possibility of human error…"

Some of the senior students including Unni during the training at Kaladi

This was a note written by Anita Nair in the India Today Travel Plus about her visit with us to Vallabhatta Kalari along river Nila. The last descendant of The Muduvangatt family, Viswanathan Gurukkal passed away yesterday after ailing for a last four years in Calicut. One of the first projects along Nila to be supported by The Blue Yonder since it's inception, we have vivid memories of this place and the man himself. Irrespective of caste, creed and gender, he trained more than 1500 students in traditional Kerala martial arts in Northern style. He was such a proponent that he developed his own style of training that came to known as "Vallabhatta" style focusing on norther kalari traditions. Old texts found in family attic reads the authority family had recognitions and titles given by "Vettathu Raja", the local King which says "Muduvangaatt should be in charge of eight countries ( 'desams') and protect the land from the enemies".

Gurkkal watchng a performance at his Kalari which was part of a documentary work we were involved in

They were protectors of Ponnani harbor. His family was the chief architect of war strategies during the "Mamaankam" which used to be held once in twelve years on the banks of River Nila in Tirunavaaya. When Kerala state government decided to include "Kalari payattu" as one of the subjects in school, Viswanathan Gurukkal took an active role in deciding on the topic and training those involved in preparing the syllabus. For the past eight years, he was also leading the Kerala state kalaripayattu Association. When it was decided to re-enact the moments of 1684 Mamankam (where Zamorin came so close to death by one of the youngest of warriors), it was Vallabhatta Kalari that choreographed the illustrious action in a festival in 1999 in Tirunavaya.

We bow with respect and love to the man who dedicated his whole life to sustain, preserve and propagate the martial arts tradition of Kerala. Another of Nila who will live through our memories.

Gurukkal promoted the training of girls in martial arts starting with many in his family

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Kim, the Lama & the secret valley - Inviting travellers to join us in Spiti Valley

Cultural journey and discovery of Spiti Valley

From 4th to 18th June 2011

Spiti valley, Rudyard Kipling wrote, is ‘a world within a world, a place where the gods live’. Closed to strangers until 1992, this Himalayan kingdom back in time was the destination for Buddhist pilgrims, caravans and adventurers as well as it was the setting of Kim, the great espionage novel linking to Central Asia. The journey traces the footsteps of Kipling’s novel, travelling back in time to the year 986 when the Buddhist and Tibetan culture marked the vast and dry plains of the Eastern Himalayas with their presence.

You are invited to a spectacular and breath-taking crossing through one of the most remote and culturally well-preserved regions. The journey takes place in all-terrain vehicles and includes the visits to museums, monasteries, forts and interaction with local artists and artisans in the company of the venerable Tenzin Kunga, a native from Kinnaur, and the Swiss archeologist Lobsang Nyima, both monks of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery.

The night bus takes the travellers from Delhi to Shimla (2206m), the ancient summer residence of the British India. Leaving the cedar forests and the Himalayan foothills we reach the Narkanda Pass (2708m) to join the bustling meanders of the Sutlej coming from the high Tibetan plateaux. Then a long motorised ascension of several days starts on the Hindustan-Tibet Road, pompously renamed National Highway n°22. At Sarahan (1920m), ancient trading post of the state Bashahr and gateway to Kinnaur, we enjoy a break in the middle of orchards to visit the monumental temple Bhimakali, a sacred Hindu place where the human sacrifices were perpetuated until the 19th century. At Thangi (2966m), the inhabitants of the village of the venerable Tenzin Kunga, whose gentleness equals their hospitality, will make you discover one of the most beautiful regions of Himachal Pradesh with its terraced fields where apples and apricots are cultivated and where Hinduism mixes with Buddhism.

The ascend continues in direction of Nako (3625m) and the Tibetan border, under the close surveillance of the marmots, reveiling the first temples and monasteries dedicated to the great translator of the 11th century Rinchen Zangpo. Here we enter the genuine Buddhist art museum dating back to the medieval ages.

The voyage continues through the desolate and rocky landscapes, brown and ochre spots. The narrowness of the paths at the edge of dizzy chasms imposes manoevres that make you quiver with fear. Then finally the valley of Spiti unfolds, lunar depression scattered by stupa (funerary monuments), mani stones, prayer flags swaying in the wind. Guardian of an unequalled and original Buddhist culture, the valley uncovers finally its numerous monasteries and temples with frescos of rare delicacy and crowded with Buddhas and o following the example of the magisterial Tabo (3050m) classified the World Cultural Heritage by the Unesco.

Lobsang Nyima will also make you discover the monastic citadel of Dankhar (3850m), the place of his latest research. Then in the setting of this geological immensities and fantasitic shapes, where the ancestral traditions are perpetuated, still remain the modest hamlets with houses of brick and limed mud, such as the aerial village Kibber (4200m).

Finally, leaving the small administrative town of Kaza (3600m), the crossing of the high plateaux of Spiti and the passage from Kunzum (4551m) presents the ultimate stage of this adventure, surely the most challenging but also the most spectacular. The journey ends in Manali (1950m), the cosmopolitan mountain station that makes us already miss the silence of the stars at your finger tips in the high Spiti valley.
For enquiries please contact us on +91.80.4115.2218 or email.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Local food and accommodation

Travellers prefer local properties with character than branded international hotel chains. Purity by the backwaters in Kerala

‘What kind of travelers do you have? ‘We were asked this question at the ITB Berlin congress panel on linkages between consumers and industry fousing on social responsibility. And today we received an email from a journalist asking if local accommodation and food makes a difference to the travelling experience. Some of the thoughts we shared are here:

Most of the travellers choose a company like ours precisely for the reason that they are 'cultural creatives'. These are people who consume responsibly, who wants to ensure that they money they give ( to a hotelier or a tour operator) should make a difference to the destination they are travelling to. Our holidays are designed in a way that the itineraries touch many social initiatives and innovation that are happening in the country right now. These are not visits to NGOs, but designed in a way that these causes become the interactive travel experiences for travellers. When the demands from travellers are towards 'local, slow, sustainable' travel, it's easy to communicate. For those who are not aware of such travel trends, we of course spend time with them, sharing guest feedback and even details on "how their travel make a difference to local communities and environment''.

CSR Panel on socially conscious travellers at the ITB Berlin 2011 convention.

Such quantifiable claims give an opportunity for travellers to 'check' it out and report back. This resulted several times in travellers playing the role of a 'curator' than just a 'consumer'. For such travellers, it's important that they eat local food, consume as much local produces as possible. Choosing locally owned hotels, resorts and home-stays are important to them compared to staying in a massive, (universally boring ) international hotel chains.

Even yesterday one of the leading German tour operator requested, “Hotels should be good hotels for sustainable tourism, that is hotels with character, but please, no international chains.”

We don't provide all-inclusive trips, except for the breakfast that's offered in the property, we give insights to travellers about good local restaurants and shops. This also helps travellers 'spread' their money in destinations in a more judicious way. In any case what's point in travelling to a place like Kerala or Rajasthan to try out badly made pasta?

Luxury home stay in Rajasthan. Revenue streamlined to support kids with HIV / Aids

It's very important for us to choose the 'right kind of accommodation'. This certainly enhances the quality of our trips. In the initial years, we had issues of not being able to provide such accommodation. After a fantastic day trip interacting with locals, being part of initiatives that give 'sense of pride', 'alternative and supplementary sources of income' and help 'preserve culture and heritage' and sometimes even help reduce migration to urban settlements, our clients used to end up staying in characterless properties. This has changed quite a lot in the last few years. Properties like CGH Eeath , Our Native Village and Maranat Mana are some of the examples of how travelling experiences can be enhanced. They do this by promoting sustainable practices. 'Spice Village' in Periyar in Kerala is probably the first property in the country to go totally off-the grid. Knowing that their stay is not creating any extra pressure on local energy consumption, travellers are quite excited as well. By end of the day, its all about conveying these stories in the right spirit and not scaring away travellers by talking too much about their social responsibility!

Another English tour operator says about her scouting with us at CGH Earth, “These hotels are truly gorgeous with loads of character in their own unique way - each a destination in itself - exactly the type of venues many of our clients enjoy. We wish we could have stayed longer to experience more each hotel could offer, hopefully the next time! We had tours of each hotel which demonstrated the eco-awareness and connections to nature that are actually being adopted by the hotels. This is refreshing and a definite inspiration. “

As part of our attempt to provide a total Blue Yonder experiences, we are proposing less usage of houseboats in Kerala, which are largely responsible for polluting the backwaters and ecosystem because of unsustainable practices. These fresh water lakes are direct source of water for all the communities living along the backwaters.

There is a lot to achieve to be sustainable, but we are confident on having taken small steps in the right direction. With customers playing the role as curators, it’s no longer that difficult to reach there.