We started in 1993, years back with a different concept of walking tourism around our villages, close to the nature and the people of the place. Involvement of local people, enhancing their culture and way of life in our Nature & Culture tours is the key concept and became popular with the visitors. We motivated & trained many village folks to become the host and supported them to develope infrastructure. We motivated many youngster and supported them to start homestay in Sikkim & Samthar. We also encouraged the travellers to take on the village tours to explore the village & their culture , their food & understanding the relation of the villagers with nature.
Our guests loved the walks & the exposure to the way of life of the people. Initially we concentrated on Kalimpong-Lava-Lolegaon -Samthar-Suruk-Kalimpong circuit. We took our guests on these trail being more attentive to their needs and caring to the extent that we watched their feet while walking, so that they do not slip or miss a step. We provided boiled and filtered water everywhere. We took care of food so that they were not spicy hot and the rooms in the homestays clean with the spotless bathrooms. We carried the fresh towels, sheets & toiletries so that in case of emergency we could produce them.
Those days we had no internet, no phones and no electricity in the villages. It was all organic, real close to the nature, rustic but serene & beautiful. We always had a character of the day which guests liked the most. We walked several times on the same route with our different guests and every time we also learnt from every guests about our own forest, birds, butterfly and bio organic farming. We came to know that our farming system in the hills are real bio- dynamic and we started taking proud of it. We learnt about birds from our guests and got ourselves involved in bird watching. So this journey has been not only the process of guiding the guests but every time we also learnt from our guests from all over the world. Our village people started feeling proud of their own village & culture since so many foreigners and Indian guests have really appreciated them.
In Samthar Village with spectacular view of snow mountain range, a local teacher offered his delapidated second old stone walled house to us. We started renovating the House. We kept the local style intact and built in addition a small cottage of the local style with bamboo & mud plaster. We developed the wild garden around it with local flowers and plant and foliages. We trained local staff in house keeping, cooking & guiding too.We used local materials to furnish the house. We tried to keep as far as most authentic and earthy but elegant. We also added an old fire stove for the winter which was very popular. For nearly 7-8 years we did not have electricity and we lit candles, lantern & lamps and it looked beautiful. We gave bucket hot water to bathe every evening and morning, Our ritual of bucket of hot water bowl for soaking feet with tea when the walking guests arrived, is still intact and popular. We concentrated on food and good local & Indian cuisine with no or less chillies, became popular with guests.
As we started living in the village we realised the need of good school. The kids of Samthar were very intelligent and alert. We truly believed that given a chance and equal platform they can be as equal & better than any children in the city. Thanks to the gracious philanthropy effort of Retired General Jimmy Singh started a project Awake & Shine School with a different ways of teaching methods. Among many new methods, he applied the nature walks in the school where the kids learnt instantly. Most of our guests got involved in this project so it was a start of integrated village tourism project. Today many of our guests, for years, helping the children of Samthar and helping to sustain the school.
In the initial stages, it was very difficult to get the likeminded guests who loved walking and simple village lives since there was no way to tell the world about this concept of tourism. We tried to go around to the big travel houses with our album. Every one looked at it with awe and appreciated also but turned down because they did not want to change from conventional car tours to this walking tourism. To make it a success was not easy, I remember approaching the walking guests on the roads of Kalimpong town, asking if they would be interested to take walk around the villages. In fact that worked and we could get trickle of guests on our trail. We thank Mc Donalds , owner of Old Himalayan Hotel for letting us introduce our concept to many of their guests & they came on this village trail to experience nature & Culture Tour. All these guests, enjoyed thoroughly and zero complain. They gave us good writeup in the net which we could never see since internet era had not started yet at our part of the world.
Word by mouth publicity worked ; people started finding us on their own. Some of our guests had said that don’t worry, this is the way forward and you will see the snow balling effect and it was true. But we always believed in keeping ourselves small.
We started the similar pattern of Nature & Culture holiday around Sikkim & North East region. In 1996 first ever tour I lead for Swiss ladies in Arunachal Pradesh; then no lady tour guide was there. We worked with local person from Arunachal Tilling Dolley and his was one of the first Homestay in Zero. Today in a small way we are operating all around the north east India and other parts of India too.
Thanks to all those guests who really appreciated our concept, believed in us and came to us again & again for the experience Holiday and also got associated with Awake & Shine to bring change in the lives of simple people from the villages through education.
We started to expand towards North east India. I had travelled with the ladies of Switzerland for the first time in 1996 in the inner parts of the villages of Arunachal Pradesh Assam. Later I travelled to Meghalaya & Nagaland & Manipur. I travelled with guests to Gujarat & Rajasthan with my 04 years old son with 24 Swiss guests on a Nature Tour.
I have realised that our country is beautiful and we have immense natural resources and beautiful diverse culture. We must encourage our children to climb little hills in the himalayas, explore our forests, vegetations, birds, butterflies & mammals, give exposure to the simple village life so that they understand them as they grow, respect them and most of all love their own country.
I truly believe that we tour operators are like ambassadors of our place and the country. We can really portray our heritage, our culture and our true hospitality with full sincerity and honesty and people go back with good memories & fondness towards our society and community. Tourism is in true sense creates friendship & peace around the world. In this big wide world there is always a space for everyone if anyone wants to get into tourism. Tourism creates jobs and make people passionate about the place and creates creativity, initiates humanity and brings harmony. Tourism brings equality. Tourism is for everyone.
I am thankful to parents who supported me to get into tourism when the small town like Kalimpong had very narrow understanding. I am thankful to Retd. Gen. Retired Jimmy Singh who is my neighbour and co founder, inspired us, guided us with his incredible informative vast knowledge of the topography and the history.
I am thankful to my Brothers who helped us in initial mountain biking path setting on the tough trails to running treks and looking after the guests when I had to go out on tour with guests.
Sincere thanks to all the guides, the local people, Lama of Gumpadara & Lama Captain Yongda ( with whom I went to all the Gumpas & Monasteries of Sikkim), all the drivers, cooks, boys who worked as porters, who made this Nature & Culture trail interesting and made us successful.