The northern belt of robust mountains paints a scenic image. It attracts tourists from all over the world and display one of world’s most alluring flora and fauna. People come here not only to freshen themselves, but also to enjoy the freezing cold.
This love for the mountains drove Ishita Khanna to start an initiative that changed the lives of people in Spiti village, Himachal Pradesh. She has brought a tremendous change in lives of the locals by introducing eco-tourism, and creating a sustainable environment for the villagers. The door of eco-tourism has also ushered in prosperous economic condition for the locals.
Coming out of the box
Born and brought up in Dehradun, love for mountains came naturally was to Ishita. This love fuelled a desire to learn mountaineering and pursue it as a professional. She took up trekking classes and after being trained in advanced mountaineering course from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, she started scaling mountain peaks.
Ishita was allured by the beauty of these mountains and discovered that the mountain vegetation had a lot to offer. After a lot of brainstorming, she found a way to use her knowledge on mountains for the betterment of locals. So, soon after pursuing masters in social work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Ishita connected to a rural development organisation, Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART).
In the organisation, she got a chance to work in the remote areas of Himachal Pradesh. The more she worked, the better she understood the gifts of nature. Locals were largely oblivious to the fact that their environment was a key to living a better life, and creating an independent global image of their own. This is how she progressed towards launching Spiti Ecosphere.
“Traditional practices and knowledge helped us find exotic and healthy fruits, herbs, and crops as a rare and generous blessing from the Himalayas,” Ishita gives an insight.
The organisation aims at striking a synergy between economic development of the locals and conservation of nature through their products and services. It took off when they discovered nutritional and medicinal value of Seabuckthorn, a wild berry rich in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. This berry could be marketed as a magic recipe for good health.
With the help of the villagers Ishita started cultivating this berry and sold it under the brand name ‘Tsering’ (which means blessings for life), making it available all across India. Now, they have processing units for making juice, jam, tea and fruit drink concentrate from the berry. The three major areas on which Spiti Ecosphere concentrates are eco-travel, organics and conservation. It also offers a versatile range of travel programs and experiences that integrate the various facets of Spiti. It offers the travellers a unique and exclusive insight in the numerous mystical and hidden aspects of Spiti Valley.
“The unique ecosystems of these trans-Himalayan regions are richly endowed with ‘naturals and organics.’ Ecosphere has streamlined highly eco-sensitized methods for extracting and sourcing these rare Himalayan herbs, fruits and crops,” says Ishita.
With a wide range of Seabuckthorn beverages, herbs and foods, Ishita has opened multiple doors for Spiti’s development. She aims at conserving the agricultural heritage of the village, and so is concentrating on the agricultural traditions by creating a market for their handicrafts.
Spiti is home to some unique handicrafts such as thangkas (paintings on silken canvas), choksays (wooden carved tables), mane stones (carving on stones), zama (mud craft), lingzay (traditional shawls) and a whole variety of wool based handicrafts. Ishita is working for this project with immense delight. Her motivation is to see the village grow. Thus, she has worked for the livelihood generation, responsible eco-travel, promotion of greenhouse and local handicrafts of the village.
Ishita is also managing and reducing the plastic waste. This has helped setting a milestone for the growth of the villagers. It is not only her work anymore; she has also trained the local people in marketing and promoting the advances of nature. One of the most beautiful places in Himachal, which had only basic facilities few years back, has now developed itself by the hard work of the villagers – all thanks to this young woman.
The villagers are now creating houses out of waste plastic bottles, building 500 solar-passive houses and installing the solar pump at Pangmo. The list of projects initiated by Ishita is an inspiration for all those villages that had infrastructural drawbacks but now have received a lot more from nature. For Ishita it is not about how far she will go in the journey, instead it’s about the difference she makes in the lives of others.
“The only thing that motivates me is happiness that I get to see while the villagers work hard for earning a better lifestyle,” Ishita tells KenFolios in an interview. It is easy for the people living in the cities to talk about the problems faced in the remote areas, but it takes real courage and confidence to travel upstream and create your own path. She has woven a way that leads to better lives in the remote areas.