explorIndya was created with the vision to run and manage a business that would offer our guests traveling to India an extremely personal form of travel, shared with members of the family.
As individuals we are passionate about traveling; with the objectives being to discover and experience new places but more importantly put these places into perspective by understanding and learning about its history, people and their cultures and the realities that surround them in this changing world.
What also drives us is a strong will to actively conserve and encourage consciousness of this country's ecology and our local eco-system right here in the Nilgiri Hills.
Finally it's our strong patriotism for India that drew us all back to build a life here. As artists within the family, we understand the importance of preserving ancient art and craft forms, sadly disappearing at an alarming rate. Our travel is a means whereby we spread the awareness of the art and help in sustaining the livelihoods of the people, villages and local economies that depend on them.
Hence a broad summation of our mission and objectives from this business are...
"explorIndya is a Family-operated travel company setup to share and extend our passion for travel, discovery and learning while at the same time creating a sense of awareness about the different ecologies we travel through and showcasing ancient Indian art and craft forms with the aim of sustenance, not only of the art forms but also the lives and economies that depend on them."
At explorIndya we are passionate about our country and we strongly believe that our artisans and their ancient forms of art and craft form a strong basis of India’s identity. However as the country progresses towards more modern living, they face an increasingly difficult time surviving against mass-produced ‘art’ and ‘artifacts’ that are being produced today.
Having artists among us in the Family, we have learnt to appreciate the need to conserve local and national forms of art and crafts.
We are based in the Nilgiri Hills of TamilNadu situated in the forested Western Ghats. These forested hills used to be home to the Toda tribes of the Nilgiris whose art consists of traditional garments spun from fibers and natural fruit and berry dyes sourced from the surrounding forests. With development, the tribes were forced out of their forest dwellings and were ‘rehabilitated’ in villages outside. However this drastic change in their life, threatened the very art that defined their identity and the means to the only livelihood they knew. Being a part of the local community here in the Nilgiris, we took it up to make sure this art form doesn’t die out like the ancient Toda lifestyle sadly has. We further their art today by sourcing all their products from their Community Center located in the town a few miles away and encourage all our guests visiting us here in the Nilgiris to buy some artifact as a gesture of support towards the Toda lifestyle. Over the years we have generated a lot of interest in the minds of our guests and have led them to the few remaining tribal settlements in the hills to view this unique art form and livelihood.
Going beyond the hills of the Nilgiris and our local economy, we look to support craft forms that we have encountered along our travels through South India. From the ancient art of inlay woodwork in Mysore to the 5000-year old tradition of Lost Wax sculpting in Swamimalai, to name only a few, we as a family have actively championed their causes over these years. Now with explorIndya we plan to showcase these precious craft forms to all our guests who visit, with the hope that their active interest, contributions and photographs will spread awareness of not only the craft but its creators around the world, thereby keeping these unique identities of our country alive for the next generation.
The other two practices that we find worth mentioning are the support of the local village ‘tea shops’ along our routes and the use of only local gasoline sourced from Indian Oil Wells and distributed by Indian Gas Stations. The advent of the cola majors had begun to threaten the very existence of these very traditional village businesses. We offer our guests the option to experience a cup of steaming hot ‘indian chai’ at these village tea shops during our trips (of course only at tea shops that we mutually find satisfactory in terms of cleanliness and hygiene). This not only makes for an unforgettable experience but also benefits the villager’s family not only with the income generated but the credibility and reputation of his tea that comes with serving a guest from another country.
The other practice of only using gasoline produced locally, we feel, gives back to the local GDP of India and helps in cutting down expensive import of fuel.
As a family, we have toured these places extensively and have an in-depth knowledge about the places we visit and things we do along the way. However, when I arrange treks for my guests, I make sure we use the local tribal guides. Their dedication and knowledge with regards to the forests is commendable and we make sure we give back with some monetary help after every trek and also in kind by supplying them with trekking shoes or clothes that we know they could use.
With regards to use of guesthouses or restaurants in our local area of the Nilgiri Hills, we house our guests at our self contained Eco Homestay at Misty Heights. All of our guests have been more than content to spend their time at our Homestay and a need has never arisen to utilize any other property within the local area. As all the food at the Homestay is prepared at home, our Guests have enjoyed every meal, sampling the different cuisine available here.
Sub-Tropical Rain Forest trees, especially the 'Montane Shola' tree species have been endemic to the Western Ghats, and the Nilgiri Hills were no exception. However years of tea cultivation and logging have severely affected large tracts of natural forest cover which had, in turn, sadly taken a huge toll on the animal and bird life in the region.
As long serving members of the Nilgiri Wildlife & Environmental Association (a local affiliate of the World Wildlife Fund), we had actively campaigned to halt the process of timber logging or for that matter clearing of natural forests for any reason whatsoever. As an organisation we represented our case in the Supreme Court, India's Highest Judicial Body, and received a decree that placed a blanket ban on any form of logging in natural forests in the Nilgiri Hills. This was a landmark ruling by the Court that not only armed the local Forest Department but also enabled organisations like ours to actively protect the remaining natural forest cover in the region.
With the court ruling almost completing a decade and the organisation's awareness campaigns in the villages, we have seen a dramatic growth and regeneration of these natural forests in many parts of the Nilgiris. However we did realize that a court ruling was not going to be enough to help in restoring the forests that made this eco-systems one of the most unique in the world. So seven-years back, as a family we started the S.O.S. Campaign. The Save Our Sholas campaign was envisioned at home by Renu to afforest any available tract of land with natural forest cover. We began work in conjunction with the local forest department who began to supply us with tree saplings from their nurseries. The objective of this exercise is to restore tracts of land, as large as possible, with natural tree cover. We have procured land on which, as a family we currently have planted 350-saplings with a 99% success rate. In addition, we sponsor the trees on lands owned by the forest department where over these years they have afforested with over 100,000 saplings, in this case with a 97% success rate. Today we have seen a rise in the bird species that thrived in these rain-forested areas. Within our property itself we have seen an addition of close to twenty-five bird species.
At explorIndya and at the homestay at Misty Heights, we actively encourage our guests to plant and own a tree or tree saplings of their choice. As of date, our guests have planted over 125 tree saplings of which all have survived. We keep our guests involved in this experience by emailing them progress photos of their sapling/ saplings.
At explorIndya I make sure that we use hotels/ resorts or homestays along our trips that are either eco-friendly in their outlook and practices or maintain a green-change policy atleast. I am highlighting three hotel/ resort properties to give you an idea of what they do specifically and which mirrors the general ethos when it comes to selecting and using properties on our trips:
- The Green Hotel, Mysore: What attracts us to this property is the fact that the hotel stands on a former Royal Palace that has been painstakingly restored to preserve its originality. The furniture retained was originally built by local craftsmen using local wood, metals, etc. Lighting in the Palace rooms utilizes all natural sunlight given the design of the windows and structure and this policy of energy conservation is actively encouraged and practiced by the Management. The hotel offers its guests thicker towels and bath matting in line with its Green Change policy. The staff actively promotes the re-use of all toweling material in the attempt to conserve water and spare the use of detergent. But most importantly, The Green Hotel is a model hotel for sustainable tourism where all its profits are distributed to charitable and environmental projects within India.
- The Taj Kuteeram, Bangalore: This property is special as it offers all the modern comforts to a traveler and at the same time maintaining an ethnic Indian design ethos of the property. Each room is of minimalist design using rock-hewn walls, a mortar-free brick structure and thatch roofs for their cottages. The hotel rooms are adorned with local works of art and ethnic furniture, all sourced from local artisans and craftsmen.
- The Hoysala Village Resort, Hassan: We find that this property matches our principles when it comes to maintaining green surroundings. The landscape of this property has been designed so as to provide the maximum tree and plant cover around the property and around the cottages that form the accommodation. The plants chosen are tropical in nature, designed to thrive with as little water as possible. The hotel disconnects all forms of air-conditioning during the monsoon and winter months and each guest is encouraged to use the ample windows and the balconies for fresh air, available on all the cottages. All electricity is controlled by a master switch on the outside and every staff member is instructed to remind you to turn off all forms of power before leaving the cottage. The resort also runs an active green-change policy with regards to the towels, bath and swimming pool robes. However more importantly, the hotel offers its guests the option of bullock cart rides into the neighboring villages with an attempt to showcase life and the livelihoods of villagers in the area.
As a family of vegetarians, we believe that this form of living is not only healthy but also is a more responsible way of life. On our trips at explorIndya, we actively engage our guests on this topic as we've found a growing trend towards this way of life. However we have noticed that most people know so little about the varieties available in vegetarian cuisine or diet. When it comes to vegetarianism, our objective, when we travel with our guests, is to highlight and allow them to sample the numerous healthy and nutritious options available in vegetarian cuisine throughout India.
Additionally, in the past, our trips have also supported Vegans looking to travel and we have been able to accomodate their restrictions in cuisine very comfortably given the nearly inexhaustible options available in Indian cuisine.
We attempt to be environmentally-conscious drivers and attempt at maximizing our gas mileage on our trips in our small attempt at fuel conservation. We feel that until hybrids or fuel-cell cars become a reality in India this is the second best attempt at this conservation exercise.
Given our heightened consciousness of the environment and the sad reality of improper waste disposal in India today, we make a conscientious effort in planning our activities between our places of accommodation so as to be able to comfortably carry all our garbage with us until we get to a waste disposal unit which we are confident is cleared by the local authorities or by a hotel/ resort we use that we know is responsible with it’s own waste disposal policies. In the interim, we carry, for our guests and ourselves, two separate bags for wet and dry garbage that might be generated along the way. Usually however before we begin our trips, we explain this policy of ours to our guests so as to eliminate any ambiguity of what we believe in when we travel. Till date, we have had a lot of active support of this practice and our guests have behaved very responsibly when traveling.
As we have all worked in multi-national corporate companies, both in India and abroad, the one practice that has collectively appalled us is the magnitude of office waste and environmentally bad-practices that are exercised.
As a result we adapted our work ethic in such a manner to adopt, what we can confidently say, 98% paperless business practices. For example, our dependence on print advertisement is non-existent as we depend electronically on the web and its affiliated sources. The correspondence process with our guests is all electronic and our sites are designed to provide all the information on screen. Our invoices to the guests and forms of payment are electronic with confirmations of the same in electronic form as well.
Our work and living spaces are based on the open-energy-saving plan. These spaces utilize overhead skylights and large bay windows which uses natural light for the bulk of the day. This switches to diffused lamp lighting at night with the use of energy efficient long life bulbs. For example, the bulk of the lighting is from Philip’s long-life-low energy bulbs which have lasted us, on average, eight-years a piece.
In our small attempts at conservation and the tree planting that I highlighted in the 'Environmental Responsibility' section, we utilize local people in the planting of these trees thereby generating guaranteed employment for people in the surrounding villages. By contributing regularly to a Blind Orphan Childrens Home in a nearby town, we attempt to give these children back a life affected by blindness. At this orphanage, these children are taught skills like basket weaving, tailoring, etc. in the hope that they may become self-sufficient in the future.
Our contributions to this Children’s Home have been three-fold over these years that we have been associated with them.
- Cash: As a family we personally believe in spending money on something for a Charitable Organization rather than contributing plain currency. This policy has been accepted by the organizers and we have spent money and incurred expenses on their behalf. For example, spending to buy a water motor and service the well that supplies water to the Orphanage, spending on groceries and supplies for a month and spending on small maintenance of their vehicles used to take the children on picnics.
- In Kind: We regularly donate our old clothes and on occasion, have bought them new clothes to celebrate a special occasion.
- Our Time: We often visit the children and spend some time around them and lend a helping hand when it is needed.
Additionally we invest a good portion of our money in local Post Office Savings Accounts, where the funds are utilized for essential infrastructure projects like school buildings, playgrounds, irrigation wells and rural postal life insurance polices for villagers at subsidized premiums, just to name a few, in the villages of the area.
One of our guiding principles at explorIndya and at Misty Heights is to help our guests truly discover this vast, complex and almost magical Country. We take great pains to make all our guests feel at home with us, feel like a part of our family as we feel this is very important in breaking down barriers between cultures.
At Misty Heights, our guests visit our home where we sit down together for our meals as we feel that food brings people together and opens them up considerably. We have noticed that over meals we have been able to demystify so many aspects of our Country for them which has made them feel a much stronger connection to this Country and us. We not only encourage and help our guests try on our traditional Indian garments, but we also give them an opportunity to shop for something Indian to take back and relive these memories.
At explorIndya, the reason why we accompany our guests on these trips is to answer the innumerable questions that invariably arise from someone traveling through this Country. We rely on our experience and knowledge of the Country, different people, their cultures and history, to give someone visiting an accurate picture of what they see and experience along the way.
Community projects form an important scope of our services to our guests. For example, we take our guests to villages where we showcase, for instance, an ongoing project to eradicate the use of child labor from the Silk Saree Industry in parts of TamilNadu or a project where an entire village and its craftsmen re-grouped to revive an ancient form of sculpture casting from dying out completely. At explorIndya we are continually on the look-out for these projects as they highlight the human side of travel and which is so important in putting one’s travel into perspective.