HIMALAYAS, INDIA | Jamshyd Sethna, founder of Banyan Tours is a legend in the travel industry. The luxury travel experiences he arranges are the kind that are naturally sustainable as he has always been entirely committed to working with local communities. Here in North India, his travel businesses support the livelihood and generate direct income for the villagers of Sikkim, Ladakh and Kumaon without compromising their way of life. Shakti started in Kumaon with three village houses in the foothills of the Himalaya, next came four luxury cottages as Leti 360 then with more village houses in Sikkim and finally village houses in Ladakh.
Shakti Himalaya buys as much of its food, materials and general supplies from the surrounding communities, supporting the local economies, with as much as 45 cents of every dollar spent remaining in the local economies, supporting craftsmen and jobs. One villager is employed full time in each village — Shakti is the only mountain company that employs its staff all year round. They also rent space and rooms from the villagers paying upfront for three years. Shakti buys whatever produce the village produces and helps them to alter their crop patterns to provide a sustainable food chain to the business and community.
Journeys: Shakti offers an entire journey — be it on foot and by car in Kumaon and Sikkim, or by foot, raft, bike and car in Ladakh, and the journeys offer a holiday that has a light footprint as well as an underlying style of sophisticated simplicity.
Community: The Shakti focus from the beginning has been to work with and through the small communities in the regions in which we operate. The village houses are leased, not bought, ensuring that the owners maintain an income and a sense of involvement, ensuring a much more sustainable future for all involved. A member of each family has a job with Shakti in perpetuity; home owners and the wider community now grow produce that is bought for use in the Shakti kitchens; the houses have been renovated using local textiles as well as labourers and craftsmen to carry out the work. A Shakti village house is not a homestay — but the people of the village have come to feel a sense of pride for their involvement in Shakti and it is this that will ensure our sustainability for years to come.
Team: The Shakti team of guides, chefs, porters, service and housekeeping, drivers and operations coordinators are the essence of Shakti — their honest passion to ensure a great holiday experience is at the heart of everything that Shakti does. With the majority of the team from the regions in which Shakti operates, the understanding of the delicate relationship with the local communities in which we work combined with an instinctive hospitality and warmth makes the Shakti team unique.
Food: Shakti offers a journey into the Himalayas with creative home-style cooking that has a strong focus on locally sourced and seasonal ingredients. The menus have developed over time, with the input of the chefs, the founder, the wider team, and guests as well as friends of Shakti who have given their time to share with us family recipes that bring so much to a Shakti holiday. Its quite extraordinary what a Shakti chef can do with a small wood-burning oven, some locally grown ingredients and a little imagination… And ay food waste from Shakti’s Village Houses is used as animal feed in the local area.