Ishita Khanna

Conservation must be taken into account while travelling, says the co-founder of Spiti Ecosphere
Ishita Khanna's project gives her an opportunity to live in the mountains while working on issues close to her heart
Ishita Khanna's project gives her an opportunity to live in the mountains while working on issues close to her heart

OT What exactly is Spiti Ecosphere
Ishita Khanna Spiti Ecosphere is a social enterprise that is a collaborative effort of the local community and professionals from diverse backgrounds. We work on aspects ranging from responsible eco-travel to renewable energy to conservation of the environment and cultural heritage.

OT How did it all start
Ishita Khanna Our activities in Spiti began in 2002 when a group of like-minded people got together to pilot a small project on harnessing the potential of seabuckthorn &mdash a wonder berry that grows wild in the high deserts of the Himalaya.

OT What were your early challenges Did the community resist the &lsquointrusion&rsquo
Ishita Khanna Our biggest challenge was Spiti&rsquos remote location, limited connectivity with the outside world and the short working season. When we first decided to come here, we knew that finding the right local leadership was crucial to making inroads into the community. Everyone we spoke to suggested we meet Nono. We wondered who this person was and, besides, what kind of a name was Nono Later we learnt that Nono was the title for the King of Spiti Fortunately for us Nono turned out to be a really amazing person keen on the development of the region. We had similar ideas and decided to join hands.

OT How do you meld travel with conservation
Ishita Khanna All our travel activities have been developed keeping in mind specific conservation issues. For instance, the homestays were developed not just to ensure the local community would benefit monetarily but also to maintain the architectural integrity of their villages. Similarly, by linking various art and knowledge forms with tourism we provide an incentive to communities to preserve them. We use the money that comes in from wildlife tourism to change the attitudes of local communities towards predators such as the snow leopard and Himalayan wolf which kill their livestock.

OT How much of your time do you spend in Spiti Since you are city-bred, what was it like to live and work in a cold and remote area
Ishita Khanna The Ecosphere team is largely local except for me and Sunil Chauhan (co-founder). Both of us spend six to seven months a year in Spiti. I am not much of a city person. Spiti provides me with an opportunity to live in the mountains while working on issues dear to me.

OT Tell us a little about Spiti &mdash access, best season to visit, attractions.
Ishita Khanna Spiti has multiple access points. By road, one can enter via Shimla or Manali. There are trek routes from Kinnaur, Kullu and Ladakh. The best season is from mid-May to mid-October, but Spiti has a lot to offer even in winter. It is home to spectacular landscapes, a unique culture, thriving Buddhist heritage, a geological heritage spanning 750 million years and the oldest surviving species of wolf in the world, not to mention the endangered snow leopard.

OT Your favourite Spiti experience or any secret places you are privy to.
Ishita Khanna Well, I think the secret places are best kept secret &mdash let the beauty of nature only be found by those who make the effort to discover it.

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