A Mountain Saviour - Interview with Ishita Khanna, Co-Founder of Spiti Ecosphere
Ishita Khanna co-founded the Spiti-Ecosphere enterprise along with members of the local community of Spiti and outsiders to help conserve the Spiti valley in the wake of its popularity as a tourist destination. You can book your trip to Spiti with Ecosphere and sample an incredible adventure and be a responsible traveler. You can make trips carbon neutral i.e. offsetting the carbon emitted during the travel with solar passive houses . Improve your health with delicious seabuckthorn products (seabuckthorn berry is an indigenous natural resource with health benefits). Homestays i.e. staying with the locals is one way to experience the simple yet reverential lifestyle. Buy handicrafts, buddhist thangkas (paintings) or posters from Ecosphere and contribute in nature conservation of a fragile ecosystem that is a world within our world.
Let's listen to what the soft spoken Ishita has to say...
1) Tell us something about your background and your interest in mountains and environmental conservation.
I have done my masters from TISS. I was brought up in Dehradun. Having grown up in the mountains, I was always interested in mountains and their conservation.
2) You left your job with the Himachal government to start Muse in 2002. Were you sure you were doing the right thing? You were embracing uncertainty so was it a carefully thought decision? What was your family’s reaction?
It was slow and frustrating working with the government. So a group of us friends started Muse, an NGO in 2002. My family was surprised. But they supported me.
3)How did Muse and Ecosphere happen?
Muse was working in the Spiti valley. Ecosphere has grown out of the various initiatives of Muse and was a natural progression, Ecosphere is jointly owned by the local community and persons from outside of Spiti.
4) How is women empowerment happening in Spiti?
We initially trained the local women for the harvesting and processing of the seabuckthorn berries and helped set up 4 processing facilities in Spiti. Seabuckthorn has provided an additional livelihood source for the women. They now own and run these processing facilities.
5) How is the Tsering tea and other products marketed?
Tsering means ‘blessings for a long life’ which is what you get from the health benefits of seabuckthorn and we started production of Tsering tea, jam and crush. There have however been lots of ups and downs with regards to the marketing of Seabuckthorn in India. There was a stretch when we did not have markets due to cheaper variants from China and had to stop production and processing of the tea as a relatively large volume is required for tea production. To overcome this we began the production of our own products under the brand of Tsering and now have 2 products in the market – Jam and Crush. Our distribution is not very wide however you will soon find in many more cities. Currently is available in a few outlets in the south of india, himachal and in Chandigarh.
6)Your upcoming projects include environment education in Spiti. How do you plan to go about with it?
Environment education in Spiti schools is an on-going initiative of ours. We are targeting the young kids in schools to make environment education a fun subject plus make them aware of the web of life- what happens if there is a disturbance in this web of life, the significance and the role of each. We also get the kids to take up small projects in schools like garbage management or documenting the local flora and fauna, etc.
7) You have said that you want to make Ecosphere Spiti self-sustained and completely run by the local community themselves. What is the major hurdle here?
Our team is fully local and we are nearly there (in making it a completely self-sustained enterprise). We have achieved more than 50% in this. If the team from outside is not present, the local team can now manage on their own. As we take on new conservation and development initiatives based on the local context and need, some initial hand holding is required.
8) How can our readers help?
You can get in touch (email at email@example.com) with us on our website for volunteering or making a financial contribution.
9)You have a passion for travelling and mountains. What is the one aspect of Spiti that you love?
Spiti has a charm which is not found in many places. An isolated region just getting there is an adventure.
10) What are your personal spiritual beliefs? Why do you think God has placed us in an unequal position at time of birth, some are born rich and others are born very poor?
I don’t follow any religion. But I would regard myself as a spiritual person. Yoga and meditation form a part of my daily life. Self evolution and changing oneself for the better (to be the essence) in spiritual growth. There are numerous inequalities in this world and the more apparent ones are perhaps that of material wealth. There will always be the "haves" and the "have nots" in all spheres of life and not only that of material wealth. There is much to learn in both these situations and it would be ideal if the focus could shift more towards bridging differences, strengthening equality and valuing contentment.
11)You are a role model for many so we would like to know who has been your role model in life.
In my family, I have looked up to my grandmother and my mother, who were strong figures. My grandmother has done a lot of community service and was very adventurous. My mother took me out for treks and both have been instrumental in making me what I am today.
12) What message would you like to give our readers?
There is a quote by Rumi, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world.
Today I am wise, so I am changing myself."
So just change yourself for the better.