For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to visit Spiti Valley. I have an affinity for the obscure, far-flung corners of the world. I loved being in Ladakh a few years ago, and I know Spiti isn’t any less charming. But I also know that this won’t be just another trip—I have a purpose in mind. The purpose of volunteering with Spiti Ecosphere, a social enterprise I discovered many moons ago.
Ecosphere’s roots lie in Muse, an NGO that was founded in 2002 by three friends (one of whom is Ishita Khanna, Ecosphere’s current director) with a shared passion for the mountains, environment, and the valley of Spiti in particular. It started with their vision for sea buckthorn, a wild shrub with bright orange berries that grow along the banks of River Spiti, which runs through the valley. For thousands of years, the shrub has been used by traditional medicine practitioners or amchis. But its ecological and commercial potential was explored only a few decades ago. Muse engaged locals and set up processing units to make delicious products out of sea buckthorn. It didn’t take long for the wild experiment to turn into a fruitful brand called Tsering, which means ‘blessings for long life’ in Spiti Bhoti, the local Tibetan dialect. Tsering offers all the natural benefits of sea buckthorn in the form of jam, squash, syrup, tea, powder, as well as dried berries. The two outposts of Ecosphere in Kaza—the restaurants Taste of Spiti (since 2014) and Sol Cafe (since 2012)—proudly display Tsering products on their counters and even use them in their kitchens.
After a 10-hour journey from Manali to Kaza, on the rockiest roads I’ve ever experienced, I should be exhausted. Instead, I’m exhilarated. It is hard not to be, after gaping at the unbelievable landscapes en route to Spiti Valley, which is often called ‘the middle land’ due to its location between Tibet and India. The delights of Spiti are only amplified by the fact that I’m on a two-week break after months of a pandemic-induced work from home rut. This is also my first attempt at voluntourism. I’ve signed up for Create for a Cause, a program that allows people from creative fields to work with Ecosphere. Khanna and I decide that I will document some volunteering experiences—in words and visuals.
My base for the first few days is Old Kaza, arguably the most commercialised neighborhood in Spiti Valley. This is where Ecosphere has set up its base, physically. Effectively, however, Ecosphere’s footprints are everywhere in the valley. “We have around 550 passive solar rooms, over 150 greenhouses, an increasing number of solar water pumps that we’ve recently begun setting up, and more initiatives spread across the valley,” Ishita tells me.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
The Hills Have Secrets
Kodaikanal, like many Indian destinations, has seen a post-lockdown boom in tourism. DEVANSHI MODY makes a week-long family trip to discover its many undiscovered historic and spiritual sites.
Explore The Wonders Of Gondar
Located in the easternmost peninsula of the continent, the Horn of Africa, Gondar served as Ethiopia’s capital from 1632 to 1855. Today, it is full of magnificent monuments.
What better place than a serene retreat in Kenya to immerse yourself in sound meditation, the ‘it’ healing practice sweeping the wellness world? PILAR GUZMÁN tunes in and chills out.
HEALING IN THE MIDDLE EAST
These 10 hotels in the Middle East are forerunners in offering rejuvenating therapies for all kinds of bodily aches and mental stresses. Expect everything from natural hot springs to indulgent treatments inspired by Cleopatra.
RISING FROM THE DESERT
WITH ITS CUTTING-EDGE ARCHITECTURE, COMMITMENT TO ART AND CULTURE, AND FOCUS ON SUSTANABILITY, COULD DOHA, QATAR, OFFER CITIES ACROSS THE WORLD A BLUEPRINT FOR THE FUTURE?
A STROLL DOWN THE HISTORY OF FOOD
For millennia, the Middle East lay at the intersection of cultures and trade routes. Ruled by many empires, its regions and their culinary traditions are at the root of more modernday dishes than you’d think. ANOOTHI VISHAL goes on a gastronomic voyage through history.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR
Aromatic frankincense turned Salalah, Oman, into one of the ancient world’s most important trading ports. Writer-photographer MARTA TUCCI explores the history of this fragrant resin—and fi nds its storied appeal very much alive.
This autumn, pamper your skin and hair with a range of premium beauty products—from exotic sleep masks to nourishing hair oils.
The Mindful Traveller
On her maiden trip to Nashik, Sonakshi Sinha spends a weekend relaxing at Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa, Nashik. Between takes of a stunning cover shoot, we indulge in quick conversations on slow travel, scuba diving, and the beauty of sleepy towns.
HOME IS WHERE THE PUJA IS
As preparations crescendo for this year’s Durga Puja, ANUBHUTI KRISHNA reminisces about the humble pandals of Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, and her family’s annual rituals.
THE HIGHLANDS OF ADVENTURE
A road trip in Himachal Pradesh would offer you memories that last for a lifetime
The Tunnel with Strategic Importance
A look at the Atal Tunnel that was inaugurated by the Prime Minister a few weeks back
We set off with the new Hyundai i20 to explore places that, until now, had been cut off from the rest of the country during the winter season for a journey that promised sights we’d never seen before. Dhruv Saxena shares the experience
CLICK and TREK
These Insta-travellers can help you travel vicariously to places where you have always wanted to go
PARAGLIDING IN THE HIMALAYAS
AN ADVENTURE DOCUMENTARY BY REDBULL
Dogged Concerns - Who Let The Dogs Eat?
‘Love is what love does’ – is this blinkered love for our canine friends fashioning a perilous ecosystem for us all? A subject of some delicacy, but a matter that needs to be dealt with immediately.
Land Of The Snow Leopard
My long-cherished desire of spotting the Himalayan snow leopard was finally fulfilled at the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh.