Travel Impact Spotlight features startup company founders committed to changing how we travel. These startups bring travelers closer to the people and culture of their destination, lessen the negative impact of travel on the environment, and benefit local communities from all parts of the world. When the sun sets, it’s second nature to us to […]
Travel Impact Spotlight features startup company founders committed to changing how we travel. These startups bring travelers closer to the people and culture of their destination, lessen the negative impact of travel on the environment, and benefit local communities from all parts of the world.
When the sun sets, it’s second nature to us to turn on the lights so we can continue preparing dinner, reading a book, or studying for a test. But in the remote peaks of the Himalayas, light is a basic necessity many people live without. Global Himalayan Expedition aims to change that by gifting small communities with clean power and creating a path toward a sustainable future.
Paras Loomba, founder of the startup, designed solar microgrids to provide power to rural villages in the Ladakh region of northern India. Separated from roads and larger cities by steep mountain passes and rough terrain, these villages do not have access to grid-based electricity. Through Global Himalayan Expedition, Paras has enlisted travelers from all over the world in an effort to provide clean energy to these villages.
Global Himalayan Expedition takes people on exciting expeditions through the mountains, where they are able to impact a community firsthand. By providing access to technology, the startup connects these remote mountain communities to the world, while ensuring the preservation of their unique traditions and cultural heritage. Global Himalayan Expedition also opens up these communities to travelers through Mountain Homestays, through which local people can host visitors and earn extra income.
When we spoke to Paras last week, he had just returned from an expedition to a remote village in Zanskar called Sking, which he electrified alongside a team of 20 people. After earning this year’s highest grant amount in the Booking.com Booster Program, Paras is continuing to grow his startup’s positive impact on local communities and the world. We caught up with Paras to learn more about his background, work, and plans for the future.
Paras: This all started in 2013, which is exactly five years ago. I did a small expedition to Antarctica and I came back to India, which is the country I belong to, and I thought I’ll start a civil expedition in the mountains.
My background is I’m an electrical engineer, so I always wanted to play around with technology and still travel. I tried to merge technology and adventure together, and that’s how, in 2013, I came up with this company called Global Himalayan Expedition.
P: No, not from the Himalayan region as such, but my father was in the army and I spent part of my childhood in the mountains. My father was posted there as part of his duty. He retired as a colonel from the Indian army. When he was there, I saw the breadth and length of the Himalayas in India. So, I was very familiar with the area when I was a child.
P: Yes, that’s the advantage we have. What we do is electrify remote, unelectrified villages in the mountains. Once we have electrified these villages, we make an expedition around that village, where we tend to take a group of at the most 20 people. People from all over the globe apply to be part of the expedition.
The expedition involves people coming to India, to a place called Leh, which is one of the towns in the Himalayas in the northern part of India. Everyone lands in Leh, and from Leh, we take them on a ride to these remote areas. So first you go on a bus, and then you have to cycle, and then you have to trek because there are no roads. Then you finally reach the village, which you electrify with people who come from various parts of the world.
When I say electrify, we set up solar microgrids. Basically these are miniatures of big grids, and they are powered by solar energy. [People on the expedition] install solar microgrids in these villages in a couple of days. We teach them how to set these up, and within two days, not only do they become engineers but they also end up giving light to these villages.
It turns out to be a great moment for most of the people because they get to experience the mountains — the remoteness and the wilderness. They do adventures, like trekking and mountain biking, and they also end up making an impact on the community. Giving light to one who has never seen light before is an amazing feeling.
P: The government plays its own role to see if they can provide light to these villages, but the government is always bureaucratic — it always goes slow. And these areas are very remote. To reach these villages, you have to cross mountain passes, which are 18,000 feet. Then you have to cross bridges over stormy rivers. And then most of the time, the trekking route is very thin, so to carry any material on that trek becomes difficult. The transportation of the material to these villages is a big effort, hence the infrastructure development in these areas becomes very, very difficult.
P: To date, we have done 66 villages in the mountains. It’s all in the area called Ladakh.
P: The impact is unquantifiable — it’s humongous, because think of yourself in darkness and I give you power and electricity, what all you can read. The children end up starting to read in the night. They can become more educated.
The people can cook food nicely. If you’re in the darkness, you never know what you are cooking. A basic human right is light. You can also breathe properly, because the kerosene oil has been reduced, so the health and cooking have improved. Some of the ladies make handicrafts, so with light, they can make it in the evening after their work is done. They sell the handicrafts, and that can make some money.
Power is also able to give them some kind of recreation, because earlier the light used to end at 6-7 in the evening. Now it goes up to 10 or 11, and they can see what’s happening in the world. This is very important because that way they are connected to the world.
Access to energy gives access to livelihood, gives access to education, and gives access to information, which are all basic human rights. I think there are so many things that are very subjective to the community we electrify, and even we can’t tell how much impact or what kind of impact it would have created for them.
P: Mountain Homestays is a concept where we provide livelihood to the villages. Once we electrify these villages, the idea is to provide income opportunities because, after two years if anything gets spoiled or if anything gets cut off, then they should have money to repair it or maintain it.
They can only have money if they have some work. So the idea is, once we electrify the villages, we then start promoting tourism to these villages through a concept called homestays.
So a person may visit one of the villages, but not as part of the expedition to electrify. It may be much cheaper for you, as well as you get to experience the local culture, tradition, and cuisine.
Now with that, you end up staying with people in their homes, and you also give them some income. That income, which the homestay owner gets, is enough to repair the grid or maintain it for the future. So on one hand, they make money, and on the other hand, they deposit the money for future maintenance and upgradation. So, that’s the whole concept of homestays.
P: Yes, that’s very important because if tomorrow something goes wrong in these very remote areas, the person will not have an idea in terms of who to know, who to call. So the idea is to connect with them so they can train on certain basic aspects of microgrids, so if anything goes wrong, they can be able to repair it.
We also train them on hospitality, because when tourists come to the homestays, they should know how to make a bed, how to serve, and how to provide hygienic food. All these things are taught to them, because that way, it will end up becoming better for them if any tourist comes in.
P: I think one of the biggest impacts on the environment is of course the reduction in kerosene oil. There is a huge reduction in the carbon footprint. The oil first comes from Delhi to Leh in a truck, so the reduction happens through the whole supply chain. Also, the cutting of shrubs and trees reduces, because then you’re using clean fuel for lighting needs.
P: We are currently looking at promoting expeditions around the world. There are many villages around the world that do not have access to electricity. So, we want to do expeditions around the world and provide energy access to these remote areas, and in the process also create these homestays so that we can have a big network of homestays around the world.
P: I think for us, we would want to create a future of tourism with positive impact. I think the world is facing huge issues of climate change and other kinds of adversities.
I think at this time, if tourism can play an important role in conservation of these indigenous communities and also play a big role in natural resource conservation, that would be really nice. And this can only happen if tourism can have a positive impact in the communities, so that’s what we would want to create — use tourism as a catalyst to provide positive change around the world.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.