Arjun Majumdar talks about how micro enterprises are sprouting in the Himalayas because of the growth in trekking.
Last week, Indiahikes gave out a loan of Rs. 25,000 to Narendra Singh Danu to set up an eatery. It was a Narendra’s long cherished dream to start a food outlet at Lohajung, the start point of the Roopkund trek. Narendra is a guide on the Roopkund trail.
Within a week of starting, Narendra’s outlet, Handi had created a buzz in Lohajung. Curious village folks paid more for a variety in the menu that they had never seen before: rolls, biriyani, cutlets and soups. They also saw a kitchen that was clean and better equipped.
This wouldn’t have been possible if Narendra hadn’t had access to some timely resources – resources like technical knowledge and money. Ayan Brahma, trek coordinator of Indiahikes, who is globally travelled, helped Narendra secure both. First, he pitched Narendra’s proposal to Indiahikes and later, rolled up his sleeve and hand held Narendra through the knowledge phase.
Ayan sat down with Narendra and helped design the look of the outlet. Together, they made a list of things to purchase, designed the menu and worked out the economics of running the outlet. They sorted out the manpower required and took untrained but eager village folks as staff.
Ayan then went along with Narendra and helped him shop equipment for the outlet. Ayan who is also a good chef trained the kitchen staff on food preparation they were unfamiliar with. Ayan helped Narendra learn how to manage his finances and taught him the basics of marketing. Ayan then stepped back and allowed Narendra to take over the reins of his fledging business.
Narendra could pursue his dream because apart from Indiahikes giving him the seed fund, Indiahikes also ensured that all food for trekkers at the base camp was sourced from Handi. Narendra was assured of an income, which gave him courage to invest and grow more.
An enterprise like Handi is born because organisations like Indiahikes work like catalysts. Unlike a bank, Indiahikes loans money based on association. The money does not carry interest and neither a fixed date of return. The cushion of a fixed quantum of trekkers helps the enterprise tide over the initial requirement of working capital. Very soon the enterprise is able to break even.
Indiahikes wouldn’t have been able to work as a catalyst if Roopkund hadn’t seen the large number of trekkers it gets every season.
In another story, with Indiahikes’ commitment of fixed trekkers, Mahapat Singh Danu set up a home stay at Didina, again on the Roopkund trail. The Didina home stay gave trekkers an opportunity to observe village life closely and also to stay in a comfortable setting in the high mountain village. In turn, Mahapat was able to set up an enterprise that supplemented his income from agriculture.
Spurred by Mahapat’s success, other village folks started to set up home stays at Didina. A sleepy village like Didina suddenly woke up to the potential of eco-tourism of trekkers on the Roopkund trail.
At Sankri, a tiny village in the western corner of Uttarakhand, Rajmohan has started a micro enterprise that could be the future of trekking in India. Rajmohan, previously a guide with Indiahikes, formed a trekking agency. With zero cost loan of equipment from Indiahikes, a structure of the trekking process and a fixed menu, Rajmohan started to run packaged treks in the Har-ki-Dun valley. Rajmohan will be able to break even quickly because the initial cost of setting up the enterprise was softened by the loan of no-cost equipment by Indiahikes. In addition, Rajmohan, had the cushion of income from Indiahikes assured treks twice a year.
Again, Rajmohan would not have been able to start his enterprise if it wasn’t for the large number of trekkers who have started to flock the Rupin Pass and the Har-ki-Dun valley every year.
In Manali, Shyam Sharma, along with his nephew, started a similar trekking agency by buying equipment at a low cost from Indiahikes and an assured customer base of Indiahikes referred trekkers.
As more and more Indian trekkers take to trekking as an alternative holiday, micro enterprises like Handi continue to sprout. Sometimes, they need a helping hand from an organisation like Indiahikes, but most often, it is the growing number of trekkers, who fuel the growth of these micro enterprises. Trekkers bring in money to spend at these enterprises, money large enough to sustain them. But more importantly, the interaction with trekkers transfers knowledge to the simple village folks — knowledge required to spark an enterprise like Handi.
A quiet entrepreneurial transformation is taking place in the remotest corner of India. It is worth making a note of.