‘Astro-stays’ bring tourists and solar power to Himalayan villages – shuttle


An Indian social commerce that leads Himalayan treks to establish solar micro-grids in remote mountain villages plans to expand its clean-energy work to other countries facing similar challenges, after winning a United Nations climate award. Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) has brought solar electricity to more than 130 Indian villages, benefiting approximately 60,000 people, while setting up home-stays for tourists that have generated more than $100,000 in income for villagers.

By providing clean energy and livelihoods, the company has helped maintain delicate eco-systems and bridged the gender hole by training native women to turn out to be entrepreneurs, said Jaideep Bansal, GHE’s chief operating officer.

“Without access to basic facilities and better income opportunities, the villagers are likely to migrate to towns on the lookout for jobs, accelerating cultural and social erosion in these areas,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We are in a position to leverage tourism as a force for holistic development of remote mountain communities,” he said.

The Indian government deems all villages nationwide to be electrified because no less than 10% of households and public places have electricity. But power cuts are rampant, forcing residents to use diesel generators and kerosene lamps with noxious fumes.

Fast-dropping costs for solar power, combined with various sun have made mini-grids and micro-grids an affordable option.

GHE identifies villages that lack access to dependable electric power, occasionally trekking up to six days to achieve them.

More than 1,300 travellers have so far paid up to $3,500 each and every to enroll in the hikes, with approximately a quarter of the charge going towards setting up the solar grid, Bansal said.

The tourists work alongside engineers to install the micro-grids and fixtures, including road lights and LED lights, fans and mobile charging points in homes, he added.

The project has given solar capacity totalling 360 kilowatts, avoiding approximately 35,000 tonnes of carbon emissions, according to a U.N. estimate.

GHE trains native youths and women to turn out to be electricians, and helps women set up home-stays and “astro-stays” that offer stargazing at night on solar-powered telescopes.

“Empowering women entrepreneurs through astronomy has helped minimize the hole in gender equality. It has also engendered greater interest in STEM subjects in women and children,” Bansal said, referring to science, technology, engineering and maths.

GHE’s mannequin of tourism with environmental and social benefits is “easily replicable as a result of the simplicity in approach”, said the U.N. climate secretariat, announcing the winners of its 2020 global climate action awards this week.

The mannequin is especially applicable as sales of off-grid solar products fell sharply in the first half of the year with incomes hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has derailed GHE’s expeditions this year. But it plans to expand tours to Madagascar, Sumatra and Nepal next year, and is partnering on other community-based tourism initiatives in Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Kenya. “We are taking a look at remote regions with similar development problems as the Indian Himalayas, where the idea that of have an effect on tourism and sustainable development may also be applied,” Bansal said. The idea, he added, is to create “low-carbon destinations” for travellers with clean technology and community participation.

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)

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