Tag Archives: responsible tourism

Wide Oyster Magazine Interviews Mandip Singh Soin

Netherlands’ based international travel magazine Wide Oyster recently interviewed Mandip Singh Soin about his journey, his passion for exploration and his concern for the planet. Given below is the republished version. The original article is available here.

For Love and For the Planet: Reisheld Mandip Singh Soin
By Marco Baneveld

There are more and more voices that traveling is bad for the environment. We believe that traveling in the right way makes the world a better place. In the words of David Attenborough : “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”

WideOyster highlights travel heroes who are committed to the world. In this edition Mandip Singh Soin, explorer and environmentalist.

When I met Mandip in a bus in Salta, en route to the Juramento River (for those who raft: a number 5), we immediately got talking. An incredibly nice man, full of puns and easily recognizable by his colorful turbans. I knew a lot that I was laughing with a fairly remarkable person. But I would soon find out.

Over the past four decades, Mandip Singh Soin, an Indian Sikh, has climbed, skied, jumped parachute and immersed himself in a thousand other adventures on all seven continents. “My wanderlust started early,” he recalls. “I was 15, climbed into the Himalayas and was overwhelmed by adventure and nature.” He turned his passion into his work.

His company Ibex Expeditions was born in 1979. Ibex organizes tailor-made adventures and has received many international awards over the years. Just like Mandip itself, by the way. This year the company is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

His experiences all over the world made him more and more involved in protecting the nature that he loves so much. And with success.

Mandip is the only Indian who has received the NESS Award from the Royal Geographical Society, UK . He also received the prestigious Tenzing Norgay Adventure Award from the hands of the President of India. He is the founder of the Ecotourism Society of India and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, UK and the Explorers Club, USA . He is a man to be reckoned with. Big time.

In 2015, he was awarded the Citation of Merit by the Explorers Club for his work on mountaineering on six continents. Other recipients of this award include Jeff Bezos, John Hemming, Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Lord Robert ST Chorley, Nigel N. Winser, Naomi Uemura and Robert D. Ballard.

We were allowed to ask him some questions about how traveling can do the world well and how it can help preserve our beautiful planet for future generations.

 

Mandip, why are you traveling?

“For all the amazing and different landscapes, the bewildering architectural styles and the fantastic types of people living in this world. The peculiarities and eccentricities of people and cultures around the world. It makes this planet a very interesting place to travel. ”

What did it bring you?

“A better understanding of people, myself and also a better understanding of how the planet ticks.”

How does travel define you as a person?

“There are two types of journeys: the inner journey and the outer journey. Traveling opens windows in the mind. It has taught me to be empathetic and at the same time it has made me realize that I have to contribute to a better world.

Do you think there is a ‘good’ way of traveling and a ‘bad’ way of traveling?

“The right way is to understand and open up to cultures and people you visit. But your choice of travel also counts: choose sustainable hotels, lodges and tour operators, which also respect the locals and give them back to the community where the journey goes. Also try to donate something to support nature and culture, such as the WWF or local non-profit organizations for the environment, cultures or education. There is so much to do, so little money and every drop counts. Bad tourism does nothing of the above and only goes for itself and the cheapest, without having to worry about the impact of tourism. Bad tourism is not about attracting you to what your impact is and just taking it. ”

You are committed to the environment. Can you explain that?

“Well, first we set a good example with Ibex. Just to feel good about it and to care for the environment. For example, we do not make campfires with wood from the environment during our Himalayan expeditions. There is not much firewood there and what there is is primarily meant for the local communities, we think. Nowadays we burn less and less on open fire because of the CO2 and we use solar energy to cook, shower and light to reduce our impact.

We soon started making recommendations to other tour operators. Now we do this in India on a national level through the Ecotourism Society of India. There is so much to do. ”

Why are it the more adventurous journeys that contribute to nature conservation?

“If tourism is the arrow, adventure travel is the arrowhead. These trips like to go to areas where normal tourism does not dare yet. They are often unexplored areas. Tourism then brings jobs, money and the exchange of knowledge. Adventurous travel organizations are often a pioneer in the field of nature protection. Because nature is the playground that people love so much. You don’t want to ruin that. In the words of David Attenborough : “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced. ”

However, there is a side note. Because this type of travel can also be done irresponsibly and it will be damaged more than it does well. So we have to keep making wise decisions. ”

What would your advice be for people who are concerned about the impact of travel?

“Be more aware where you are going and how you are traveling. Respect cultures and people. Pay attention to which travel agency you are traveling with and consciously choose sustainable accommodation. See if you can possibly compensate the CO2 for your flights. Traveling can be a powerful tool to protect this planet and create a better understanding between people. It is ultimately your choices that make the difference. ”

 

With Mandip to the heart of India

There is probably no better way to discover India than with Mandip Singh Soin. For the 40th anniversary of their company, Mandip and his wife Anita lead an expedition to the heart of India, in the footsteps of Captain James Forsyth, an explorer who served in the Indian army at the end of the 19th century. The journey takes you to the forests of Satpura in the state of Madhya Pradesh. You stay in luxury camps and colonial lodges and immerse yourself in art, culture, nature, wildlife and recipes from the kitchen of the Nawab family. A great walking experience through the Satpura Tiger Reserve. You also visit Bhopal, Mandu and Maheshwar where you stay in the Ahilya Fort, the private palace of the former Holkar dynasty.

Read more about this journey here. 

Ladakh: A Photographic Journey to “Little Tibet”

Flying into Leh, the former capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, feels more like landing on the moon than landing in India. Its harsh, mountainous terrain is starkly beautiful and very dry, due to its high altitude and cold desert climate. Dotted with stupas and whitewashed houses, the Old Town is dominated by a dagger of steep rocky ridge topped by an imposing Tibetan-style palace and fort.


Our special anniversary edition journey to Ladakh this September will be led by Himraj Soin, an adventure travel journalist who is an avid skier and climber;
studied at Colorado College. He is a National Geographic Student Expedition leader
and photographer and his expeditions have taken him to Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan,Borneo, Madagascar, Peru, Morocco, Namibia, Argentina, Chile, and Antarctica, and more.

Following a theme of a responsible eco adventure, walking in the footsteps of the  this photo adventure journey will take you to all Buddhist monasteries, trek through breathtaking passes. You will discuss Buddhist traditions, learn about renewable energy projects with conservationists, visit outfits promoting sustainable development and walk along hillsides dotted with chortens and monasteries with exquisite Himalayan vistas.

The journey will take place this September. Send in your queries to ibex@ibexexpeditions.com!
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Travelling Home – When We Wander, Are We Lost?

Himali Singh Soin writes a meditative piece on the idea of home.

Originally written in August 2014 for Jetwings Magazine.

Newborn, I open my eyes to the bright light of the world, the ceiling split open and spilled the sky, then rivers, deserts, mountains, forests, whales, butterflies, cactus into my room. I looked around, and a map—like wallpaper—formed. I have lived on a
map since.

Where we live, there are lofts comprising suitcases, photo jackets and rope and lenses, telescopes and binoculars, hats and compasses, knives, swords, snow boots, fishing lines, journals, harnesses, collapsible chairs, postcards, big bags for an expedition, little bags for a day’s reconnaissance, pocket bags for nail clippers, mini soap bottles, disposable underwear, water sippers, jasmine oil, more rope, microfiber towels, a book on birds, Hillary’s advice, a book on trees, walkie-talkies and a phone number on the fridge with which to stop the newspaper periodically, because, lofts undone, maps plotted, we are (always) on our way and there would be no one to read the news, though the news—and the newspaper man and his eponymous thump—would undoubtedly continue to take their own course.

Round and around we go

As a family of explorers, we are perpetual peripatetics, scouring deep crevices and deceiving surfaces of the world. Our adventures—in the viscous olive pools of Mexico’s cenotes, along the clay licks of the inner Amazon, the dunes of Morocco, the expanse of the Gobi, the raw bulbs of Madagascar, the source of the Nile, the high prayers of Tibet, the rush of the raft on the river Zanskar, the slithering forests of Periyar and many more—refresh our eyes, reboot our consciousness so that we are always aware, most strikingly, of what it means to live.

But what of home? The daily din? The mean, the normal, the everyday thump
of the newspaper on the porch, the place where nothing changes and everything stays the same. How content I am here! Home, to me, was becoming an exotic other. I do not return home, but travel home. In some ways, I carry my home with me, building nests even as I abandon them. But in others, it is the physical place—the fuss of the family, the bursting bookshelf, the ritual of routine—that makes up my nostalgia. It is this object, heavy with embedded meaning, that cannot be carried.

Among the countries that I have visited, from my foreign imagination, home comes to mean a variety of things. In Tibet, home is a desire for a way of life without siege, an unthreatened thought. Home means return to peace, a return of identity— Tibetan Buddhism. It means that the prayer flags left en route to Mt Kailash flutter in freedom and the glass facades of Chinese commerce that reflect back the Potala palace are silenced, so that the whispers to his Holiness might finally be heard.

In Madagascar, where over 80% of all flora and fauna is endemic, home is where the familiar is comprised of the unique everywhere else. In a land so native,
the sight of a baobab, like an upturned tree, a neuron touching the nerve of
the sky, is enough to arouse a sense of belonging. Though the people are made up of immigrants from the coasts of Africa and Asia along with French colonies, the landscape is inherent.

Moving home

In Mongolia, home is a shifting place, shifting by season, by the fertility of the soil, and endless, always a distant end and constantly being re-assembled. The ger tent, made of a lattice of wood and felt, is a yurt that the nomads pack with them on their journey from pasture to pasture. The word ger means home.

In Ethiopia, home is where the River Nile has its source. Home is the red earth and dust beneath the wares of a Monday market. Home is the ritual coffee ceremony and popcorn. Home is the Timkat, where homage and exchange is the same thing, where what is white is full of colour and where sound is a music that sings of progress and hope. Home is a country where everything is embossed with touch, with feeling, love, thought, idea, energy from the blood, the tingling of the anatomy at work, pregnant with the future, ripe from the past. Where everything is done by hand; baskets are being woven, injera poured, steel fixed on buckets, trucks oiled, hay stacked, hand shaken, kissed, cheque written, wall painted, rocks from street removed, sacks of sand stacked, money begged for, body knelt before sun and god, child stroked, wife caressed, folds of white bedsheets neatly folded and tucked, where home is the origin.

In Peru, home is an ocean of forest split, like arteries, by terracotta rivers. Home is the remembrance that the Incas were here. It is walking a path for centuries till the moss is removed, and thick, grey slabs of stone and a whole civilization is uncovered. When the Incas looked up at the Wilkamayu, or the Milky Way, they saw the galaxy reflected in the river. When they saw a hummingbird dip its slender snout in an orchid, they told the story of the princess who was transformed into an orchid while waiting for her warrior prince to return from war, then the warrior prince was transformed into a hummingbird so he could forever be with his wife. And for the tears that were shed, the orchid is called Wakanki, ‘you will cry’. Home is lore.

Flowing stories

Juchitan, a town in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, is matriarchal, where women wear long flowing gowns printed with big red flowers. They call their dresses el agua; water. They wear their hair in big black balls framed by two braids on either side of their high cheekbones. They are silent but assertive. They are unshifting and strong. I sit bleary eyed early in the morning in the zocalo, the centre of the town, a kind of living room for all. I wait for the morning to rise and something interesting to happen.  Then a lady walks toward me and reaches over and strokes my shoulder then my arm and my hand. Her hand and eye twitch, she wears a long flowery dress but stutters when she speaks. She stares at me then tells me I am sick and that I must wave a knife over my head to rid myself of the infirmity. Usa una cuchia para curar la infirma. Then she stares at me again and walks away. I see her later in the day in the church. I walk past her, but I can feel her light and intense stare upon my shoulder. I don’t forget her words, for there are energies here. There are energies where random events make patterns and string together in fantastically webbed ways. Here, home is allowing strangers into your superstitions.

Beyond bricks and mortar

Conceptions of home differ even in the meaning of the word itself. French has
no word for home, while in American and English sports, home is a word synonymous for a goal, a kind of victory. Some think of home as a physical house, others as language, others as the haze in the sky or an old family recipe. On the internet, it’s a landing page.

And here, in India, where I live, home is more complex. As a foreigner, I would say India is the Taj Mahal, or the brandishing Bollywood poster, the saint in saffron. It cannot be read, however, as a stereotype.

It is inconsolable, non-negotiable. It is as much the country, the city, the house as it is the way people are, creating chaos together. It comprises argument and aggression, affection and dependence. It comprises reflexes and a muscle memory, exasperation and elation.

So is home a real place? How does one reach it? Or is it indeed nothing to write home about? When we wander, are we lost? When we thirst to check off every country from our list of never-visited, are we fulfilling a desire to simply see ourselves anew? Or does travelling allow us to dream more, invigorate our imaginations, step outside of moral and societal conduct? Does travelling away, in fact, allow us to return? Return in order to find adventures at our doorstep: in the gardener’s escapade with the ironing lady, or the competition between the women of the house on whose bowl of yoghurt is better made. Or simply in the wonder of the objects in the loft, and the memory of tales from faraway places.

Originally written in August 2014 for Jetwings Magazine.

Antarctica Matters: Racing to Cross Antarctica

Two adventurers are attempting to cross Antarctica alone, without support, without being resupplied by food, or assisted by any means of transport other than the power of their legs. If either or both succeed, they will be the first to do so. No one has been able to cross Antarctica on foot, unsupported, yet.

The two adventurers are attempting this feat separately, and couldn’t be more different than each other.

Lois Rudd is a 44-year-old British Army captain. He wishes to slide into the record books, tracking two other British explorers—Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton.  Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1911. Ernest Shackleton wrote that “there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings — the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea”. 

Mr. Rudd is a grizzly British Army adventurer, carrying hot chocolate powder, dried porridge, along with the rest of his kit.

The second explorer is a 33-year-old American mountaineer and explorer—Colin ‘O’ Brady. Mr. Brady is a chiselled professional triathlete-turned-mountaineer. He has over 70,000 Instagram followers, a YouTube channel, and brought his own custom-made energy bars called Colin Bars.

While for Mr. Rudd the reason for taking on this journey is a personal one, Mr. Brady wants to win the race, and make history. 16 people have attempted to cross Antarctica so far. All failed. Waiting to see what happens now.

Source: Financial Times

We are going on an epic voyage to this expansive continent in March 2019. The journey aims to create ambassadors for Antarctica, who will pledge to protect and preserve the region from exploitation of all kinds. Check this link for more details of the journey, and send in your enquiries to us at ibex@ibexexpeditions.com

 

UPDATE: Colin O’Brady eventually won the race in 53 days. For more, read this BBC story.

North East India: Responsible Tourism Recommendations at India’s International Tourism Mart 2018

 

Nongriat, Meghalaya Photo Credit: Neil D’Souza

The north-eastern part of India is an explorer’s paradise. Part of the eastern Himalaya, the region is covered by the mighty Brahmaputra-Barack river systems and its tributaries. The region has some of the last remaining  rainforests of the Indian subcontinent, that support diverse flora and fauna and several crop species. Dense forests, living roots bridges, emerald pools, high mountains and among these live some of the most amazing tribes of the world. The north-east is truly a gem.

At the 7th International Tourism Mart 2018 for the North East Region, our founder and explorer Mandip Singh Soin was a panellist at a session on adventure and ecotourism development in the region. He gave a number of recommendations to maintain the beauty of the region and work harmoniously with local communities. These included recommending tour operators to get an STCI certification (Sustainable Tourism Criteria for India), and to follow #responsibletourism practice in every step that accrue benefits to the #localcommunities and environment and allow for interactions with the amazing tribes of the region.

When tour operators, governments and travellers make responsible tourism and sustainable travel as part of their policy and thought process, good things can be achieved.