The first Astro Village of India – Maan

Have you ever thought of spending a peaceful time in the mountains? Did crowd and pollution play a deterrent in taking the step? If the answer is yes, you are not alone. You are from the lot, constantly looking for an offbeat destination. In this blog, we are going to introduce one such getaway location of Ladakh.

Every year thousands of the tourists flock to Ladakh to witness its majestic beauty. The number of tourists (both domestic and foreign nationals) has tripled in the past 10 years. The location, advertisement, and media played a vital role in increased tourism. Earlier it was a hot pick for foreign nationals, the trend, however, has reversed in the last couple of years. It has brought both employment and pollution to the place at the same time.

A lot has been written about things to do in Ladakh. Most of it, however, promote only a few places. The reasons behind the bias are the rough terrain, inaccessibility of the locations and lesser information. The promoted list is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of jewels hidden in the cold desert. One of such destinations is called Maan; The first Astro-village of India. The village is home to a state of the art telescope set up by Global Himalayan Expedition. The villagers conduct a stargazing session every night to promote astronomy in the region. You can watch the moons of the Jupiter, the rings of the Saturn or the entire galaxy (if lucky) from here.

The village is at a distance of around 70 km from Leh. You have to cross the Chang La pass to reach there. The pass at the altitude of 17590ft is one of the highest roads in the world. The name literally means “Northern pass” and is Enroute to Pangong Lake. The location is at a distance of 8 km from the famous “3-idiot” junction. The Bollywood movie of 2009 had caught the imagination of the Indian tourists. Since then thousands of the domestic tourists rush to the spot to click pictures. The local people have also encashed on the situation by putting many colorful scooters and seats alongside the shore of the lake. The development, however, has come with a cost of increasing pollution. Just like other famous destinations in India, the place is struggling with the plastic pollution spread by the tourists. The administration has now taken corrective measures by closing illegal camps and putting a check on the waste management practices by the business owners.

If you are looking for pollution and crowd-free destination near the Pangong, Maan is the ideal location. Drive for an hour from the hustle and bustle of the crowd and you will encounter a totally different view of Pangong Lake. The village is located at the shores of the lake with mountains at its background. The place is free from the plastic pollution and noise of the outer world. 

The villagers are hospitable and warm in the approach towards outsiders. One can live an authentic nomadic life by staying with them. The village is home to 35 families who work as farmers and labors in tourists camps away from the village. The women make beautiful handicrafts by traditional equipment. The rooms are big and you can see the endless blue lake and mountains from the window.

Things to do:

Star-gazing - Imagine yourself in the calm environment near Pangong with a mighty telescope and clean sky at disposal. In addition, a well trained and knowledgeable team of local villagers to assist you to locate the stars and planets. Wouldn’t that be a treat? The village has raised the Bar of the term “offbeat.” Gifted with one of the best views of the lake, mountains, and biodiversity, the astronomy sessions are another feather in the cap of Maan. You can book a stay at one of the homestays. Every night a star-gazing session is conducted by the village committee on a nominal charge. The team also educates the visitors on the local sky, planets, and stars visible at the particular night. The committee has been trained on the subject by the scientists of International Astronomical Union in a collaboration with Global Himalayan Expedition ( an initiative working for the community development at the Himalayas.

Sessions on Climate change -  humanity has lived in denial for a long time about it. The time has come that we acknowledge and take corrective actions about it. Every small individual step taken towards it is a huge success. The problem is that we don’t believe in what we have not encountered in life. What could be a better place to witness it first hand than the Himalayas? The rising temperature has affected the local climate, glaciers, and biodiversity adversely. Take a morning walk to Pangong Lake with the host Dorjay to acquire the knowledge. Try to educate others when you return home. This could be your contribution to the fight against climate change.

Hiking - Morning walk and run are obsolete terms now. Stay in the village and enjoy a short morning hike on the beautiful Himalayan range. The villagers are nomadic in nature and can take you to different hikes on demand. The place is very remote and inaccessible to most of the crowd, which means the beauty is still intact. Please make sure that you don’t carry any plastic material, water bottles or anything to harm the environment. If you are carrying anything to eat, make sure to bring back the wrappers. The plastic waste by the tourists is becoming a major area of concern at Mountains. Let us be responsible traveler by not adding any pollution content to the environment. We owe this much to this planet and future generations.

Archery - This is a favorite part-time sport for Ladakh. From ancient time, Ladakhis are good archers. The tradition has been kept alive by generations. One can find a bow and arrows in most of the houses of the indigenous community. Imagine yourself standing on open land with mountains at one side and Pangong on another while shooting an arrow. Wouldn’t that be a story to narrate?

Horse riding - When you are tired of walking, ask for a horse to Pangong and back. You just sit, relax while enjoying the magnificent blue lake on its back. If you are fond of riding, take it to the bottom of tall mountains. The villagers are gifted horsemen here and can teach a lesson or two for riding.

Handicrafts - If you have an interest in heritage and culture, entire Ladakh is a delight. Maan is no exception, women make beautiful handicrafts at home. The machines are traditional and the output is authentic. Discover the hidden talent and buy some souvenirs for the loved ones from your journey to the roof of the world.

Where to stay:

Mountain Homestays is working for the livelihood generation for the indigenous Himalayan communities. They have set up Homestays keeping the traditions and values of communities alive. The booking can be done well in advance and the team will do the rest for you. The initiative works for the sustainable development of the remote mountain communities

If you have been looking for ways to give back to society, this could be a wonderful medium to channel the efforts. The homestays listed with the group are of villagers and ensure the authentic experience for a traveler. You also add to the village economy by staying in the homes. The benefits of staying in a homestay are endless and each contributes to the rural community. The pollution, for instance, is very less/zero if you stay in these beautiful houses. They don’t use plastics, dump garbage in the lake or surroundings or create trouble for endangered species around. They value their tradition which teaches to stay in harmony with all other living and non-living beings of the universe.

How to Reach:

Hire a taxi from the local union from Leh to Maan. Enjoy the snow at the Chang La pass (17590ft) en route Pangong. The village is located 8 km ahead of the famous tourist’s points of Pangong. The duration of one side journey is 6 hours. Try to leave early in the morning to avoid heavy snowfall on the pass. Drink a lot of water to avoid altitude sickness. Carry all the generic medicines and Diamox to counter altitude sickness (consult your physician before taking any dose). The village is on the shores of Pangong. You find the boards guiding towards the Astro village and homestays of Maan.

Food

Enjoy authentic Ladakhi cuisine while you stay in the village. The day starts with the options of sugar and butter tea. The other delicacies for the meals are Sku, Thupka, Pava, and momos. They also serve the Poori Bhaji and rice on demand. Do not expect the luxury food at the homestay. The villagers work very hard to grow the vegetables and accumulate ration at those heights. The least we can do is to respect and reciprocate the love.

Connectivity

As of 2019, there is no network coverage apart from BSNL (postpaid only) in the village. There is a DSPT phone to connect you with the outer world. Do not rely on the connectivity of either of them. The telephone network is unavailable as soon as you leave Leh. Make sure that you have all the maps and information about the location and geography of the place. Considering the amount of time the smartphone takes away from our lives, some of us actually want to get into a no network zone.

Warning

The journey may enlighten your soul. It will also introduce you to the inner peace and reality of the world. The happiness of the villagers in a scarcity of the materials may force you to question the priorities in life.

Impact Travel – a step ahead in sustainable travel

In 2000, the world united to address the concerns of negative impacts the developing activities were creating on environment, culture, society, and people. Eight goals, called as Millennium Development Goal (MDG), were set to be achieved by the year 2015 with an agreement of UN members. After the successful completion of MDGs, the world again came together to progress towards creating holistic development by 2030. These are the new 17 goals UN members have set, known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  By agreeing on SDGs, government bodies, various organizations, industries, and also individuals are working towards holistic development of people and creating a better future for the next generation.

Innovation in tourism – Need and solution

SDGs goals are interconnected. Meaning, development focused on achieving one goal can open up new opportunities to work on and contribute to other SDGs. If any organization is working for women empowerment by creating employment opportunities, it is strengthening the women on the economic front. But the improved economic status also creates indirect positive impacts. When women are economically independent, they can have the access to better health care facilities, will be treated equally, and their decisions would be valued. If tourism practitioners are aware of the indirect impacts of their activities, they can meaningfully contribute to the SDGs. To make tourism industry more inclusive, there is a need of implementing innovative ideas in product development, collaborations, execution, and monitoring. Impact Travel is an innovative approach emerging in tourism practices. It means to have an inclusive approach to travel with a purpose to create a positive impact on the destination. The industry is evolving and being more conscious about the psychographic attributes, creating movement and developing business models based on innovative concepts.

Environmental consciousness, community development, cultural preservation, economic benefits have been a part of global sustainable tourism discourse. But the focus of many sustainable tourism projects have always been on not leaving behind any negative footprints. On environment, community or culture. Many concepts such as Ecotourism, Community-Based Tourism, Responsible Tourism were evolved under the umbrella concept of Sustainable Tourism. These concepts and its operations were mainly based on being conscious about nature, community, traditions, and cultures when tourists visit any destination. But rarely these tours based on ‘Sustainable Travel’ define the purpose of visit to bring out the tangible positive difference at the destination.

To bring out a significant change in the limited time that we have, tourism has to be practiced not to just mitigating the negative impacts but creating sustainable solutions that will contribute to achieving SDGs. Impact travel in the sustainable tourism domain goes beyond the mainstream approach of sustainability and focus on creating mutual positive benefits for tourists and destination.

What is Impact Travel?

In Impact Travel, tourists and the destination are the two most important stakeholders. It gives purpose for tourists to travel to a particular destination and destination gets benefited by getting a sustainable solution to their challenges.

Impact travel can be described as an interaction between tourists and communities, designed in a way that it leads to creating a sustainable positive impact on both of them.

Impact travel experiences are based on skills, culture, knowledge that tourists as well as culture, tradition, and environment of the destination. It uses these assets to create tangible or intangible solutions to the challenges in the region. In return, this unique interaction with the local community, new destinations, and experiences is a way for tourists to understand different lifestyles and cultures. Tourism businesses practicing Impact Travel place the tourist’s expectations and destination development at equal priority. Purpose of visiting a destination is clearly defined in such operations. Communities and tourists are completely aware of this purpose and activities to fulfill it.

Impact Travel Operations

This innovative approach is practiced efficiently by two tourism organizations. Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE) and Intrepid Travels design their tours to create tangible impacts and give strong purpose to their tourists to visit some unique destinations. GHE designs their impact travel expeditions such as carbon change expeditions for the electrification of the remote villages in the Himalayas.

These are carbon reduction projects that provides solar electrification infrastructure to the communities.

The expeditions are based on impact travel provide global travelers with a once in a lifetime experience. Participants travel to remote unexplored communities of the earth and provide them with tangible social infrastructure. GHE believes, best treks in the world are not conquering the most difficult mountains, but trekking in mountains with a positive purpose to it.

Impact Adventure Travel is an organization in Nairobi whose operations are based on Impact Travel. Their tours are focused on creating real connections between travelers and locals by visiting the communities during safari tours. Travel for Impact is an organization that builds partnership to reallocate funds from the tourism industry back into community initiatives. Other purpose driven operators such as Singita Eco-Lodge in South Africa aims to achieve long term goals in wildlife conservation.

Purpose driven travel brings the leadership and impacts together to create tangible or intangible positive benefits to the destination. Growing demand for ethical, sustainable travel options are attained by impact travel experiences.  This is a way to unite different segments of the world and move forward to achieve SDGs.