Eco and sustainable tourism: Kashmir’s first eco- village, with mud cottages for tourists

Kashmir’s Sagg Eco village that is located in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district offers 1.5 acres and traditional mud cottages to stay in

Eco and sustainable tourism: Kashmir’s first eco- village, with mud cottages for tourists Image Credit: Representational Picture

Syed Shadab Ali Gillani

Srinagar: Sagg Eco village in central Kashmir's Ganderbal region offers a completely different experience for travellers wanting a tranquil, pleasant stay in a natural environment away from lavish hotel alternatives as the rest of the globe embraces appealing and sustainable tourist enterprises. This 1.5-acre "eco-village," which claims to be encouraging "eco-tourism and sustainable tourism" in Kashmir, has traditional mud houses for guests to stay in as well as an organic garden for fresh vegetables.

Also Read: Jammu Kashmir: Congress targets BJP on Target Killing

Sagg's creator, Fayaz Ahmad Dar, said that his eco-hamlet was reminiscent of old-world Kashmir. “Along with hosting getaways, Sagg offers residential and educational camps for students, workshops and training facilities, and even consultation services for people interested in building sustainable and environmental friendly settings,” he said.

The village guarantees strict adherence to the "zero-waste philosophy" while providing a distinctive experience to residents and visitors. "Sagg is altogether a different experience, as the place is filled with peace, from the chirping of birds to the alluring aroma of flowers and trees, You get the impression of a peaceful life," he added.

The village guarantees strict adherence to the "zero-waste philosophy" while providing a distinctive experience to residents and visitors.

“This is a wholly distinctive village where you can see how we have utilised the space to make it more pleasing. Wicker and wood are used for building sitting space and chairs, mud-houses are constructed to illustrate how our old generations used to live and following the same style mud walls and floors are decorated with outmoded reed mats,” said the entrepreneur

Apart from the mud huts, there are numerous elevated stone and earthen platforms called “Pyend” that are ringed by wooden poles built to support the roof. “The area can be used to work or relax with the beauty of the countryside and a distant metropolis,” said Dar.

Also Read: Jammu and Kashmir: Kashmiri Pandit Sunil Bhatt shot dead by terrorists

At Sagg, decomposition methods have evolved into the “Soun eco-toilet” a green, sanitary, and economical means of handling human waste. “It is modified traditional toilet hygiene and employs a drum to store solid waste. Human waste was once utilised as manure and today we are following the same environmentally friendly, long-term sanitation system that recycles human waste into manure for agricultural purposes,” said Dar.

To enrich the biodiversity, Sagg is also growing various species of food trees in the Eco Village, including canopies, fruits and nut trees, shrubs, herbaceous, berries, and climbers.

Anisa Yousuf who handles the processing operations as a professional bio-chemist said, “We also prepare and sell organic food items based on natural ingredients and traditional recipes which includes Pickles, Jams, Waer (a traditional blend of Kashmiri spices), dried fruits and honey. We also offer many handcrafted lifestyle products made using eco-friendly processes and manufactured using natural materials, and in addition to this we manufacture organic soap also,” said Anisa.

In this venture his wife, Lubna Rafiqui is also giving him full support, presently she is holding the position of operations head where she works on designing business processes/systems that support the venture's continuous operations, as well as managing/improving/automating these processes and systems.

“These products are available in a few stores around Srinagar and we also have a tie-up with a startup ‘My Pahadi Dukaan’ and apart from that people can directly buy the products by contacting us,” said Lubna.

She also highlighted Saag's role in supporting local farmers and growers from whom they buy groceries and indigenous products. “Buying food products from locals prevents you from that risk of chemically harvested products as the supplies are coming straight from the local fields which are all organic and at the same time opportunity to support your community and help them generate revenue,” said Lubna.

About the initiatives, Fayaz says, “Its ‘All Local’ venture, where you will find people who are working here are from the surrounding areas and while constructing this village we use the labour force from this village only.”

As an eco-cultural, recreational, and educational farm and camping facility, Dar established a Non-profit organisation Mool (Root in Kashmiri) in 2012. “It was focussed on creating and encouraging regenerative lifestyles that incorporate resources and promoted sustainable socioeconomic development in Kashmir via capacity building and roots of Sagg originated from Mool,” said Dar.

Sagg also facilitates workshops and seminars for the young brigade of Kashmir, Students, teachers, farmers and entrepreneurs. “We offer eco-educational tours, seminars, coaching capsules, capacity building programmes and mental health programmes,” Sagg founder adds while talking about focus on women he adds, “We are very much focused on women empowerment and trying to provide women leadership programmes and we have trained my women trekking guides also.”

They also hold ‘free Friday sessions’ with the local kids where they are taught about 'different aspects of life like self-expression, soft skills which help them to develop an intellect.'

His Sister Dr Shaheena Parveen is also working as a Creative facilitator who works to develop links with different educational institutes around the venture.

“Our focus is to aware people of ecological entrepreneurship, where we aim to build a business that is profitable and at the same time does no damage to the environment and quality of life,” said Dar.

Recently, over 60 pupils from a school in Anantnag participated in the camping trip and studied ecological entrepreneurship. "There is a lot of interest from students from schools and colleges, we have also signed an MOU with Islamic University of Science and Technology(IUST) Awantipora and we are also negotiating collaborations with other universities,” he said.

The valley's tourist business is currently at an all-time high, and since Sagg launched in 2016, more people have been coming. The creator said that they typically get 40 visits each day on average, but they anticipate continued growth in the next years.

Sagg sees a future that is economically self-sufficient, socially inclusive, and regenerative from an ecological standpoint. “After launching the forest farm village academy in 2020 to assist 10 lac people in developing ecological entrepreneurship ventures by 2030,” said the entrepreneur.

“We have kept minimum charges for the visitors starting from Rs 500 for overnight stays including breakfast and the revenue generated by Sagg’s services and products is what keeps it going,” said Dar. With an aim of expansion in future, he adds, “We are also planning to expand the area of the farm and trying to scale up the production of our organic products."