Ladakh Himalayan Homestays- transforming local mindsets towards snow leopards

Ladakh Himalayan Homestays- transforming local mindsets towards snow leopards

Leh, India
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Himalayan Homestays program fosters conservation-based community managed tourism development in remote settlements, by gradually building local capacity and ownership. It stands out as an ideal example that aims to be sensitive to both host and visitor expectations without compromising the aspirations of host communities, and at the same time seeks to balance these aspects with conservation of the area’s unique cultural and natural heritage. Himalayan Homestays seek to:

• Ensure that hosts- have developed the unique mountain experience, and obtain fair returns for their services and investment.

• Positive interactive cultural experiences for both the host and visitor.

• ...

About You
Contact Information


First name


Last name


Your job title

Programme Director/Founder

Name of your organization

Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust

Organization type


Annual budget/currency


Mailing address

Shangara House, Main Tukcha Road, Leh -Ladakh

Telephone number


Postal/Zip Code


Email address
Alternative email address
Your idea
This will be the address used to plot your entry on the map.
Street Address

Main Tukcha Road




Jammu and Kashmir

Postal/Zip Code


Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of tourist experience and educational benefit to tourists , Quality of benefit to residents for the destination , Quality of tourism management by destination leadership , Quality of stewardship of the destination.

Organization size

Small (1 to 100 employees)

Indicate sector in which you principally work

Conservation/Preservation organization

Year innovation began


Indicate sector in which you principally work


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What is the goal of your innovation? Please describe in one sentence the kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

Improving rural livelihoods and changing local mindset towards snow leopards from being a pest into an invaluable village tourism asset.

Please write an overview of your project. Include how your approach supports or embodies geotourism or destination stewardship. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the map located on the competition homepage.

The Himalayan Homestays program fosters conservation-based community managed tourism development in remote settlements, by gradually building local capacity and ownership. It stands out as an ideal example that aims to be sensitive to both host and visitor expectations without compromising the aspirations of host communities, and at the same time seeks to balance these aspects with conservation of the area’s unique cultural and natural heritage. Himalayan Homestays seek to:

• Ensure that hosts- have developed the unique mountain experience, and obtain fair returns for their services and investment.

• Positive interactive cultural experiences for both the host and visitor.

• Ensure that Homestays contribute to conserving local cultural and natural heritage by ensuring that a percentage of the earnings go towards conservation activities such as livestock insurance, garbage management, and reducing human-wildlife conflict by indirectly compensating livestock depredation.

• Create a distinctive, authentic, reliable, tourist accommodation and experience – homestay packages – for visitors in the world’s highest mountain range, through participatory monitoring of standards and conservation linkages using tools and mechanisms such as feedback forms, wildlife monitoring by local guides, community conservation funds & related actions, as well as participatory evaluation by visitors, private tour operators, NGO’s and the local community.

Explain in detail why your approach is innovative

Himalayan Homestays seeks to provide the visitor with an authentic experience of Himalayan culture in one of worlds highest mountain ecosystems.
To create a viable community-owned venture the process involved:
1. Community mobilization:
• Helped locals to identify & develop eco-friendly alternative livelihoods requiring minimal investment.

2. Assessment of client demand & interest:
• A market survey was conducted on over 500 visitors trekking through the area.
Six out of ten visitors voted for Homestays rather than tented accommodation and guesthouses. The interest in local food and dry compost toilets was high.

3. Focus on Conservation Linkages:
• A partnership between the community, private entrepreneurs and SLC-IT ensured a strong link between business & conservation. The programme focused on poorer families from prime snow leopard habitats in Hemis National Park, Sham, Zanskar & Spiti and demonstrated the economic benefits of wildlife conservation.

4. Community-wide benefit sharing:
• Rotation systems were set up to enable participation of all interested households. For those who couldn’t cater for visitors in their homes, services like guiding, solar showers & parachute cafes were developed.

5. Conservation Funds:
• A system was set up whereby each household would contribute 10% of their earnings into a village conservation fund. Over the years, villagers have used this corpus for livestock insurance, waste management, tree plantation, restoration of cultural features, and for creating grazing reserves for wildlife.

Describe the degree of success you have had to date. How do you measure, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the impact on sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How has it transformed or contributed to the power of place or demonstrated the sustainability of tourism? How does your approach minimize negative impacts?

Himalayan Homestays has proven successful on many fronts. Through regular monitoring of homestay quality using visitor feedback forms, open and regular communication with villagers and tour operators, and on going wildlife population monitoring, we continue to document the effects we have had.

First and foremost, we have significantly changed the attitude of local communities towards snow leopards, which they formerly saw as pests, to one in which they now describe wildlife as “the ornaments of our mountains.” Our data indicate we have raised local household annual incomes by 35-75% through homestays. The income is mostly earned and used by women, who have told us that one of their primary objectives has been to use the money for better schooling for their children. Finally, the environmental benefits have been multi-fold. Parachute cafes sell boiled and filtered drinking water, prepared using solar cookers, reducing fuelwood use and ensuing carbon emissions. Demand for plastic bottles is declining, with less non-biodegradable garbage generation. Moreover, the added income from homestays contributes toward a community conservation fund and increased village awareness with the initiation of local projects such as garbage management, livestock insurance, and the creation of a grazing reserve for the threatened Tibetan Argali.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your work, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

Operating in 15 villages located in or close to prime snow leopard habitat, the program directly supplements over 100 household incomes while indirectly benefiting over 80 households through hiring of nature guides, solar baths, cooperatively run parachute cafes and sale of local handicrafts. Residents help monitor of standards of Homestays in their villages, and ensure smooth rotation of business for maximizing benefit sharing. They formulated a Visitor Code of Conduct to educate guests about their culture and environment. Finally, the villagers themselves decide how to use the village conservation fund to enhance natural resource management and conservation.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

The homestay provides a combination of experiences for the visitor that include learning about Ladakhi culture by interacting with hosts, participation in household activities, nature treks, traditional cuisine, and enjoying Ladakhi hospitality that together provides the authentic Himalayan experience they have been thirsting for. Although it is difficult to see the snow leopard, the visitor experience is built around the habitat in which the cats live and the people with whom they share the land.

Visitors have said:
“Excellent!! This was my true Himalayan and Ladakhi Experience.”
“The Ladakh Homestays is a real deal and not just another eco-wash”.

Describe how your work helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area's cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues.

During the initial workshops with villagers the program was defined in the following way: “A traditional village based Ladakhi Homestay would share their traditional way of life and values with visitors, provide traditional food, in an eco-friendly environment that requires little initial investment.” This definition set clear guidelines for the management and operations of Homestays that would promote cultural values and be based on environment friendly-practices such as use of solar lighting and solar cookers, and stressed the use of traditional dry compost toilets that did not waste or pollute water, and produced useful manure for the fields.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

The Initiative has been sustained by strong business linkages between tour operators, SLC-IT and 3 local tour operators from Leh (Overland Escape, Snow Leopard Trails and Maitreya Tours). The homestays do not rely on external funding, except in the form of support for quality control and monitoring.

The initial 6 years required small amounts of consistent support through seed funding from The Mountain Institute and SLC-USA, along with grants under the four-year UNESCO program “Ecotourism in the Mountains of Central and South Asia,” which provided the program with average support of $10,000- $15,000 annually for a period of 5 years. The Grant supported eight months salary of two staff members, including training consultancy. It also supported the overall planning and management of Homestays in 15+ villages located in four different regions.

The program is expanding in 2009 into the remote region of Zanskar’s Lungnak Valley with support from Ford Foundation under its Winrock Small Grants Programme

Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? Is there a potential demand for your innovation?

It took us 6 years to make the program largely financially and organizationally sustainable. The success of the initiative has been strong partnerships between private enterpreneurs, local communities and SLC-IT. Today the program generates an average income of US $300+ in two regions of Ladakh (running for 5 years) and $150 in the newer sites of Zanskar and Spiti. With over 500 bed nights in 60 plus families generating approximately $10,250 from Homestays alone and additional $2000 from support services such as Nature Guiding, Handicrafts, Parachute Cafes, the program stands as a viable and growing business for the rural communities.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

Barriers and Challenges faced are:
• Maintaining consistency in standards amongst Homestays scattered across remote villages and hamlets in 15+ villages.
• Getting enough visitors to travel to far and distant locations such as Zanskar.
• Competition by other agencies that confuse visitors with a similar product but without applying the principles of ecotourism, and competition from other sources of accommodation like guest houses and tented accommodation that do not benefit locals.
• Top-down planning and interventions from government agencies which do not emphasize local participation or cost-sharing
• Finding reliable and committed partners for replication willing to commit to long-term investment (minimum of 5-8 years).
• Potential vulnerability to downturns in international and domestic tourism visitation levels and spending

What is your plan to expand or further develop your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

Until now, we have conducted training on Community Based Tourism and its application for organizations like WWF-Leh, Ladakh Ecological Development Group, MUSE (Himachal Pradesh state) to replicate the Himalayan Homestay model in different regions. We plan to continue building partnerships with NGOs, government agencies and private entrepreneurs for expansion to new areas. Furthermore, we would like to influence government policies targeting development of rural based ecotourism opportunities and help build governance capacity through trainings. Currently we are expanding to remote Zanskar region under our Ford/Winrock India grant, but this model could be further spread through workshops and awards like Geotourism

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell the Changemakers and media communities what prompted you to start this initiative.

The endangered snow leopard has been threatened across its home ranges which spread across the mountains of Central and South Asia. And while it has been hunted for its pelt and body parts, one common and emerging threat seen in the Himalayas has been retaliatory killing by the pastoral communities who would lose their livestock to these despised cats.

A livestock depredation survey conducted during 1999 in Ladakh’s proposed Hemis High Altitude National Park revealed that villagers of the region lost 12.4% of their livestock to predators, resulting in an average annual loss of US$23,250. Retributive killings of snow leopards were largely fuelled by multiple killings of livestock within corrals. Thus, curtailing these multiple killings by snow leopards within enclosures became my main motive and thus together with Dr.Rodney Jackson, I founded the Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust.

Our Team began by encouraging locals to participate in planning and to find solutions, thus drawing on traditional knowledge regarding livestock movements, depredation hotspots and finding cost effective solutions for predator proofing corrals. In the years that followed, predator proofing measures resulted in reduction of livestock losses within corrals. However, herders continued to suffer losses when livestock were free ranging, and hence snow leopards continued to be seen as a pest. It thus became imperative to find real incentives for conservation that would transform local mindsets towards this elusive and endangered cat. A series of brainstorming sessions with villagers led to tourism as a viable option for alternative livelihoods. Using a highly participatory method of Appreciative Participatory Planning and Action (APPA), that works on appreciative enquiry of building on strengths, villagers decided on Homestays as their venture that would help by “providing a service that would maintain and share a traditional way of life and its values, provide traditional food, be based on eco-friendly concepts and require small amounts of investment for renovation.” Initial technical support was provided by The Mountain Institute (Nandita Jain, Renzino Lepcha) and field support by Rodney Jackson, Jigmet Dadul and Tashi Tundup of Snow Leopard Conservancy. We also benefited through village-to-village exchange tours, enabled under our grants from UNESCO and SLC-USA.

From 17 visitors hosted by four families in Rumbak in the initial year, the figures rose to over 500 bed nights hosted by over 100 families spread across 20 villages by the year 2007. All the villages chosen for the Homestay programme are located in or close to prime snow leopard habitats of the Hemis National Park, Sham, Zanskar and Spiti. With an annual average earning of over $300 per family, it provided incentives for people to create livestock-free grazing reserves for wild prey such as blue sheep and the threatened Tibetan Argali. In a span of six years, Himalayan Homestays have transformed attitudes towards the snow leopard from that of a pest to an invaluable tourism asset worth more alive than dead. The number of snow leopard sightings has increased concurrently, with prey populations remaining stable or increasing.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers' marketing material.

Rinchen Wangchuk is Program Director and Co-Founder of SLC-India Trust. He has conducted trainings on community based tourism for Non Governmental Organisations and Nature Guide trainings for local youth, in order to enhance their income generation skills in activities closely linked with the conservation of snow leopards. Rinchen is responsible for the development of the Ladakh Himalayan Homestay program. A mountaineer turned conservationist, Rinchen has been responsible for the expansion of the programme with a multifaceted approach of livestock management, livelihoods enhancement, and promoting awareness through the environmental education programme in one of worlds most remote and highest ecosystems.

Describe some unique tourist experiences that your approach provides. Be specific; give illustrative examples.

Visitors who come to Himalayan Homestays have the unique lifetime opportunity to experience life in a Ladakhi village. This includes learning about Ladakh’s natural environment and how people have developed ways of thriving in this often harsh high desert environment. For example, visitors experience how agriculture is conducted in Ladakh and have a chance to participate in daily agricultural activities. They also experience firsthand how traditional architecture interacts with local environment, culture, and religion. Cultural exchange and interaction is one of the most important and memorable experiences that visitors in the homestays have, and often these relationships continue long after the homestay visit is over.

The lines below capture some of the feedback picked up randomly from different Homestays sites;
Two rich days full of life itself showing up through the warm welcome by the family. The peace of nature and the beauty of pureness and simplicity is everything here.-Werner Hoelling; Germany

Years after years. This homestay is still very friendly and so amazing experience.-Dominique/France.

Good food and interesting introduction to Ladakhi village life. Thank you Padma and don’t worry about your English. Just keep Practicing.- Marcia & Dave Reck/USA

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

The success of Ladakh Homestays has been due to the active involvement of the local communities throughout the life of the project including strong partnerships engaging NGO’s, rural communities and private entrepreneurs. This has built a sense of ownership amongst the key partners and has made the project sustainable. Sharing of Good Practices with tourism development agencies and organizations can be a very effective way of spreading our approach to others who may face similar natural resource conservation and livelihoods challenges, and expand the concept of sustainable tourism to the mainstream