Untravel Weekends: Apani Dhani Ecolodge

Apani Dhani Ecolodge offers a unique experience of sustainable tourism including eco-friendly accommodation, home-made regional cuisine, and excursions and activities with locals that include cooking lessons, tabla lessons and an initiation to tie and dye!


If you love to travel, but want to avoid being the mainstream tourist who only experiences and appreciates the superficial surface of a destination, Apni Dhani Ecolodge is for you!

Founded by Ramesh C. Jangid, Apni Dhani Ecolodge in Sekhawati, Rajasthan, offers a unique experience of sustainable tourism including eco-friendly accommodation, home-made regional cuisine, and excursions and activities with locals that include cooking lessons, tabla lessons and an initiation to tie and dye!

Visiting the local tourist sites

1. Can you share your story of setting up the resort? What were you doing before this and what was your motivation for starting this venture?

It all began in the 80’s. Having been a gliding instructor previously, setting up an “alternative tourism” project some 25 years ago, as a response to what was happening in Europe and in India, came as a big challenge. I had neither professional experience in this field nor resources.

I was inspired and stirred into this enterprise by a number of factors. The monopoly and unfair distribution of tourism income in our state was certainly the strongest trigger that pushed me to start a different type of tourism in Rajasthan. Tourism income was going to local barons who were the owners of castle/palace hotels, and seemed to consider tourism as their new inheritance. The tourism income was not equitably shared. This meant that tourists were seeing only one facet of our state.

But equally strong was the negative impacts mass tourism was having in our area. A lot of plastic garbage was produced by the travellers. Luxury AC buses and cars were plying through Shekhawati increasing the air pollution in the area. Prices of commodities started rising.

Moreover, most travellers I met in the 80’s – and maybe even now – got a distorted picture of India and its people. They knew only one facet of our country through Western media : poverty, filth, chaos, beggars, and corruption. The real India of villages was not accessible. It goes without saying that I wanted to give a true experience and image of our state to the travellers and break the stereotypical image they may have had from the media in their respective countries. On the other hand I wanted to remove the stereotype about Westerners in Indian minds:  all of them are wealthy, they do not need to work, and that they live in luxury and lust. I just wanted to re-balance the idea and images each had of the other.

This is why I felt compelled to set up a responsible and sustainable tourism spot using participatory tourism (involving local people in its development and management), and putting long term environmental, cultural and social benefits before short term gains.

Consequently, I developed a dream of building a small village where I could implement alternative energy sources and create a model of housing in which one can live in harmony with the environment. Fortunately, in March 1990, I had the opportunity to buy one hectare of land in Nawalgarh, my native town. I traveled extensively in our state to carefully study the details of rural architecture, and then started giving a physical form to my ideas which resulted in Apani-Dhani, the Eco-Lodge you see today.

Wood carving workshop at Apani Dhani

Apani Dhani  Eco-Lodge today:

– It is a family run project and four generations live on the premises.

– We propose eco-friendly accommodation for individuals and small groups. We have 7 bungalows with a maximum capacity of 14 persons at a time.

– We serve home-made regional cuisine (vegetarian). Most of the ingredients come from the two hectares of farming land where we do organic agriculture. We grow cereals, lentils, seasonal vegetables etc…

– Our guests are offered different activities with locals to discover the area and its culture: walks, guided visits, excursions towards the countryside, and workshops on art & handicraft. These activities are designed to bring extra revenues to the local community.

– 5% of turn-over from room rent is invested in local projects in education, environment and local heritage conservation.

2. What are the 5 aspects of responsible travel you have worked on and what did it take to implement them?

Apani Dhani Eco-Lodge fosters a deep respect for the host community, and informs its guests about the environmental and social implications of tourism. We ensure that its activities economically and socially benefit the local community through job opportunities, permanent commercial relations with local small-scale enterprises and families, and financial contributions to social projects in education, environment and heritage conservation.

We aim at minimizing the impact of tourism on natural resources and reduce pollution by ensuring:

  • Eco-friendly housing : Apani Dhani’s bungalows are constructed with local material in rural Rajasthani style

  • Renewable energy sources: Apani Dhani is equipped with photovoltaic solar panels and solar water heating system:

  • Organic agriculture

  • Emphasis on water conservation

  • Waste management: we minimize the amount of waste; we separate waste for recycling; we monitor non-organic waste produced at Apani Dhani.

Apani Dhani promotes local culture through the cuisine served and the art, dance and music at the lodge.

Tie & dye with guests

Apani Dhani Eco-lodge  is the head office  of the INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage) Shekhawati Chapter. We coordinate many of its  financial actions and provide infrastructure for the activities.

We have gone through a difficult path to achieve what Apani Dhani is today. For a long period, it was like swimming against a current and survival was regularly at stake, but my ideal of responsible tourism made me strive.

3. What has been the impact of your venture – on the local people, environment, the place itself, traveller sensitization, etc?

Local community :

-Every year, employment is generated through workshops with artisans, guided visits and excursions, renting of transport etc. For the yearly maintenance and farm work, we engage labour from the local community on daily basis.

-Whenever possible, we provide free training for the locals.

– Apani Dhani invests 5% of the room rent in local projects in education , in education, environment and heritage conseration

Environment:

-Today, all the electricity for lights, fans and computers is produced through numerous solar panels. The grid electricity is only used for irrigation pumps, the fridge, and washing machines.

-We place emphasis on water conservation : rain water is harvested and used for agriculture; we promote the traditional Indian way of bathing which requires 2 to 3 times less water than running shower;  most of our toilets are low water consumption; single-use leaf plates are used to serve the meals.

-We ensure that only 7 to 10 kg of non-organic waste is produced monthly for about 150 guests and 10 family members. We are mostly self sufficient in terms of grains, pulses and vegetables.

Guests learning in depth about the local cuisine at Apani Dhani

4. Can you share some experiences/anecdotes from travellers who have visited?

From the moment we walked into the lovely courtyard of
 Apani Dhani, I was glad we came.
This little jewel is a unique mixture of a family-run,
small business, and progressive
 environmentally-friendly practices. Ramesh, the
 proprietor, is ready with information about how to dig 
beneath the local culture and see more than the usual
tourist sights. Great home-made veggie food, a truly
 serene vibe, and our room was by far the most beautiful
-and typical- of any we’ve seen in India. 
Don’t miss this place if you’re in the Shekhawati
area.
 Doug Baker-Puttini 
Cambridge, Mass., USA

What wonderful peaceful surroundings!
 The friendly family atmosphere here at the Jangid’s
 was marvelous. Our intention was to stay a night and
 move on to other small Shekhawati towns but we instead 
used Nawalgarh as our base, as our home, and explored 
the tranquil countryside from here.
Thank you so much for the special memories you have 
helped us to create.
Shekhawati is definitely a jewel in Rajathan and I
 really felt I’d stepped off the tourist bandwagon and
 stepped into real Indian villages. Heather Kirkby – Canada

My family (two adults and six-year-old child) stayed at Apani Dhani for three nights in early January. It was our last stop on a two week trip in Rajasthan. We enjoyed the entire holiday, and our stay at Apani Dhani was one of the highlights. The staff was very friendly, knowledgeable, and accommodating to our schedule. The vegetarian meals were well prepared and very fresh. We took advantage of nearly all of the activities (cooking, tie and dye, bangle-making, camel cart), which we enjoyed (especially our daughter), and the Haveli tour we took with one of the staff members was very interesting. I would highly recommend Apani Dhani for families. M. C. Sri Lanka

6. What do you see as the future of responsible travel and sustainable tourism in India?

Sustainable tourism has great potential in India. It can contribute to the empowerment of local ordinary people. It can improve their living standard, provided they remember that income is fluctuant. They need to keep it as an extra source of revenue and not as a mono activity. It can help to preserve the local culture of the host country too.

Glass bangle workshop at Apani Dhani

Stalwart people who are sincerely dedicated to the ethos of sustainable tourism should come forward. One must understand the needs of tourism, but also be strong enough to maintain authenticity, traditions, and way of living, even against the lure of money.

Untravel Weekends is a feature series on resorts, homestays and guesthouses that are built and run on the foundations of responsible travel by means of nature conservation, using alternative energy, reducing waste, recycling, rain water harvesting, organic farming, sourcing and feeding into the local economy or promoting indigenous cultures.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created--created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created--created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. more

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