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Astrostays in the Himalayas

astrostays-1-600 Himalayan Astrostays!

Leh-Ladakh is the Himalayan region in the extreme north of India, an area blessed with tremendously beautiful landscapes and clear sky. Seeing the Milky Way with naked eyes is not a big deal here. But in the Spring of 2019, things came together to turn this into a unique attraction of the tourism industry. 

A lot has been said and written about things to do in Ladakh. Most of them, however, promote only a few places. The reasons behind 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 such destination 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.

In the first week of June, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and Global Himalayan Expedition collaborated to create one unique model of tourism. The model is a classic example of community-tourism where knowledge and skills are provided to generate livelihood out of the available resources and potential of the destination. The high altitude and dry climate of Ladakh result in wonderful night skies where you can identify numerous stellar objects. This makes it a region perfect for astronomy. Global Himalayan Expedition and Mountain Homestays identified this clear night sky as a resource available to the locals that has a huge potential for creating opportunities for livelihood. 

On the 2nd of May 2019, 3 scientists from Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru flew to Leh to conduct an astronomy workshop. 35 attendees from Leh and surrounding villages participated in this 3 days workshop. They were taught about how to operate telescopes and many constellations in the sky. Post this event, one telescope was installed in the Maan village that is at a distance of around 70 km from Leh. This village is situated 8-10 km from the world-famous Pangong Lake. The village communities have shown a lot of enthusiasm for this new development and have already started attracting tourists with their knowledge of the stellar objects and constellations. The local folklore about the stars and planets play an important part in the traveller experience.

Mountain Homestays, a community empowerment initiative that focuses on developing homestays, has created Astrostays in various villages of Ladakh by installing high-end sophisticated telescopes. The local women running these homestays are not just trained in hospitality but also in operating the telescopes and reading the night sky. The villagers are hospitable and warm in the approach towards outsiders. One can live an authentic nomadic life by staying here.
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