Discovering Travel Tidbits with 'The Doi Host'

This photographer and writer duo have been exploring the unimaginable and the most magical parts of the hills. Disha and Sambit, the founders of 'The Doi Host' have led many wondrous trips in the hill states of the country, that leaves the travellers gasping for more. With a zero-waste policy, 'The Doi Host' is a classic example of how to travel responsibly. Inspired by their unique travel style in the Himalayas, we, recently had a fun interview with the hosts where they revealed their best travel experiences, details about their travel essentials and a lot more. 

1. Tell us more about yourself. What did you two do before starting organising trips to the Himalayas?

We are Disha and Sambit and we have been travelling together as The Doi Host crew for the past two and a half years. Sambit has always worked as a freelance photographer and videographer and I have worked as a travel writer for almost four years now. The Doi Host is our passion project together. It is our honest attempt to introduce people to the culture and lifestyle of people living in the mountains which has fascinated us for years.

Before starting the Doi Host Sambit and I had signed up for jobs that provided us with ample outdoor experience. He worked as a documentary filmmaker in the remotest of locations and I worked as a travel writer for Tripoto. Through our professions, even before we collaborated together for The Doi Host, we have always tried to align our lifestyle in a way that we are closer to nature and away from the city. 

2. How did The Doi Host come into existence?

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As a travel writer, I had often been to amazing places and met people who became my window to a totally different world. Sambit has always been keen to make these places a subject of his photography. We then decided to collaborate together and find a way to curate these experiences for people. Now we travel along with a group of 7-10 guests and explore a particular destination in the best way possible. We started operations in Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand in August 2017. Since then we have been exploring new places and introducing them to our guests and curate an experience in a way that they go back with a better understanding of the place and the people living there.

Mountains are a great source of motivation for us and starting The Doi Host was also a step towards aligning our lifestyle closer to nature. We have tried to live in a way that we explore more. We are also soon going to open the doors to our first homestay for guests in Uttarakhand. 

3. Long trips tend to create a lot of waste as you are on the road for long and yet you have maintained strict zero-waste policy during your trips. How do you achieve it?

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Our Zero waste policy is the first thing that we tell our guest when they sign up with us. We have always started our journey with a long introduction to the ways in which mindless tourism is making living conditions worse in these remote destinations. We adhere to a strict Zero waste policy. Recently we also collaborated with Durga Swayam Sahayata Samooh to source garbage bags and distribute it among our guests and others we meet. We have banned plastic bottles on our trips.

It is essential that people get informed that they can’t travel to these eco-sensitive zones with their city habits. These people in these places have sustained themselves by living mindfully and we shouldn’t disrupt it. 

4. How frequently do you host road trips? What inspired you for group travel?

We host 12-15 road trips in a year. Quite naturally we meet a lot of people every month who join us on trips from different parts of the world. This is the best part of our job as hosts. The varied kinds of people we have met and made friends with has always inspired us to keep on doing what we’re doing.

Another inspiration for us is also the people we have met in the mountains. We have loved how self-sustaining their lifestyle is and we always aspire toward it. These trips give us a chance to introduce our guests to these friends we have in the hills.

5. Do you remember the exact moment or experience, after which you decided to switch to sustainable travelling?

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I have lived in the hill town of Nainital for the formative years of my life and have seen a small town slowly getting engulfed by mindless construction and unchecked tourism activities. Having seen its effects first hand, keeping nature at the forefront of what we do is always a priority. Often while travelling also it broke our heart to see a place lose its charm due to mindless tourism activities.

I remember being so underwhelmed looking at the illegal shacks at Pangong Tso a couple of years ago. Our travel experiences have also shaped our worldview and we believe that sustainability is the way forward. Sambit has previously worked on making documentaries about sustainability, farming, and recycling.

6. Can you tell us one destination in India that was A. Most Fun B. Most Challenging C. Most Inspiring?

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Last year we decided to travel to West Sikkim and explore the little villages in that region during winters. We spent so much time exploring places like Yuksom and Khecheopalri. We hiked to the oldest monastery of Sikkim, Dubri Monastery. We stayed at a homestay in Khecheopalri and made woodfire oven pizza with our host, Latup. It was clearly the most fun we have had.

The most challenging thing has to be our trip to Spiti in winter. It is a 7 nights 8-day long trip that we conduct once a year and we take people to the remote village of Kibber in the peak winter season. The temperature demands endurance and the trip also rewards you with sightings of blue sheep, Ibex and sometimes a snow leopard too.

Nothing can inspire you quite like Kashmir does. We travelled to the heart of North Kashmir, Gurez Valley. This place was so different from famous tourist destinations like Sonmarg and Gulmarg. The people in their small little ways are trying to promote tourism in this place that completely deserves it. The hospitality of the people here left us completely speechless and extremely humbled. The mighty mountain, Habba Khatoon in Gurez, is the most beautiful mountain we have ever seen. 

7. Your winter trips to Spiti chases wildlife like red fox and snow leopards. Any interesting stories upon sighting either of these animals?

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On our trip to Spiti last year we were rewarded with a snow leopard sighting for which we consider ourselves extremely lucky. We reached Kibber late in the afternoon and on the way there we saw a pair of red foxes waiting for us near the last milestone before Kee Village. That was definitely a good omen for us. After keeping our bags and having a cup of tea at our homestay we went out just for an acclimatization walk when we saw two trackers and a photographer heading uphill. They told us that they had received information that a snow leopard was seen at a location 5 kms from Kibber. We walked along and on the first day before the sun had set we had already seen the elusive ghost cat, the snow leopard, for which people sometimes have to camp in temperatures close to -30 for 10-15 days. Spiti in winter is like a treasure chest for anyone who wants to see wildlife in these testing conditions.

8. Any suggestions for first-time travellers to the hills? Things that they should keep in mind.

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I like the way the trend in travel is now leaning towards exploring rather than destination hopping. For first time travellers to the hills, I would really encourage them to spend as much time as they can in the outdoors. Go out, push your physical limits, meet more people. Do not spend a holiday inside a hotel room. Step outdoors, meet new people. Do not try to patronize people from the villages mindlessly. There's always something to learn from people you meet especially from the people who live in remote locations sustainably. It is most important to travel with an open mind.

9. Do you have any tips for first-time trekkers to hill stations? 

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Be prepared and be disciplined outdoors. There are certain rules of trekking in the mountains and you must follow them. Don’t be wasteful. Don’t be a liability to others. Know your physical capability and be honest about it to your fellow trekkers. Work towards a minimal lifestyle while trekking and otherwise. Support local businesses. Be respectful to the people of the places you’re visiting and abide by their rules. 

10. Last but not least, what are some travel essentials you don't go without?

We both have tried to compress our belongings to a 50-litre backpack. Travelling minimally gives us peace of mind. Also, carrying your own water bottle to be refilled goes miles in terms of reducing your carbon footprint.

Here's a link to The Doi Host's Instagram Profile and do visit Website to know more about their travel trips.

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