In the Spotlight - Panki Sood, a Great Ecotourism advocate and inspiration for many Travelers

2. How did you get into tourism related activities and what was your vision when you started ?    As mentioned earlier, being with Nature has always been my passion and after joining Sunshine Adventures I realized how we could realize our vision to make a difference to lives of locals through ecotourism opportunities. We have worked in locations as remote as Leh or Spiti way back in 1996 to Tholung in Sikkim and Tirthan Valley, Kullu. Each of these places aren't the run of the mill tourist destinations. Each one is an unexplored paradise in itself.The fact that Sunshine Adventures is able to help the locals earn a sustainable livelihood without losing focus on environment conservation supported by active community participation and responsible tourism, makes this career all the more fulfilling.

1. About you: Tell us about the place, where you were born; your education, and what you do?  

 Being born in the lap of Nature - Kullu, the Valley of Gods, whatever I am today comes more from  learning life lessons from my favourite teachers - the rising mountains, the towering trees, the sprightly rivers than than from the lessons learnt through the traditional education system . I am an undergraduate in Arts from Chandigarh, but my love for Nature led me to participate in 32 NCC Camps. Since 15 years I am a part of Sunshine Adventures - An Ecotourism Company started by my brother Ankit Sood. I feel fortunate to be in a career that gives me ample opportunities to put the learning I value the most into action.

1. About you: Tell us about the place, where you were born; your education, and what you do?       Being born in the lap of Nature - Kullu, the Valley of Gods, whatever I am today comes more from  learning life lessons from my favourite teachers - the rising mountains, the towering trees, the sprightly rivers than than from the lessons learnt through the traditional education system . I am an undergraduate in Arts from Chandigarh, but my love for Nature led me to participate in 32 NCC Camps. Since 15 years I am a part of Sunshine Adventures - An Ecotourism Company started by my brother Ankit Sood. I feel fortunate to be in a career that gives me ample opportunities to put the learning I value the most into action.

2. How did you get into tourism related activities and what was your vision when you started ?

As mentioned earlier, being with Nature has always been my passion and after joining Sunshine Adventures I realized how we could realize our vision to make a difference to lives of locals through ecotourism opportunities. We have worked in locations as remote as Leh or Spiti way back in 1996 to Tholung in Sikkim and Tirthan Valley, Kullu. Each of these places aren't the run of the mill tourist destinations. Each one is an unexplored paradise in itself.The fact that Sunshine Adventures is able to help the locals earn a sustainable livelihood without losing focus on environment conservation supported by active community participation and responsible tourism, makes this career all the more fulfilling.

3. What is your mantra to ecotourism & what would you like others to follow?    Ecotourism is perhaps the most over used word in the travel industry. A trek in the Himalayas is not ecotourism unless it supports conservation of the environment or welfare of the locals of that region.    I personally believe that tourism that helps in strengthening the fragile ecosystem rather than weakening it, adds value to the people of that region and helps in preserving the rich culture therein, can be termed as ecotourism in its true sense.    4. Share some examples of healthy or responsible tourism initiatives that you have taken in the past and how others can join you, if possible?    Sunshine Adventures has been working extensively in Tirthan valley , Spiti and Sikkim and in the process supporting and guiding locals in working on sustainable avenues of earning a livelihood using their core traditional skills.      We have been encouraging many locals in Tirthan valley to start homestays and we extend our support to them in understanding the key aspects of running a homestay successfully.     We also train the local youth in Wilderness First Aid .  It gives me a lot of satisfaction for having been  instrumental in taking the first batch of  15 boys from the Valley for a UN certified Disaster Management course .I have also taken Village Kids on awareness tours to Dehradun &  Chandigarh to help them learn and see new things, open up their mindset and gain confidence. Besides we work with local Self help groups and currently I am looking at working out a plan to engage individuals who have undergone drugs rehabilitation in activities wherein they can contribute productively and earn a livelihood.      We would be glad to have volunteers who can contribute in skill development and awareness building initiatives for the locals as well as who can offer their domain expertise in areas right from e-technology  driven website management and content writing to effective waste management at the ground level. We are open to explore new ways to engage people in volunteer programs contributing to healthy and responsible tourism.


3. What is your mantra to ecotourism & what would you like others to follow?

Ecotourism is perhaps the most over used word in the travel industry. A trek in the Himalayas is not ecotourism unless it supports conservation of the environment or welfare of the locals of that region.

I personally believe that tourism that helps in strengthening the fragile ecosystem rather than weakening it, adds value to the people of that region and helps in preserving the rich culture therein, can be termed as ecotourism in its true sense.


4. Share some examples of healthy or responsible tourism initiatives that you have taken in the past and how others can join you, if possible?

Sunshine Adventures has been working extensively in Tirthan valley , Spiti and Sikkim and in the process supporting and guiding locals in working on sustainable avenues of earning a livelihood using their core traditional skills. 

 We have been encouraging many locals in Tirthan valley to start homestays and we extend our support to them in understanding the key aspects of running a homestay successfully. 

We also train the local youth in Wilderness First Aid .  It gives me a lot of satisfaction for having been  instrumental in taking the first batch of  15 boys from the Valley for a UN certified Disaster Management course .I have also taken Village Kids on awareness tours to Dehradun &  Chandigarh to help them learn and see new things, open up their mindset and gain confidence. Besides we work with local Self help groups and currently I am looking at working out a plan to engage individuals who have undergone drugs rehabilitation in activities wherein they can contribute productively and earn a livelihood.  

We would be glad to have volunteers who can contribute in skill development and awareness building initiatives for the locals as well as who can offer their domain expertise in areas right from e-technology  driven website management and content writing to effective waste management at the ground level. We are open to explore new ways to engage people in volunteer programs contributing to healthy and responsible tourism.

5. We know you are also a very good photographer.  Tell us since when you've been taking pictures. When did you start taking photography seriously?     The first time I seriously realized my love for photography was while I was assisting the legendary Dhritiman Mukherjee on one of his photography hikes...... years back. I have learnt a lot about the technical aspects of photography from him.    My cousin Rahul has also played an important role in taking me through the basic lessons of photography.  The kind of person I am, once I find my passion in something I love to delve deeper to learn more and become better at it and the journey of learning for me still continues.


5. We know you are also a very good photographer.  Tell us since when you've been taking pictures. When did you start taking photography seriously? 

The first time I seriously realized my love for photography was while I was assisting the legendary Dhritiman Mukherjee on one of his photography hikes...... years back. I have learnt a lot about the technical aspects of photography from him.

My cousin Rahul has also played an important role in taking me through the basic lessons of photography.

The kind of person I am, once I find my passion in something I love to delve deeper to learn more and become better at it and the journey of learning for me still continues.

6. Can you describe 'The Great Himalayan National Park' for the audience of Travellingcamera?    The Great Himalayan National Park houses the elusive Western Horned Tragopan and the grey ghost of the Himalayas - The Snow Leopard.  I always fall short of words to describe the unparalleled beauty and vastness of the Great Himalayan National Park. I genuinely feel, it needs to be experienced rather than described!     I have personally trekked through each of the four valleys of the National park and have lost  count of the number of times I have wandered through its beautiful forest trails, climbed up its magnificent mountains and sighed with utter awe on coming face to face with the spectacular breathtaking views it has to offer. And every time I take a journey into the depths of the National Park it transports me into a meditative state ( I like to call it walking meditation), engulfing my mind with a sense of  peace and calm. Truly an Inside Out exploration journey - Exploring the beauty on the outside and understanding our true self within.



6. Can you describe 'The Great Himalayan National Park' for the audience of Travellingcamera?

The Great Himalayan National Park houses the elusive Western Horned Tragopan and the grey ghost of the Himalayas - The Snow Leopard.

I always fall short of words to describe the unparalleled beauty and vastness of the Great Himalayan National Park. I genuinely feel, it needs to be experienced rather than described! 

I have personally trekked through each of the four valleys of the National park and have lost  count of the number of times I have wandered through its beautiful forest trails, climbed up its magnificent mountains and sighed with utter awe on coming face to face with the spectacular breathtaking views it has to offer. And every time I take a journey into the depths of the National Park it transports me into a meditative state ( I like to call it walking meditation), engulfing my mind with a sense of  peace and calm. Truly an Inside Out exploration journey - Exploring the beauty on the outside and understanding our true self within.

7. What are your sources of inspirations? Do you have some favorite personalities or mentors? How do you keep yourself motivated?     This is a very difficult question for me to answer as there are so many people in my life who inspire me. To name a few...  My elder brother Ankit & Mr. Sanjeeva Pandey, both inspire me with their unceasing perseverance and commitment towards their vision to contribute to the development of the locals, the society as a whole and conservation of the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas.    Payson R Stevens : The real man behind UNESCO Status for Great Himalayan National Park always inspired to work selflessly for the society . An Artist by nature always gives piece of advise WALK YOUR TALK .     Dr. Jeff Salz, an  anthropologist-adventurer acclaimed by the Discovery Network and History Channel and the first person to introduce me to Narcotics Anonymous during  times when I was into active addiction.    Vince Poscente - A former Olympian with a world record who inspired me and helped me to stick to the right path while I was going through challenging times during my addiction recovery, by sharing ways to focus on my conscious goals, moving out of a mindset shackled by inertia and thus convincing my inner self that my goal was possible.    Apart from them of course how could I forget my wife Sonu for her strong & positive spirit in the face of challenges, Yogender Chaudhry sir  for his drive to work for the upliftment of youth, Manisha Chaudhary for her unconditional efforts and dedication to social causes such as gender equality and sex education in schools.....   Lakshmi - A Vipashna Teacher and Monisha a famous architect.. well the list just goes on and on from Sandeep sir . To sum up,  I feel each individual we come across in our lives has something to inspire us , has something that we can learn from and as a result move ahead in our pursuit to become better & happier human beings.

7. What are your sources of inspirations? Do you have some favorite personalities or mentors? How do you keep yourself motivated? 

This is a very difficult question for me to answer as there are so many people in my life who inspire me. To name a few...
My elder brother Ankit & Mr. Sanjeeva Pandey, both inspire me with their unceasing perseverance and commitment towards their vision to contribute to the development of the locals, the society as a whole and conservation of the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas.

Payson R Stevens : The real man behind UNESCO Status for Great Himalayan National Park always inspired to work selflessly for the society . An Artist by nature always gives piece of advise WALK YOUR TALK .

 Dr. Jeff Salz, an  anthropologist-adventurer acclaimed by the Discovery Network and History Channel and the first person to introduce me to Narcotics Anonymous during  times when I was into active addiction.

Vince Poscente - A former Olympian with a world record who inspired me and helped me to stick to the right path while I was going through challenging times during my addiction recovery, by sharing ways to focus on my conscious goals, moving out of a mindset shackled by inertia and thus convincing my inner self that my goal was possible.

Apart from them of course how could I forget my wife Sonu for her strong & positive spirit in the face of challenges, Yogender Chaudhry sir  for his drive to work for the upliftment of youth, Manisha Chaudhary for her unconditional efforts and dedication to social causes such as gender equality and sex education in schools..... 
Lakshmi - A Vipashna Teacher and Monisha a famous architect.. well the list just goes on and on from Sandeep sir . To sum up,  I feel each individual we come across in our lives has something to inspire us , has something that we can learn from and as a result move ahead in our pursuit to become better & happier human beings.

8. Any interesting experience of your life which you feel changed the way you look at things?      This is an incident that happened long back while I was on a trek with Vince Poscente. All my life I have been on countless adventures, but I would never forget that evening when Vince made me experience the power of "Inventure" a word coined by him meaning an introspection journey through active use of visualization. That experience was magical and it helped me to de-clutter my mind and look into the future, figure out where I wanted to be and what would I need to do to be there. It helped me build a clear picture about  Whats and Hows about the way I wanted to live my life.     Years later, last year we took a group of school students on a trek in GHNP. And at the end of the first day, almost all students had given up and were not feeling confident to climb the next day. That's when I tried taking the students through a similar journey of visualization, making them visualize overcoming all the challenges the next day and experiencing the sense of thrill and accomplishment on reaching the top....and astonishingly, every single student made it to the top the next day. That's when my belief in "Inventure" further strengthened...... it really can change the way you look at things.    Q.9. What piece of advice do you wish to give to people who like to travel, hike and explore different parts of our country ?     Travel always adds value to the traveller....not necessarily in the materialistic sense but in terms of opening up our mindsets to a gamut of thought processes, perspectives and ways of life. And in the process of experiencing the world outside it also gives us an opportunity to delve deeper within and understand our own selves better.


8. Any interesting experience of your life which you feel changed the way you look at things? 

 This is an incident that happened long back while I was on a trek with Vince Poscente. All my life I have been on countless adventures, but I would never forget that evening when Vince made me experience the power of "Inventure" a word coined by him meaning an introspection journey through active use of visualization. That experience was magical and it helped me to de-clutter my mind and look into the future, figure out where I wanted to be and what would I need to do to be there. It helped me build a clear picture about  Whats and Hows about the way I wanted to live my life. 

Years later, last year we took a group of school students on a trek in GHNP. And at the end of the first day, almost all students had given up and were not feeling confident to climb the next day. That's when I tried taking the students through a similar journey of visualization, making them visualize overcoming all the challenges the next day and experiencing the sense of thrill and accomplishment on reaching the top....and astonishingly, every single student made it to the top the next day. That's when my belief in "Inventure" further strengthened...... it really can change the way you look at things.

Q.9. What piece of advice do you wish to give to people who like to travel, hike and explore different parts of our country ? 

Travel always adds value to the traveller....not necessarily in the materialistic sense but in terms of opening up our mindsets to a gamut of thought processes, perspectives and ways of life. And in the process of experiencing the world outside it also gives us an opportunity to delve deeper within and understand our own selves better.

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