For the love of the planet
Travel hero Mandip Singh Soin
As more and more voices are shouting that travel is bad for the environment. We believe that travel done right can be a tool in conserving this beautiful rock we live on. We’d like to shed a light on travelers who have been giving everything to preserve the planet. In this edition Mandip Singh Soin, explorer, environmentalist and a badass modest mountaineer.
When I met Mandip on a bus in Salta, on our way to raft the Juramento river, we hit it off straight away. An incredible nice man, full of puns and easily recognized by his colorful turbans. Little did I know that I was having a laugh, and later on that day an awesome adventure on the wild Juramento (for those who raft: a number 5), with a pretty remarkable person. But I would soon find out.
Over the last four decades Mandip Singh Soin, an Indian Sikh, has climbed, trekked, skied, skydived and indulged in a diverse number of adventures in India and across the seven continents. “My journey began early,” he recollects. “I was 15, and climbed in the Himalaya. I was overwhelmed and instantly smitten by adventure and the great outdoors.” Mandip took on “the road less travelled.” With a Masters in History from St. Stephens’ College, Delhi University, he turned his passion into a career.
Ibex Expeditions was born in 1979, a pioneering and bespoke adventure, safari and luxury travel company, recipient of several national and international awards. And yes, this year it celebrates its 40th anniversary.
Life’s adventures drew him closer to saving the environment for future generations and his attention turned to making a difference.
Mandip is the only Indian to have received the NESS Award by the Royal Geographical Society, UK. He is the recipient of the Tenzing Norgay Adventure Award for Lifetime Achievement by the President of India. He is also the Founder President of the Ecotourism Society of India, and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, UK and the Explorers Club, USA. Which means he means something in his field. Big time.
In 2015, the Citation of Merit was awarded to Mandip for his outstanding work in mountaineering, notably for an unmatched spirit of adventure and exploration spanning six continents. He joined the ranks of past awardees that include Jeff Bezos, John Hemming, Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Lord Robert S.T. Chorley, Nigel N. Winser, Naomi Uemura, Robert D. Ballard among others.
We were able to ask him some questions about his thoughts on how travel can do good to the world and how it can help conserve our beautiful planet.
Mandip, why do you travel?
““To be able to see the amazing and differing landscapes, the mindboggling architectural styles and fantastic species along with the nice quirks and eccentricities of peoples and cultures all around the world. It makes this planet a very interesting place to travel through.”
What has it brought you?
“A greater understanding of human beings and myself and also on how the planet ticks.”
How did travelling define you as a person?
“I think it always allowed me to embark on two journeys the Inner and the Outer journey. Basically, it opened a lot many more windows in the mind: learning to be empathetic and at the same time trying to do my bit to contribute to the global good consciousness.”
Is there a ‘good’ way to travel and a ‘bad’ way of travel in your opinion?
“The good way would be to do it sensitively, being understanding about cultures and peoples where one is visiting. But also, to try and support the usage of responsible tourism stakeholders in the supply chain: which you can do by choosing sustainable minded hotels, lodges and tour operating companies, which also respect the local people. I would suggest also to try and donate a small bit within the country to support either wildlife foundations, like WWF or local NGO’s for either environment, cultures or education. The causes to support are many and every drop does count. Bad tourism is doing none of the above and only going in for the cheapest, not worrying about any tourism impacts. Especially where the tourism spots are overrun with what is now known as over tourism. Bad tourism is really not caring a toss about how light a travelers footprint may be.”
You have done a lot of good in order to preserve the environment. Can you elaborate?
“Well, first we (Ibex Expeditions – MB) did a lot of good practices just ourselves. To feel good and take care of the environment – for example – we haven’t done any camp fires on our Himalayan trips as the firewood is primarily meant for the local communities. Later we got to understand the impact of carbon and so on and we started using alternatives like solar cookers for food, and solar showers and lanterns were used, reducing our impact.
To make sure that the idea was scaled up, we then made recommendations in policy for Tour Operators to maintain a minimal yardstick of best practices. Now, at a National level, we do it through our non-profit National body for responsible tourism – called the Ecotourism Society of India.”
How can (adventure) travel help preserve and conserve our planet?
“Adventure travel is the arrow head if all of tourism is the arrow. It tends to be going to areas where normal tourism fears to tread. In doing so, it allows for the benefits of job creation, emoluments and exchange of knowledge to take place and more often than not, adventure travel is in the forefront of conservation and preservation initiatives. Because it will not allow the very playground it uses, to be sullied.
There is a caveat though, that if done irresponsibly, it can have an equally negative impact. So, we need to keep making wise decisions.”
What would your advice be to people who are concerned with their travelling?
“Be a little more conscious about where you travel, with what travel agency you travel and how your trip lays out its overall sustainability bits in its choice of lodging, any carbon offsetting for flights built in etcetera, etcetera. Also check on NGO’s that are likely to benefit through one’s presence or seek out the good ones in country and donate. Travel can be a powerful tool to conserve this planet, but it’s your choices which make the difference in the end.”
Watch the video below, in which Mandip tells about his expeditions:
With Mandip to the heart of India
There is probably no better way to discover India than with Mandip Singh Soin. For the 40th anniversary of their company Mandip and his wife Anita will lead a special journey to the heart of India. They will recreate the old explorer world of a walking safari in the footsteps of Captain James Forsyth, an explorer who served in the Indian Army in the late 19th century. The journey will take place in the forests of Satpura in the state of Madhya Pradesh. And you can join. You will stay in deluxe camps (glamping) and old-world charming lodges and immerse yourself in art, beauty, forests, wildlife and recipes from the Nawab family kitchens. Satpura Under Canvas is a unique mobile camping and gentle walking experience through the Satpura Tiger Reserve. You’ll also visit Bhopal, Mandu, Maheshwar where you will enjoy a royal retreat at the luxury Relaix & Chateau Ahilya Fort, the private palace of the erstwhile Holkar dynasty.