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Alfred Ford romances the Himalayas

June 16, 2006 15:05 IST

When the name Ford is associated with a project, it is bound to be big. And the Himlayan Ski Village - a dream of Alfred Ford, the great grand son of the legendary Henry Ford - is a big project, aimed at developing ski-slopes and other premium facilities in the Himalayan region. His dream is set to be realised in the next three the winter of 2009.

The HSV project has crossed many speed-breakers in the last couple of years, the last being the opposition of the local deities in the Kullu-Manali region, who, some said, were against the building of the resort.

"We have obtained blessings from all the temples in the area recently, including Hadimba," informs John Sims, managing director of HSV.

And the promoters are being ultra-sensitive about that. "Being foreigners, we are more concerned about sacred places in the valley," says Sims.

Alfred Ford, a key investor in the HSV project spread over 100 acres, signed the agreement with the Himachal Pradesh government late last year.

Construction on the $350 million first phase will start next year after all the environmental and social concerns of the ski-village have been addressed.

The idea is to develop a small hill station, which will provide traditional summer recreation as well as winter sports options.

An 8-kilometre long ropeway will also be developed which the guests can use to go up to view the mountains from a high peak as well as to ski down. A 15,000-20,000 sq ft convention centre will also be set up along with a performing artS centre for classical and other popular arts.

Three hotels with a total 700 rooms, as well as villas and apartments, are also in the plan. Several international hotel chains including Hyatt International, Mandarin, Oriental and  InterContinental are said to be interested in participating in the project.

"We do not intend to build hotels that will be competing with the present hotels in the valley. Our hotels are extremely up market and they will not appeal to everybody. In fact, only 20 per cent of the people who come here to ski will stay in our hotels," says Sims, adding that "this puts the local operators at a price advantage to us, and we are happy to share the prosperity.

"We are also passionately green," says Sims. HSV has hired the Indian Institute of Forest Management to do an environmental audit, calculate the present circumstances and evaluate whether the design has any negative impact on the environment around the resort.

They have also volunteered for an environmental audit and monitoring every few years. TATA Energy Research Institute is their consultant for environmental issues within the resort premises (sewage treatment, best practices etc). At the moment, informed Sims, 20 scientists from TERI and IIFM are working on the project.

The company also has a sustainable practices department headed by Dr Henley from Kings College, London. The department works out how to interface with the locals, how the project will benefit them, and how tourism will empower them.

Sims proudly says that they are "obsessed with the idea of delivering the true promise of tourism (that tourism can get prosperity to rural areas)".

Brigadier Pathak (retd), who is a Himachali, has been hired to build capacity of youth in the region. All of this means that once the project is complete, the target clientele will be green-conscious visitors interested in lending a helping hand to the local community.

HSV has engaged INTACH for a study on the local architecture in the region which will be used as a guide by HSV architects. The feasibility study for the complete project has been done by global hotel consultancy HVS International, which analysed the payback model and time.

Additional investment in the Alfred Ford-promoted project will come in depending on the improvement in air connectivity to the region.
Ravi Teja Sharma