How Isabelle & Karan Modi built Flame of the Forest Safari Lodge an exquisite experience of the wilderness
#glamping - Kuthwahi Village, Kanha National Park - Madhya Pradesh
YC - Tell us about your background - educational, personal & professional? Would also love to hear about your family?
Karan - I was born and raised in Mumbai and have been a sports person playing badminton for a good few years professionally. That was until I found my love for the outdoors and exploring new places of wildernesses, destinations, cultures, cuisines and activities. Did my Mountaineering course in the Himalayas with (NIM, Uttarkashi) and then never looked back to life in the city honestly.
I knew I had found my calling to be in the outdoors and started looking for opportunities to work in these divine wildernesses across the country.
In times of breaks from the outdoors, I got introduced to Yoga through my mother who has been a teacher for over 35 years and also translates scriptures now and does various therapies, talks or discussions to the ones interested and keen to learn and explore.
At the Yoga Institute, is where I met my wife Isabelle who is also a Yoga teacher, Pranic healer and does various alternative therapies for helping people. She is swiss and has been a Nurse on a cancer unit there for over 15 years before coming to India. And my father is retired and leads a simple life in Bombay.
YC - What motivated you to start? Was there any turning point or incident in your life which led to your journey as an entrepreneur?
Karan - Having worked a few years in the mountains and the outskirts of Bombay I surely knew I'm not doing a corporate job etc. However in these times it was not easy to sustain as a mountain guide, so I was looking for other sustainable options and this is how I reached Ranthambore. I learnt the ways of the wild here with guide drivers and fellow naturalists, sometimes even being taught bird names or tree names wrongly, almost deliberately, but that was luckily corrected by others I met and discussed with.
Here is when I knew this is a great lifestyle in the outdoors, sadly the remuneration was really bad and hence thought one day to have my own Safari Lodge.
YC - Starting something unique or creating a niche is always challenging, what challenges did you face in your early days?
Karan - Oh, challenges were everything you can think of and more honestly. It was against all possible odds that we managed to get "Flame of the Forest Safari Lodge in Kanha" up and running. We had literally no money whatsoever, with only the vision to do something here and heaps of faith and attitude to never shy away from hard work.
Coming from a fairly conservative background of Marwari and having a Swiss wife and not knowing any construction tips, here we were in the middle of the Central Indian Jungles of Kanha wanting to build our dream safari lodge. But only when we started working this step by step we realized the power of "faith" & "handwork" and that this can make miracles come true.
YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how typically you spend your day in the office?
Karan - Haha, we typically have no office as such. The wilderness is our office. I usually manage the guests’ expectations and ensure things are going fine for them, look into marketing with my wife and a team of naturalists and do the accounts & reservations for the lodge. The Chef & the managers and the lodge team are luckily with us from the days of construction and they are superb and manage things of other operations very well indeed. So lucky to have them as else this would not be all possible.
YC - How do you manage expenses, typically what percentage do you allocate for marketing & sales, day to day operations and property renovations and enhancements?
Karan - A huge percentage goes into Lodge maintenance and marketing as honestly, these safari lodges are lifestyle investments more than investments for returns on capital. We are glad and fortunate to be able to give back little also to the indigenous communities and my wife in fact has started a social enterprise called www.hathi.ch which is mainly to help create women livelihoods and offer them menstrual hygiene solutions etc.
YC - Our readers would love to know the best time during the year to visit your homestay and why?
Karan - The best time to visit is when you have time. Nov to March is a very nice time entering into winters and getting chilly cold winters in Dec & Jan. April to June if warm to hot summer months but also great for animals to bee seen at watering holes. July/ Aug & Sept the parks closed due to heavy monsoons.
YC - A memorable trip is a combination of a great stay + lip-smacking food and unique experiences - what are the unique experiences around your area which travellers must explore?
Karan - Besides the Jungle safaris:
One must surely try and do some good walks with our team on understanding rural lifestyles, trees, butterflies and insects - https://flameoftheforest.in/en/activities/walks/
Yoga lessons - Practicing Yoga, Meditation and Pranayama in the heart of India, surrounded by Nature is one of the best ways to Detox, De-stress, Nourish and Rejuvenate.
Also to do walks in silence is something which is a very transforming experience as the energies felt in nature are very pure and immense.
Visit at the local market - Every Wednesday, the villagers walk, cycle or drive to Mocha, where the weekly local market is set up.
YC - What according to you is the USP of your boutique homestay, for which your customers come back to you?
Karan - USP is that most people come as guests and go home as friends of the lodge (our Tripadvisor reviews) The fact we are small with just 4 luxury cottages by the riverside makes the experience personalized and intimate to most and they love it. Customization and personalization of even the safari experience is something that everyone in today’s times enjoys immensely. To of course track and see tigers but also to try and understand the ecosystem and its fascinating ways to work is a wonder which makes everyone very happy over the few days to get glimpses off.
YC - Do you use social media platforms (like Instagram, Facebook etc) to promote your boutique homestay? Which channels have been very effective for your business?
Karan - We do have social media presence on Facebook and Instagram but the most effective has been luckily word of mouth, and as you would agree nothing is better than that. Yes, we do use social media but more as a sharing tool than a marketing tool. Tour operators have been hugely helpful over the years in promoting our lodge to the rightful guests. OTA's we think are not apt for Safari Holidays. They work best in places where it’s stay and meals great.
YC - Industry experts these days are talking a lot about sustainable and regenerative travel, what are your views on it and how are you contributing to the same?
Karan - We do various efforts on sustainable operations and responsible and conscious living and giving back to the communities. As mentioned earlier briefly we are involved with villagers, forest guards, forest dept. and various NGOs to help and explore better sustainable ways continuously and endlessly. This lovely lifestyle comes with a responsibility and we love to embrace this responsibility as it not only helps the environment and the people but even us as humans to learn n grow.
YC - COVID 19 has immensely affected the tourism sector, how are you coping with it and what would you suggest to your fellow boutique homestay owners?
Karan - Covid has made us learn and amend our ways even more for better, more conscious and responsible tourism operations. It’s a financial disaster but the team has been supporting us and we have managed so far and hope to keep afloat and see better days with you all soon.
The only thing we can request is to show consideration to the team who made you what you are today, and do not have them jobless as that would mean huge problems for them. Try and reduce or rotate staff members to ensure all can sustain somehow. Give medical or provisional support if not monthly remunerations possible at least for their families. Stand with them and surely some solutions will be available.
YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
Be passionate and honest to the work and your sincere hard work will always eventually make is successful
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