How Yaser Shaw built Nadis, A Handcrafted modern Kashmir House
#boutiquehomestay - Harwan Bagh, Srinagar 191121, Jammu and Kashmir. Book On RARE India
YC - Tell us about your background - personal & professional? Would also love to hear about your family?
Yaser - I come from a family whose legacy is rooted in creating Kashmiri art. My family company, Shaw Brothers, is based in Kashmir- we are the fifth generation to create some of the finest, entirely handmade shawls in production today. Shaw Brothers have neither industrialized nor disrupted the traditional lifestyle of the community, preserving this age-old Kashmiri Himalayan art.
Every element of our production is done in the traditional method by hand. The way it has been for generations – the ancestors of many of our weavers and spinners and dyers and embroiderers also wove and spun and dyed and embroidered for my father and grandfather and great-grandfather. The skill is passed from generation to generation with women dyeing and spinning and men weaving and embroidering. So in a sense, our whole identity has for generations been rooted in Kashmir and the beauty of its craft. Its space and place.
Each shawl is a piece of assembled art, different activities happen in different places around the valley and for long it has taken me around – it was only natural that I was to experience the overwhelming fondness and be in awe of the beauty around Kashmir. And it is only natural that I’d want to share it with the world, inviting them to my home the way I know it. In a sense, my travels around Kashmir and familiarity with the offbeat, undiscovered wonders is what sparked the first ideas. It seeded the idea of a welcoming space to explore Kashmir.
YC - What motivated you to become an entrepreneur – especially as a hotelier?
Yaser -When I finally realized that I was going through some life events too fast, I stopped and slowed down to reflect. I began to consider time as a commodity, trying to find answers in myself and my abilities. I wanted something that along with being purpose-driven, was also experience led.
Before Nadis happened, I always imagined having space where family or friends could sit together, talk endlessly and laugh over heaps of delicious food. A meal along with family or friends – that just continues from one to another. The Spanish sobremesa. I imagined a cosy dining room with a living room and kitchen suitable for pleasant conversations and friendly gatherings. Homes are just as many memories and aspirations as walls and wallpaper shades. I wanted a space that would bring this idea of a delightful home to life. This vision is what pushed me to finally take the leap.
It had to be in Kashmir – obviously, given my rootedness. Also, the living area had to be an open airy space full of natural light with a full view of the garden and the nearby hills. Nadis, therefore, is both the product and the background of my life. I hope that the view of the landscape from my garden will remain unchanged for many years to come, even for my children and their children. Great mountains, lush green forest and the sound of a mountain eagle over my roof. When night comes and the world slows down and calms down, only the roar of a nearby river is heard.
YC - Starting something unique or creating a niche is always challenging, what challenges did you face in your early days?
Yaser -I definitely had a lack of experience. Given I was based in a completely different industry, it was natural to be nervous and face multiple challenges, but my vision kept me undeterred. Being a wanderer myself, I knew that after a while guests wanted more from a hotel – an experience not just a stay. A great experience is where a positive emotional feeling has been created between the hotel and the guest. This is often achieved by personalising and de-commoditizing the service that guests receive. So that was clear from the start, but the biggest challenge for me was recruiting new and retaining existing staff, training them to do things the way I wanted and that was not just as employees of a standard hotel. It is a new concept for most, to orchestrate a home in a hotel, to provide warmth, and not just service. In a way that is authentic and not forced. We’re working on it and getting there slowly. I can already observe the change from the time we launched to the present.
Also, trying to keep sustainability in mind, in a culture where that wasn't previously prioritized has been challenging. Kashmir doesn’t have a sense of keeping the environment at the top of priorities and we can see its outcome all around. My priority is surprising for many and for me sticking to it and maintaining it is hard in an environment that doesn’t support it.
YC - As a founder what primary functions are you responsible for, basically how typically you spend your day in the office?
Yaser -Nadis is a smaller operation so basically, I do the majority of the management work. I take care of communication, leadership, creating, evaluating, maintaining and ensuring the standard that I want. Training has also been something I’ve really taken on personally – seeing how difficult it has been so far.
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?
Yaser -Nadis started slowly, the situation in Kashmir and constant uncertainty is hard to workaround. So I made a decision to slowly promote our top-rated room service, great food or amazing garden but also, make it just as important to promote our location. What makes your city or town a desirable place to visit? Future visitors want to know this. So, promoting Kashmir is promoting Nadis. I use Facebook and Instagram, also few others, but so far old-style word-of-mouth communication where a satisfied first-hand guest spreads a positive message further has proven to be the best for now. Of course, the ease of spreading information on the Internet has made everything easier.
YC - What are your views on personally managed travel partners like RARE India and others OTA’s like AirBnB, Makemytrip.com, Booking.com etc?
Yaser - RARE India is a new moment in the whole story. They bring so much positivity, it’s incredible energy with which they approach everything. The very fact that they agreed to help and follow Nadis is a great honour for me. Our visions really align as for them too it isn’t commoditized travel that is important – the experience is at the centre of it all – no two properties are similar. And that is remarkable in its uniqueness.
YC - Our readers would love to know the best time during the year to visit your homestay and why?
Yaser -Basically, Kashmir's weather is great all year long and every season brings something different. It might sound clichéd, but it is totally true. Personally, I think to make the best of Nadis you should visit during February when snow is at its end in the valley and spring is slowly coming through, all the way to the end of November, which is the end of beautiful autumn. Basically, spring and summer trekking season is what I’d say is the best to get a mix of outdoors and indoors.
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?
Yaser -Nadis essentials are all around and always ready to explore:
Right at our doorstep are the Zabarwan hills that stretch all around and ready to trek.
The Dachigam park is right next door.
The Mughal Gardens of Harwan are across the road!
The usual attractions, Dal Lake, Pari Mahal, all are nearby and with our embeddedness in the crafts of the place.
There is a whole host of cultural and traditional craft-based tours readily available.
YC - How is your hotel attractive to Indian domestic travellers and what are the interest points for foreign travellers?
Yaser -I never make a distinction between Indian guests and foreigners. In my opinion, a guest is a guest. There are definitely some cultural differences but at the end of the day, it’s not that crucial. They all want an experience, they all want to eat well and enjoy Kashmir in its entirety.
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?
Yaser -Sustainability is everything to us at Nadis. Without preserving our natural resources, without daily dedication to preserving basic cleanliness and the environment, everything becomes meaningless. Our guiding thought is to be one with nature and preserve an amazing and unique place like Kashmir. I hope in the very near future that Nadis becomes a plastic-free place and then everything else that comes with it. Green, blue, yellow ... sustainable.
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?
Yaser - Covid 19 made everything a hundred times harder and created a difficult situation for Kashmir and Nadis. Tourism is everything for Kashmir, when it stops everything is dull. The high standard of cleanliness we maintain at Nadis has helped us adapt to the situation more easily. Anyway, Covid 19 is a new situation for the whole world and so for us. New costs and new behavioural guidelines have made business difficult, but we are coping.
YC - Based on your experience so far would you have any advice for new Entrepreneurs.
This job requires patience, extreme perseverance and even more extreme love. If you don't have it, find another occupation.
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