Published 1 month ago.
About a 4 minute read.
Astrostays launched in 2019 to promote tourism while training local youth in astronomy to show off the Himalayas’ night sky. Now, Cosmohub is a more scalable, sustainable model — a connected community space that highlights local folklore and traditions along with stargazing.
People travel around the globe to see and experience things and found nowhere
else. In northern India, the sense of awe and curiosity drawn out by the
mountainous landscape extends even further when guests lift their eyes to the
“The Himalayas are one of the most picturesque areas — where people come to
trek and be with nature — and also home to one of the best skies on the planet,”
said Sonal Asgotraa,
founder of Astrostays — a homestay/astrotourism
initiative. “Our vision was to use that asset in the backyard to see if it could
be leveraged as a tool to stimulate a new kind of revenue generation by merging
astronomy and hospitality.”
In 2019, Astrostays was launched to promote local-village accommodations (often
run by women) while also training local youth in astronomy to show off the
Himalayas’ night sky. This has led many of these youth to stay in their rural
villages rather than moving to Leh, the area’s largest city, for work.
“For us, it’s an interesting intersection of science and culture, along with
tourism and technology,” said Paras
Loomba, founder of Global Himalayan
Expedition (GHE), which initially incubated
Astrostays within the company. GHE is best known for leveraging tourism to
electrify remote villages in India’s Ladakh region — more than 200 to date.
Over the years, the company has evolved its offerings to benefit rural
communities in other ways — including equipping educational centers with
solar-powered electricity and low-powered computers. Astrostays was a natural
extension of its commitment to sustainable social impact and community tourism
development, though it now operates as a separate entity.
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In 2022, Astrostays’ newest offering — called
Cosmohub — was launched near Leh. The
four-room structure housing the bulk of the experience is open nightly, April
through late September/early October, aligned with the region’s seasonal
“Cosmohub is a more scalable, sustainable model — which is a more connected
community space that includes not just stargazing but various local elements as
well,” Asgotraa said.
Where an Astrostays experience may appeal to people with a specific interest in
the night sky, Cosmohub’s holistic offering invites people to learn about the
night sky couched within a cultural context. The structured,
three-and-a-half-hour experience starts with a guided tour through the
700-year-old local monastery, where guests are treated to stories about local
traditions and spiritual beliefs. From there, guests visit the astro-museum,
which melds Western scientific knowledge with Buddhist and Tibetan
cosmology; this thread is pulled into the stargazing session, where local
folklore is woven through the cosmos.
At Cosmohub, guests are also treated to home-cooked, traditional meals; and an
onsite retail space features handicrafts and local organic products. While seven
women are directly involved with operating Cosmohub, add-on features including
serving food and selling handicrafts demonstrate the initiative’s financial
impact deep within the community.
“It’s not just the ladies that have been associated with this, but there’s a
cycle that’s been followed,” said Simar Preet
coordinator. “There are taxi drivers who take travelers from Leh to Cosmohub.
There are local food vendors who we get raw materials from. Even the souvenirs
we procure — the handicrafts; we procure Pashmina from local herders. These are
just a few of the people involved.”
According to Cosmohub’s impact data for the 2023 season through August 31, 38
local people have been directly impacted this year.
The initiative’s first year involved extensive training, particularly in
technical details, while drawing out local stories from the area. Only a couple
of the women employed by Cosmohub had formal education growing up, and feedback
indicates travelers have appreciated hearing their stories as well as learning
from them about the rich mix of scientific-based astronomy with place-based
“Initially, the women were shy, hesitant — they had never interacted with
tourists before,” Kaur said. “Once the travelers came and started giving them
compliments about the food, the session, the ideology behind the entire thing —
in two or two-and-a-half months, they were really confident.”
The 2023 season has been far more organized operationally, now that logistical
details are largely ironed out. Ultimately, the goal is to scale the Cosmohub
experience to other areas.
“It is a replicable model. We are looking forward to replicating it in other
parts of Ladakh,” Kaur said. Future plans also include offering additional
knowledge training for the astronomers and investing in more marketing. “Our
journey has been small, slow and organic,” Asgotraa said, “but we want to build
on the momentum we have.”
“Stargazing is still looked at as a miniscule part of an experience around the
world. It’s not looked at as a major experience because not many people have
done it through a storytelling lens,” Loomba said. “It’s more of a scientific
thing: Look at the moon, look at the stars. ‘Oh, very nice.’ Take the picture.
Go back home.
“But there are stories and interesting folktales,” he added. “The telescope part
might take two minutes; but the whole scenario of just watching the dark sky,
taking this all in, is such a different world of tourism.”
Published Oct 19, 2023 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
JoAnna Haugen is a writer, speaker and solutions advocate who has worked in the travel and tourism industry for her entire career. She is also the founder of Rooted — a solutions platform at the intersection of sustainable tourism, social impact and storytelling. A returned US Peace Corps volunteer, international election observer and intrepid traveler, JoAnna helps tourism professionals decolonize travel and support sustainability using strategic communication skills.