SHILLIM STORY

'We are a part of the earth and the earth is a part of us'

- Chief Seattle

It all started with a deep connection to nature and with the discovery by two brothers of the Shillim Valley, a unique bowl-shaped eco-hotspot nestled in the Sahyadri mountain range. They soon understood that the forested valley was under constant threat from unsustainable ‘slash and burn’ agricultural practices by the local Adivasi community, threatening the immense beauty of this wildernesses. A farming practice that has evolved from a lack of economic alternatives and from the sheer need to survive.

Each year, the two brothers witnessed the annual burning of virtually every forested hillside. A mission emerged: to conserve the Shillim valley, to restore its forests and preserve its flora and fauna and to provide opportunities for local employment.

Soon, other like-minded missionaries joined the efforts. Radha Veach, a horticulturist, took on the ambitious goal of establishing a native species reforestation program. Committing to live on-site, she scoured the forest for native seeds and grew them in a nursery on the banks of the Pawna Lake. The program’s logic was simple: a forest can regenerate fastest when its own species are allowed to act in symbiosis. At the same time, the men folk of the village were given economic status through jobs to guard the property, put out forest fires, prevent slash and burn and wildlife hunting. Womenfolk were employed in the nursery and in the large annual pre-monsoon plantation program. Today, Shillim conserves more than a million trees while providing a safe harbor for a diverse flora and fauna.

Once the reforestation program took hold, attention turned to thinking about the kind of project needed to sustain the maintenance and preservation of the forest. Through the meeting of similar minds, the idea to build an 'off the grid' Eco Retreat became apparent. Margie Ruddick, landscape architect and National Design Award Winner and master planner, and Steven Harris, a design Architect based in New York, came together to form the core of the first teams to begin imagining ‘Shillim’. The Eco Retreat would be built in nature without disturbing its natural beauty. Each room would offer the guests a blend of panoramic views with the thrilling experience of living in a forest. Finding the balance between flora, fauna and human habitation was critical.

As the Shillim journey unfolded, one of the brothers fell ill. After many soul-searching months, an expansion of the original mission occurred. The project would become much more than an eco-retreat. It would be one of the foremost wellness destinations in the world, providing an exemplary sanctuary to the body, mind and soul. A wellness destination from where, after spending a few days or weeks, a guest would return re-energized to their everyday lives. Wellness programs would combine with art studios, leisure riding would combine with a cooking school, and organic farming would complement deep meditation practices - to create experiences all in tune with the wildernesses setting.