Deushar (Biolaya HQ)
Deushar is a typical hamlet in the hills of Kullu; owned by a joint family, the land and properties have been split between different brothers and cousins. Each family owns a few cows, an apple orchard and a patchwork of small fields. The slow pace of life is occasionally interrupted by village festivals and other flurries of activity as the barley is threshed, the apples are packed and the corn is laid out to dry on the stone roofs – scenes that are repeated in every village throughout the district.
We discovered Deushar in 2004 after months of searching for a suitable home for Biolaya. At the time it ticked all the boxes – most importantly, it had empty houses that were available to rent, plenty of land, and access to clean water. It was quiet and peaceful, on the edge of the forest and had stunning views across the valley.
The Kullu Valley is no stranger to foreigners; there must be hundreds scattered around the valley – artists, yogis, trekkers, hippies, mountaineers and a few nutters – some stay for a few months, others have been there for decades. Most seem to share a reputation of being there on account of the valley’s famous herbs. Well, actually just the one herb, of the smokeable variety. This of course did us no favours; I was frequently interrogated by government officials in Kullu and Delhi, who simply couldn’t believe we were there to grow ‘Ayurvedic’ herbs.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the locals to figure out that we weren’t smugglers. We soon developed a reputation of our own as word spread through the valley of the ‘organic wallahs’ growing strange vegetables and rare species of medicinal plants. Over time we gained their respect and were eventually left alone by the authorities.
Most of the time, life in Deushar was idyllic. We worked long hours, both in the office and in the garden, but did so on our own terms. There was always time to sit in the sun and chat with neighbours as they passed by with their cows. We had long lunches with freshly picked salads, and digested our food in hammocks listening to the mountain stream. The boundaries between work and play became increasingly blurred, and for me personally life felt enriched by a sense of wholeness and purpose.
As our projects grew, we started venturing further afield; we rented buildings and rooms in Dashal village (150 metres down the path) for processing and storage of herbs; we spent more time visiting farms and wild collection sites all over the district and neighbouring Lahaul; and I took on consultancy work that took me all over the subcontinent, from the jungles of Sri Lanka to mountains of Bhutan.
But regardless of where we were, Deushar remained the heart of everything we did – a place where we could live and work in alignment with our own vision and values. It was a haven of peace away far from the chaos of urban India and its honking horns. It was a place where we could become part of an organic system, from drinking water from the river, to eating food grown with our own hands to creating compost from our own waste – all so simple, yet so elusive in our overly complicated modern world.
From the perspective of creating a herb-growing business, our determination to live and work in the way that we did presented some interesting challenges as the company grew (which I explore in more detail in Biolaya Reflections). In terms of running a business I would probably advise others to do things very differently, but from a personal perspective, the years I spent in Deushar were some of the richest of my life, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.