It is rare that somebody is able to turn the challenges that life throws at them into opportunities to envision a better future!
In creating what many people are calling ‘a dream home away from home’— Fayaz Ahmad Dar has achieved that elusive distinction. An eco-retreat nestled in the foothills of Harmukh, overlooking the River Sindh, in a quiet corner in the Ganderbal district on the north-eastern edge of the Kashmir valley, Sagg Eco Village is simply more than what one could have ever asked for. It is a natural farm happily married to a retreat centre that designs, develops and promotes recreational, educational and lifestyle services, spaces, products and programmes for individuals, families and communities.
An experiment borne out of the sum-total of Fayaz’s life experience, Sagg has a mission to build integrative and regenerative lifestyles and communities through ecological entrepreneurship. Fayaz is an ecopreneurship coach and sustainable development consultant. He started Sagg with a mission to train 100,000 ecopreneurs by 2030, to transform health, farming, education, parenting, work and environment sectors. Behind the giant mission is the solid belief of a man who started from very humble beginnings, experienced various setbacks and undertook many exploratory journeys that helped him to prepare for this engagement.
Fayaz grew up in a small village in the same district and remembers witnessing the tussle between tradition and ‘modernity’, symbolized by factory schooling on the one hand and family, friends and the society on the other. His journey allowed him to travel to and experience different contexts and cultures. It helped him broaden his understanding of the integrative nature of universal values and local cultures. His personal transformation from a peasant boy from Kashmir to an officer in a multicultural organization to a graduate from a US university to an ecopreneur in Kashmir is a rich tale of many ups and downs and full of transformative milestones. He studied commerce, business, human resources management, personal development, conflict transformation, sustainable development and regenerative agriculture. The lessons from his experience of overcoming personal and social challenges are invaluable.
Armed with this experience, Fayaz returned to Kashmir in 2010 with a mission to help younger people avoid the pitfalls that he has encountered. He is the only ecopreneurship coach in Kashmir and trains aspiring and struggling entrepreneurs, and students on how to take charge and turn challenges into opportunities. “Our coaching and training programmes help participants achieve their goals based on their own highest values,” says Fayaz. The most popular sessions at the Sagg Eco Village Academy are about ecopreneurship, success mindset and strategic self education. “The session at Sagg was mind boggling. It packs powerful, practical and precise knowledge delivered effectively in a no-nonsense fashion,” says Owais a participant.
Started in 2013, Sagg Eco Village organizes and facilitates eco-stays, home stays, camps, treks, events and meetings. The eco-village houses dormitories and mud huts built with local materials, a restaurant serving healthy and delicious traditional Kashmiri cuisine, including a special local herbal tea menu that helps people detoxify, and several indoor and outdoor recreational and play areas. The eco-village caters to the needs of individual explorers, families and groups. “Our services, spaces, products and programmes are designed to help people de-stress, heal, rejuvenate and regenerate,” says Fayaz. “We are located in a culturally and ecologically rich area and we organize many kinds of activities—like walks, treks, fishing, bird watching, biking and eco-therapy—to help people explore this rich heritage.” Many people are getting to know about Sagg and the footfall is increasing. Most visitors are pleasantly surprised and provide encouraging feedback. “Had an exhilarating stay at Sagg Eco Village in Ganderbal. It is an institution for training, capacity building and camping. It has a beautiful café too. An example of minimalist living away from the concrete and monstrous jungle of the city, take a break, visit Sagg Eco Village,” says Mantasha, a guest.
Upon returning to Kashmir in 2010, Fayaz started working on a participatory visioning exercise with younger people through a non-profit initiative, Mool Sustainability Research and Training Centre (Mool is the Kashmiri word for ‘roots’). That work made him realize the need for a broader social entrepreneurial venture that could freely experiment and integrate the ideas emerging out of this work and his experience and thus was born Sagg Eco Village (Sagg is the Kashmiri word for ‘watering’ or ‘nurturing’). Mool and Sagg now support each other. “The mission of Sagg and Mool is one and to accomplish it, they collaborate in many ways to reach out to various stakeholders including students, farmers, professionals, academia, media, NGOs, businesses and bureaucracy,” Fayaz explains.
“I believe life is meant to be an entrepreneurial venture and the challenges we face are nature’s way of providing us clues for which path to take. I shall continue on this path of building a lifestyle and society based on an inclusive, integrative and regenerative vision, and invite and support others to do the same.”