Published: 31st December 2021
Star-studded: This start-up is inspiring students and travellers to keep their head in the clouds
With observatories in Uttarakhand and more coming up in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Starscapes is introducing astro-tourism to Indians
When we think about nature, we think about what's around us. We think about the flora and fauna. But there's also a whole world above us. The Sun, the stars, the Moon, planets and meteoroids and whatnot. The possibilities are endless. And it is this area that this start-up based out of Uttarakhand is trying to tap. Starscapes is a chain of observatories in some of India's most picturesque hill stations that also boasts of low pollution and clear skies. From the first one in Kausani to the very recent one in Bhimtal to the upcoming ones in Coorg and Ooty, the start-up wants everyone to look up at the sky when they holiday.
It was in 2016 that former Telecom sector employee and astronomy enthusiast Ramashish Ray opened his first observatory in Kausani. Shortly after Paul Savio came on board as CEO. "We were doing nighttime shows, conducted by experts, where tourists and astronomy enthusiasts would come. They watched the show, learnt about the objects in the sky and then viewed some of those objects through the telescope at our observatory," says Paul. "We are an experiential platform and not educational," clarifies Paul.
At an astro-party
But that's not all. Starscapes also has several outreach programmes with school and college students. "We conduct workshops with school students where we bring them to the observatory or visit the school. They learn about the night sky and see the objects through the telescope. During the day, the workshop includes activities like how to build a rocket and pinhole cameras. They also get to look at the Sun through special goggles," explains Paul. He tells us that these programmes were created to pique curiosity in children about astronomy, not to educate them, per se.
Besides astronomy, astrophotography is another aspect that Starscapes focuses on. Workshops on astrophotography are conducted for college students where experts in the field come and teach them. These workshops are organised in colleges and also at the observatory. "Besides this, we have also collaborated with the Government of Uttarakhand to build a plan for an upcoming astro-village in Benital in Chamoli district. It is supposed to be the first astro-tourism destination in the country," says Paul.
The observatory at Kausani
And it is astro-tourism that the duo plans to develop in India. "Currently, this is not prevalent in the country. We plan to open an observatory in every tourist location and we have identified 28 locations. The ones in Coorg and Ooty will be operational by March 2022," says Paul. But this aspiration did come with its own set of challenges. From a six-month waitlist on their telescopes to the pandemic, delays and revenue loss were something that the duo had to deal with. "We were supposed to open the Bhimtal observatory in March 2020 but could only open it in October 2021 due to the pandemic," adds Paul.
To date, Starscapes has attracted 70,000+ people to visit their observatories and check out the sky. But what about bad weather? "With the observatories coming up in the South, we are hoping that the unclear skies during monsoons will not hinder us from conducting shows," says Paul. And the weather isn't the only thing they have to battle. "The sky is so temperamental. The show changes several times over a night as the sky looks different at different hours," adds Paul. You can book a 45-minute night show at Rs 500.