A Farmer’s Son with No High-Flying Management Degree Starts an Airline Company in the Himalayas
“In the hills, there is no difference between a child and adult when it comes to work. We all toil our hearts out to make the land flourish,” says Budhi Prakash Thakur, the son of an uneducated farmer, who went on to start Air Himalayas, India’s first private airline service in the Himalayas. Budhi Prakash comes from a family that struggled to make ends meet; they lived on the income from their modest land holding of seven bighas in Khakhnal village, nine kilometres from the hill station of Manali. Budhi Prakash and his two brothers went to the local government school and helped their father in the fields. From a very young age, Budhi Prakash was his father’s right hand in supporting the family. When he was just a teenager he helped his father start growing apples. This decision eased the family’s financial troubles. He was in his second year in college when he decided to quit regular studies to join the family in starting a homestay in their village. Investing the money that came from the farmland, Budhi Prakash and his father built a small five-room property for tourists seeking budget accommodation near Manali. Within just six years, the homestay grew into a popular resort, named Sarthak Resorts, which today has 65 rooms. This success completely transformed the fortunes of the family. Budhi Prakash became a respected hotelier in the tourist town of Manali and the curious entrepreneur in him was now looking for new avenues. That’s when the idea of Air Himalayas struck him. Budhi Prakash, Founder, Air Himalayas “Manali, though a popular destination, suffers from accessibility issues. There are no trains that ply to Manali and buses take an arduous 12-14 hours of travel from Delhi. This is a huge deterrent for many tourists as it is both time-consuming and strenuous. The Air India flights from Delhi cost around Rs 10,000 for a one way trip during the summer, unaffordable for many people. This made me think that I should introduce a cheaper air travel option so that more tourists can come to my hometown,” says Budhi Prakash. Promotion Next, Budhi Prakash took a blind leap of faith. The investment required for Air Himalayas was huge and Budhi Prakash had no experience in the aviation industry. But he did not allow this to deter him from going ahead. He secured a bank loan and made his personal investment to found Air Himalayas, the first private aviation company to operate in the region. Flagging off of the first Air Himalayas flight In the summer of 2014, the company started to operate chartered flights on the Chandigarh-Kullu route. “What takes seven hours by road, now just takes 40 minutes by air. And Kullu is just an hour’s distance from Manali. We run a small nine-seater flight and we charge around Rs. 6000 per person,” says Budhi Prakash. He adds, “In our first year of operation, which was just three months during the summer, we were able to serve more than 2,000 tourists. The demand was so high that we flew multiple times in a day.” Budhi Prakash with his family on the Air Himalayas flight Three years into the business, Budhi Prakash says it has been no bed of roses. Air Himalayas suffered huge losses in 2014 and 2015. One of its founding partners quit and Budhi had to steer the ship all by himself. There were funding hiccups too, which restricted the operations to summer. But Budhi Prakash was in no mood to give up. His relentless hard work helped Air Himalayas break even this year. “The task ahead is tough, but I’ll continue to pursue my dream to bring more and more tourists to Manali,” says Budhi Prakash.
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