The mountains have always beckoned yogis, or, maybe, it’s the other way around. But with the Internet, many techies now wield this strong inclination towards becoming yogis. The Internet acts as a very strong bridge that allows such fusion to happen. For some people, this is great news, for others, terribly sad.
Having lived in Sidhbari (the valley of sages) near Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh for around two years now, it is a common sight to see monks glued to their mobile phones and tablets. This definitely wasn’t the situation a few years ago. While regions higher up in the mountains remain safely oblivious to all the activity happening in its lap, technology is trying to catch up fast. Here, we look at some of the tech companies that have cropped up in and around Dharamshala.
1) Air Jaldi: Internet is the backbone for all technology companies, and this requires stable ISPs. Meet Air Jaldi. Based in McLeodganj (upper Dharamshala), co-founded by Michael Ginguild, Air Jaldi buys its bandwidth from players like Airtel to set up its own infrastructure to take Internet into regions that weren’t connected previously.
2) Gai Technologies: Krishnan N., an engineer from the University of Mysore, spent a major part of his career in Bangalore where he handled both technology and business roles. Moving to the Kangra Valley about five years ago, Krishnan helped set up New Delhi-based Srijan’s unit in Dharamshala. He now runs Gai Technologies, which specializes in Drupal Technologies.
3) Development Logics: Founded by a Himachali, Varun Rattan Singh, Development Logics runs a rural BPO and offers other IT and Digital Marketing services. Finishing schooling in Kangra, Varun went to Pune where he did his engineering, and then did an MBA from Institute of Rural Management from IRMA. Varun returned to Himachal where he was responsible for setting up the Dharamshala wing of Srijan Technologies. He is now involved with Development Logics and Vayudoot.
3) Vayudoot: Another ISP operating in Dharamshala, Vayudoot is joint venture by Varun Singh and Krishnan N (same guys who founded Development Logics and Gai Technologies, respectively). Vayudoot is a relatively young Internet service provider with about 150 subscribers in the Kangra Valley. Like Air Jaldi, Vayudoot also first buys bandwidth from bigger players, and then redistributes to increase penetration and reach.
4) Mindgrep: Founded by Ayush Ghai, Mindgrep is an IT services company that has an expertise in technologies like Node.js. Ayush is an IIT-Kanpur alumnus who worked with Oracle, ixigo and, then, his own company. Mindgrep also built a movie recommendation engine – Metataste – and also runs the Infinity Hackerspace (Disclaimer: I was a part of the co-founding team at Infinity/Ghoomakad)
5) Moonpeak Media Pvt. Ltd: Vikas Srivastava is a young engineer from Allahabad who came to Dharamshala as an intern with Srijan Technologies. He then moved to Colombo, Sri Lanka for a brief period, but the mountains had already cast their spell. He returned to the Dhauladhar ranges to start Moonpeal Media Pvt. Ltd., a company specialising in web and mobile app development.
6) IT Monks: With a base in Chandigadh, IT Monks has a small office in Sidhbari, Dharamshala, which employs about 10 people. IT Monks also keep themselves busy with software and web development projects.
7) Tibetan iTech: Based in Mcleodganj, Tibetan iTech was started in 2013 by Tsetan Dolkar and provides employment and training in IT for Tibetans. Their speciality is WordPress. Tibetan iTech has built websites for many NGOs in the area, and has taken up other projects like DIFF as well.
8) FTL: A stealth mode Indo-Swedish startup that was hatched up at Dharamkot, a place higher up in the mountains, which is the go-to place for a lot of Israeli travellers. The company has an office in Sidhbari with Arun R., Prasenjit Dey, Karthick G. and Amit H. as the core team.
9) HillHacks: The most topical, Hillhacks is a month long technology conference that is mainly organised by hacktivist Bernadette Langle. The second edition of the event is ongoing, and Bangalore-based Jaaga has been also involved making this edition possible.
10) My Earth Store: Founded by three friends- Anish Joel, Anandi and Shivani- My Earth Store is the go-to place for natural, organic and handcrafted products in Dharamshala. The store also has a few products, which it showcases on online marketplaces, but maintains a strong local flavour. Working with farmer groups and organic brands, My Earth Store has now been in Sidhbari for about five years, and is, now, also developing a community space where discussions, movie screenings and talks take place.
Most of these technology startups are services companies, which is also the need of the hour. A majority of the local youth is looking for job opportunities. Tourism and government jobs are what sustain most of the people (apart from agriculture), but too much of it is not sustainable for the geography. Decent infrastructure for electricity and Internet, along with reasonable rents makes Dharamshala and the Kangra Valley conducive for more startups to take shape.
A lot of local NGOs like CUDP, Waste Warriors, Jagori, Nishtha, TCV and Dharamshala Animal Rescue are tackling rising social issues, and will continue to do so because of the perceivable expansion. If done right, being mindful of the surroundings, technology startups can play a meaningful role in training local youth, creating employment and building a sustainable economy in Dharamshala.