For over a decade-and-a-half, Responsible Adventures, founded by Singaporean-born Raj Tamang, has been making waves in the rarefied realm of the Himalayas. As its name suggests, the company prioritises ethical practices, with one key pillar being sustainability, while another involves a steadfast commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (‘DE&I’). Reason enough, we thought, to catch up with the charismatic business owner.
Started in 2006, Responsible Adventures today operates a series of out-of-the-box culinary tours, wellness retreats and boutique treks in its home base, Nepal, and other destinations throughout the region, from Bhutan to India and Tibet. However, due to the mesmerising mountain scenery, bespoke and off-the-beaten-path camping hikes are their speciality. All trips are uniquely tailored, whether they’re for family holidays, school educational jaunts, or exclusive private tours. And they arguably come with a mission, for Raj believes tourism can be a great catalyst for progressive change on our planet. One of his biggest goals? Helping Nepal’s LGBTQ+ community – and in particular, trans men.
You’re on the ‘roof of the world’ in the Himalayas. What’s the most impressive thing about working in such an incredible destination?
Living on the roof of the world offers many enriching experiences, and one aspect that stands out is the remarkable environment. The innate connection with nature through invigorating walks fosters a sense of well-being and promotes a healthy lifestyle. Drawing energy from the earth, mountains, and the vast universe, I am naturally grounded and in harmony with my surroundings. This environment truly nurtures my physical and mental health, making it an exceptional aspect of living in such an extraordinary place.
Can you tell us a bit about LGBTQ+ rights in Nepal, and how this reflects upon the local queer community’s position in society?
Nepal has emerged as one of the most progressive countries in Asia for LGBTQ+ rights. The Nepalese Constitution recognises the fundamental rights of the LGBTQ+ community and has made significant strides since a 2007 Supreme Court decision mandating a third gender category and LGBTQ+ policy audits.
In a recent groundbreaking development on 29 June 2023, the Supreme Court of Nepal issued an interim order directing the government to establish a transitional mechanism for marriage registration of same-sex and non-traditional heterosexual couples. This landmark order calls for necessary amendments to the provisions related to marriage and registered marriages within the current Civil Code. It also mandates the creation of a separate register of marriages for couples from sexual and gender minority communities. Provisional measures will ensure equal treatment until the law is revised.
Nepal has implemented various laws since 2015 that protect individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These laws grant the right to display preferred gender on identity cards, prohibit state and private parties’ discrimination, and ensure access to public services for all genders and sexual minorities.
While the discussion around same-sex marriage is ongoing, societal pressure to conform and marry partners of the opposite sex remains. However, progress has been made towards LGBTQ+ awareness in schools, as Nepal’s education board has incorporated gender and sexuality diversity into the curriculum for students in grades 6, 7, and 8.
More specifically, in relation to trans people, how has their position in society – and that of other marginalised communities – influenced how you hire your staff at Responsible Adventures?
I believe in treating everyone with empathy, equal respect, and dignity, and I strive to make a positive difference. When hiring staff, I prioritise service quality, ensuring each employee can provide exceptional experiences for our clients. Hiring individuals solely to meet quotas is not something I believe in; instead, I focus on selecting the best candidates who meet the role’s requirements, while also valuing diversity and inclusion, as every new employee brings new perspectives and creativity to the team. The goal is to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and respected, a workplace that embodies both excellence and respect for all.
From a personal standpoint, is there anything you currently do or have done with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion, for instance within your roles with The World Adventure Society or the Academy of Culinary Arts?
I am deeply passionate about promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (‘DE&I’) in every aspect of my work. When I was selected as an Advisor to the Academy of Culinary Arts, one of my first requisites was to ensure that they prioritise DE&I by including students from the LGBTQ+ community. Their commitment to creating a scholarship quota for ten students from this community in the full Bachelor in Hotel Management course is a significant step toward fostering inclusivity.
At a Luxury Adventure Event in Madeira, I had the honor of being a featured panelist in September. During this event, I made sure to highlight the importance of DE&I. I had the opportunity to connect with the Director of a river cruise company from India and advocated for their active consideration of hiring personnel from the LGBTQ+ community and the ‘lower caste’. Although the decision to implement these suggestions rests with the company, I firmly believe in using every opportunity to promote DE&I principles and encourage organisations to embrace inclusiveness.
By leveraging these platforms and discussions, I aim to raise awareness and influence positive changes in the industry. I firmly believe that each time DE&I is mentioned, it helps to challenge systemic biases and promote a more inclusive environment. It is essential for me to use my voice to advocate for DE&I at every opportunity that arises, as I believe in the power of collective action to drive meaningful change.
Judging from your company’s name, sustainability is very important. What steps do you take to put the concept into practice?
We understand that sustainable and responsible travel cannot be approached with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Each occasion and situation requires a tailored approach. We are dedicated to crafting our own version of sustainable travel that aligns with the specific needs and characteristics of each destination and community we engage with.
Our commitment to sustainability remains unwavering. It encompasses the integration of ethical practices that positively impact the environment, local communities, and our employees. With the aim of fulfilling our guests’ dreams, we prioritise supporting local communities and reducing any negative environmental impacts.
Through close collaboration with our team, partners, and guests, we ensure that our travel experiences bring tangible benefits to the communities we visit and contribute to the local economy. We strive to preserve cultural heritage, advocating for the appreciation and celebration of local traditions. Additionally, we actively promote sustainable practices that help minimize our ecological footprint.
By embracing these principles, we create distinctive and immersive journeys that transcend mainstream tourism. We take pride in curating unforgettable experiences that not only provide our guests with joy and fulfillment but also uphold the values and principles of sustainable travel.
How does Responsible Adventure’s fair trade approach benefit the regions it operates in?
Our company’s approach to fair trade prioritises creating a dignified and respectful environment for all stakeholders involved. We believe in educating and empowering everyone to improve our services and products while benefiting others. One important aspect is training our team to listen and avoid imposing our views. By fostering open-mindedness and respectful communication, we aim to lead by example and inspire others in the industry to promote equality and well-being for all.
It’s quite a unique idea to have a private chef and gourmet food on a mountain trek. What was the inspiration behind this decision?
As a foodie with a background in Singapore, I had a vision to provide healthy and delicious food for treks in the Himalayas. While it may not be a complex concept, no one was offering this service in that region. Initially, many people dismissed the idea as unnecessary and labelled my team as ‘mad’, but instead of discouraging me, this motivated me even more. I thrive on disrupting the status quo by thinking outside the box and pushing boundaries.
Apart from mountain treks, what other types of tours or activities do you do?
We specialise in organising cultural and wildlife tours that provide unique experiences for our clients. Our tours include birdwatching and spotting majestic creatures like tigers and snow leopards. For honeymooners seeking an extraordinary adventure, we offer tours where they can immerse themselves in the grandeur of the world’s highest peaks and explore the deepest valley, five times deeper than the Grand Canyon.
To add a touch of spirituality and cultural immersion, we arrange opportunities for our clients to receive blessings from Buddhist monks or even have a traditional Buddhist wedding ceremony. One of the highlights of our tours is a high-altitude helicopter flight on three mornings, where participants can witness the breathtaking beauty of nine of the world’s 14 peaks that stand over 8,000 meters. This exhilarating flight, in my opinion, offers an experience more thrilling than visiting outer space without the million-dollar price tag.
How important do you feel the concept of wellness is, and how is it incorporated into your tours?
Indeed, wellness encompasses various aspects, and its commercial version represents only a tiny fraction of the whole concept. My simple approach to wellness through hiking and trekking highlights the inherent benefits of engaging with nature.
Hiking provides a cardio workout, contributing to general physical well-being. The perspiration experienced during these activities assists in naturally detoxifying the body, promoting a sense of wellness. Furthermore, the captivating scenes witnessed on treks allow visitors to momentarily escape their work, business, or personal worries, leading to a state of mental and emotional well-being.
Observing the carefree nature of children, regardless of their material possessions, is a powerful reminder of true happiness coming from within rather than relying on materialistic pursuits. Therefore, trekking becomes a means for individuals to detach from the materialistic world and reconnect with nature, facilitating detoxifying the body, mind, and soul.
By providing opportunities for individuals to engage in these transformative experiences, you promote a holistic sense of wellness beyond the commercialised versions commonly seen.
Would you say the people who come on your tours are from one or two specific continents or is it more of an even, international spread?
Yes, most people on our tours are from North America, Europe, South East Asia and Australia. It is pretty international, but I would not only like people from all continents and countries, but I would like to see black and Latin people, and other so-called ‘minorities’ come to experience what we have, and what we want to share with hard-working visitors for whom a holiday is a reward. My team works just as hard as our clients to give them the holiday of a lifetime.
Organic fresh coffee, a birthday cake, and celebratory glasses of wine as possible extrassound delicious. Do you tailor meals to specific clients?
Our diverse menu caters to vegetarians, vegans, and those with gluten-free or other special dietary needs. We also prioritise hydration by offering filtered and alkalised water to keep trekkers refreshed and hydrated throughout their journey. By accommodating specific dietary requirements and providing quality drinking water, we strive to ensure that all participants can fully enjoy our treks without compromising their well-being.