One destination, endless experiences

Skyview by Empyrean, just 90 minutes from Mata Vaishno Devi shrine, in the panoramic Sanget Valley and Patnitop near Jammu, is intelligently bringing mobility and tourism together

Nestled in the hills of Sanget-Patnitop in Jammu is Skyview by Empyrean, a leisure and lifestyle destination housing the highest ropeway and soft adventure activities in the country. With premium boutique hospitality offerings, Skyview aims to be a unique escape in the beauty of the Himalayas, allowing guests to rejuvenate with outdoor activities while also enjoying luxury stays – all at the same property. An hour-and-a-half long drive away from the Vaishno Devi shrine, Skyview by Empyrean started operations in 2019 with the launch of Skyview Gondola, the highest international class, CEN-certified ropeway in India in terms of ground clearance. With this, the resort at Patnitop was connected with the Sanget Valley, the 2.8-km gondola ride taking around 10 minutes instead of the close to an hour-long road journey. Conceptualised in 2014, the agreement for the project had been signed in December 2016 after Empyrean Skyview Projects Pvt Ltd (ESPPL) Managing Director Syed Junaid Altaf carried out extensive research on the same.

“After formally going into research, we had to see what private business could do in the ropeway aspect as there were not many parallels. Gulmarg Gondola has been around forever but it is a government-owned project and a 100-year-old brand. Kashmir has been a brand since the British rule and Gulmarg revived tourism there. Also, the ropeway is great and can’t be compared with. Then the one in Himachal is driven towards winter economy,” shares Junaid whose family is into the agrochemical business. For almost three decades, FIL Industries Pvt Ltd has been developing a comprehensive and dependable range of crop protection chemicals that include a wide range of fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, acaricides and plant growth nutrients. ESPPL was formed by FIL in 2014 with the aim of developing sustainable and environment-friendly adventure, leisure and lifestyle destinations.

Junaid grew up in Kashmir as a child and then went to Doon School, St Stephen’s and the US for higher education. However, he always knew that agriculture was not his calling in his formative professional years. After he went overseas, Junaid became a banker there, until he returned to India for what he had thought would be six months. But, 11 years later, here he is. Upon deciding to stay in India, his initial intention was to look after his family business, but agriculture led him to exploring the country, and that brought Junaid face-to-face with this gap in tourism that he is now filling with Skyview by Empyrean one destination at a time. 

Ideal vacation spot

Spread over 22 acres, the property allows guests to experience a gondola ride along with adventure activities like a magic carpet seemingly straight out of Aladdin, zigzag zip line, all-season dry tubing sledge, biking excursions, hiking and supervised treks. The hospitality leadership at Skyview by Empyrean Patnitop is par excellence and the team that manages the stay is top class. 

All of these are, of course, accompanied by an array of F&B offerings. At the property, guests have the option to enjoy culinary delights from across the world at the global restaurant Banana Leaf, but regional specialties such as Dogri and Kashmiri cuisine and the all-time favourite dosa at the restaurant take the cake. In addition to this, guests can also enjoy the food from street food carts and enjoy a range of sizzlers from the bar-be-que in the outdoors and an alfresco Skyview Café.

Kashmir, as we all know, has for long been the highlight of the state, or now the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir when it comes to tourism. Jammu has often been overlooked and at best earmarked for religious tourism. Amid this, the cropping up of an adventure and mobility destination might seem confusing. “The alignment for Sanget Valley was decided from the time of the bidding. The Sanget-Patnitop ropeway was tendered by the government. When we began the project, the Sanget Valley did not have a link road; it was a terraced field. The government had initially thought that this would be a small holding station from where people would go up the ropeway, but when we won the project, we decided that there needed to be a larger area,” Junaid adds.  

The property, developed with the support of Patnitop Development Authority (PDA) and Jammu and Kashmir Tourism, hopes to be an attraction for spiritual tourists who seek peace and serenity along with safe environment. What is further giving it a boost is the world-class infrastructure being developed in the hills like multilane highways and tunnels like the recently inaugurated adjacent Shyama Prasad Mukherjee (famously known as Chenani Nashri) Tunnel.

Boosting local economic setup

Skyview by Empyrean Patnitop not only aims to be an ideal destination for adventure lovers but hopes to cater to lakhs of pilgrims who visit the Vaishno Devi Temple. In fact, they have an office in Katra with informal tie-ups with the local ecosystem like hotels, taxis, J&K Tourism Board and Mata Vaishno Devi Trust. “In the next five years, we want it to be a formal ecosystem. When you bring in circular economy, it is beneficial for every stakeholder,” shares Junaid, adding the economy of the city and the property will get a further boost with the coming up of Lord Balaji Temple to Jammu in the coming years. The property also runs a shuttle service between Katra and Skyview. The property has led to the creation of a self-sustaining economy in the virgin catchment of Sanget Valley and is looking to replicate the model in its future projects. 

Adding to the economic setup in the region is the property’s contribution to local employment, both direct and indirect. Apart from local transportation and retail system, the hotel has been hiring locally for the project. In fact, during construction, the core labour formed 80 per cent hiring from around the project while the technical team the hotel has trained is 100 per cent local. 

Iconic Sanget-Patnitop ropeway

The ropeway in Sanget-Patnitop was built in collaboration with French ropeway giant, Poma. It ferries 18 cable cars or gondolas, each having a capacity of eight people and features eight towers. Skyview Gondola is not just safe and secure, it also has world-class protocols that will amaze the very best. Talking about the future of ropeways in India, Junaid says India, at present, has about 80 ropeways but they are not very long and have always been linked to religious tourism. “Ropeway is fundamentally a mode of mobility and then tourism as well as hospitality support it. The mind-set is changing, not only in India but globally too. It is a clear need now,” he opines.

Hospitality with responsibility

Certified as the first sustainable tourism destination in India and a champion by The Responsible Tourism Society of India (RTSOI), the property is not only a part of the eco-tourism system but also sustainable as per the standards of the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. A key aspect about sustainability at the property is the fact that not even a single tree was felled during the construction of the ropeway. “Without responsible tourism, Skyview by Empyrean is incomplete. We are into local employment and local sourcing. Our retaining walls is a case in point. If you look at them, there is a very square design which has all been done by local artisans,” says the Managing Director of Skyview by Emperean.

Hope for future

Skyview in Sanget Valley, at present, has 10 rooms – suites and deluxe rooms placed in an amazing setting managed by the very best from the hospitality industry – and they have been developed at the base of the ropeway in Sanget. However, Junaid plans to expand the property to 40-50 rooms in the next three years, with some at Patnitop so that various combination packages can be offered to guests. Plans include wellness options and three to four restaurants.

During the construction of the Sanget Valley project, Skyview developed world-class local project execution expertise. Leveraging that expertise, at an organisational level, it is planning projects in Yamunotri and Dehradun-Mussoorie. The latter would include a ropeway of 5.6 km, double the one installed at Sanget-Patnitop. “It will connect Dehradun with Mussoorie with guests landing directly on the Mall Road of the hill station. The Dehradun-Mussoorie project was signed in 2019 while the Yamunotri project is being worked out for signing. We don’t have limitations of a business plan or of a location. To recreate an asset like ours with so many branches will become more difficult with time. Ropeways create central infrastructure assets for hill stations,” Junaid adds.

He further says that the aim of the brand is to become the largest private developer of integrated mobility with tourism. The idea is to have a portfolio of six projects. The brand hopes that by 2030, it would be able to carry 60-70 lakh passengers on all of its ropeways. The central focus of the Skyview by Empyrean brand is the now up-and-coming (in India) mobility option of ropeways and the brand has gone a step ahead and built tourism assets around it. This forms the core uniqueness of the brand and it hopes to leverage it well in the future. 

This article was published in BW hotelier issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW HOTELIER MAY-JUNE 2022'


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