He goes by the name of TreeMan on Twitter and true to his online avatar has planted over a hundred thousand trees. Once a lottery king and India’s highest taxpayer at the young age of 28, Ashwani Khurana has transformed his passion of conserving nature into a 300-acre golf resort. Unlike most others, Karma Lakelands has deployed several measures, including an in-house water and sewage treatment plant, besides rain-water harvesting, organic farming, and solar-energy, amongst others to create a truly sustainable and environmentally-friendly experience for visitors and residents alike. Excerpts of an exclusive interaction with Ashwani Khurana at Karma Lakelands, Gurugram:
Karma Lakelands has an unassuming entrance, tucked next to a McDonalds, on the highway, and belies the enormity of the experience that awaits a visitor. Once inside the main doors, a maze of inter-connected roads leads to the Klub Karma – the heart of the 300-acre expanse, but also to a 9-hole, 70-acre golf course, a boutique hotel named Karma Chalets and villas for residential purpose, and a day-care center for construction workers children.
Reminiscing about the long journey of creating the property, Ashwani Khurana emphasized that the idea was always to grow more trees and being in “sync with nature.” “It has been a long journey. I have purchased land at varying prices. I was younger than my daughters, aged 29 when I started buying the land and continued the land banking for over 20 years to make it contiguous. It has taken some time. The idea was to be close to nature and grow more trees,” he shared.
Reflecting on the uniqueness of Karma Lakelands’s offerings, he noted that “the way that the outdoors and indoors juxtaposed” was a one-off and no other place had to offer. “When people come, it is very evident that this place is not simply driven by commerce. There is so much to do,” he said, illustrating that ample flora and fauna provided a stimulating experience. He shared that avid bird-watchers spotted over 40 different types of birds in under an hour, mentioning that the surroundings provided an “an enabling environment.”
All the structures, including residential villas and the hotel, are based on an interesting philosophy of “tree-top height” development. Explaining the term and the idea behind it, Ashwani Khurana quipped that he was perhaps the first person to coin the term. “It basically means that the building structures will not exceed the height of an average tree. So, we have these buildings which are not taller than an average two-story building,” he said. A look around the property reaffirmed his assertion. He noted that it inculcated a sense of harmony with nature and surroundings.
There are other activities, too. There is a meditation room for visitors. The yoga meditation room is called Isha. A daily ritual is carried out every evening at 6.20 pm where visitors get together to chant mantras. It is not mandatory but is often well-attended, we were told. Then there is a national anthem routine at 5 pm. Ashwani Khurana explained that at the time of the rotation of the staff shift at Chalet Hotels, everyone, including visitors, guests and staff stand still and sings the National Anthem. He added that it provided a “strange sense of joy” to all involved.
Visitors can also visit the day-care center which houses local kids of workers in the premises and surrounding areas. “We encourage them to spend time with these children,” he shared.
Despite being a mixed-used property, with residential and hotel structures, Golfing remains the central offering of the resort. “We call ourselves a golf resort. It helps our positioning because people instantly assume that there must be an expanse,” he shared.
He shared that the property had been “commercially open as a golf course for the last 11 years and had been doing pretty well.” “Any aspiring golfer in Delhi and NCR has been to Karma Lakelands at some point in time or the other,” he confidently added.
He shared that Karma Lakelands sold 1000 rounds of golf a month. “We are a nine-hole golf course and have moved from a non-existent brand to a well-known brand in the golfing fraternity. We sell a thousand rounds each month which is very good,” he said.
Staying true to the idea of sustainability, Ashwani Khurana chose to refrain from too much grandeur. “In the design of the golf course, you can get ambitious and say that I am going to make a links course. There is one golf course in Delhi that gains pride in saying that we are the only links golf course in the entire NCR,” he said. Adding that, normally links course were seaside and extremely windy, he believed that “it was obnoxious to have a golf course without trees in Delhi’s climate.” “The golf course is incidental to growing of trees, rather than other way around,” he reasoned.
Insight on footfalls driven by golf
When asked to share the profile of the footfalls at the resort, Ashwani Khurana informed that as much as 40 percent of Karma’s clientele were from Japan. A number of Japanese firms have a substantial presence in Gurugram which seems to have aided in driving footfall at the Karma Lakelands.
“As much as 25 percent of our clientele is from Korea. Indians constitute 15 percent of our total footfalls; there are 10 percent Europeans, and then the rest,” he said, indicating that visitors, especially from East Asian countries had taken to the resort. He also informed that the footfall was overwhelmingly male-dominated and only 4 percent of the total traffic constituted of women.
On the distribution strategy
Given that the property is a one-off and does not belong to a “recognized brand”, outreach can pose to be an uphill task. Gurugram and surroundings is a tough market and supply is plenty. Giving an insight into the distribution strategy of the golf resort, Ashwani Khurana argued that the Karma Lakelands had carved a “good presence in the digital space.” “The marketing team is very good at the digital outreach, whether it is Facebook, Twitter, and other modes of outreach. So, a lot is happening there,” he said. He added that people also shared their feedback on various online portals such as TripAdvisor which provided that resort “word-of-mouth publicity.”
Sustainability, flora, fauna, and farming
The resort has gone to great lengths to enforce a sustainable and environmental-friendly way of life. It is a non-smoking property, other than two designated smoking spots, and ruled are strictly enforced. Smoking is not permitted in the golf course. Even for the staff, random checks are a routine affair. Those seeking to quench their thirst at the bar have to make do without a straw. Only after a visitor demands it, a paper straw is provided. Ashwani Khurana has an interesting rationale behind banning straws. He said “I heard that suckers suck straws because here at Karma Lakelands, eco-responsible living and practices are our religion. We do not give straws with any drink unless specifically asked by our guests. In that case, we hesitatingly provide paper straws.”
There are cows, goats, and hens, and the local produce is consumed in the restaurant or sent to the day care center – which houses children of construction workers and locals working at the resort. Visitors can expect to see antelopes grazing in the wild while having breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant.
There is a honey-bee farm and ingenious methods are put to use to create some of the finest mustard honey in the region. He explained that all the honey farms were kept amidst growing mustard crop and it gave it a distinct mustard flavor. “It is one of the thickest and purest honey you will taste. We give it to visitors and some of it is used in the day-care center,” he detailed.
Ashwani Khurana also shared that he intended to set up “a butterfly garden in the premises” in the coming 2-3 months. “When experts came to examine the feasibility of setting up a butterfly garden, they said that the premises possess everything an ecosystem should have for their successful growth,” he enthusiastically shared.
What it means for tourism
In the hustle and bustle of modern day city life, the want to be closer to nature is on the rise. Karma Lakelands is a unique proposition because it provides a natural backdrop to tourists. More importantly, it embodies sustainable measures and involves the local community in creating a holistic experience for visitors, thereby also enabling the local community in the process of attracting tourists. Such models could well be given a shot elsewhere.