India has always been a difficult place to do business – excessive bureaucracy, endemic corruption and poor infrastructure are the most common problems – but now it seems Hindu gods must be added to the list.
Plans for what would have been India’s first international ski resort in the Himalayan foothills have come unstuck after a group of Hindu gods ruled that it was environmentally unsound.
News of the divine intervention emerged after a day-long conclave of the gods in the old mountain hippie resort of Minali, the proposed site of the £185 million, five-star resort.
Environmental impact assessments and a deal signed last year with the Himachal Pradesh state government promising to employ local people were not enough to convince the “devis” of Kullu Valley that the resort should go ahead.
The decision has left international investors – including Alfred Ford, the great-grandson of Henry – scratching their heads.
The Himalayan Ski Village, a luxury resort with a cable-car reaching up to 14,000ft, was billed as a ski destination to rival Europe and America.
However, the project encountered opposition from local interest groups who claimed it would destroy a pristine environment, pollute water courses and trample over sacred mountains.
A formal Jagati Puch (grand convention) of 175 local deities was called to decide whether the project was in the interests of local people. The conclave is made up of 175 oracles, or gurs – local elders and villagers, who represent the deities that rule the valley according to traditional belief.
Mr Ford and John Sims, the project’s managing director, adopted the Hindu names of “Amrish” and “Abhiram” ahead of the ceremony, but the gods were not to be appeased.
Nine out of 10 gods who expressed a preference said the village would be inimical to the valley’s interests.
As so often with religion, however, things were not as simple as they first appeared. Suspicious minds noted that Maheshwar Singh, the “king” of Kullu, is a former MP for the Hindu-nationalist BJP party, sections of which are against foreign intervention.
Mr Sims could barely conceal his irritation. “The gods were asked all the wrong questions,” he said.
The Himalayan Ski Village has been rejected “as it is presented” to the gods.
As keen students of the Hindu religion, Mr Ford and Mr Sims will know that, when the correct offerings are made, the gods are often open to persuasion.
Feb. 21, 2006
Peter Foster in New Dehli