About the Foundation & Center
The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature is a registered trust, registered with the Registrar Office in Ranikhet, Government of Uttarakhand on the 13th June, 2013, and founded by Ajay Rastogi and N. Ravi Kumar.
The Vrikshalaya Himalayan Center is the headquarters for the Foundation, and is registered as 'Vrikshalaya' with the District office Almora, Department of Tourism, Government of Uttarakhand, as of the 31st August, 2017.
The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature consists of an advisory board of individuals with highly diverse sets of skills. (See below). The Foundation guides the activities run by the Vrikshalaya Himalayan Center.
The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature and the Vrikshalaya Himalayan Center are open to all persons regardless of race, caste, age, religion or level of education. Our 3 principles are:
The Dignity of Physical Work
Doing something mindful with our hands and creating value together with others is a natural human need that promotes wellbeing and community. All physical work demands respect.
Reciprocity and solidarity is more beneficial for the individual and a smart society built around the sharing of creativity, space and resources.
Understanding the interconnectedness of all living things helps us strive for a harmonious coexistence with nature and reach our true potential in the world.
What we do
We offer accommodation and activities to people of all ages interested in experiencing a mindful and nature-loving rural way of life. We are both a not-for-profit foundation and a center that offers accommodation and customized programs.
The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature is a registered trust dedicated to evolving a system for applied ethics and voluntary work that supports social and philanthropic causes that drives sustainable thinking and supports rural resilient communities.
The Vrikshalaya Himalayan Centre shares the principles of the Foundation and runs various activities (courses, workshops, presentations and meditation sessions) at the center, and at events in India and overseas. The Center offers accommodation, village home-stays, and runs residential courses in Mountain Resiliency, Leadership Integrity, Working Holidays and Mindfulness Meditation. We also offer our venue to practitioners who wish to host yoga retreats and other programs in line with our vision and mission.
Our Mindfulness Meditation Contemplation of Nature practice is not connected to any faith. Sessions have been held in Churches and Temple complexes alike. The session in the church at Santiago the Chile was so well received that our entire concept has been translated in Spanish and published in 2016 as a 90-page book, ‘La Contemplacion De La Naturaleza’.
Vrikshalaya, literally translated, means ‘Home of the Trees.’ Vriksha means ‘Tree’ and Alaya is ‘home’ in both Sanskrit and Hindi. The Center is based in the Majkhali village near Ranikhet Hill Station, in the foothills of the Himalayas, in Uttarakhand State, India.
To enable the personal transformation of individuals as effective community members and mindful leaders who maintain high integrity and care for people and the planet.
- To enable a direct personal experience with nature and promote human well-being and mindfulness in all its facets.
- To conserve and use indigenous and local-based knowledge of traditions, food, music, art, collaboration and culture for enhancing healthy lifestyles - without over consumption.
- To help change-makers and decision-makers lead inspired, purpose-driven lives, applying a connected and contemplative worldview to their work.
Founder of the Foundation.
Ajay Rastogi, Founder & Director.
Ajay Rastogi is the founder member of the foundation and has established the Vrikshalaya Himalayan Centre in the village Majkhali. He is a philosopher and applied ethics practitioner with extensive experience working across the fields of environment, agriculture, livelihoods and ethical business practice.
His passion is to explore how wholeness and integrity can be manifested in systems thinking, with a special focus on philosophical and ethical traditions for a sustainable society, and the biological and agricultural roots of society and civilization.
Ajay studied agriculture and environmental science at Pantnagar University and has been honored with several awards; He was the recipient of the South Asia Youth Leaders Award, European Union Erasmus Mundus Fellowship in Applied Ethics, and the Nehru-Fulbright Environmental Leadership Award for Contemplative Education.
He is also a certified yoga teacher. He has extensively traveled and partnered with multicultural organizations. His work has been translated and published in Spanish in 2015. He has attended the Contemplative Environmental Educators Workshop; and the Sustainability and Contemplative Practice Retreat.
Friends of the Foundation.
Ravi Kumar, Senior Advisor.
Ravi is a trustee of the Foundation. He is a mechanical engineer, but more a product of his hobbies, mountaineering, backpacking and rock climbing. In 1988, he became the youngest Indian mountaineer to summit Mount Kamet (7,756m). Ravi is the Director of National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) India, responsible for Program Design, and the implementation of all course operations. He has climbed and lead Educational International Climbing Expeditions in the Indian Himalayas, Rocky Mountains, North Cascades USA, British Colombia Canada and in Scandinavia.
Ravi has also worked as Program Coordinator at the General Thimmaiah National Academy of Adventure (GETNAA) Govt. of Karnataka, popularizing adventure activities among youth in South India. He also contributed as Head of Risk Management & Training, at iDiscoveri Education & Enterprise Pvt. Ltd, with additional contribution to the institution’s educational tools and curriculum and Consulting for organizations on needs-analysis, identifying leadership competencies, developing plans pertaining to leadership, team building and change, delivery those plans and measuring effectiveness.
Ajay Prasad, Policy Advisor for Collaborations.
Ajay Prasad has been a resident of Majkhali for the last 7 years. Prior to that, he worked in the public as well as private sector institutions for over 35 years, out of which 12 years were in Nigeria as head of a large Indian conglomerate and 5 years in the Netherlands as Managing Director of an Indo-Dutch joint venture.
With a great blend of Asian, African & European experience, he returned to India to work for a well known Policy Think Tank. Though, he continues to be associated with many of his earlier colleagues and networks; he has started to devote most of his effort in supporting local philanthropic causes specially related to education. He regularly serves Sri Sarada Math, a women wing organization, of the order of the internationally renowned Sri Ramakrishna Mission, initiated by Swami Vivekananda.
Neera Kashyap, Journalist and Writer.
Neera Kashyap lives in Majkhali close to the Vrikshalaya Himalayan Centre. Neera started her working career as a journalist with the Hindustan Times and went on to specialize in environment and health journalism as senior researcher and editor with Centre for Science & Environment and then The Voluntary Health Association of India. She later specialized in Social and Health Communications, working chiefly in the fields of HIV/AIDS, Reproductive Health and Poverty.
Neera has also published a book of stories for children for Rupa & Co. and for Anthologies of Prize-winning Stories for the Children’s Book Trust. These stories reflect both the stresses children face,using magic realism as a storytelling method to tap into deeper layers of the subconscious.
Neera is a lifelong student of spirituality, interpreting subtle meanings in Hindu and Buddhist scriptures and literature for modern readers, in articles published in journals such as Mountain Path, Life Positive and Bhavan’s Journal. Neerais a devotee of the advaitic sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi, practicing his method of self-enquiry and surrender.
Aditya Babbar, IT Specialist.
Aditya Babbar is the Co-founder of Resumonk, an online service that lets you create a beautiful & professional résumé in minutes. He started his career as a generalist programmer but now focuses mainly on online user acquisition & retention.
After creating the location independent business of Resumonk, Aditya chose to settle down in Majkhali and contribute to improving the lives of local people living in the hills. Aditya lives next door to the Vrikshalaya centre and you are most welcome to drop by at his place & say hello any time!
Tanya Kim Grassley, Strategist.
Tanya is a strategist, copywriter and the founder of the creative network and consultancy, Imaginary Life. She is often hired to kick-start new initiatives, by defining and implementing visions, missions, messaging and storytelling.
Tanya's is a graduate of SOAS, London University, where her MA thesis on 'Identity and Image-making' won the Ivan Morris award. She is particularly interested in human ecology in a networked society, and how Design Thinking and an integrated approach to communications and service design can be applied to this area.
Martina Hoft, Scientist.
Martina is a passionate conservation biologist, fascinated by the intricate processes that maintain the earth’s natural life-cycles. She did her doctorate on Plant Ecology in an African low-land rainforest. Martina brings expertise in participatory management structures across several working various areas. She helped tutoring students in Ethno-botany for four years, and has extensive knowledge on how people use plants.
She has lived and worked in Germany, India, France, Kenya and Papua New Guinea and is currently based in Montreal, Canada, where she co-managed a local food cooperative. In 2015, she founded Reedworks International, a federally incorporated non-for profit organization to raise awareness about the value of wetlands their conservation and restoration.
As a long-standing Hatha yoga practitioner, and student of Buddhist teachings and Native North-American culture, Martina was welcomed into the Longhouse Up the Hill on Mohawk territory. Here she learned about the traditional Iroquois political system as well as their respect for the great powers inherent to nature.
Gudrun Henne, Leadership Coach.
Gudrun Henne is a lawyer and consultant, an environmentalist and a life coach for senior corporate leaders and decision makers. She has been at the forefront of international environmental negotiations and is an activist, devoting several years to managing the German branch of the International Campaign for Tibet. She founded Viveka International in Berlin and Vienna, a company that helps corporations and organizations in futuristic strategic thinking and coaching of managers.
As a fully qualified lawyer with a PhD in International Law, certified trainer in Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), coach and certified systemic organizational consultant,Gudrun offers her clients a broad spectrum of methods that are all based on insights into the magnificent amplitude of the human mind. She sheds new light, from the over-arching perspective to the depths of structures. Gudrun is also a yoga teacher and has been a yoga practitioner in the Sivanada tradition for over 20 years.
Raj Supe, Creative Writer.
Raj Supe, a.k.a. Kinkar Vishwashreyananda (ordained name), is a writer and Co-Founder of The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature (FCN). He is also a writer; a poet, storyteller, novelist, and an initiated devotee or bhakta of the Guru Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath. After gaining his master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA), Raj pursued a career in advertising, research and creative consulting before dedicating himself to literature and spirituality.
Raj has written several novels, a spiritual memoir and has translated religious texts such as When Life Goes Turtle, Cloudburst of Thousand Suns and Rainbow at Noon. His writings convey the passion of a man seeking to apply the learning of traditional mythic imagery to the challenges of post-modern life. Raj often accompanies his Guru on his travels. He is the editor of the spirituality e-magazine; The Mother. He leads a simple life in Rishikesh and enjoys his morning bath in the Ganges!
Akshay Shah, Outdoor Educator.
Akshay Shah is Head of Operations at the Hanifl Centre for Outdoor Education and Environmental Study in Woodstock School, Mussoorie. He is a resident of Ranikhet and prior to joining Hanifl, he ran his own company Himalayan Wanderers and ran several joint programmes with FCN. His firm belief in fair trade and principles of 'leave no trace' in camping and mountaineering have earned distinctions for his company amongst most reputed clients in the country and overseas.
Among other things, Akshay led a four year progamme on Municipal Waste Management in the lake town of Nainital. This project popularly called 'Mission Butterfly' created a novel participatory approach engaging with all the diverse stakeholders. He is qualified instructor in Wilderness Medicine and a passionate mountaineer. His association with Mirtola Ashram goes right from a young age and the influence of late Ashish da has shaped his ideas and journey.