The DeSouza brothers grew up visiting the Western Ghats, and from an early age understood the beauty and bounty of the region. Their interest in conservation and education led them to aquire 2,500-acres of mountainous range land, farm fields, and dense forest. In order to determine how best to conserve, restore, and develop the land, they brought together a team designers, engineers, horticulturalists, and ecologists to help design an ecological retreat.
The planning and design went against resort conventions at the time, dispersing the program through roughly 350 acres rather than ganging program to economize on services. The team chose distinct existing landscapes in which to site the suites and villas, the spa, the club, the Institute, the riding centre, and the spiritual retreat. The architecture of each grew out of the specific landscape, from forest to village to farm field.
The team revegetated the slopes, cutting thousands of meters of contour trenches to recharge groundwater and cultivate new grasslands, shrubland and forest. A nursery was begun in 2003, to provide new plantings for the retreat, as well as additional income from sales; the nursery has grown over 100,000 plants. Organic farming practices were established in 2004.
The Shillim Foundation is the international arm of the Shillim Institute
The Shillim Foundation is an international arm of the Shillim Institute, which is located at the heart of the Shillim Retreat in the Western Ghats. The mission of the Shillim Institute is to generate ideas and facilitate positive action in the areas of conservation, sustainability and healing. The Institute is a platform for knowledge and action, a forum for people to share ideas and life works, a gathering place to share information and solve problems, and a site of cultural exchange, in music, art, comparative literature, beliefs, faiths, and practices. The Institute supports a range of visiting master programs, cultural exchanges, fellowships, exchange programs and residencies with a special emphasis on:
- Ecology & Environment
- Economics of Conservation and Sustainable Design
- Agriculture & Foods for the Future
- Alternative Healing & Perfect Health
- Earth Ethics & Community Connectivity
- Arts and Culture
The Shillim Institute also practices its guiding principles through the care of the 2,500 acre Shillim Estate, maintaining programs in:
- Conservation: constant wildlife & forest monitoring to prevent incursions, grazing and poaching; reforestation program at the nursery; soil erosion control and prevention; landscape restoration.
- Sustainability: solar energy production, low consumption lights, electric vehicles, treatment of water and waste, practical selection of all materials used on site.
- Food autonomy: onsite organic vegetable garden & planting edible landscapes, composting, local contract farming, bee farming, sustainable menus in restaurants, studying and implementing forest agriculture ecosystems.
- Community: encouraging local artisanal practices, employment of locals villagers, training local farmers in responsible farming practices.
- Arts & Culture: dance, music pottery, weaving, natural dyes, carving, local plants in medicinal use, native ornaments, edible plants, local geology, local beliefs, traditions, rituals, local social networks and economies.
- Wellness: integration through the spa, outdoor, fitness & adventure activities and food.
The Western Ghats are home to over 325 endangered species
Shillim is located in the northern Western Ghats, a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it's rich biodiversity, unique geology, and large-scale influence over the biophysics of the entire Indian peninsula. The region is notable for its high level of endemicism and endangered species, some of which are found on the Shillim property. While walking Shillim, one may hear the clicking call of the endemic Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) or see a Peacock proudly perched on the mountain ridge.
Shillim is also a 5-star hotel and spa operated by Hilton
Hilton Shillim Estates
The Retreat includes a 100-room lodge, a spa with 12 villas, a spiritual retreat, horseback riding and climbing, and numerous hiking and riding trails. All revolve around the Shillim Institute, dedicated to sustainable development, supported by cultural programming demonstrating the role of the music, art and literature in promoting a sustainable way of life.