Svanir Wilderness Ecostay: A Chat with Indrani Chakraborty

An interview with Indrani Chakraborty of Svanir Wilderness Ecostay, an eco-friendly boutique homestay located near the city of Bhubaneswar, in India’s eastern state of Odisha.

By Ana Yong
All images courtesy of Svanir Wilderness Ecostay

Today, we have the incredible opportunity to interview Indrani Chakraborty, the co-founder of Svanir Wilderness Ecostay. Indrani, along with her husband Soumya Mukherji, embarked on a remarkable journey to create a haven that embraces the principles of sustainability and reconnects travelers with nature through the concept of ‘slow travel’.

As we delve into this interview, we can draw inspiration from Indrani’s visionary approach to hospitality and her dedication to environmentalism. Svanir Wilderness Ecostay, nestled in the serene landscapes of Odisha, serves as a testament to their commitment to create an eco-friendly boutique homestay while allowing guests to forge meaningful connections with one another and the natural world.

Indrani’s journey has not been without challenges. From educating people about the distinction between a homestay and a hotel to creating awareness about sustainable practices, she has persevered in her mission to make a difference. Through their cost-effective model, they aim to inspire others to replicate their eco-friendly approach near other places of interest and fostering sustainable tourism in the region.

Her experiences and insights are invaluable in our collective pursuit of sustainability and environmental consciousness. Let us learn from her passion, dedication and innovative ideas as we explore the remarkable journey of Svanir Wilderness Ecostay.

An Interview with Indrani Chakraborty, Co-founder of Svanir Wilderness Ecostay

Svanir Wilderness Ecostay: Path through a tree-filled garden
Entrance to Svanir Wilderness Ecostay

AY: What motivated you to establish Svanir Wilderness Ecostay and how does it reflect your personal values and passions?

IC: My husband, Soumya, worked in an international travel company for almost 10 years and noticed a distinct shift in travel patterns; inbound travelers wanted to stay in smaller boutique properties and asked for more meaningful interaction with the local community.

Thinking along these lines, he thought of introducing the homestay concept in Odisha (a concept which has still not caught on in similar states like Rajasthan or Kerala). For Soumya, it was also an opportunity to move closer to his parents and a change of pace.

For me, I moved here to support Soumya. I was a hardcore city girl who was afraid of spiders, insects and you name it. But when the opportunity presented itself to create something that we could call our own, we took it.

Now living in nature, seeing the changing seasons, waking up to the cacophony of birds and seeing our trees grow, I wouldn’t choose any other life. So apart from a common passion for travel and meeting and interacting with people from around the world, I too, now share the love Soumya has for nature.

Smiling couple
Soumya and Indrani

AY: What inspired you to choose the location of Svanir Wilderness Ecostay and what factors make it an ideal setting for an eco-friendly accommodation?

IC: As our cities keep growing; encroaching on forests, wetlands and farmlands, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find and explore the rural countryside of India. We are fortunate to own this piece of land in a village which still retains its simplicity and simple way of life. It’s a perfect place for guests to glimpse rural life while still enjoying the vibrant Temple City of Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. Our rural setting also means we have very minimal light pollution (perfect for star gazing on clear nights) and avoid the noise of the city.

Through our travels in Odisha, all of us, especially my father, became fascinated by the simple, beautiful and yet practical design of Santhal houses. So, when we all sat together and visualized Svanir, we drew inspiration and vision from Santhal’s design.

Red flowers with a building behind trees
Guest Cottage
Owl in a tree
One of the many unique birds found in the area

AY: Can you provide examples of any innovative or unique eco-friendly features or technologies incorporated into the design or operations of Svanir Wilderness Ecostay?

IC: Svanir was built without an architect as all the architects who visited the site, wanted to cut down trees dotted around the property; to start with a clean slate and build in straight lines. We designed the property ourselves so that all the man-made construction was molded around pre-existing trees. We’ve consciously kept the built-up area to a minimum 8% so that travelers can wake up to bird songs or glimpse at a bird at the window while enjoying a morning cup of tea.

Practices like rainwater harvesting, recycling greywater in the garden, leaf composting, vermicomposting, drip irrigation, organic farming, minimum use of single plastics and the use of the traditional bucket and mug system in the bathrooms are some of the green practices which the homestay follows.

Three people planting a tree
Guests planting a tree

AY: What are the challenges and rewards of managing Svanir Wilderness Ecostay and how it has shaped your personal and professional journey?

IC: When we initially started Svanir, we noticed that local travel companies were not eager to work with us. I realized that it wasn’t entirely their fault. The tourism footfall here is very low, so for a new concept like a homestay, it became challenging for them to promote and they may have been apprehensive about receiving negative feedback from a limited clientele.

This led us to research the destination, art, culture and heritage of Odisha. To my amazement, I discovered that Odisha had a lot to offer to tourists seeking authentic and meaningful experiences and that’s when promoting Odisha as a tourist destination became my passion.

I wanted to showcase the beauty and uniqueness of Odisha to the world and attract more visitors to experience its wonders. I think Svanir has given us a new appreciation of our cultural diversity and rich heritage.

Two women winnowing grain
Women from the local village

AY: What measures do you take to ensure the comfort and satisfaction of guests while maintaining a harmonious coexistence with the surrounding wilderness?

IC: Whenever clients stay with us, we try to gauge their interest and recommend places to match it. Also, being a small establishment with only four rooms, we are able to interact wholeheartedly with each and every one of our guests. Our common dining space and open sit-out areas allow conversations to flow uninhibitedly.

Our Homestay is a quiet zone where we don’t allow loud music and big crowds so that our resident birds, insects and butterflies are not disturbed. We also avoid the use of any harsh chemicals in the garden so that bees and other pollinators are not harmed.

A bedroom with Indian furnishings and linen
Interior of one of the cottages

AY: In what ways does Svanir Wilderness Ecostay contribute to the local community such as job creation, supporting local businesses or engaging in community development projects?

IC: Dalua village, the village we share our address with, is a poor and neglected tribal village. Most of the women folk here do back-breaking work, either at a local brick kiln or in the forest.

Through tourism, I’ve been able to employ and train a few village ladies in hospitality. At the moment, I employ six ladies from the village. With more guests arriving, I plan to involve more villagers and employ them in other skill development activities like mushroom cultivation and weaving.

Indirectly, Svanir helps the local farmers, fisherman and handyman by buying their produce at a fair price. We also promote the local artisans to our guests so that if somebody is interested in buying any craft, they can buy from the local artisans directly.

Smiling schoolkids holding up their creations
Children of Dalua village school enjoying a story-telling session at Svanir

AY: How do you engage guests in educational or immersive experiences that foster an appreciation for nature and promote sustainable living and what kind of feedback or response have you received from them?

IC: We personally take all our guests around the property, acquainting them with special plants and benefits that the villagers derive from them. For example, the branches of a native tree called Karanja is used by the locals to brush their teeth. We encourage our guest to also plant trees during the monsoon season, tag them so that they can be updated on a half-yearly basis.

Most people are very surprised when they see how close we live to the jungle and ask us whether we are scared of snakes and other poisonous animals. We tell them it’s not as hard to stay in nature as it seems. It’s a mindset that we want to change: we want to make people understand that in this concrete world, staying in nature is a luxury in itself.

Group walking a sandy path with green hills around
Guests going on a village walk
Ancient monument in forest
Local village temple

AY: Are there any specific wildlife or natural landmarks near Svanir Wilderness Ecostay that you encourage guests to explore and how do you facilitate these experiences?

IC: The forest department runs a safari in the Chandaka Dampara Sanctuary which is a stone’s throw from our place. It’s lovely 1½ hour’s drive through thick Bamboo, Sal, Karanja and Teak forests where the clients can spot deer, wild boar, monkeys, birds, mongoose and if they are lucky, wild elephants. We provide pickup and drop-off services at the sanctuary gate.

Elephant standing in the forest
Wild Elephant spotted at the Chandaka Dampara Sanctuary

AY: How do you ensure that the staff at Svanir Wilderness Ecostay align with the values and mission of the establishment?

IC: We find that the tribal community know far more about nature than we do as their existence depends on the forests. They know which wild mushrooms are edible, how to climb trees for food or how to build a mud house without external help.

They live a simple life (most houses still don’t have electricity) and it’s we who have so much to learn from them. They are happy to work here as it’s close to their homes and the work is physically less taxing.

Four smiling women in colourful clothing
Our Staff: Our Superstars

AY: How do you communicate the value of sustainable tourism to potential guests and encourage them to choose Svanir Wilderness Ecostay as their preferred accommodation option?

IC: We try to communicate the value of sustainable tourism by highlighting our eco-friendly features such as using locally available materials, mimicking traditional tribal architecture and avoiding distractions of WiFi and television.

Offering a unique and authentic experience of living close to nature and Odisha’s culture such as walking to a village, gazing at the star-lit sky, enjoying home-cooked meals and exploring tribal arts and crafts of the nearby local villages. We also offer a personal and friendly atmosphere to the guests and treat them as family members, catering to their food preferences and engaging them in meaningful conversations.

Artfully painted garden bed with a tree
Traditional seating area in front of Dining room

AY: Can you share a memorable guest story or feedback that exemplifies the impact and value of Svanir Wilderness Ecostay’s commitment to sustainability and nature conservation?

IC: It’s only because of the positive feedback and recognition from previous guests that we have received TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Award and Outlook Traveler’s Homestay of the Year Award (Editor’s Choice) for 2023.

One memorable guest story that exemplifies the impact and value of Svanir’s commitment to sustainability and nature conservation is when one of our guests was so impressed by our work and love for trees, their company decided to do their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activity here by planting 150 native trees.

AY: Are there any future plans or expansion for Svanir Wilderness Ecostay that you would like to share?

IC: Our expansion plans at the moment is limited to Svanir itself. With us doing well in business, we plan to use a part of the profit to improve the infrastructure of the village and employ more ladies to handle the increased footfall. We also want to take the nearby lands on lease and do intensive forestation to give employment to more villagers.

We are appealing to NGOs, private organizations or individuals for sponsorships of CSR activities like installing solar panels in the houses of the villagers (as they still don’t have electricity) or any other activities that would improve the standard of living in the community.


Staying at Svanir Wilderness Ecostay is truly a unique and sustainable travel experience. One compelling reason to support this establishment is its commitment to sustainability which promotes responsible tourism by minimizing its carbon footprint and encouraging guests to embrace eco-conscious practices.

In addition, it is an opportunity to experience the rich cultural heritage of Odisha. This immersive experience adds depth and authenticity to the visit, making it a memorable and enriching journey.