Ford heir at the wheel of plans for Himalayan ski resort

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 August, 2005, 12:00am

India may be blessed with the Himalayas, but it still lacks world-class facilities for skiing. That could soon change with the decision by a Ford heir to invest US$300 million in an upscale resort in the northwestern state of Himachal Pradesh.

Alfred Brush Ford, the 55-year-old great-grandson of motoring pioneer Henry Ford, has set up a new company, Himalayan Ski Village (HSV), to develop ski slopes above the picturesque hill town of Manali, a favourite backpacker destination.

The luxury resort will have gondola ski lifts, a 600-room hotel, 300 chalets and a convention centre.

An Indian touch will be added with a handicrafts village and a sanatorium intended to boost the country's growing 'hospital tourism' business.

'The company intends to begin construction in 2006 and complete the first major phase by 2009, after which India can become a legitimate contender for the Winter Olympics,' HSV managing director John Sims told the Sunday Indian Express.

Mr Ford's interest in India is not new. He is married to an Indian medical researcher, Sharmila Bhattacharya, and has been an ardent devotee of the Hare Krishna religious sect for over three decades.

He is not involved in the management of the Ford Motor Company but runs his own internet-based technology firm.

His main link to Detroit now appears to be through the Hare Krishna movement - he has donated a mansion in the city for a cultural centre run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskon).

Last year, he offered to invest more than US$130 million to develop a religious tourism centre at Iskon headquarters, 140km north of Calcutta, the port capital of eastern West Bengal state.

But he was snubbed by the state's communist chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who wanted Mr Ford to instead set up a car factory. Mr Bhattacharya refused to relax strict land ownership laws to facilitate the Hare Krishna project, and even declined to meet the American millionaire.

Mr Ford has, however, reportedly received permission for the ski resort from the Himachal Pradesh state government, and has commissioned an environmental impact study before work begins.

Until now, the remote state in the Himalayan foothills has been known internationally for two things: drug tourism and as the headquarters of exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.

The locally grown cannabis attracts hordes of backpackers and drug dealers to Himachal's Kulu Valley.