While making the three films in Tibet, Laurence Brahm was inspired by many individuals working to protect their culture and environment, often using microbusiness to fund community needs. In 2005 he moved from Beijing to Lhasa, and establish a social enterprise called “Shambhala Serai.”
The Shambhala Serai story began by restoring ancient buildings to help revitalize historic neighborhoods. These became unique heritage hotels, conservation lodges, restaurants and shops. As businesses they support: rural and nomadic medical and education programs, workshops for disabled, artisan craft revival, and eye care in nomadic areas. All operations use solar energy.
Shambhala Serai hotels are a pioneering example of geo-tourism. With only local Tibetan management and staff running the entire operation, they have been ranked among the leading hotels in Tibet achieving rare “gold star” status in Lhasa. That says a lot about the power of empowering people.
Creative Enterprise - Social Impact - Environmental Innovation
Shambhala Serai Group supports architecture heritage preservation, nature conservancy, nomadic outreach, rural health care, correction of unnecessary blindness, while supporting Tibet's first Montessori school offering free education to 150 rural children.
A Kashag nobility home once housed an oracle shrine has been restored with 9 guest rooms, restaurant, spa and yoga center. It houses our vocational workshop for Tibetans with disabilities and shops for their products.
This 18 room lodge protects: the sacred hot springs where tantric master Padmasambhava (founder of Tibetan Buddhism) meditated in the 8th Century. Our conservation zone protects delicate biodiversity, Yosemite-type hotsprings, sulfur calcite formations, a very rare snake species considered connected to local Naga deities. The lodge located 4200 meters above sea level in a nomadic area supports a medical clinic and 20-bed ward that provides treatment to local pilgrims and nomads, micro-projects for incense and yogurt making, and shares profits with a nearby village of disabled nomads.
Beijing Courtyard Restoration
The restoration of three Chinese courtyards on three separate "hutong" alleyways in an old quarter of Beijing led to the entire neighborhood being placed under a cultural heritage protection.
A lama’s palace meticulously restored into a 17-room hotel and restaurant features some of the finest local craftsmanship and a rare display of carvings representing the 24 Kings of Shambhala.
As the very first restoration in the ancient city of Gyangtze, at this nationally recognized heritage site, monks once brewed holy offering liquor to be presented by pilgrims to protector deities within the adjacent temple complex. The monks’ quarters have been renovated into a 10-room guest lodge and the liquor brewing area a café. It serves as a best practices standard of heritage architecture conservation.
Shambhala at the Great Wall
A meditation retreat at the foot of unrestored sections of the Great Wall. Using frames and ancient carved stones of buildings destroyed by developers we reassembled these as guest rooms, restaurant and meeting rooms. The architecture is Manchurian and the interiors Tibetan. All Tibetan staff manages the facility that protects natural areas and fragile riverbed system. The hotel was Beijing’s first eco-tourism lodge, and was awarded by Travel and Leisure one of the “50 Most Romantic Hotels” worldwide.
Give Us Back What is Ours
Heritage building restoration undertaken by a team of Tibetan artisans we gathered for this purpose. Craftsmanship techniques, knowledge and skills are being passed from master to student, father to son. Materials used are traditional. Original structures have been maintained or restored with sections of ancient buildings that were dismantled by developers and saved by our team. All staff and management are local Tibetans only, of whom two thirds are women. Most do not have over a fifth grade education. They run the whole enterprise without any outside management. All hotels are solar powered.
Save the Tibetan Tiger
Tiger pattern rugs are woven in our workshop. Tibetan rug weaving adopts a unique stitch technique being lost over time. Skills are taught by nomadic women working in residence at our workshop to keep the art alive. They use natural wool from nomadic herding and natural vegetable and stone dyes. Historically, Himalayan tigers were decimated by British Raj bounty hunting. This sends a message of environmental adaptation. Our motto: “Buy a rug, protect a tiger.”
Give the Children a Chance
Shambhala Serai supports a rural school offering free education to 150 children. Education is offered in Tibetan, Chinese, and English. In addition to the nationally required curriculum, the school offers the first Montessori program in Tibet. The school serves to benefit children from Nyetang Village as a springboard to continued education.
Tibetan Textile Revival
All pillows, bed spreads, curtains, lanterns, table clothes, napkins, traditional clothing worn by staff, are hand made at our own vocational workshop for Tibetans with disabilities, which also makes products sold locally. A number of Tibetans with disabilities have come to our workshop for vocational training, returning to their villages with skills. The workshop makes traditional Tibetan clothes and tents for local customers.
Mala Bead Breakfast Club
Beginning as a program to help begging nuns supplement income through making mala (prayer) beads, the program expanded to revive traditional Tibetan turquoise jewelry design and craftsmanship at our workshop for Tibetans with disabilities.
Empower the Monks as Medics
Training monks as medics by establishing clinics in monasteries. The program offers medical outreach in rural regions. Four rural medical clinics have been opened to date. Three have been turn-keyed to local partners. Shambhala Serai continues to manage one clinic itself located at Shambhala Source hotel, serving the local nomads and pilgrims. The clinic offers outpatient and inpatient services with a twenty-bed ward. We also established the first mobile medical clinic in Qinghai. All incense used in the Shambhala Serai hotels are made of traditional herbal medicines that promote blood circulation and relaxation. These are made by our own incense production line at the Shambhala Source nomadic clinic. Incense revenues subsidize rural medical programs.
Let the People See
Between 2008-2011, Shambhala Serai either raised or brokered funds to support some three thousand operations to correct blindness in nomadic regions. These were undertaken through eye camps conducted by Seva’s medical teams. Most cases involved cataracts.
Nomadic Nature Conservation
Shambhala Source eco-lodge protects a complex and delicate bio-diversity zone of glacial river system and geo-thermal hot springs. The area is considered a sacred pilgrimage site where 8th Century tantric master Padmasambhava meditated. There are many meditation caves in the surrounding mountains. The hot springs are considered by local Tibetans to be the entry point into the Naga realm of serpentine dragon spirits, and a holy water spring provides fresh water to the site.
Empower with Solar Power
Shambhala Serai hotels receive energy from the ultra-violent light of the Tibetan plateau. The sun is our source with solar panels supporting each building. Toward zero-carbon energy.
Great Wall Eco-Heritage
The Shambhala Ranch at the Great Wall has created a large conservation zone protecting riverbed, natural forest and mountain alongside major sections of the unrestored Great Wall. The management of this conservation zone has reduced intrusive access onto the yet unprotected sections of the Great Wall. A program of reforestation and river bed management has involved a constant struggle with local authorities against schemes of developers to overrun the area.
Heritage Neighborhood Preservation
Architecture protection to revitalize heritage neighborhoods creates employment, sustains traditional artisan crafts, returns identity and empowers the community.