The Weekend Leader - Shashi Bahuguna's Namakwali Takes Himalayan Salt To Great Heights

Starting with Rs 1.5 Lakh, Mountain Woman's Salt Venture Strikes Gold with Rs 50 Lakh Turnover

Rama Devi Menon   |  


Vol 15 | Issue 14

Growing up in the Tehri Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, Shashi Bahuguna Raturi developed a deep fondness for pahadi (mountain) cuisine. This interest evolved into a business venture four years ago when she launched her own company, offering the humble yet flavourful Himalayan rock salt, Pisyu Loon, as its flagship product under the brand name of Namakwali.

Starting with a modest investment of Rs. 1.5 lakh and just three women, the business now boasts an annual turnover of Rs. 50 lakh and a profit margin of 17%.

Shashi Bahuguna Raturi launched Namakwali in 2020 with Rs 1.5 lakh (Photos: Special Arrangement)

This success is particularly remarkable in the business world, where many startups, including those led by MBA graduates and urban entrepreneurs, struggle to break even in the first five years after launching.

Traditionally sourced from Tehri, Garhwal, and the surrounding regions of Uttarakhand, Pisyu Loon is known for its digestive benefits, particularly its ability to help neutralise acidity.

This salt is enriched with a blend of fresh herbs and spices, including mint, coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and chili. These ingredients are meticulously ground using a stone or a flat mortar-and-pestle grinder, commonly referred to as “sil-batta.”

Produced by women in villages around Tehri and Garhwal, Pisyu Loon is experiencing a surge in popularity across major metropolitan cities.

“Every herb and spice is handpicked from the high altitudes of the Uttarakhand Himalayan range. It is extremely nutritious and is 100% organic, without any added chemicals,” says Shashi.

“The process of handpicking the ingredients in the courtyard of their homes, grinding the salt on the sil-batta and packing it is infused with a pinch of laughter, a spoonful of traditional songs, and a handful of love, which reverberates when you open the pack,” she laughs.

Shashi started with Pisyu Loon salt and expanded to include various other items

Namkwali has rapidly expanded its product line beyond the initial Pisyu Loon salt offering. Currently, it features a total of 21 SKUs, according to Shashi.

“Our product range now includes Pisyu Loon salt, Pahadi honey, Haldi (turmeric), cow ghee, chutney powders, and pulses, with prices ranging from Rs 120 to Rs 2,800,” she explains.

“Our business model primarily operates on a direct-to-consumer (D2C) basis. The products are available on Amazon and Flipkart as well as on our website, which accounts for 70% of sales.”

In terms of pricing, while ordinary salt is relatively inexpensive, Pisyu Loon salt comes in various pack sizes, including 80 grams (Rs 160), and 200 grams (Rs 230).

Shashi, who completed her intermediate course (equivalent to higher secondary school) from the Government Girls Inter College in Thano, Dehradun, was keen to empower the women in her community even during her student days.

"Before venturing into the business world, we were running an NGO, Mahila Nav Jagran Samiti, founded in 1982 in the picturesque town of Chamba, Tehri Garhwal, with a focus on women’s empowerment," Shashi recounts.

Shashi has been actively involved in women and child welfare since the 1980s. In 1985, she started a Balwadi to take care of the children when their parents went to collect firewood.

Women engrossed in the making of Namakwali products 

“I noticed that the children were locked up for almost four hours when their parents were away. I took this opportunity to educate the children about the environment, hygiene and more. The parents were more than willing because the children were making use of their time productively,” says Shashi.

The introduction of Balwadis marked a pivotal moment for community engagement and awareness. These initiatives gained recognition and support from the government, evolving into what are now known as Anganwadis.

“Social work is ingrained in me. Whether it is women or children, I always had this urge to work for their empowerment and upliftment,” says Shashi.

“Our motivation primarily stemmed from the desire to generate income for rural women and promote natural and organic products originating in the mountains, which were not adequately represented in the market. Furthermore, it helps conserve the culinary tradition of the region, which sadly most people from the current generation are not even aware of.”

Shashi embarked on a plan to raise awareness of the pahadi (mountain) cuisine, while at the same time empowering women through their culinary skills.

“My journey founding Namakwali is rooted in my upbringing, education, and support system. Growing up in the Tehri Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, I developed a love for local cuisine,” says Shashi.

“I aimed to empower marginalised communities, especially women. Exploring cooking techniques and conserving traditional cuisine has been my passion. Family and friends lent their unwavering support, helping me turn my vision into reality.”

Shashi began the ground work for her venture in 2018, employing three women from her neighbourhood.

“Women from different regions of Uttarakhand came together to showcase their ancestral traditional recipes using different varieties of flavoured salt. The planning phase for our venture was relatively short,” says Shashi.

“We initiated our presence on Facebook and Instagram, and upon receiving positive feedback from customers, we transitioned into establishing it as a brand.”

Currently, Namakwali offers a total 21 SKUs

Shashi says she was concerned how the traditional eating habits of people in the hill state were gradually changing and losing relevance. Pisyu loon was once considered exceptionally important in the pahadi regions.

During harsh winters, there is limited harvesting and vegetables are scarce. The locals eat rotis and parathas after sprinkling some of this flavourful salt.

She decided to produce and distribute this form of salt in all of its flavours across the nation by collaborating with the Dehradun-based NGO Mahila Nav Jagran Samiti.

Leveraging social media platforms, Shashi started to showcase the diverse varieties of local salt. Before long, she began receiving orders from across India, which inspired her to think bigger.

Consequently, Yellow Hinsar Pvt Ltd was officially registered in September 2020. Today, the salt is gaining popularity as it not only adds flavour to a bland curry, but can be sprinkled on salads made of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Currently, their market has expanded across India, with customers placing orders from even major cities like Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune. Shashi continues to weave stories on social media through short videos as a key strategy for reaching a wider audience.

Shashi’s husband Vipin Raturi and their two sons, Suvendu Raturi and Navendu Raturi, lend a helping hand in her business. The illustrations on the packaging and the website are hand-drawn by Vipin.

Suvendu, a documentary filmmaker and photographer, was in Spain in 2020 when the outbreak of COVID-19 rattled the world. On returning home, he found his mother struggling with the orders she received on social media pages.

He decided to list the products on Amazon, and also launched the Namakwali website. Suvendu has been completely associated with Namakwali since 2022.

The company’s head office is located at Upper Tunwala, a sub-locality in Dehradun, and there are no branches or franchisees.

Various herbs and spices are used in the making of Pisyu Loon salt

“We currently employ a total of 15 individuals, all women, at our manufacturing and packaging unit, that spans 1,200 square feet across the ground and first floors,” says Shashi.

“We aim to expand our presence offline by placing our products in supermarkets and stores in metropolitan cities. Additionally, we also want to open our own stores and expand internationally.”

With an infectious smile and dressed in traditional attire, Shashi embodies the culture and lifestyle of the mountains. Shashi aims to create awareness of the traditional cuisine of her region not only in India, but also overseas, while highlighting the efforts of the women in her community.- ©TWL

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