Shila Desai, owner and founder
It began on a dark and stormy night . . .
" Well, not exactly.
E.Y.H.O. had no intention of being a travel organisation. Using familial connections, I arranged a trip to India for friends. They connected with every facet of Indian life - from gritty train journeys to playing 'Holi' with maharajas and travelling with a Bollywood great. Because it was a culinary trip, my friends cheesily tagged it "Eat Your Heart Out", and E.Y.H.O Tours was born.
I was struck by how that adventure resonated with my friends and me. Sure, we ticked off the major sights. But the destination was a only a canvas. It was interactions with local people and insider experiences that elevated our travels to extraordinary.
Travelling to a theme trains a lens on a country. Themes can be sublime or bizarre, but ultimately, humans connect over the essentials of food, clothing, and architecture. For me, a passion for handmade textiles allows me to explore a country's history, culture and traditions. Yup. #crazyabouttextiles."
Shila was born and raised in Kenya in a 23-member extended Indian family (they make reluctant appearances on her award-winning memoir: The House on Ravi Crescent ). Shila's earliest memories are of travel: every year, her family voyaged back to India via a 14-day steamship journey. Shila developed roots in both East Africa and India, and later the U.K before settling in Canada. Her passion for the places of her origins infuses E.Y.H.O. trips. She is fluent in Kiswahili, Gujarati, and Hindi, in addition to English and French.
Niravbhai Panchal - Textiles, Gujarat, India
Nirav Panchal - Gujarat, India
Our textile travellers fondly call him "Nero"! They love his compassion, concern for the welfare of rural artisans, and his dashing sense of style in the revolving door of fashion statements on tour of his own clothes from natural dyed hand-loom.
A textile tour leader extraordinaire, Nirav was born in Mumbai and grew up in Ahmedabad, the textile capital and first UNESCO city in India. Nirav dropped out of school at age 14 to start working to earn money. From a porter at a wholesale garment market, Nirav worked his way up to tailor, master tailor, cutter, and master cutter before being promoted to master pattern-maker. He travelled throughout India to meet with both Indian and international designers. At this time, he began developing his English skills and read history. He says, "Happy time passes quickly!"
The 2001 Kutch earthquake was transformational. It racked up 6.7 on the Richter Scale. Alongside a Swiss team, Nirav helped in relief efforts, forever scarred by the fact that he helped rescue only 215 of 300 schoolchildren from a the ruins of a school. The following year, a U.K. NGO compiling a post-earthquake report, hired Nirav as a guide. From this start, Nirav began guiding, helped develop Ahmedabad's Heritage Walk, and was eventually awarded Gujarat's highest travel guide accolade in 2016. He married a fellow Heritage Walk guide, Urvashi, and together they have a lovely daughter, Nishtha . . . born on World Heritage Day!
E.Y.H.O. is honoured to work with a person of Nirav's dedication, talent, and integrity.
Danna Davies - Uzbekistan
“The heart wants what it wants” and apparently Dana Davies’ heart, unbeknownst to her, wanted Uzbekistan. A life long fascination with fabrics was amplified on a trip with her daughter to Turkey and the discovery of suzani embroidery that led to a textile-focused trip to Central Asia in 2011. It has grown into a full-fledged obsession with its people, culture, landscape, and legends. Dana is passionate about sharing this extraordinary experience with others and, after a spectacular tour with Shila in Northwest India, is thrilled to collaborate with E.Y.H.O. on the sold-out Uzbekistan tour in October 2019 followed by a repeat in April 2020.
Shreekesh Desai - Wildlife and Africa
Shreekesh knows Africa as only a few can. He has not only travelled practically all the countries of the continent, but walked through its wilderness and jungles. Born in Kenya, he is never happier than whacking his way through the African bush on the trail of a tusker or stalking a lion. He has been involved in wildlife conservation since he was a boy and has encyclopaedic knowledge of Africa's fauna and flora. Shreekesh brings his abiding passion for all things African to E.Y.H.O. safaris, in particular to our Botswana/Vic Falls/Namibia safari.
In his words: "I have seen a lot of Africa and I wonder if I will ever tire of the beauty of the Dark Continent. If you are at a crossroads, come, and your heart will be calmed by the wilderness and beauty of Africa."
Chloë Sayer - Mexico
Chloë Sayer is an independent scholar and curator, specializing in Mexican art and culture. The author of numerous books about textiles and craft skills, she was guest-curator of the exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum, where she is now a Research Associate. She lectures widely and has made ethnographic collections for the British Museum. She has also worked on television documentaries for the BBC and Channel 4. She was bestowed the prestigious Ohtli award by the Mexican government, in recognition of her enduring commitment to Mexican culture. Chloë led her first Mexican tour for E.Y.H.O. in 2017 with visits to ancient archaeological sites and splendid colonial cities combined with trips to small villages where craft and festive traditions endure. Stay tuned for an upcoming tour of the Chiapas!
Geeta Maini - Culinary
Geeta Maini was born in Kenya and lived in Kisumu and Nairobi as a child. She learned to cook at the side of her mother, Pushpa Bhasin, with her sister and brothers often sharing in the lessons. In Canada as a busy young mother, Geeta continued to explore the culinary arts. She became a superb hostess, a student of many ethnic cuisines and eventually a teacher offering lessons of her own. Geeta is the author of the much-loved and thumbed An Affair with Indian Cooking. Today she travels all over the world, continuing to enhance her repertoire, explore and infuse her recipes with the flavours and colours she loves. Geeta led E.Y.H.O.'s culinary tours to north India and Myanmar. Upcoming tours include Morocco and again to India.
Tim Hubbard - Gardens of Cornwall
Tim Hubbard attracted a huge green-fingered audience on BBC Radio Cornwall’s Sunday regular, Gardenline, and as author of The Great Gardens of Cornwall: The People and Their Plants about the diversity of Cornish gardens with microclimates within a microclimate. When BBC Radio Cornwall went on air in 1983, Tim presented or produced virtually every programme in the station's output including feature series and documentaries for which he won specialist awards. Specialising in Cornish subjects earned Tim the Times' radio critic's accolade: 'He knows Cornwall like the back of his hand’. At home he's a keen gardener; grows a huge number of exotic tropical plants and is often seen tramping the Cornish coastal footpath.
Simrin Desai - India, Administration
Simrin grew up in a Gujarati household in Canada and began travelling with her mother, Shila, when she was a baby. Following a degree in chemical engineering from McGill University, Canada, she travelled solo in Turkey, Morocco, and Europe, before heading to India. She volunteered in Bihar with a school for Dalit girls and travelled extensively in Gujarat, Kutch, Rajasthan, and Karnataka. Currently she works with an urban agriculture NGO in Montreàl, practices yoga, and has a deep understanding of cultural issues in India. She has worked with Shila in planning and leading E.Y.H.O. tours including the best-selling Textile Tour. Fluent in Hindi, Gujarati and French, Simrin is thrilled when she gets a chance to introduce textile lovers to the land, people, arts and textiles of her ancestry.