Have you ever sat at your desk in a monotonous corporate environment and dreamt of excitement and adventure…of doing work that stirs your soul? That’s exactly what happened to these three men who met each other rather fortuitously and started a tour agency that today does more than just pay their own bills.
It was indeed the monotony of their corporate lives that forced these three friends – Harshit Patel (28), Mohit Goswami (28), and Oshank Soni (32) — to keep moving from one job to another. Oshank was an investment banker, Mohit was an engineering graduate from IIT Kharagpur who had already changed three jobs, and Harshit was a certified mountaineer who was jobless.
However, the three, who had never met, shared one common trait. Whenever things became overwhelming, they would leave everything behind to trek up the Himalayas for a few days and come back to their routines with clearer minds.
It was on one fateful day in 2014 that Oshank, tired of the high pressure workload of investment banking, packed his bags and booked a flight to Kolkata. The short trip to Kolkata soon transformed into a road trip across Sikkim to Gangtok, and eventually ended with a trek to Goechala Summit. This break prompted him to leave behind the life he was leading as a banker.
As a student of IIT Kharagpur, Mohit knew he had made his parents very proud and happy by getting into this prestigious institution. But personally, he always felt something was missing. After graduating, he switched between three jobs within six months. Finally, he decided to leave everything behind, booked a ticket to Leh, and with no prior trekking experience walked up to Chandar Pass all alone. Though he laughs at his decision to do this today, he says it was the best one he ever made.
Harshit had started travelling solo at the age of 19. During a bike ride along the coast of Kerala he met with an accident and broke two major bones in one of his legs. Though the doctors said he would never walk again, a year after his accident and after getting proper medical care and physiotherapy, Harshit proved them wrong by going for a solo trek to Stok Kangri located in Ladakh. This achievement motivated him to take up an advanced mountaineering course and he realised he could never work sitting behind a desk.
Putting their passion to trek and desire to travel into action, the three launched a startup, became tour guides, and last year clocked a turnover of Rs. 1 crore.
Here’s how it started
In 2015, the three men, who lived in different parts of India, met each other while interviewing for jobs as trek leaders with a Rishikesh-based travel organisation.
“It was during this interview that we got to know each other and realised we were sailing in the same boat and that we wanted to do something we were passionate about. Luckily, all three of us were selected for the job. After a few months of training, we were given full-time positions,” says Oshank.
Unfortunately, they felt their work-environment was similar to that of their previous companies. So two of them – Oshank and Harshit – quit their jobs and set off on a journey on their bikes along the Indian coastline.
“While Mohit stayed in the company, Harshit and I decided to leave that job because we were not happy with the corporate aspects of the work in that organisation. We took our bikes and started riding from Valsad in Gujarat, Harshit’s home town, towards Kanyakumari. Every day we would discuss how we wanted to do something that involved travel and trekking because that was our passion,” says Oshank
Launching their startup
During their one-month long journey, the duo made plans about what they could do to earn money while pursuing their passion. They came up with the idea of ‘Trekmunk’ – a tour agency that would organise offbeat treks for groups. In November 2016, once they returned to Delhi after their trip, they officially registered their startup and roped in Mohit, who too quit his job with the Rishikesh-based tour agency. The three pooled in money from their savings and rented office space in Delhi.
“Following this, Harshit and I attended an intensive 10-day course called ‘wilderness first responder’ held at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in the United States. This gave us the confidence to chart our own trekking paths and also take others with us,” says Oshank, adding that their parents were not really happy with their decisions. They felt it would be better if their sons had stable jobs within the corporate setup.
But the three men, aside from doing work that they enjoyed, also wanted to promote tourism in new areas, generate income for the locals, promote sustainability, and reduce pressure on the mountain environment.
“Every year, 200 to 300 tourists go through the same trekking trails. They not only leave behind trash but the heavy movement also disturbs the flora and fauna in that area. While most tourists are familiar with trails like Kedarkantha, no one is aware of Buran Ghati, Lamkhaga pass, and Chamser Khangri,” says Oshank, adding that they ask the trekkers they accompany to sign a waiver that they are not carrying any disposable plastic material with them. If they do so, a fine ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 2000 is levied on them by Trekmunk..
In January 2017, Trekmunk organised the first 5-day trek to Harmuk valley. There were three separate batches and each batch had less than 10 members.
“All the members who joined that trek happened to be people who got to know about us through word-of-mouth. Even for the trips following that, tourists joined in after hearing about us from their friends. It was only in 2018 that we launched a website and hired a few other team members to work on our social media page. For the first few months, we did not keep a track of the number of people who visited us or how much we earned – we knew that we had made a lot. After spending on things we needed for the company and on ourselves, we were still left with funds. This prompted us to do something different,” says Oshank.
Organising a medical camp
During one of their treks, Oshank met a tour guide named Yash Panwar at Sankri basecamp. He was a resident of that village, which was located 200 kms away from Dehradun, the nearest city. This made it hard for people in that area to access healthcare facilities.
“So, with the excess money we made, we spoke to doctors in Pune and Nagpur who were willing to take a trek with us and organise medical camps up in the mountains. In April 2017, we took six doctors who specialise in different fields, trekked up to Sankri base and conducted health camps for three days.”
Doctor Manjiri Bhusari, a dermatologist from Mumbai was one among the six doctors who conducted the medical camp. She always loved being amidst nature and when she was requested by Trekmunk to conduct the camp she agreed with no hesitation.
“I was excited about the trek and I did not think about how tiring it would be. Though it was well organised, it was a challenging task because we had to climb up and conduct camps. Then, walk to another location and set up camps there, without any rest. But, it was satisfying to help people living in those remote areas under harsh conditions. I remember that we prescribed some basic medicines and vitamin supplements to the patients there,” she says.
Apart from this, the three men introduced ‘Trash-free Himalaya’ treks. For this, people can volunteer to go on treks to different locations in the Himalayas after the tourist season is over, to clear up the trash left behind. The volunteers are charged half of the usual price of treks, and given free food and accommodation.
If you wish to sign up for one of these treks you can do so here.
Reinventing treks owing to COVID
In March 2020, all operations of Trekmunk were put on hold after the nationwide lockdown was announced. However, the Trekmunk team members went on a trek by themselves to Kashmir.
Here, they identified new routes, charted them out, got the necessary permissions and started offering guided trips from September 15 onwards.
“To ensure our trekkers’ safety, we stick to the SOPs issued by the government and we ask the tourists to produce a Covid negative certificate on arrival. To make the activities more personalised we are also offering customised treks for groups of less than three members,” says Oshank.
To know more about Trekmunk and the trekking trips they organise visit their official page.
(Edited by Nishi Malhotra)