It took two treks and two and half years for a successful dentist to make a firm choice, “not towards working in the outdoors as a Trek Leader, but working with Indiahikes as a Trek Leader.”
And on this chosen journey with Indiahikes, he has grown from Trek Leader to senior Trek Leader; worked in the Exploration and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) teams, and now is a Filmmaker with the Indiahikes content team.
Dhaval Jajal’s journey reflects a carefully considered career shift into the common ground between one’s passion and duties.
Earlier in the career path
Dhaval graduated from the prestigious SDM College of Dental Sciences, Dharwad in 2009. Inspired by his uncle’s dentistry practice, he set up his own practice. “From the knowledge I gained while studying, to working, then managing everything on my own – I totally enjoyed it,” says Dhaval.
In 2016, he wanted to go on a trek and like most people, found himself on Google, “because I didn’t know anything about trekking.” Most sites listed on the first page had some or other information missing, he says. “Some wanted my number and email id to send me information. Some did not list the dates. The region and level of difficulty were not clear.”
On the second page, he hit upon the Indiahikes website. The detailed, neatly organised information blew him over. “In half an hour, I became a fan of Indiahikes,” says Dhaval. I signed up for the Rupin Pass trek, not knowing what to expect.
Soon, he found himself “trekking Rupin Pass with strangers who felt like family.”
“Those 7 to 8 days were amazing and calming. I had not been on a vacation since opening my clinic. I also actually learnt what trekking is,” he says.
Meanwhile, he was also on a journey of discovering the insides of Indiahikes.
“I got introduced to the concept of “Trek Leading” for the first time,” says Dhaval. His initial understanding of trek leading was that it was a “fancy job in which you work in the Himalayas, go on different treks, meet different people every week and get paid for it! What could be better?” laughs Dhaval.
A deeply transformative experience at Goechala
In the year before his next trek, he read all the articles about trek leading and working with Indiahikes.
“Through them I got an insight about trek leading. What I saw as a trekker was 20% of it. There was more behind the curtain,” Dhaval shares.
On his second trek, he studied the nature of work a Trek Leader undertakes. All the romantic notions he had gathered of the job during the first trek, almost immediately fell to pieces.
He observed all that the Trek Leader did. “What is his role when he is with the team and the staff? How is his day structured? At one of the campsites he was digging the toilet pit. In another he was setting up the dining tent in bad weather.” He realised that while leading a trek, “everything is your responsibility.”
The Goechala experience was even better than Rupin Pass, says Dhaval. “I had a deeply transformative experience. When I stood at the viewpoint seeking answers, everything seemed possible.”
(Inside story: An image that Dhaval shot on the Goechala trek immediately caught our attention at Indiahikes. Very few trekkers had been able to capture emotions on a trek as beautifully as this image.)
“I wanted to do this for good”
It was then that he considered shifting careers. He started researching mountaineering courses. “Since my journey in the outdoors started with Indiahikes, I never considered any other organisation. For me, working with Indiahikes was as important as working in the outdoors.”
“Having gone on two treks with them, I understood how they operate and what they were trying to do. I saw that they actually implement everything they talk about on their website, in the field,” says Dhaval. He decided he would want to work with Indiahikes but did not apply.
“I took 2 years to convince myself. There were many questions. I had studied dentistry for five years and worked for 10 years. This choice would go in the opposite direction of that one.” He also needed to convince his family as “it is very difficult to make someone who has not gone on a trek understand such a choice.”
The choice was even more difficult because of his own feelings, he says. “I was in it for the long haul. I wanted to do this for good.”
It was in 2019, two and half years after Goechala, Dhaval applied to work with Indiahikes.
Dhaval was among the fastest to progress from Asst. Trek Leading to a Trek Leader purely based on his skills and passion as a Trek Leader
“Like-minded people working in one direction”
On joining, Dhaval was immediately taken up with “the work culture.” He says, “It felt good to be with like-minded people working in one direction. It helped me to be focused and confident that I had made the right decision. The people and milieu made it very easy for me.”
He got to know the organisation better during the 21 days of training at Dehradun. He learnt about the safety protocols, different treks, Green Trails, soft and hard skills, fitness and more. All of this would be put to the test when he embarked on his first trek as an Assistant Trek Leader (ATL) to Dayara Bugyal.
A few hours before the trek was to begin, his Trek Leader called and informed him that she was unwell. Would he be able to manage leading the group? Shaken up initially, he “felt confident after 5 minutes,” shares Dhaval.
He led the team for two days till his Trek Leader joined. This is a “very special memory” and “laid the foundation” for his work, he says. From the second trek, he started taking the team on his own. He graduated from Asst. Trek Leader to a Trek Leader only after leading 15 to 20 groups.
It is the idea of like-minded people working towards the same vision that keeps Dhaval attached to Indiahikes.
Transitioning to a filmmaker and the Bangalore office
In 2 and a half years, Dhaval led about 70 teams and got designated as a Senior Trek Leader along the way. I am curious to know when and how the filmmaker in him emerged. Turns out, that journey started while he was a trekker with Indiahikes.
“During the Rupin Pass trek I clicked photos with my DSLR camera. During Goechala, I decided to try videography,” he says. He wanted to capture the different moments that the team goes through on a trek. He had spent time learning to make good quality videos and honed his editing skills.
The video came out well. He was thrilled to receive an email from Swathi that Indiahikes would be happy to sponsor his treks if he was interested in creating more content. “It meant a lot to me. I started working on improving my skills further,” he says.
He took lots of photos and videos for the content team while working as a Trek Leader. “I felt like an extension of the content team while working as a Trek Leader. This made the transition to the content team as filmmaker, very easy,” he says.
“Exclusive trek leading, I knew I could not do for more than 2 years. It takes a toll on your body. Besides, I had joined at the age of 32. So balance in my personal life was important to me. I wanted to settle down and live with my family,” he says candidly.
Thanks to the support from the Founders, he was able to achieve this balance which he defines as “working with Indiahikes and yet not compromising on family life.”
Therefore, it was not difficult to leave the mountains and move to the city. He recently led a trek to Sandakphu because a Trek Leader was injured. “Once a Trek Leader, always a Trek Leader,” says Dhaval.
Even though Dhaval moved from the mountains to the city, he believes he's contributing as much to trekking as he was while actively trek leading. Picture by Yash Trivedi
The path from here
His advice to youngsters transitioning into an outdoors career with Indiahikes is – “Working in the mountains is a byproduct of working with Indiahikes. Cultivate a bigger perspective and get to know the organisation, its values and culture so the work becomes easy. Do not look at this as a short term transition. Think long term.”
“There is a lot of freedom at Indiahikes. Your growth is in your hands, and the core team is very supportive of the direction in which you want to grow” he adds.
He personally intends to focus on making short films for the Indiahikes channel and would like “to raise a team of filmmakers.” At an organisational level, he doesn’t think it matters what role he will play “because even as a Trek Leader, I played many roles. I was in the Exploration and DIY trek teams, besides contributing to the content team. Through different roles, you get to nurture your capabilities here,” says Dhaval, rooted in contentment and confidence.