Today, I’m writing to you from a different setting. I’m sitting amidst a large group of trek experts, innovators, sustainability champions and trek documentors. I’m with the entire Indiahikes team. 🙂
For the first time, all our Trek Leaders have descended to Bangalore from the mountains. One by one, they marched in over the past two days, all of them pink, sunburnt, wearing big smiles after a successful month of trekking.
We’re all gathered here to reflect on how the October season went — the challenges, the successes, the learnings.
Despite working here for almost 6 years, I’m still surprised at how deep our conversations about trekking are. All our conversations revolve around 4 of our core beliefs that often define the future of trekking — Safety, Green Trails, The Indiahikes Experience and our Trek Information.
But this time, I sense a tremendous change in the Indiahikes team.
During the lockdown, we got the luxurious time to reflect on our beliefs and processes of the past 12 years. (Funnily, in the midst of running treks for 12 years, we haven’t gotten time to do this.)
Now, when I take a step back and observe, I see that we’re headed in a new direction. I can go as far to say that we’re about to change how you will look at trekking forever.
I know that the trekkers who trekked with us in October vouch for this. No matter what mindset they came with, every single one of them ended their trek saying they had never imagined trekking in this way.
Today, in my own small way, I’m bringing to you thoughts from Indiahikes 2.0.
And I’ll do this by sharing some insights on how trekking was different in the month of October.
Here’s a picture of all of us right now. It might surprise you that in a formal meeting we’re all sitting here on the floor, but this is how we are. This is how our meetings are in the mountains and in office.
How Trekking Restarted in October
It’s no secret that the Coronavirus pandemic completely wiped out the travel industry for nearly 8 months. Trekking was hit much worse — it was considered completely “inessential.”
So when the government eased the lockdown restrictions in August, it was with a lot of anxiety that we announced dates for the month of October. We wanted to start trekking again, but we had a big question mark about whether trekkers would step out at all.
“We were also apprehensive about organising treks during a pandemic. How would we keep trekkers safe? Could we deliver the new Indiahikes Trek Experience? Could we ensure trekkers followed Green Trails practices despite the fear of catching an infection?” shares Sandhya UC, the co-founder of Indiahikes.
It was with all these worries that we announced trek dates. But it was not just the dates we announced. Our core team sat together and put down an exhaustive list of 31 safety protocols. This was not just reassuring to trekkers, but it immediately brought about a leap of interest in trekking.
The numbers speak for themselves.
*This graph shows how traffic on our website dramatically increased as soon as we announced trek dates and our safety protocols.
*The second graph shows a sudden boom in trek registrations. Of course, it did not catch up with our earlier numbers (and still hasn’t), but it was a considerable increase.
“Seeing these numbers, we got a lot of reassurance that trekkers wanted to head out and trek. And that’s when we started our preparations in full swing”, shares Suhas Saya, the head of our Trek Coordinators team.
How we prepped for the October season
I want to give you a bit of a background here. We did not enter the October season like we did during any other time.
For 8 months, the trekking world had gone cold. Our Trek Leaders were locked in at home. Our mountain staff had moved back into agricultural work. Many of our transport and lodging partners had shut their businesses.
Not just that, much like anyone in the travel industry, Indiahikes had taken a big financial hit during the lockdown. Whoever was coming back to work did so with a pay cut.
But it did not take long to bring our mountain folk back to work, and to get back in touch with our other partners. Our Trek Leaders, too, were waiting to head back to the outdoors.
By late August, our preparations for October had begun. We booked tickets for all our Trek Leaders to visit Bangalore for a 14 day training.
Just when all Trek Leaders were set to visit Bangalore for a training, tragedy hit.
Our founder was tested COVID Positive.
“It was like a big storm hit us. Arjun is usually the heart of such training programmes,” shares Lakshmi Selvakumaran, the head of the Indiahikes Experience. “But when we work in the outdoor world, we learn to tackle these storms. We postponed tickets, digitised our entire training programme and carried it out online and were just as successful,” she adds.
“The training changed how we looked at trekking,” says Ravi Ranjan, our Slope Manager. “Until February, we would take trekkers safely on the trek, enrich their trail experience, and bring them back with a great experience. Trekkers would come back happy and gratified with their experience.
“But this time, we had a higher calling. We wanted to bring about an internal transformation in trekkers,” shares Ravi.
This is where the Indiahikes difference lies
At Indiahikes, we don’t look at trekking as a sport. We look at trekking as a journey that impacts the mind, body and spirit.
Trekking touches the core of who you are. You shed the mask you wear in the city. You’re not a “team lead” or a “student” or a “colleague” anymore. You’re just you. I’m just me.
We see extremely intimate moments when trekkers drop to their knees, in tears at what they’re experiencing. Many weep their hearts out.
For many trekkers, this is a side of themselves they have never met. It makes them extremely vulnerable and humble. I’m sure you’ve felt it too.
At Indiahikes, we’ve always tried to enhance this impact. And we’re going deeper into that journey.
Sitting here today, our Trek Leaders shared lovely stories of trekkers. No matter what background they came from, they went back home transformed — more confident, more zealous about life, more real, more conscious of the world around them. This is an impact that’s going to remain imprinted for years to come.
This trekker herself shares her experience. She was someone who was extremely apprehensive about continuing her trek after the second day. She almost gave up. But then, her whole experience transformed her from within.
Here’s another trekker who was so inspired by our Green Trails initiative that she came back and organised a clean up drive in a park in Mumbai. Several of them have made sustainability a part of their lifestyle now.
Listening to these stories of inspiration has filled me with a renewed sense of excitement.
I know it has been just a month since we restarted trekking, but my instinct tells me that something is about to fundamentally change in the way you experience trekking.
It is going to be more powerful, deeper and transformative. It’s not going to be the same as before.
I hope you get to be a part of it soon.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Drop in a comment below with your thoughts.