Reflecting on 2018: The Highs And Lows That We Saw At Indiahikes

T   his is a sneak peek into an internal mail that was sent out to our Trek Leaders. It was written by the head of Training and Induction at Indiahikes, Lakshmi Selvakumaran. She mentors our Trek Leaders and also heads our Green Trails work. Her mail gives some wonderful insight on our work, our vision and also the year that was. Give it a read here. 

Excerpt from an internal mail to our Trek Leaders

“Dear All,

Hope you are all doing well.

We are approaching the end of 2018. Over the past week, I have been trying to summarize the major highlights. As I reflect, I realize a lot has happened over the past year.

As trek leaders, you do not get to meet each other or me for prolonged time.  Our meetings as a team are few and short. Given this, I felt it was important that I share my reflections with you. I’ll do that through this mail. I believe that it will give you more clarity and a sense of direction for the next year, as it did for me.

I will try to keep it short but there is so much to share. So, bear with me. 🙂

Vision of Indiahikes

The biggest highlight for me this year is that we laid down a formal vision of Indiahikes.  Even though we knew the vision, we never really put it down.

Over the past month, we have had numerous discussions to put together our vision. As we grow as an organization, visions change. It was important to identify this.

Arjun summarized what vision is to an organization through this analogy:

Indiahikes is like a ship. People who are on it, are working to direct the ship towards a known destination. The destination is the vision. People board and unboard the ship but for the time they are in, they steer the ship towards the destination — the vision. Our vision is simple: we are trying to define the future of trekking. 

In the history of Indian trekking, Indiahikes has played a pivotal role. We have changed and grown trekking in India. Indiahikes has made trekking accessible to a new generation of Indians.

We have done this by bringing in new and exhaustive trek information, opening new trekking trails, setting new ways of trekking, bringing in new safety systems, introducing cutting edge trek equipment, and finally, fundamentally changing how waste is managed on treks.

The impact of Indiahikes on Indian trekking is enormous. We have the legacy and responsibility of taking trekking forward.

Keeping this vision in mind, let me put the rest of what happened in the year in context.

Let me start with the highlights on the trek leading team

At the beginning of this year, my goal for training was to change how training was done. I wanted to bring in a culture of mutual knowledge sharing and continuous learning.

But to ensure that we constantly remain in learning mode, grow our skills and take trek leading to the next level, the way we saw training had to change. That is what I wanted to do.

Looking back, I think we have partially succeeded.  As I write to you, all our slopes have slope managers/trainers. They are not going about lecturing about trek leading. Instead, they are facilitating an environment of knowledge sharing.

I can already see trek leading changing. As more and more trek leaders take up slope management / training, this will get better and better.

But we have just scratched the surface. There is more that trek leaders can do. Just the other day, I received a handbook about Guru Ghasidas national park from Chhattisgarh Tourism department.  At the end of the handbook, it had a checklist of all birds, mammals, butterflies, insects that I can possibly see on the trek. I decided to cross off whatever I would see on the trail. That just made my trek all the more exciting.

At the end of it, I was thinking that this is something we should have on all our treks. This is not the only thing we can do. We can do more and with that, change the way trekkers perceive trekking. Possibilities are endless. So, for a trek leader, the journey of trek leading is endless.

We have done more explorations this year than any other year

Around September this year, we were thrown a sudden curveball, with the ban on camping in the meadows of Uttarakhand. That shook us badly. Though many of our treks recovered and are running, we have lost some of our good ones – Roopkund, Kuari Pass and Pangarchulla.

While it riled us up, it also made us revisit the reason Indiahikes existed.

What were we here for? To explore and document, to trek, to define the future of trekking.

The reflection resulted in three key decisions that will perhaps change Indiahikes forever:

  • We explored and opened more treks across various states
  • We tried to reduce the overcrowding of popular treks by reducing the number of batches we opened
  • We limited our batch sizes to 21, to make trekkers consider other treks.

We took these decisions knowing of the financial loss that we would incur. It was not an easy choice. But we went ahead because it strongly aligned with our vision. It would change the way trekking was looked at in our country. It was a result worth going after.

Today, the result is that we have explored and opened more treks than any previous years. This gave way to Mukta TopDeoban trek, the Chhattisgarh Jungle Trek and Phulara Ridge. Not just that, we are constantly exploring new routes of our existing treks — Kedarkantha, Dayara Bugyal and Brahmatal. We have more new treks in Kashmir, Himachal, Nepal and Chhattisgarh explored and waiting to be opened.

We are considering the possibility of opening difficult treks in summer months as well.  This will be done in a DIY format, led by the most experienced trek leaders.

This is again exciting. As I sit back and think of 2019, I cannot but feel jealous of the opportunities that lie ahead of you. I believe that 2019 will be a transition period for trekking in India.

Our Green Trails spirit is growing stronger

For Green Trails, it has been an eventful year. Our Green Trails fellows have gone forward to create huge impact in Sandakphu and Lohajung. We have impacted not just trekkers, but even the communities around – in a permanent way. This is a huge achievement for Green Trails.

More than this, the Green Trails protocols practised by us on our slopes are getting stronger. Segregation has become faster and more efficient. It now involves all trekkers. Thanks to you, trekkers are now going back rethinking waste and how we handle it even back in the cities.

This comment by our trekker Vidya Harish is just a peek into what trekkers take back.

“I am just so happy with the way Indiahikes thinks about plastic and your concern towards our beautiful earth. After my trek with Indiahikes this summer and a chat with Mr. Venkat (our trek leader), I really couldn’t have gone to the extent you people work, but I do my bit by carrying my own grocery bag to the vegetables vendor instead of the plastic bags they give us, I teach my kids the importance of reusing stuff rather than buying new ones and the harmful effects of plastic on the environment and animals in particular. Thank you for the good work and making people more aware of these things in your own way.” 

Every year, we surpass the amount of waste collected from the trails. This year is no different. Not only did we collect 26,462.65 kg of waste (almost double of what we collected last year), we segregated consistently and diverted more than 50% of the waste from landfills. This is huge!

With time, I hope Green Trails becomes second nature to all of us. When it does, trekking will change. People will see no other way to trek than by following these protocols – much like our safety protocols. This is already happening but slowly.

Outside this, Green Trails is in the process of becoming an independent trust. We want to expand our sphere of influence with not just our trekkers but with everyone who comes on a trek. We hope to do this by setting up and facilitating the entire infrastructure for making a trek sustainable. We want to work with the Forest and Tourism offices on this. Again, the possibilities of what we can achieve is endless.

In 2019, I hope that we flag this off and set out to change trekking on a much larger scale.

More and more children and young adults are trekking with us

This year, our Outdoor Education programme has evolved to become Experiential Learning Program (ELP). IIMs – Indore, Lucknow and Bangalore have formalized ELP as part of their curriculum. October and November were packed with IIM students coming out to the Himalayas to put their management lessons to test.

The ELP team redesigned the program several times to extract the most learning out of the trek. We are still trying to make it better. More and more IIMs are expressing interest to add this to their curriculum. The impact a trek has on these young adults is immense and these institutions are realizing it.

We had more schools bring their children to Himalayan treks. They, too are realizing the potential of experiential learning on the young minds. More than 10 schools are on board with us on our ELP.

We believe that treks can teach values and attitudes to children more strongly than in the classroom. We want all children to trek, to experience outdoors.

Our relationship with trekkers is changing

At the beginning of this year, we moved to the new booking system. From there, our trekker’s experience with us before and after a trek is just getting better and better.

Our trek coordinators have become extremely efficient and the back end processes have become more streamlined. Right from fitness to Green rails to gear, we are able to handhold trekkers much better than we used to.

Our trek coordinators are now looking at trekkers differently. Trek coordinators have started seeing themselves as passive Trek Leaders. They feel more ownership of the trekkers. This has changed the definition of trek coordinators’ roles. They want to bring an element of fun while they get trekkers to understand our philosophy of trekking. As they continue on the journey of redefining their role, they are taking help from technology.

Our rentals range is expanding

We started rentals because we believed that trekking must be accessible by anyone.  Cost should not be a factor that should stop someone from trekking. Not just that, rentals strongly aligns with Green Trails.

This last year, we have brought in shoes, jackets, trek poles, backpack and ponchos on rent. From just last week, we have steel bottles and lunch boxes added to our rental list. Currently, more than one fourth of a trekking team enjoys the benefits of renting equipment.

Can we expand the equipment that can be rented and get more trekkers to benefit from rentals?That is what we are now working towards.

If you ask me, where can rentals go?  It would be the day when a trekker can just come with things he uses in his everyday life and be able to do a trek with no extra cost.  That’s an exciting future. That would just change the way people trek in India.

Our content is taking new dimensions

Content has been the fulcrum that all of us comfortably stand upon. Good content to us means that a trekker’s journey to find any trek information starts and ends with us. That includes extensive in-depth documentations and up-to-date knowledge about the trekking world. Making these interactive, engaging, interesting and accurate is not an easy task.

This year, our content team worked a lot towards bringing this to action. We have documented a whole array of treks. Our website has gone through an extensive upgrade. Our photos and videos have become more informative and engaging.

The way forward, as we see it, is collaboration with experts in every field — trekking, wildlife, flora, weather, geology… It begins with imagination and ends with making the possibilities come alive.

At Indiahikes, we know the power of credible information and we aim at making it more interactive, engaging and interesting. Our content will strive towards that.

World of treks

We want to expand outside India. We feel that not just Indian trekking, but how treks done internationally must also change.  And we want to be at the forefront of changing how trekking is done globally.

With that thought, came the idea of ‘World of Treks’. We have already set the ball rolling. We have explored few more treks in Nepal. We will be opening those treks in 2019.

We are looking for the next country to step into. Who knows, in the next few years, we will probably be in countries that we have always dreamt of trekking in. Imagine getting to lead treks there! I hope you are extremely excited about it — because I am.

We need more people on board

I didn’t anticipate that there would be so much to share. The email indeed was long. But I felt that I need to share with you the possibilities of what lies ahead for all of us.

To realize this is not simple. We need the right people on board. We have lots of new roles on our website. Getting the right people is difficult. You can help here. Talk to others, share with them what we are trying to do. Get people who you feel can help us to join this journey.

A year that can be

Knowingly or unknowingly, over the past year, we have been moving towards our vision of setting the future of trekking.  But this coming year, with the vision clearly in mind, I hope we are steadfast and stronger in realizing some of these possibilities.

The journey ahead to me looks not just exciting, but more meaningful and rewarding. I hope you are on board the ship with me.”

If you have any thoughts around the world of trekking, the possibilities, your observations or learnings, drop in a comment below.

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9 thoughts on “Reflecting on 2018: The Highs And Lows That We Saw At Indiahikes

  1. I never got a chance to trek with indiahikes but I read every possible blog from indiahikes. Everytime I read them, I enter into a dream world of mine – mountains and trekking. Reading this blog about the 2018 insights and green trails, I think indiahikes is really making green initiatives. I wish I could be part of the indiahikes team. I am looking forward to 2019 as my trek and travel year.
    Wish you all a fruitful new year 2019 and beyond.

  2. First thank you to Swathi for sharing great content through mail to me. In October I had completed my first trek(Tapovan) through INDIAHIKES, For me it’s unforgettable adventure. Without my trek leader, it won’t be possible. His name is Pawan, The great thing in this journey is,it’s inspiring me to write my first novel. I’m grateful to him and to India hikes. Earlier I don’t know much about India hikes or what is it trying to achieve as a organization, Now after I read the mail I got to know the vision of India hikes and how your helping people to achieve their passion as mountaineer and adventurer. As you mentioned in the mail, Treaks in other countries and nepal. I’m looking forward to see more treks in India and outside. I’m sincerely appreciating each and everyone for their effort. Keep going, I would like to share my ideas too in future. Thank you

  3. I hiked Sandakphu and I really liked the way it was organized and the trekkers taken care of. Our trek leader selke saipavan was very informative and took care of all of us very well along with the local guides
    Kudos to the Indiahikes team.

    Now to the main part. I had a suggestion.

    I have a childhood friend who grew up in a deaf and dumb home since his parents were so. While getting instructions about the trail for the next day during the trek I realised that there was no way someone deaf and dumb would understand these instructions unless they can lipread.

    I realized that may be the trek leaders and the local guides at indiahikes can include this community of people by getting trained in sign language.

    This will greatly help with goodwill and also in getting these folks in the fold. We don’t want them to not be able to hike with Indiahikes because of their challenge to communicate.

  4. Thanks for sharing Lakshmi’s report with us. This passage stood out: “Just the other day, I received a handbook about Guru Ghasidas national park from Chhattisgarh Tourism department. At the end of the handbook, it had a checklist of all birds, mammals, butterflies, insects that I can possibly see on the trek. I decided to cross off whatever I would see on the trail. That just made my trek all the more exciting.”

    Well said. Trekking is not only about endurance and accomplishment and vistas. It is also a chance to engage with nature at every level: the meadows, the forests, the birds, and wildlife. What are these plants and animals? How did they evolve and survive? Just as we study math, science, engineering, can we study this environment with the same commitment and passion? Then we will know how to conserve it, protect it, to tread lightly, and leave no trace or leave it better than we found it.

    Kudos to IH for their exemplary leadership in bringing people closer to nature and teaching them the importance of conservation.

  5. Dear Swathy & Laxmi, hats off to you for the efforts which go into communicating with trekkers. As an elderly citizen (64+), I did my VoF in August 18 & just returning after completing Mukta Top trek. Purpose of doing them were varied from first to the second trek. In the first, I had dreams of seeing vast meadows filled with riot of colours. And, in the second, spirit of adventure took over. Both were achieved. Looking forward to more rewarding treks in 2019. Wishing every one in India gives a very happy new year 2019.

  6. Thanks for sharing kuch a nice internal mail..

    I really appreciate your thoughts about green and clean treks. I have been to several treks in Norway and was surprised to see that there’s not even trace of any garbage or wrapper or bottle or anything on any of the treks. This should be our motives for treks in India as well.

    Would love to join you for first time in any possibility in future treks of yours.

  7. Extremely pertinent article and since I have been on two treks with Indiahikes; Kedarkantha and Sandakhpu, I have seen first hand what Indiahikes is doing. Very impressive.

    Refering to Lakshmi’s comment above, I and my wife are in in our late 50s and we had a wonderful time with the two trek teams who were mostly in their 20s and 30s. You can join any trek and if you are fit there should be no problem at all. We wouldn’t want an elderly only trek!

    Collecting waste in the little green bag on treks is fine, but can we install dustbins at half kilometer intervals on the trail so that people can leave their waste in properly designated areas and don’t litter the trail? The local people can make these dustbins as well as empty them on a daily basis. This provide some financial support to the local community.

    I am sure a small trash removal supplement on the Indiahikes trek cost will be happily borne by the trekkers to support this cause.
    We look forward to the our next trek to Darya Bugyal; unfortunately Pangarchlla is not available; that is what we wanted to do.
    Indiahikes need to expand to the Northeast region where there are wonderful trek opportunities. How about starting treks in Bhutan, Mynmar, SriLanka etc. A global presence with our own Indiahikes is welcome.