I met Oshank and Harshit while on a trip to Mount Abu. They had come there from Nagaland via Rajasthan. While I know a lot of people who have taken up full time travelling, what strikes you about these guys is their insurmountable, insane passion to not let any place go unexplored. They travel without itinerary, checklists or plans – they are possessed by wanderlust but also aspire to make a difference wherever they go.
We decided to do this story when I started shooting my questions and they realised they had more to say, alongside the answers. Everyone they meet gets intrigued to know their story. So here goes…
Sometimes a prolonged illness comes with a revelation. Oshank was suffering from typhoid. He decided to travel to North East India as soon as he recovered. The fifteen-day trip was extended to a month and he covered Kolkatta, Darjeeling, Sikkim Assam and Meghalaya. He trekked for the first time in his life – a five day solo trek to Goecha La in Sikkim which is one of the hardest treks in India. He was accompanied by a local whom he met on his way to Yuksam. He says, “The moment I saw those beautiful peaks of the Kanchenjunga, I knew my life had changed. I had been to some hill stations before but seeing that view was an entirely different experience. It is still my favourite trek as it changed the way I saw things. In that moment, I realised how small we are against the vastness of nature. I loved the experience – the unmatched beauty surrounding me, stimulated me to push my limits and on the last day of the trek and I covered 26 km straight to Yuksam from Dzongri. It was supposed to be an eight-day trek but I covered it in five days. That’s when my trip had transformed into a passion.
I couldn’t settle down when I came home from that trip. I decided to travel in India and covered twenty-six states and neighbouring countries with one backpack and covered all the major treks in India.”
Harshit had been travelling since he was a kid, thanks to his parents. He says, “By the time I was nineteen, I had been on several trips, Rajasthan, South India, Himachal – the longest one was from Gujarat to Himachal Pradesh (around 4300km). I had never sat for campus interviews in college and had decided to pursue a career in travelling. I had been inspired by Ray Mears and Christopher Mccandless and had signed up for a mountaineering course. Winning the best student award in the course had lifted up my spirits and I kept exploring new destinations.”
His passion was put through an acid test when he met with a dreadful accident in Kerala while on a bike trip, which broke two bones in his left leg. The doctors had to insert a rod and he couldn’t walk for three months. While he still nursed dreams to climb mountains, people had started suggesting ‘work from home’ jobs. Fighting the odds, Harshit managed to climb Mt. Stok Kangri (6153m) seven months after the accident in just under 52 hours. Today, he has finished his advanced mountaineering course, is a certified skier and has done more than twenty-five high altitude treks in the past year.
Before leaving for a bike trip to Bhutan, Oshank applied to work in a trekking organisation, as a trek leader. After coming back from Bhutan he went to Hampi, where he got a call for an orientation in Rishikesh, for the position he had applied for. It was in Rishikesh, where he met Harshit and Mohit for the first time. The three hit it off immediately owing to their passion for travel. They trekked Harkidun and Kedarkantha together. They realised that people coming there for trekking were not getting the real trekking experience; offering more like a touristy experience rather than what they had experienced… a life-changing phenomenon.
Unsatisfied and disappointed he decided to leave everything and hit the road again, he hitchhiked to Spiti and Leh to refuel his passion for seeking new horizons. He also explored Nagaland and Manipur. He says, “Exploring different states in India made me understand my country better, besides satisfying my passion for travelling. When you interact with locals you understand not only their culture but also the problems they face. I stayed in a small village in Manipur for a few days and taught some underprivileged children. This entire exercise helped me understand the geography of our country which was necessary for our endeavour, to build up our own travel company.
I was in Manipur when I called Harshit as I came to know that he had also quit his job. Harshit was in Rajasthan and we decided to go on a coastal biking trip. I took the first flight to Delhi the next day, got on my bike went to his place in Valsad from where we covered the Indian coastal area, simultaneously working on our idea.”
They named their company TrekMunk and started advertising on social media and through word of mouth. To let people know about their startup, they started posting stories about their travels, which were loved by the online audiences. They went on an extended road trip covering more than 6000 km from Valsad to Pondicherry – touching the southern tip of India, Kanyakumari, through various national parks and offbeat locations.
Meanwhile, Mohit, who is an IITian, had quit his job and went on a solo trek to Chadar. He also did a basic Paragliding Course from NIMAS, Dirang. He led more than twenty high altitude treks and walked several miles in Rajasthan for a social initiative. The personal journeys helped the team to plan their own venture.
An adventure comes with its share of thrills as well as setbacks. And even accidents.
While driving past a rainy coastal road, near Goa, Oshank was following Harshit. Somehow Harshit dodged a puddle and thought Oshank would steer clear of it. Oshank moved to the left – and fell in a bigger pothole. He got stitches on his chin and the tarmac scrapped off a significant amount of skin from his left knee and right palm. The accident also injured his wrist. Fortunately, all his bones were intact. He got hospitalised and had to spend the night in a rickety government hospital in a big hall with ten other patients. While it was difficult to get sleep there, just as they were about to nod off, some policemen came to inquire about their accident. That made them more sceptical to continue their journey.
Oshank says, “The entire night I was thinking about my trip; if I should continue it or not. I couldn’t sleep properly; even the drugs given by the doctor couldn’t help me get to sleep. Next day I told Harshit, I wanted to continue the trip and hence wanted to get discharged from the hospital. It was difficult with the policemen inquiring. I had to submit an application stating that I would be responsible for myself in case of the injuries aggravating further. I was discharged the same day and the next day we were on the road again – with bandages on my body and adventure in my heart.”
Insane Traveller has certainly been named aptly!
The insane trip went ahead with different obstacles every curve. But somehow they managed to reach Pondicherry. Oshank would stop by for dressing his wounds and Harshit fixing the bikes every day and that’s when they felt they should get enrolled in a course which would enhance their medicinal skills and help them explore new places in remote areas where medical facilities are scarce. Directly after the covering the coastal area, they went for that course and became licensed Wilderness First Responders from NOLS Wilderness Medicine Institute.
They went on to explore Darjeeling, Nagaland, and Rajasthan and meanwhile Mohit also resigned and went to explore Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. After which he joined them for a cycling trip to Rann of Kutch. They would write tiny travel stories and poems while on these trips. The response they received made them realise that people are willing to travel, like them and hence they decided to expand their offerings and formed another company called ‘Insane Traveller’ – which would not only offer backpacking trips but also the real experience that travelling offers, like hitchhiking, backpacking with different scenarios which included more local interactions. This new company would host travel events, biking trips and would collaborate with travellers to share their experiences.
Both Harshit and Oshank started off, as solo travellers; hence I wondered how they moved on to become travel buddies. Harshit says, “We bonded during a trek to Roopkund; we both were leading different teams. We quit our jobs and explored different places, but one day I got a call from Oshank and we decided to hit the coastal road of India. We realised we were meant to travel together.
Since then, we have been travelling together. We have been to the camel fair in Pushkar, satisfying our tea love in Darjeeling and have revelled at the Hornbill festival in Nagaland, went to Runn of Kutch on cycle and did a cashless trip to Diu. Many times Oshank forcefully becomes his wingman and puts him in awkward situations with women, and it takes more courage there than to climb the mountains. After all, every woman is a mountain. (No kidding, that came from someone with an advanced degree in mountaineering 😛 )
Every startup requires funding. Raising money is one of the hardest aspects of building a startup. These guys had trouble finding investors too – whoever was interested to back up their plan financially, also demanded a huge cut – which made them take the plunge and invest their own savings.
Providentially, they got good returns as people started joining them on their journeys. Everyone who came on board was forthcoming and encouraged the team, to continue their efforts. People welcome their atypical treks which are more about discovering the nature and pushing one’s limits, to enjoy the wondrous beauty, these places offer rather than the ones which are planned with a checklist.
Travelling comes with its share of predicaments. Prod Oshank to talk about it and he says, “On one of my treks to Kedarkanta as a trek leader, I had faced a challenge when one of the trekkers suffered from Pulmonary Edema. I had to bring him back to the base camp along with two of his friends. I went back to the campsite where my team was waiting for me and took them on the scheduled trek early morning the next day. I couldn’t sleep at night and have already walked for more than twelve hours. I continued the trek, as it was our duty to take the participants on that trek. Though gruelling, it felt like an achievement when I pulled that off.”
There are some wonderful experiences too – Harshit says, “During one of our treks, I met a family from Mangalore – a couple and their two sons. On the last day of the trek, one of their sons came up to me and told me that he wants to become a trek leader too. It was very sweet and his father also encouraged him. I felt very good.”
TrekMunk organized its very first trek to Chadar this year (January 2017). They trekked on the frozen river surviving -35°C, taking along two batches in succession, first one being an Alpine-style trek. They encourage Alpine style trekking; one of their mottos being – ‘Go Alpine or go home’.
Thanks to social media, people have started travelling more. Many are frustrated in their jobs and hence want to travel. However, the focus has shifted from enjoying natural experiences to simply sharing travel pictures on social media and ticking off a checklist. Insane Traveller aims to restore the spontaneous and natural spirit of travelling.
Harshit says, “We want people to explore different careers associated with travelling, and not just travel destinations. We would want to inspire people to take up exciting careers in adventure sports. These days people have sedentary lifestyles – we want to ingrain healthy habits.”
They understand their social responsibilities and are trying to affiliate with small NGOs in every state of India – who are essentially doing good work, unlike the big ones. The plan is to include social events through travelling so that people can travel to places which are not easily accessible. They have named this project ‘Itni si Hassi’.
Oshank says, “It started with helping an NGO near Kolkatta, which encourages children from slum areas to make beautiful paintings. Itni si Hassi is trying to sell these paintings so that children can contribute to their family income and pursue higher education for a better future.”
They are also going to organise special treks – cataloguing them ‘Trek for a cause’, pan India, benefitting the locals residing in the mountains. It is their constant endeavour to leave every place better than before.
Are you in search of a non-commercial and untainted experience? Do you want to enjoy the adrenaline rush that comes with exploring a new place, as never before? Next time you want to go to the mountains or head out for an adventure, do it with TrekMunk or Insane Traveller and you are sure to take back some amazing memories and insane experiences.