An enviable list of qualifications, fat pay-cheques, travelling the world, successfully climbing the corporate ladder and years of corporate experience to back you up – these seem to be the ingredients for that ‘perfect’ life, isn’t it?
But what happens if someone chooses to say goodbye to all this? This may have an uncanny resemblance with The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – not quite literally though, but yes, there’s a Himalayan calling in this entrepreneurial venture – that was born from the heart and led by the mind.
The Lifestyle Portal is proud to showcase our latest entrepreneurial journey on how the one-year-old Mountain Walker, a Social Enterprise focused on life, living, culture and economic activity in the Himalayan mountains, came into existence.
The team at The Mountain Walker consists of Sanjay Mukherjee (Founder & Strategy Advisor), Abhishek Kaushal (Co-Founder & Chief Executive) and Ameen Shaikh (Co-Founder & Chief of Operations).
Ameen and Abhishek were born and brought up in Shimla and hence there was a mountain connection right from the start of their lives. They have been friends since kindergarten and have travelled together a lot in the mountains of Himachal since childhood.
Sanjay is Ameen’s cousin and has been visiting his Aunt (Ameen’s mother) since he was very young, in fact even before Ameen and Abhishek were born. He has always been attracted by the mountains and has a natural affinity for the Himalayas and prefers to spend all his leisure time in the mountains!
How it all began
Abhishek, an Electrical Engineer, travelled the world as Directional Drilling Specialist with Schlumberger Asia Services Limited, picking up qualifications as an M.S. in Petroleum Engineering. A pragmatic, extroverted, and multi-talented individual, Abhishek loves travelling and exploring new boundaries.
Meanwhile, Ameen – an intensely creative, introverted, and logical person – completed his Masters in Technology in Automotive Engineering and shifted to Pune to take up his job at The Automotive Research Association of India (A.R.A.I.). Ameen spent his years at A.R.A.I. specialising in R&D and Testing in Vehicle Dynamics, Road Profiling and Durability.
Both Ameen and Abhishek are restless at heart and have always wanted to do something of their own, in their own way.
In August 2014, Ameen finally hung up his engineering boots, threw caution to the winds and joined Sanjay at RedstoneSummerhill as a Consultant & Apprentice. RedstoneSummerhill serves as a mentoring firm for individuals who are willing to invest in themselves to create something of value. In February 2015, Abhishek decided to follow his heart and took the same plunge, joining RedstoneSummerhill as a Consultant & Apprentice.
The first thing Ameen and Abhishek did at RedstoneSummerhill was to fill out a Survey on their goals. Over the next year, both of them worked on different projects, learning new skills, and exploring their own thoughts, ideas, and soon it shaped into something concrete: they wanted to do something related to their home in the Himalayas, something to do with travel, story-telling and spending time in the mountains.
Once this common passion was identified, the two friends explored and brainstormed the concept with Sanjay, who, being a decade older, has made enough mistakes to help them think through! And so, after 6 long and hard months of planning, modelling, creating processes, designing, testing, redesigning, and remodelling, the three had the first draft of a comprehensive Business Plan for a Social Enterprise that would serve as a media house for all things related to remote high mountains, and also create economic value and employment through its products and services.
The name Mountain Walker was suggested by Sanjay, who has been walking the Himalayas around Himachal since he was a toddler (the moniker can be seen on all his social media). Walking is probably the slowest mode of transportation, in which one gets to spend the maximum time in the journey, enjoy the exploration of destinations, and helps one to be closest to the natural environment that one is in.
Further, walking is the easiest and most effective way of exploring the mountains as other modes of transport are not easily available. This signifies the way Sanjay, Ameen and Abhishek have been travelling throughout their lives and they wanted to spread the same awareness to other fellow travellers who love to travel in the mountains. Eventually, Mountain Walker Private Limited was officially incorporated in May 2016.
The Mountain Walker is primarily a self-funded startup. Their primary expenditure is on their travels for generating unique content, and procurement of related software and hardware. “Our primary revenue so far has been through travel services and paid content products. Apart from monetary investments, a lot of time, effort and energy have been invested in generating content, partnering with local businesses and providing relevant information to fellow travellers,” explains Ameen.
For the team at The Mountain Walker, the challenges that they perceive are in the products and services they offer. As Ameen elaborates, “In terms of products, we feel there is a lack of genuine information about the mountains – the journeys, destinations, places of interest, local culture. Our products are focused on addressing this gap.”
On the services front, the team unanimously feels that the traditional approach to travel and the way travel is perceived in India is focused on short durations of a trip, several destinations squeezed into the trip, and low budgets; and as a result, the experience of travel is always compromised due to these factors.
“All the excessive commercialisation is adversely affecting the environment and natural resources in the mountains. Moreover, the mountain folk are not directly benefiting from all the inflow of travellers since businesses are run by non-locals. Locals in the mountains move out of their villages and towns due to lack of opportunities or lack of awareness of the potential of the places they live in.The journeys and travel experiences that The Mountain Walker is bringing into the market are primarily oriented in such a way that all locals thrive economically and otherwise while staying in their towns and villages and maintaining their unique culture and traditions at the same time.” adds Ameen.
What makes The Mountain Walker unique
Their uniqueness lies in the information and guidance they provide as a team, and the local network of mountain people who share a similar philosophy as The Mountain Walker. Owing to their wealth of experience, they give equal importance to the journey as well as the destinations and don’t think of itineraries on the basis of popular and not so popular destinations.
“Our focus is to provide ‘Best-in-class’ services, give prime importance to local experiences, and offer adequate guidance and information covering all aspects of travel. We deal in all kinds of travel such as road trips, hikes, treks, adventure and leisure activities and luxury vacations. More than budget travel, we focus on premium travel experiences. We also provide travel consultancy services based on individual travel requirements, goals and preferences.”, informs Ameen.
Products & Services offered at The Mountain Walker
Currently, The Mountain Walker travels to different parts of the Indian Himalayas. They create blogs, travelogues, feature stories, photo assets, short videos and documentaries on various subjects ranging from people, life, culture, environment, travel, activities in the mountains.
They provide premium travel services of all types to all kinds of interested travellers.
They also offer custom off-site Training and Development programs for individuals, teams and companies- these are aimed at improving awareness of specific skills for managers and people in leadership positions.
Their premium offering, though, are The Mountain Walker Journeys wherein travellers can join the team for a hi-fidelity Mountain Walker experience the way the team does it.
The Mountain Walker also offers content products for sale (e.g. video footage, high quality digital and print photo assets).
“In fact, the Mountain Walker likes to showcase and portray all aspects of the mountains related to culture, travel, news, lifestyle, development, talent, art, festivities, people, stories, history, geography. Our whole idea is to create the love for the mountains that we the co-founders of The Mountain Walker feel so strongly about.” , describes Ameen.
So far, the team has been travelling to different parts of Himachal and Uttarakhand. They have covered both popular as well as lesser-known places. In the past year, The Mountain Walker has been to Shimla, Narkanda, Sangla, Kinnaur, Spiti, Chamba, Bharmour, Dodra Kwar, and Nainital on different road trips. The Mountain Walker has also done a few treks and a mountaineering expedition as well.
Spiti during winters was by far the most challenging and rewarding trips undertaken by The Mountain Walker team. As Ameen recalls, “The area is cut-off from the rest of the country in winters so travelling to and staying there becomes really tough. The harsh environmental conditions test one’s endurance, adaptability and passion for travel. We got a very good insight into how locals live in such conditions, where even the basic needs are difficult to get and outside help is not easily available due to lack of connectivity. The charm and beauty of the place is at its peak during this season. The friendly nature of the people and their hospitality is truly worth admiring.”
In the future, they plan to travel to other parts of Indian Himalayas in J&K, Sikkim, Arunachal, and also cover Nepal and Bhutan.
The Mountain Walker Community – Clients and Associates
Their clients are fellow travellers who share a similar outlook on travel, or those who are open to undertaking a detail oriented travel experience. These are people for whom the experience starts the moment they step out of their homes and ends when they get back home, with a newly grown appetite for more of such travel experiences. These are also the people who actually want to learn and gain from the entire travel experience and just don’t focus on ticking off items on a checklist.
Regarding the associates of The Mountain Walker, Ameen states, “We like to collaborate with locals who care about their culture and environment and are trying to make a difference to the local economy without diluting traditions/culture. We also engage with local businesses who focus on providing an experience of a lifetime to the guests, be it in terms of luxury, activities and/or local traditions/culture!”.
Ameen signs off, “We have a long-term plan, to be built by phases. We are still very much in Phase 1, in which we hope to play our part by being a good source of diverse information, guidance, services and support to people travelling to the mountains. We aim to help the local businesses to grow, whether in services or products so that they become more sustainable and also generate opportunities for the benefit of the local public, which will, in turn, help the local economy. We also will target local artists and talented people to showcase their talent and connect them with like-minded people in the mountains and outside. We don’t believe in charity and hence we would like to work along with the mountain folk so that we grow together in every aspect – economic, personal, and as a society.”
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