Imagine waking up in a sleeping bag with all your toes and fingers still freezing from the previous day’s snowfall. You get up at 4 in the morning only to see your shoes and socks still wet. After wearing the 5 layers when you step out of the tent, you just see white moonlit snow sparkling and welcoming you to the new day. Most of the people at this time just pray for that day to pass. But I was there, doing it all over again, So many times that I lost count in that month alone. Yes. I chose to be that person who loves adventure even if it’s the same.
Of my 40 batches, as a mountain staff, my trekkers curiously had this question for me “How did you decide to become a trek leader?”
Traveling was a part of me from childhood. My dad would take us on a trip every year to different places in our country. So as far as I can remember, I have been traveling and seeing places from my childhood. As kids, we would have aspired about a lot of things. Becoming a doctor, engineer, pilot, scientist, or astronaut was like the best of all dreams that the parents wanted their kids to have. I had a different dream and still have it, to speak of. I wanted to be a footballer. A professional. It’s not what you might think. I never dreamt of the fancy lifestyle of a footballer. I didn’t want to be a celebrity. I just felt that I was capable of playing all my life long. Of course, fame is a complimentary gift. But you never know what life throws at you. The same was with me.
Nearing my school final exams, some hard calls were taken and my dream was considered to be nothing for the sake of a good future that I must have. So I was said not to dream anymore. It was harsh but I believe not many are lucky to have what they dreamt of. But I felt left out. Before I could make a new dream for myself, I was in my final few days of college. Ready to be certified as an Engineer. The infamous dream of Indian parents a decade ago. With regret and a few tears, I finally stepped into the real world as an Engineer ready to earn and start my life. Still, I would run to the football ground with my jersey on. It had my name on it. I had earned the name on my jersey. I felt like a professional player for the football ground I went to. Or so I would love to say it. Nothing else was exciting in a software techie’s life.
A year later I went on a trek with my roommates to the Himalayas. My first ever high altitude trek. It was Roopkund, a moderately difficult trek. The first trek always stays fresh in your heart. During this trek, I realized that I had that special feeling in the mountains. The feeling when you reach your destination. It was as if I belong there. Knowing Hindi, made it even easier for me to get close with the guides and porters.
Being at high altitude isn't easy. I myself have seen people die at such altitudes. But somehow in my first trek, I felt that my body was welcoming this change. Years of practice sessions in the ground had finally paid off in some sorts. I was enjoying every step of the trek. I had a few incidents where I also realized that I need to learn to respect a few rules in the mountains. When I reached the summit, I figured one thing. I had found my dream. I decided that the only place where I forgot myself, if not on the football ground was the mountains.
“What are the qualifications to be a trek leader?”
As soon as I returned home from the trek, I became curious and wanted to learn more about trekking. A few things lead me over the internet to a trekking organization called India Hikes. Their website said that they were hiring. I will list here the requirements for applying to become an ATL - Assistant Trek Leader. This is mostly for all the standard organizations across the country:
Must have done minimum two high altitude treks
Must have experience of working in any organization for 2 years (minimum)
A Basic Mountaineering Course
Must be 25 years of age
Valid Wilderness first responder certificate (preferable)
Fluency in Hindi preferred
I was 22 when I applied for India Hikes.
The next day I received a mail stating that I lacked experience in terms of trekking and that they were looking for someone with a more suitable background. To be frank, I hadn’t met any criteria for theirs. I was just trying my luck. Meanwhile, when this was happening I had quit from my job and was serving my notice period. I was going to become jobless very soon. I had some options to try though otherwise. I tried getting enrolled in the Armed Forces but then checked that they are very strict about their policy of tattoos. This was a hard-luck for me and I couldn’t move further in that trajectory.
Soon, I got an internship in a start-up from Mumbai and was working alongside with them. After a couple of months, I couldn’t stop thinking that, a job exists where I can begin my dream life of being in the outdoors and still I let it go. Well, I got the courage of getting back to the India Hikes team, still hadn't met their listed criteria. I was just hoping that if I could just get a call from them, I can convince them that they are looking at the person who is fit for the job. And for once I was lucky. I got a call from them. After a Skype interview with the team, I was asked to go to Bangalore, to the company head office. I met with the team there and after an hour of interview, I was asked to write about myself and state why I was the right fit for them. I knew this was my chance and spoke my heart out. Soon after, I was asked to wait for a call back if they thought I was ready for joining.
Back to my sore office, checking the code in the system, counting days, and refreshing the mails every day, in fact, every hour I was just waiting for their response to show up. Five days later, they said that I cleared through and I had to report to the base camp for my induction process. The irony was that India Hikes have around 7+ base camps and I was asked to come to the base camp of Roopkund trek.
I had told the lead guide, Prathyubun bhaiya from my Roopkund trek that someday I will be back. And there I was in less than a year's time, standing at the base camp next to his tent. He couldn't believe. Neither did I. But it was just a dream that I made while living it.