I rarely write stories. But something so otherworldly happened yesterday that it had a profound impact on me. It made me very proud to be associated with Indiahikes.
I want to share this story with you today.
Before I get into the story, I need to give you a little background.
The Indiahikes team is currently in the mountains for an annual meeting. In fact, I am writing to you sitting in a tent on our new campus in Sari, the base camp of our Deoriatal-Chandrashila hike. It’s 7:30 a.m. The sun rises just behind the hills around the Chandrashila peak. The valley glows in the morning light.
Around 40 of us are here – all of our Trek Leaders and most of our office team members. As I write this, I can hear the murmuring voices of our team members having light conversations but mostly serious conversations about how they intend to shape the future of trekking in our country.
Our small “breakout room” in Deoriatal with the Chaukhamba massif keeps us busy
But as you can imagine, a Indiahikes meeting is incomplete without a real hike.
So yesterday we all made our way to Chandrashila Summit. We did something that most trekkers don’t – we did an evening hike and not a morning hike. (Give it a try. You have a lot more time on the summit, especially if you are fit enough to hike up quickly!)
Something unexpected happened at Chandrashila Summit.
The first 10 members had reached the summit. We were busy capturing the moment.
At that particular moment, we suddenly heard loud shouts from the edge of the summit.
My insides froze when I heard the calls.
I feared the worst. I thought someone had fallen off the edge of the cliff.
When I looked in the direction of the scream, I saw what had gone wrong.
A fully packed backpack rolled and fell off the cliff, struck rocks, and fell into an endless abyss. Within 2 seconds, the backpack rolled down over 1,000 feet and continued walking. It came to a halt somewhere about 1,200 feet below, barely visible.
It was our founder, Arjun Majumdar’s backpack.
“It reminded me of our camera falling into a crack at Stok Kangri Summit. There were 8 days worth of photos of the exploration. It contained the full documentation of the Stok Kangri trek with rare photos of a new route, ”recalls Sandhya. “There was no way to get it.”
This situation seemed eerily similar. We thought we would have to do without the backpack. It had things worth over Rs 30,000. There was even some great pieces of equipment that we promised to review for some brands. But we could only see the backpack as a black spot on the mountain side. There was no hope for it.
Things have changed here and amazed me
Two of our trek leaders, Syama Krishna and Dawa, decided despite all the adversities to get the backpack.
“I didn’t expect anyone to take the backpack back. It looked impossible from our point of view, ”says Arjun. The Chandrashila peak is shaped like a cone, only that one side of the cone rises gently (the route we take) and the other side is a near vertical drop. The backpack was on the vertical side.
“I didn’t want anyone to risk their life to get the backpack. Even when I stood on the edge and looked down the chasm, my palms were sweating, ”continues Arjun. “I begged her not to go. But the guys were determined to give it a try. “
To tell you about our guides. Syama is one of our Senior Trek Leaders who not only has led some of our toughest treks but also loves mountaineering alone. Dawa, a Ladakhi, is new to Indiahikes, but a natural in the mountains.
So began their adventure
A team of 4 other Trek Leaders stood on the edge of the summit and led them through their walkie talkies from above while Syama and Dawa climbed down.
It had snowed 3 days ago and left the path muddy and covered with slippery glass. One wrong step and they would go down just like the backpack.
They managed to get onto an old path, way down where the backpack was on the edges. From there they planned a route to where the backpack was. It was invisible to them from their line of sight. But our team at the summit passed them on as they descended the slope.
Incredible, 35 minutes later we heard great cheers from the team. Syama and Dawa with big smiles held the backpack like a prize! Incredibly, they had climbed the same way as the backpack – on an almost vertical section with no trace.
But wait, that’s why I’m not writing this story. Even with this incredible rescue, they collected rubbish on the ascent. When they reached us at the summit, their eco-bags were filled to the brim.
After that we sat on the summit and had a few quiet moments until dusk.
The whole team at the Chandrashila summit
This is just an adventure story to begin with.
But when I came back and thought about it, I realized that this story was showing me what the Indiahikes team is really made of. It strongly reflected our core values and everything we believe in. Let me explain.
What lessons do I take with me about Indiahikes from this incident?
Taking care of others is one of the greatest virtues at Indiahikes
I’ve always known Indiahikes to be one of the most caring and nurturing environments – be it for hikers or for those who work here. I think all wanderers many who haven’t even hiked with Indiahikeswould agree with me.
Yesterday this belief increased a hundredfold for me. There was no reason for the Trek Leaders to get the backpack. Nobody expected that. Most in positions and skills similar to Syama and Dawa would not seek such a rescue. The risk was high. But they cared more about the organization and about Arjun. The care came from all the care they received from everyone at Indiahikes.
I saw a similar case last week while driving to base camp. One of our team members fell ill in the car and vomited because of winding mountain roads. Without thinking, the other team members volunteered to clean their colleagues’ dirty, smelly clothes. Vomiting was over. Still, they never flinched.
I notice that again and again with Indiahikes. People always put others in front of themselves. This is something rare these days and one of the reasons I love Indiahikes.
Fitness is one of the most respected values at Indiahikes
When the backpack rolled off the summit, it was only minutes after we reached the summit. We had climbed 3,000 feet from Chopta. It had taken us 2 hours of stiff climbing with a couple of water breaks in between. Even for the strongest, this is a good climb.
In all honesty, I was stunned when the two Trek Leaders immediately went down 1000 feet and almost went up again. Their pace and stamina were scary.
Even on the trails, while most of the other trekkers were struggling on the trail, I didn’t see any of the Indiahikes team members panting or struggling. All 40 of us reached the summit in less than 3 hours without breaking a sweat, including those in the office.
This made me realize that fitness is not an added bonus in our lives. It’s a core value that everyone deeply respects and has made part of their lives. Our goal is to always be trek-fit and everyone is working towards that.
Everyone can trust their life with Indiahikes Trek Leaders
When I saw that Syama and Dawa could tackle a nonexistent trail so easily, I was in awe of their trail know-how. I knew that our hikers were in safe hands with them in all weathers and in all terrain.
While this is not new to me, what will surprise you is that our newest ace. Trek Leaders, who have been with Indiahikes for barely a month, will complete another intensive training session with a mountaineering instructor over the next three days. Safety training is a continuous process at Indiahikes. Even the seniors go through this.
This is what safety means at Indiahikes – that you can send your closest family member to the Himalayas with Indiahikes without worrying about them for a second.
The members of the Indiahikes team are real sustainability champions
This thought struck me not only because Syama and Dawa came back with eco-bags filled to the brim. This was the case with each of us who walked up the path.
Unfortunately the Deoriatal Chandrashila hike is full of rubbish as it is a popular tourist attraction. We completely cleaned up Lake Deoriatal and removed 60 kg of rubbish that our trek leaders carried all the way back. It’s not easy to carry these bags – each one weighed over 10 kg. However, our hiking guides carried them on their backs with a smile on their faces.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. All the members of the Indiahikes team have made a change in their lifestyle as they are aware of what they are consuming and how to dispose of. Everyone composts their rubbish at home. Nobody consumes anything that comes in plastic (some of them live completely without waste). All women at Indiahikes have switched to sustainable ways of menstruating.
This is what we stand for at Indiahikes. Green Trails is not just limited to the mountains, it also extends to our lives and that of our hikers.
We cleaned up around Lake Deoriatal and collected 60 kg of waste that our team brought with us by hand
Humility is what makes Indiahike’s team members who they are
When Dawa and Syama returned to the summit with a backpack, they came back without air. It was almost like they went down 2-3 steps and brought it up – as normal as that.
For me that is humility. I see that with all the team members at Indiahikes. Even our most accomplished team members are humble enough to learn from their youngest colleagues. Everyone is open to feedback, no matter how critical. Those who are not humble stand out like a scarecrow.
This is why humility is the greatest virtue we look for during our recruiting process as well. Without humility, we cannot work with them, no matter how skilled a person is. That also made a great impression on me yesterday.
When I think about what makes Indiahikes Indiahikes, it always boils down to this – our core values. To be caring, humble, fit and sustainable – these are the values we look for in those who want to work with us. These are the values that we cultivate and develop among our team members.
Our hikers notice these values. This is one of the reasons they keep coming back to hike with us.
And that makes us Indiahikes. Without these, Indiahikes would not and cannot exist.
If you have hiked with Indiahikes I would like to know what you saw on your hike with our team. To share your observations, please add a comment on this page.