Ladakh Road Trip-Lessons Learnt

It had been on my bucket list for the past few years but job, family responsibilities and circumstances had kept me away from it. They say “If something’s bound to happen, it will happen at the right time and for the right reason.”

I had to quit my job to pursue my entrepreneurial dream.It was certainly not a cake walk, required a lot of diligence, patience and mental strength to make this radical shift from being an employee to an entrepreneur. More than a lifestyle change, it was the fear of failure and apprehension on sustainability. The road ahead seemed foggy and self-doubt was par for the course. During this time came an opportunity to undertake a road trip to Ladakh. This had been on my list for long, so on the rebound I decided to tick it off.

In the end you will only regret the chances you didn’t take.

2 weeks of bike trip with a group of friends and a bunch of strangers to this picturesque and magical land sounded very exciting but as the rubber hit the road, so did the reality. Staying in metro cities, we took a lot of the luxuries for granted but the journey compelled us to confront our fears and challenge ourselves. Treacherous terrain, extreme weather conditions, low oxygen, altitude sickness, the sheer demand of physical endurance coupled with the absence of basics like hot running water forced to dig into the reserves within us which we never knew existed.

The awe of the mystical land gave me the courage to take up this challenging yet fulfilling task just the way I had embarked on my entrepreneurial career. But little did I know that I would return with experiences which would not only enhance my personality but also provide me with lasting tips for my entrepreneurial journey.

Lesson 1- The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek !

Despite being aware of the risks and the fears accompanied with it, I had decided to step out of my comfort zone, let go of my fears and undertake this trip. The driving force- my passion and eagerness to explore the unexplored.

It requires a lot of determination to renounce the luxury of a fixed salary and venture on your own. But in this era of unpredictability, does your job hold a lifetime guarantee? The answer is no. Then why are you scared to take the risk? If you are passionate about your idea, if you trust your instinct…..just set sail. As Albert Einstein rightly said “A ship is always safe at shore, but that is not what it is built for.”

Lesson 2- Success is a series of small wins !

With all apprehensions, I started the journey and soon realized that the difficulty levels increased with every mile. My body hadn’t gotten accustom to the climatic change and long hours of riding and this was dampening my spirits. The low morale reflected across the entire group. The enthusiasm with which we commenced the journey was dropping fast and we started questioning our ability to reach the final destination. To our surprise, our team leader who would have sensed this began cheering us on crossing every milestone. He made us feel like heroes and winners and we later realized that with each celebration, we were regaining our confidence to ride the next mile.

It’s good to have a road map with a finish line, but in the course of an entrepreneurial journey, you need to be proud of even the smallest achievements. Break down goals into smaller ones and creatively celebrate every success .You are worthy of every step ahead and each of them will take you closer to your destination.

Lesson 3- Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. Keep going and don’t give up !

We had climbed to 18000 ft and it was higher than what any of us had ever ventured before. What kept us going was our determination and our sheer quest to explore. Personally for me, with the first glance of the Pangong lake, I had tears in my eyes … the feeling was worth every adversity I had endured during the journey.

Entrepreneurship is full of challenges and hardships. You need to prove to yourself, to your family and to the society that you are not a failure. Being emotionally and mentally strong is not easy but if you surrender midway you will never be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Stay strong, stay consistent!

Read how persistence & determination can redefine life in

Lesson 4- When you hit a road block, take a detour! You still will reach your destination.

Riding the treacherous terrain is challenging as you never know what lies beyond the next bend. We started early morning for a long day and found a road block after a small distance. There was a landslide and on inquiring with local people, it was confirmed that help would reach only in 2 days. Mountains unfortunately have no by-lanes, its either the road ahead or the steep slope down the sides. We had to choose between the two and our leader decided to go down the slope. With hearts beating fast, we followed him and reached the bottom where we were needed to cross the river. A river bedded with huge stones and gushing icy cold water made most bikers lose balance and take a dunk in the cold water. Yet we all dared, crossed it and finally  reached our destination, cold and bruised but glowing with the satisfaction of beating the odds.

Although you chart out a plan right at the beginning , many a times you tend to fail in the implementations. These could be due to several reasons like your limitation of product knowledge, economic situations or lack of understanding of the market situations. You struggle and your graph nose dives. During this phase you need to analyse the pros and cons, search for an alternate path to reach your goal. Don’t waste time, accept the reality and take a detour. Different routes can lead to the same castle.

Lesson 5- Don’t try to rush things that need time to grow. Be patient !

Its mid-afternoon. We crossed the river all drenched and still had a good 8-9 hours of riding left to reach our next stop. The heat was subsiding and the chill in the air was taking a toll on us. Our leader took a big decision, he proceeded to a nearby village to take shelter overnight. Our riding days were timed, so any change affected our entire trip itinerary. He explained that hastiness would be dangerous for our health we needed to recover before we set forth.

“Set your goals and focus on them”, this has been instilled in us since childhood but real life teaches us that you need to be patient and compromise too.  It’s good to be ambitious but don’t be obsessed with race. In all possibility you will start gasping for air which will lead to burn-out midway. Focus doesn’t mean you should be a slave to time schedules or you shouldn’t enjoy your journey. Striking a balance is the trick.

Lesson 6- Trust is an exchange of faith, be it your road trip or your business. Trust your co-traveler!

Someone who has been on these roads can validate the danger that lurks at every curve. Trust your team and that’s the only way you can survive. I stood there stranded along with my co traveler and a flat tyre, unfortunately separated from the rest of the team. It was getting dark and cold and the integrity of my co traveler wouldn’t leave me alone in the deserted wilderness. I realized that day ,in a world where we are connected by technology, nothing is stronger than your soul connectivity. We received help after an hour but in those 60 minutes, we never doubted that our team would retrace to rescue us. This incident taught me that we need to have confidence on our team, believe that they always watch our back in periods of adversities.

You might have had bad experiences with people in the past but never let those affect your faith-o-meter. When you are setting forth on an expedition you can never reach the destination alone. Your team fuels your growth and also holds the rope when you are about to fall. Never lower your faith! As the saying goes.“If you have to travel fast, do it alone…If you have to travel long do it with your tribe.”

Lesson 7- Success is relative. More success more relatives!

We traveled for 2 weeks and reached back safely without any major causalities. Was our trip rated the best by any organization or travel magazine? Did we get highlighted in the media? Did we set any records? NO ! But what we achieved cannot be measured because for each one of us it was our personal achievement, something which we will carry as a badge of honor throughout our lives.

On the onset of my entrepreneur project, I have been asked this question many a times. What is so different in your idea? How will you succeed when there are others working on the same idea? My take on it …You can traverse the same path but how you manage your journey will define your achievement at the end. You can be a successful venture in 2 years but shut shop in the 3rd . Or you could take 10 years to settle but still be profitable with positive growth prospects. Which one would you rate as successful? You don’t need to have an extra-ordinary idea to create a successful business, Ordinary with extra-ordinary results will do the same for you. So, never let anyone define success for you.

It took us 2 weeks to complete the trip but the lessons learnt during those 14 days will serve me lifetime. I had my share of good experiences,my fizz moments and a few bad ones, the fuzz moments🙁 which hurt me immensely.

The sour ones have made me stronger emotionally and more resilient. The good ones have taught me to respect time, show gratitude towards people, be patient, accept mistakes, keep myself motivated and above all be my own cheer leader.

“The road may be beautiful or ugly, it may be easy or hard, smooth or rough, it doesn’t matter; what matters most is where the road will take you!” – Mehmet Murat Ildan

Barefoot College – A back to basics journey

A lot has been written about Barefoot College, Tilonia across various fora on the internet but today I will be sharing the experience and learnings from my recent visit to their campus which was an eye opener. I learnt from the inmates that one can literally reach out to the stars with their feet on the ground and it left me awestruck.

I had read about the college prior to my visit and was expecting to meet few happy villagers who lived a self-sustained life, but little did I know that I will return with emotions so profound, that it would compel me to pause and ask myself some questions…

Is formal education so important in life?

Should we complain about every small thing?

Should we stop trying after few setbacks?

I started my journey from Delhi by a double decker train (something I had not done before) and after 4.5 hours of travel, reached Jaipur where I spent the night. Next morning at 7.30am, I met my co-travellers at a tea shop near Ganpati Plaza. The inspirational journey commenced right from Gulab ji Chai wala, where we met this amazing gentleman, aged 90. He had started this tea stall 70 years back and it was his sheer passion that even at this age, he was sitting there, dressed in a crisp white dhoti and kurta, greeting people. More than the tea, it was my few minutes spent with Gulab ji, that left me super charged.

Gulabji Chaiwala in Jaipur with the 90 year old owner

The 3.5 hours of drive took us through tracts of semi-arid land with hillocks on both sides, occasionally passing flocks of sheep and groups of women in brightly coloured sarees, till we reached the campus of Barefoot college, located in Tilonia , a small village in Rajasthan’s Ajmer district.

Barefoot college founded by Sanjit Roy (aka Bunker Roy) in 1972, is India’s first and only college built by and for the rural poor working in the fields of education, skill development, health, drinking water, women empowerment and electrification through solar power. The college imparts basic skills to the villagers, skills which help them take control of their lives and requirements without having to depend on outsiders. Strangely this college imparts training but no formal degrees or certificates.

We were welcomed by the administration and given a brief about Rajasthan’s traditional art of puppetry and how this art form is still being utilized by the college to educate villagers about health, education and human rights. After we took a round of their farms, where they grew fruits, vegetable, medicinal plants and even harvested honey , we finally stepped into the Neer jal department and it was the time of the Awakening

It’s a first of its kind of web based water data and information system, at the village level which captures information on drinking water, its source, availability, quality, quantity, ways of preservation and optimum usage.

Zarina Begum in NeerJal Dept

Inside the department, we met a lady working effortlessly on the computer and on speaking to her, she introduced herself as Zarina Begum and told us about her journey since she joined Barefoot College in 2003.She was educated only till the 5th standard,started work at the accounts department and was later shifted to Neer Jal department. It was here when she learnt English for the first time on the computer keyword and today she proficiently works on Tally and Excel. A true example how self-dependence boosts self-confidence.


Bhanwari Devi at the Dental dept

Although we geared ourselves for more surprises, but were bowled over again at the next stop. This time at the dental unit, where we met the granny dentist Bhanwari Devi, clad in a bright yellow sari with pallu on her head. Flashing a smile at us, she narrated her story about how, why and when she joined Barefoot, her experiences, and her training under the supervision of an Italian doctor. Once an illiterate, she joined the training at Barefoot in 2009 and today she can fill in cavities, clean plaque, extract rotting teeth and repair broken ones. Till date, she has successfully conducted 1400 tooth extractions.I asked her if she was ever scared of committing mistakes and her response was “I never doubted by competence and was neither scared. You tend to falter the moment you have self-doubt. I was always ready for the challenges.”  A big life lesson ….Never have self-doubt!

We moved ahead visiting the OPD and laboratory and came upon the sanitary napkin mini factory. The unit was run by both men and women and they had absolutely no qualms discussing this topic, which is still considered a taboo topic in the cities. They explained how the napkins were made from paper that came from Coimbatore and packed hygienically under the brand name of “Sathan”. These women went to the villages and educated both women and men on the importance of sanitary napkins and distributed them packets at subsidized rates. Although the manufacturing cost was Rs.10/- per piece , yet they sold a pack of 6 for Rs.10/- so that women were encouraged towards sanitation and hygiene and more girls could attend schools during their periods.

Sanitary napkin manufacturing unit

Amazed?? We were definitely awestruck at the ease in which they were speaking to us (a group of boys & girls) on this topic when we have our Hindi Film industry censor board, clipping off scenes of movies where there was mention about menstrual cycle.

By now, we had got conditioned to the shocks and then we are led to their Barefoot community radio station.

Their own Radio Station!!!??

RJ Gita at radio station 90.4MHz

Set up in 2009, Radio Tilonia( 90.4 MHz)  reaches out to 40,000-60,000 people daily. They discuss about various government programme, socio-economic issues like caste, gender, labor and community issues like sanitation, water, waste  interspersed with the entertainment of music and skits .We met RJ Gita, who handled all the software related issues in the center. She had gone to school for a year or two and now she is trained to handle a radio station. She said, “Nothing is difficult, if you have the passion for learning.”

Towards the end, we are told about the solar engineers at Barefoot. They were mostly illiterate women, who were trained to assemble, install and maintain solar panels. How did they get trained for this complex job? The answer to this is “dedication”, learning the permutation combinations of the wires through color coded charts and after undergoing this training of 6 months, they are skilled to light up their villages. Solar energy offers them immediate health, education and economic benefits, removes the use of the toxic fuel kerosene and allows children to study in the evenings too.

We ended our visit after seeing every part of the campus and were left speechless. In real terms, the community was self-sustained and all this was a combined effort of Bunker Roy backed by the passion, grit and determination of the villagers. These are the people who should be the role models for so called “educated class” like us who complain about every small thing and claim all our misfortune as results of anything and anyone other than ourselves.

The secret of the magic that these villagers have created seems to have come from SELF …. Self-Realization, Self-Confidence, Self-Motivation and Self-Dependence.

“Believe you can and you are half way there” – T.Roosevelt