From sleeping in railway stations to pioneering adventure tourism in India. The inspiring story of Prateek Deo Gupta.

(This is a mesmerising journey of a person who dared to dream, went against the norm and turned his passion into a lucrative profession. Taking the interview of this very inspiring entrepreneur was an absolute delight).

It was late evening. The station felt damp and was almost empty. The bulb in the public phone booth was flickering. A son called up his father and finally confessed that to save money, while travelling, he had been sleeping in shabby railway stations and at times had to take in more water than food to kill his hunger. His father worriedly asked him what exactly he was doing with his life. Couldn’t he just go back to his cushy corporate job?

He could have. Easily. But he did not want to. Because although it was one helluva bumpy road, strangely, he started enjoying the struggle. Immensely.

“The water filters and the benches in the railway stations became my friends. I really started enjoying the struggle. I was happy. I did not care anymore. I was living my life and had the belief that all this would lead to something”.

I know it was not at all easy because in the early 2000s, owing to India’s economic liberalisation, multinationals and private companies were mushrooming all over the place and every other middle class person wanted to join them for better salaries and a better life. The whole country was going with that flow. A few of them, like this guy, dared to go against it.

Probably, this is what successful entrepreneurs are made of. When adventure holidays were almost unheard of, the internet was still a baby and the start-up culture and infrastructure was literally non-existent, a young Creative Director in the IT industry left his well-paid corporate job and followed his dreams to become a traveller and adventurer. Felicitated by the country’s Prime Minister, Prateek Deo Gupta is known as one of the pioneers of adventure holiday in India.

For the last 20 years, Prateek’s company Life Away From Life has been educating and taking individuals and corporate clients on adventure holidays and treks on motorbikes, cycles and foot to exotic locations like Ladakh, Meghalaya, Kerala, Coorg, Bhutan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, Antarctica, Mount Kilimanjaro, Turkey etc. just to name a few.

Whenever I see his LinkedIn updates of the beautiful pictures of the valleys, mountains, villages, the local food, people and culture, it completely stimulates me and fills me up with a desire to fly away to those places.

prateek deo

prateek deo

Ladakh Staying with the Locals

Why are you in the pictures of every trip?

One thing that the pictures struck me was that in almost every trip Prateek would be there. It made me realize that Prateek probably has not built his company in a way where he could be this CEO doing all the strategic stuffs while leaving the field trips to his employees.

I asked him the question. He answered. And I absolutely loved it.

Although Prateek has built this lucrative company where revenues have been growing year on year, his first love is still being with nature and meeting new people. He has been successful in finding that envious sweet spot where he is still living his passion hands-on and his passion is making money for him. He loves to travel. The only difference is that now he travels with a bunch of other people who pays him for taking them along with him.

It has actually turned out to be an excellent strategy. People and companies go to Prateek for this very personal touch.

“Balance sheets and Profit and Loss Accounts do not give me the kick. What gives me the ultimate kick is when customers thank me for giving them one of their best lifetime experiences. And that takes care of the balance sheets as well”. – Prateek

It gives Prateek a tremendous sense of satisfaction, purpose and happiness when his clients confess that the trips have had life-changing impacts on them. Some of them rediscovered themselves and some of them overcame their fears, phobias and illnesses.

The sense of purpose reached its peak when one of Prateek’s customers invited him to her wedding and told him that going on the trip to the hills and meeting new people completely changed something in her from the inside. In fact, if it was not for the trip, she would not have been probably standing there. Because before the trip, the girl was contemplating suicide.

The big question: how did you make it?

When I was talking with Prateek, I got the unmissable impression that this guy is like a free bird. Just carry on in the journey singing and playing, enjoy whatever life offers you and do what makes you happy without a care in the world.

However, behind this care-free impression is a thinking mind. Prateek left the IT world and joined an adventure travel company as a Coordinator for a year. In his effort to learn about the business he did all sorts of work including the menial ones like picking up customers’ luggage etc.

“If you want to learn about a business, you have to start from the very grass root level. You have to learn the basics. That’s where you understand what the customer likes or does not like.” – Prateek

Thereafter, he left his job and went on to travel all across the country over the next few years. This was year 2000 and he was about 28 years old.

“If I had to take people to these places, I myself needed to know these places first.” – Prateek

Those days, the internet being at its nascency, data was not available like how it is today. Prateek displayed tremendous foresightedness in collecting data manually. During his travels, with a pencil and a notebook, he took notes of each and every minute details. For example, on a particular route where could one find hot drinks or snacks to eat etc. (remember, these are remote locations and there were no smartphone those days). This manual database turned out to be the key in building his business and delighting his customers.

In 2001, he did his first trip with clients to Ladakh in a no profit/no loss basis to test his idea. However, it would not be until 2007 when Life Away From Life started seeing revenues skyrocketing, ending Prateek’s immense struggle of 6 years.

What struggle did you face? How did you manage your financial needs?

Adventure holiday was very new and majority of the Indians did not quite relate to it. A massive challenge was to educate people on adventure tourism. This made business sluggish. It led to the bigger challenge of dwindling finances. Prateek’s savings were almost exhausted and he was struggling with money to continue the business. The start-up infrastructure being non-existent, he did not have any access to investments.

To manage his financial needs, Prateek played in a rock band, freelanced as a tourist guide for other companies, sang in restaurants, wrote for magazines and also sold his travel data to international travel magazines. He did all of this so that Life Away From Life could continue to keep its head above water. In 2007, thanks to the increase in internet usage in India, his business boomed, and revenues increased by 1500%.

“The key to success is the combo of being happy and working hard. If you really enjoy the struggle, the process and the journey and work hard, the universe would conspire to give you what you want.” – Prateek

I asked how did he handle the pressure of not having money on one hand and on the other hand, seeing his friends buy cars and houses? How did he remain so laser-focussed?

Apart from his passion, self-belief and the fact that he started enjoying the struggles, there was something else that helped him. A marvellous lesson got opened before me.

Prateek had taken a course in mountaineering.

“In mountaineering, the thing that was drilled into my head was that when I had to go from Point A to Point B, my focus had to be zeroed in on only that part of the journey and not beyond. That conditioned me tremendously to be in the moment”.

Prateek’s career high came when he was felicitated by the country’s most ever loved and respected Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, while doing a cycle trip of 2500 kilometers from Mumbai to Haridwar (picture below – second from left in black).

prime minister felicitation

 

Finally, what made you go for adventure tourism?

A picture!

Prateek, in his younger days, came across a picture cut out of a magazine. It always took him back to his childhood when his father, who was a painter, often used to take Prateek and his family to the hills so that his father could paint. This instilled a very strong affinity in Prateek towards nature.

Although Prateek was doing well in his corporate job, he was not happy from within. The thing that invaded his mind again and again almost every night was the picture. Of a man holding a cup of hot coffee in his hand while standing near a tent in a serene hill overseeing a beautiful landscape. Like a free bird discovering “life” to the fullest.

Prateek wanted to be that man in the picture for the rest of his life. And he became.

He starved, bled, toiled, cried, laughed, got dusted and dirty. But he finally became.

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Note: Prateek Deo Gupta lives in Mumbai and is a father of twins – one boy and one girl.

 

Written by :

aninda baruaAninda Baruah

Product Management/AgileEnthusiast/Blogger/Author
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Climb a mountain.

I used to read it every morning when I was getting dressed up before going to work. I hope you will find something on it useful for you.

Manual for Climbing Mountains by Paulo Coelho

Choose the mountain you want to climb

Don’t pay attention to what other people say, such as “that one’s more beautiful” or “this one’s easier”. You’ll be spending lots of energy and enthusiasm to reach your objective, so you’re the only one responsible and you should be sure of what you’re doing.

Know how to get close to it

Mountains are often seen from far off – beautiful, interesting, full of challenges. But what happens when we try to draw closer? Roads run all around them, flowers grow between you and your objective, what seemed so clear on the map is tough in real life. So try all the paths and all the tracks until eventually one day you’re standing in front of the top that you yearn to reach.

Learn from someone who has already been up there 

No matter how unique you feel, there is always someone who has had the same dream before you and ended up leaving marks that can make your journey easier; places to hang the rope, trails, broken branches to make the walking easier. The climb is yours, so is the responsibility, but don’t forget that the experience of others can help a lot.

When seen up close, dangers are controllable

When you begin to climb the mountain of your dreams, pay attention to the surroundings. There are cliffs, of course. There are almost imperceptible cracks in the mountain rock. There are stones so polished by storms that they have become as slippery as ice. But if you know where you are placing each footstep, you will notice the traps and how to get around them.

The landscape changes, so enjoy it 

Of course, you have to have an objective in mind – to reach the top. But as you are going up, more things can be seen, and it’s no bother to stop now and again and enjoy the panorama around you. At every meter conquered, you can see a little further, so use this to discover things that you still had not noticed.

Respect your body

You can only climb a mountain if you give your body the attention it deserves. You have all the time that life grants you, as long as you walk without demanding what can’t be granted. If you go too fast you will grow tired and give up half way there. If you go too slow, night will fall and you will be lost. Enjoy the scenery, take delight in the cool spring water and the fruit that nature generously offers you, but keep on walking.

Respect your soul 

Don’t keep repeating “I’m going to make it”. Your soul already knows that, what it needs is to use the long journey to be able to grow, stretch along the horizon, touch the sky. An obsession does not help you at all to reach your objective, and even ends up taking the pleasure out of the climb. But pay attention: also, don’t keep saying “it’s harder than I thought”, because that will make you lose your inner strength.

Be prepared to climb one kilometer more 

The way up to the top of the mountain is always longer than you think. Don’t fool yourself, the moment will arrive when what seemed so near is still very far. But since you were prepared to go beyond, this is not really a problem.

Be happy when you reach the top 

Cry, clap your hands, shout to the four winds that you did it, let the wind – the wind is always blowing up there – purify your mind, refresh your tired and sweaty feet, open your eyes, clean the dust from your heart. It feels so good, what was just a dream before, a distant vision, is now part of your life, you did it!

Make a promise 

Now that you have discovered a force that you were not even aware of, tell yourself that from now on you will use this force for the rest of your days. Preferably, also promise to discover another mountain, and set off on another adventure.

Tell your story

Yes, tell your story! Give your example. Tell everyone that it’s possible, and other people will then have the courage to face their own mountains”

 

 

  • Prateek Deo