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.
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).
Finally, what made you go for adventure tourism?
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.
Written by :
The LAFL team successfully summits Mentok Kangri 1, 6270m on 18th August 2016 at 12:00 noon.
5 members reached the peak namely Prateek Deo, Arun Ullal, Santosh Phansekar, Sushil Gowardhan, Srinivasan Subramaniam.
Mentok Kangri 1 expedition team.
Prateek Deo : Expedition Leader from LAFL.
Sanjay Gupta: Deputy Leader from Gurgaon.
Basavraj Masanagi from Mumbai.
Vikas Mallik from Delhi.
Arun Ullal from Mumbai.
Santosh Phansekar from Mumbai.
Sushil Gowardhan from Mumbai.
Srinivasan Subramaniam from Dubai.
Shailesh Bhaisora from Bangalore.
13th August : reach Ladakh and accilimisted with short walks aroudn Leh.
14th August : Reached Korzok village in Tsomori.
15th August : Acclimitising and height gain day at Korzok village.
16th August: Korzok to Base camp.
17th August : Base camp rest day.
18th August : BC to Summit Mentok Kangri 1 ( 6270m) and back to Korzok.
19th August: After a brief celebration drive to Leh.
MENTOK KANGRI 1 EXPERIENCE:
Mentok is the Tibetan name of a wild flower growing in the Ladakh region during the summer season. Located in the Rupshu plateau in Eastern Ladakh, lies south of the village of Korzok and the highest peak ,Mentok Kangri 1, of the range is at 6250 metres. It consists of 3 peaks – Menthok 1, Menthok 2 and Menthok 3, which offer some breath-taking and stunning views of the landscapes of Tso Kar and Tso Moriri. We started the trek from Korzok village and setup our base camp at a height of 5240 metres. Following a day’s rest at the base camp, we summitted Mentok I (6250m). After a long trek to reach the summit, we were treated with amazing scenes of the Tso Moriri lake and beautiful horizon of snow, clouds and spectacular landscape all around you.
Our summit guides were well trained and very strong. They had a very positive attitude towards everything. They didn’t not give up till the last and made it sure that everyone were safe.
“Would you like to ride in the Mountain Trail, from Delhi to Leh” was the first sentence of the call I received from the Mahindra Two wheeler guys.
They wanted me to ride their new innovation motorbike, The Mojo 300cc from Delhi to Leh. The event was called the Mountain Trail.
“Yes” was my answer.
I had a week’s time to prepare myself for the Mountain Trail. The flag off was from Gurgaon , Bikers Café on the 24th of July 2016.
I did my usual homework about knowing the machine im going to ride – The Mojo 300cc.
The MOJO comes equipped with a state-of-the-art engine with DOHC (Double Over Head Camshaft), low friction piston and rings, advanced EFI (Electronic Fuel Ignition), iridium spark plug, resonator fitted intake system and twin exhausts.
Yes. I was impressed with the specs and very excited to ride this unique machine.
I landed up a day before in Delhi to test ride the Mojo.
Mr Deepak Saxena & Varun Chaddha at Khandelwal Automobiles , Moti Nagar, handed over the Mojo and explained everything I needed to know about the bike.
I rode on the streets of Delhi, getting to know this roaring machine, heads turned around and immediately fell in love with the Mojo.
Mountain trail Day 1: 24th July 2016, Sunday,Delhi to Chandigarh -260kms
As a usual practice of mine, I said a small prayer and attached the Buddhist flags to the handle and set off for a journey of a lifetime.
Our flag off was from the Bikers Café in Gurgaon at 11:30 am.
A well-organized welcome by the Mahindra Mountain Trail team at the café, made me feel comfortable immediately. To my amazement there were around 30 riders who were on this Mountain trail. We were made to register for the event and followed by a hearty breakfast.
The whole atmosphere was very electric and I could sense a feel of brotherhood in the air already, as the music played loudly “Got my Mojo riding”, the Mojo Anthem.
On the occasion, words of encouragement were said by, Mr.Naveen Malhotra, Senior General Manager, Marketing & Product Planning, Mahindra Two Wheelers.
He announced, “What makes this even more exciting is the association with youth icon and avid biker Ranvijay Singh and ace filmmaker Nagesh Kuknoor, who will be joining this trail for the Chandigarh to Leh leg.”
We were introduced to the Mahindra on-road team and the expedition leader Mr. Surbhit Dixit.
The moment had come where all the 30 riders were eager to commence the historic journey of the first ever Mahindra Mojo Mountain trail biking expedition from Delhi to Leh .
Mr Naveen , did the flag off and we were on the roads with the roaring Mojo. The Delhi traffic tested our riding skills and once we hit the highway to Chandigarh, the Mojo was flying with ease at 120kmph.
A small incident came to my notice, which showed the greatness of the Mahindra team and their love for the Mojo.
One of the riders had a small defect in the headlight and the service vehicle was behind. Mr Govindarajan – DGM of R & D, who was also riding with the team, came to sort the problem out. One of the participants asked, why he needs to look into the problem, when the service team is there. To which he humbly replied, “ the vehicle doesn’t know who is operating on it, so what difference does it makes to the problem, moreover if I can solve the problem, it will help everyone”.
My respect for him & the Mahindra team increased since that moment.
Mostly everyone was riding at an average speed of 120kmph, Chandigarh came quickly and we rested for the day in comforting rooms.
Mountain Trail Day 2 : 25th July – Chandigarh to Manali – 310 kms
I was curious and excited for the fact that the Mojo would be entering the mountain terrain and avid biker Ran Vijay & ace film director Mr. Nagesh Kuknoor would be riding with us.
We started early, since it was a long day today with lot of hairpin bends to deal with. 50 kmph was the average speed and the occasional 100s. It was a delight to watch 28 Mojos in a single line roaring into the hills, as if a tiger has entered the jungle.
We took a short break near Beas river as soon as we entered Manali , crossing Mandi and Kullu. Everyone looked tired after long hours of riding.
My belief in the Mojo increased by the day, and I became more and more confident with this amazing piece of machine. The Mojo was like a sweet poetry in motion on the hills.
We got a strict briefing from our leader, regarding the start time next day. We had to cross our first high mountain pass – The Rohtang Pass and reach Keylong. This crossing had to be done before 6 am because of some regulations of the Government. So our wake up call was at 3 am and 4 am departure.
Mountain Trail Day 3 : 26th July – Manali to Keylong – 115kms
I woke up to the sound of heavy rainfall at 3 am, and lot of hustle bustle amongst the participants.
With a delay of an hour, we started the day’s journey with our rain gears. Today the Mojo would be tested in the rains.
At Gulaba we got our permits checked and started the climb towards the first mountain pass of our mountain trail – Rohtang Pass (3,980 m)
The Mojo was smoothly flying on its first real ascent.
A quick breakfast at Marhi did well to our morale on a wet morning.
Within no time we were on the zero point of Rohtang Pass. After few photo sessions, we started our descend towards Keylong.
This time the Mojo was tested for it’s off road skills.
A quick lunch at Koksar and permits checking, gave the timely rest to our backsides.
The rest of the journey till Keylong was dusty and smooth, crossing potato fields, and small hamlets.
The last petrol pump before Leh , at Tandi , is surely not missed by anyone , just before reaching Keylong.Keylong is the district headquarters for the Lahaul Spiti area, and at an altitude of 3,080 m.
By this time, I had learnt to control my bike and started speaking to it quite often.
Mountain Trail Day 4 : 27th July – Keylong to Sarchu – 107 kms
Once again I woke up to a roaring downpour. Though today’s riding distance was lesser, but had to cross the mighty Baralachla pass (5,030 m) to reach Sarchu (4,300 m)
With the weather god’s on our side, the rains stopped as soon as we started from our hotel.
I could see some tensed faces. I too was a little tensed since we were going to go above 14000ft and with the weather packed didn’t know what to expect. We crossed Darcha and stopped for a short tea break at Zing Zing bar, just before the Baralachla pass climb started. I realized how important is to have these short breaks.
Slowly & steadily, in a linear fashion, the Mojo Tribe reached Baralachla pass.( 5,030 m)
After descending from the pass, we once again stopped for a quick tea session at Bharatpur and by early evening reached Sarchu.
This was a testing night for the whole group, since we were at a high altitude and Sarchu is known for its chill winds.
Sarchu is a small location at 4,300 m, nesting on the border of Himachal & Jammu & Kashmir. What divides the two States is the huge Sarchu river. There are small makeshift tents and Army settlements.
Though Sarchu has a very beautiful landscape, the wind at night makes staying there very difficult.It was a quiet evening for the team.
My mind was thinking about the next day, where we had to cross 3 higher mountains passes.I was a bit nervous and anxious, but I trusted the Mojo for an awesome ride.
It was amazing to see the ever-ready Mahindra Service team fine-tuning everyone’s bikes, even at this altitude. They did an awesome job.
Mountain Trail Day 5: 28th July – Sarchu to Leh – 250kms
The final day had come. The whole team was anxious. Our leader gave us final instructions for the day and we commenced the epic journey with our Mojos.
The Mojo had no problems on the Gata Loops -22 loops (4,190 m), and crossed the Lachungla pass (5,059 m) and Nakeela Pass (4,739 m) without any difficulty.
Pang (4,600 m), a small-tented stopover, was our next pit stop for lunch, before we crossed the second highest motor able pass in the world – The Tanglangla Pass at 5,328 m.
The road to Tanglangla pass was fantastic, thanks to the Border Road Organisation (BRO), they have done an amazing job to make our journeys smooth and comfortable.
My heartbeat became faster as we were nearing the second highest pass in the world.
Yes we did it. We reached Tanglangla pass with our Mojos.
After a quick session of selfies , we started our descend and entered Ladakh.
Small beautiful hamlets, fields, streams, monasteries, open space filled the landscape. I cut down on my speed and was absorbing the beautiful landscape around me. The poet rider in me was alive again, I started to sing and the Mojo gave me accompaniment.
We passed beautiful villages of Rumste, Gya, Upshi, Thiksey, Shey to finally reach Leh.
At the hotel, all the bikers were welcomed by a local customary scarf ( Khatask) and a local drink ( Kahwa).
I kissed my bike, and thanked god that everyone reached safely.
It was a moment of joy. The Mountain Trail experience with the Mojo Tribe was amazing. I made friends, brotherhood prevailed in my thoughts had a great time together.
It was now time for celebrations.
Got my mojo riding ……
About the Mahindra Mountain Trail team
An every-ready, very helpful, inspiring, knowledgeable team of experts made this journey look so simple. It is because of them that our ride became comfortable and enjoyable.
- Govindarajan – Dy.G.M. R & D
- Anish Thakkar – Marketing Manager
- Prashant Shinde – Sr. Manager PMG
- Mahinder Choudhary – Territory Manager Customer Care Punjab
- The Mojo Tribe – Brotherhood for ever.
Just riding with the Mojo Tribesmen for a week, felt like we had been riding for ages , such was the effect of brotherhood. We understood and helped each other during difficult times on this trail, and that kept us going.
30 roaring Mojos on road made a lot of difference, and i felt that.
Me & The Mojo – “A wild horse to tame”
- Im not a technical person to give statistics about the bike performance etc. I have been riding all kinds of motorbikes all over India and outside India also, since I was 15 years old. When the Mojo was handed over to me, I realized it’s “ A wild horse to tame”. Once you tame it, learn to control it, understand it – it’s a beautiful, powerful and elegant piece of machine – just like a wild horse.
- It took me a complete day to tame or understand the Mojo. Mr Govindarajan , who was riding along with us, had tested the Mojo on all different terrains. It was very interesting to know from him, a lot of details about this fantastic piece of the Mahindra innovation.
His love for the machine clearly showed in his approach towards the Mojo.
He said, “Once you ride a Mojo, you wont feel to ride any other motorbike again”.
Trust me … its true.
- written by Prateek Deo – CEO, Life Away From Life , who was also riding in this event by Mahindra Two Wheelers – The Mountain Trail
The LAFL cycling team got a great welcome at Gwalior , which was on their route , in the herculean Mumbai to Haridwar -2500 kms, 23 days cycling trip.
The welcome was organised by Adventure Sports Club, Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh.
Smt Yashodhara Raje Scindia, felicitated the young boys with words of encouragement.
Yashodhara Raje Scindia is an Indian politician from the Maratha clan, and is the current minister for Commerce, Industries and Employment and Chairman Madhya Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation in the state of Madhya Pradesh
The LAFL team successfully summits Mt Kilimanjaro on 15th August 2015. Mr Kilimanjaro is the , the highest free standing peak in the World.
Mt Kilimanjaro expedition team
Prateek Deo : Expedition Leader from LAFL.
Sanjay: Deputy leader from Gurgaon.
Tushar : member from Kolkata.
Basavraj : member from Mumbai.
Sudhanshu : Member from USA.
the itinerary which the team.
Day 1 – Arrival at Kenya Airport -Visa formalities – transfer to Arusha/Moshi
Day 2 – At Arusha – Prepare for the trek
Day 3 – Marangu Gate (5,900 ft. / 1,800 m) ~ Mandara Hut (8,860 ft. / 2,700 m)
Day 4 – Mandara Hut ~ Horombo Hut (12,200 ft. / 3,720 m)
Day 5 – Horombo Hut ~ Acclimatization Day
Day 6 – Horombo Hut ~ Kibo Hut (15,430 ft. / 4,703 m)
Day 7 – Kib Hut ~ Uhuru Peak (19,340 ft. / 5,895 m) ~ Horombo Hut (12,200 ft. / 3,720 m)
Day 8 – Horombo Hut ~ Marangu Gate (5,900 ft. / 1,800 m) ~ Arusha / Moshi
Day 9 – Arusha to Nairobi – return flight to India