Shubham Dharmsktu is not your average 23-year-old graphic design student. It is not just his unusual surname, which is a lot easier to pronounce by the way (the ‘sktu’ is pronounced as ‘sattu’), what distinguishes him from people his age, it is his vision of ‘sustainable tourism’ and the fact that he has already started taking solid steps to actualise that dream.
Hailing from Munsyari, a village in Uttarakhand, Shubham cites his upbringing in a small village as the sole reason for developing his interest in outdoor adventure sports. It wasn’t a trip to the mall or a movie theatre that instigated him to bunk school but rather the chance to go spend time by the lake or trek up the closest hill to see where it led. That was just the ‘normal’ thing to do for him and his friends.
It is not surprising thus when Shubham moved to Ahmedabad to pursue graphic design at the National Institute of Design, this outdoor enthusiast was quickly disenchanted with the mundane inanities of college life and routine. While he does have a love for graphic design, more specifically for systems design, Shubham did inevitably reach the ‘I-can’t-take-this-any-more’ stage. But instead of quitting college entirely, as is sometimes the consequence of impulsive decision making, Shubham took a less drastic step that would give him the break he needed and quell his wanderlust. He took off on his bicycle leaving behind his coursework, the weariness it induced and a slightly befuddled watchman, who laughed when Shubham told him that he was going to Kerala. Yes, 45 days later, he had reached Kanyakumari.
When asked about why he undertook this journey, Shubham replied, “Travelling for me is perhaps the oldest form of gaining knowledge. You go out there, you meet new people and you are introduced to so many different perspectives. School and college may not entirely make me who I am. There is so much going on out there. There is so much I have to learn.”
This was also one of the reasons why Shubham decided to traverse the Himalayas on a bicycle. The trip from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari boosted his confidence, and now he wanted to do something that would challenge him. In his words, “I wanted to do something that seemed impossible, that could break me down.” That was how he zeroed in on the Himalayas. After a few months of approaching companies that would sponsor him and sourcing equipment from people, he was armed with a Scott Aspect 740 and a DSLR camera. Scott, Outdoor Travel Gear, Warmee and SupremeCycle The Bike Shop agreed to sponsor him.
Shubham began cycling from Assam and completed his expedition at Kargil in Kashmir, 105 days later. He had covered 6,000 km of mountain roads, and had crossed three different countries.
Shubham shared some incidents to describe how enriching the whole experience had been for him. He described at great length the villages in Arunachal Pradesh with bamboo huts and villagers carrying single-barrel rifles. He was invited by a schoolteacher to talk to the students about his trip and discuss the possibilities of an alternate future that didn’t involve getting into the rat race to become a doctor or an engineer. He talked fondly of the gurdwara that he stayed at for a few days in Assam, and a security guard in Bhutan who went above and beyond the call of duty and found him accommodation, checking up on him every so often. In particular he enjoyed his time in Bhutan, especially the trek up to Tiger Monastery while carrying his bicycle. The way downhill was terrifying, but to make up for all that, there was a wonderful ride on a bulldozer while crossing a river.
One of the highlights of the trip definitely was the goodwill and the hospitality provided by the locals. However, Shubham believes that it wouldn’t have been the same had he arrived with a bigger group. Chances are that the locals would have been afraid to approach a bigger group. Had he gone with a group, the trip would have turned out to be radically different. Not that he dislikes travelling in a group. But, according to him, the aim of a group trip is to have a good time and relax. Travelling solo, on the other hand, makes you rough it out and get out of your comfort zone.
The trip wasn’t an easy one. Shubham hadn’t expected it to be. But things got much worse than he would have imagined. His bicycle broke down a number of times. He had a number of falls. He often found himself bicycling in the dark for the lack of a suitable place to set up camp. To top it all off, the altitude got to him. Cycling through Bara-Lacha Pass, he felt faint, started vomiting and blacked out for quite a bit. Fortunately though, help arrived and helped him get to the government hospital at Keylong for recovery. He was advised by the doctors to not carry on any further. Yet Shubham laboured on. This wasn’t because of some reckless adrenaline rush – it was because he knew the journey ahead would be another great story to tell.
Shubham has several ambitious trips planned for the next couple of years. These include exploring kayaking as a sport, running from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and travelling all over India on a motorcycle. Besides his personal goals, Shubham also wants to share his unique experience of ‘sustainable tourism’ with people. This prompted him to start his own company called Traveliving.
Zohra Malik is a handpicked product of the Bayside Pathfinder where we empower the young and the young at heart with the power of storytelling. To become a part of our extended family of unique contributors, call up Prem Madnani at +91 9892913788 or email him on [email protected].