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Real discovery of India happens via its locals

  • Go-to gadget: Puneet Chawla’s Kindle and binoculars are constant companions on his trips
  • Organic farming and discovering old traditions of living off the land have arrived firmly on Puneet Chawla’s list of travel interests since the last few years

Puneet Chawla (left) likes to match every professional win with a personal achievement.
Puneet Chawla (left) likes to match every professional win with a personal achievement.

The voice on the other end of the phone crackles at first, and then stabilizes. Puneet Chawla, CEO and co-founder of e-commerce portal, Jaypore, is talking from a gaushala (cowshed) at a farm in Chhattisgarh. Organic farming and discovering old traditions of living off the land have arrived firmly on his list of travel interests since the last few years. Chawla, 35, is in Bemetara, a village north of Raipur, where he is learning about growing his own food.

“I have evolved as a traveller over the years. Initially, backpacking around India outweighed all other ways of seeing the country. Taking local transportation, meeting commuters in villages and stretching the buck were liberating for me. There was no fascination for luxury or creature comforts—I just wanted explore my country beyond the brochures and tap on authentic experiences," remembers Chawla.

“A big part of this was hiking, going on more arduous treks and camping spontaneously in the middle of nowhere. Each year was earmarked for different mountains to scale and trails to discover with friends or as a solo traveller," he says.

Of the long lists of treks, the one to Tungnath and Chandrashila comes first to Chawla’s mind. Located in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, Tungnath is the highest Shiva temple of the world at 11,352ft. “Armed with nothing other than a flimsy rented tent and insufficient warm clothes, a few friends and I decided to start walking from the base village of Chopta, not knowing that the weather would play spoil sport soon after," Chawla remembers. “ We had crossed Tungnath and were almost at Chandrashila, a kilometer ahead of the temple, when it started raining and the winds got increasingly daunting. We quickly pitched our weak-spined tent and huddled under it. I was pretty sure that the howling winds and hailstorm would bring down our fragile shelter. There was no one else on the mountainside except our underprepared clutch. That night still remains one of the most memorable outdoor experience for me," Chawla laughs. “When it stopped raining the next morning and we emerged from the tent, the view was absolutely mystical. It was like standing in a sea of clouds, with dark peaks rearing up in front of us."

He jokingly clarifies that he has been more organized for most of the other trips. “Among many other adventures, I’ve pitched in the middle of nowhere in Nubra Valley of Ladakh and steered far from the crowds of Rishikesh and found an unexplored spot to make the lower Himalayas my base for the night," he says.

“Another surreal camping memory is attached to Sangla, a small village in Himachal Pradesh. A cousin and I had decided to drive in the thick of monsoons when the path in the mountains resembled nothing like a road. We reached the outskirts of Sangla late evening and decided to pitch a tent for the night. Next morning, we woke up to a view of wild horses grazing in front of us. We had unwittingly gatecrashed an apple orchard in the late evening and were happy to join the horses for an apple-filled breakfast, fresh from the trees," Chawla reminisces.

While the thrill of exploring mountains and tent life has slowly morphed into comparatively sedate interest for farming and village life, Chawla is thinking about tuning up the action once again. This time it’s off to bungee jumping in Nepal.

When the topic of balancing time at work and holidays is discussed, he offers a peek into his scheduling method.

“Unplugging completely is not viable when I’m on a long break, so I stay connected via Whatsapp and plan in advance to clear my calendar. It’s a simple method, but I plug in my ‘to-do’ lists in a calendar rather than a notebook, so that my tasks are visual and there is a constant nudge to complete things in time. More so, I get a visual feel of how packed I am on certain days, giving me a sense of open periods when I can take off. I honestly feel that I come back hungrier to work when my mind is rested and refreshed. For this, I strive to create a tangible balance between work and personal life. For every achievement at work, I try to get a personal win to match. And what better than going on a good hike?" he signs off.

Addicted to Outdoors is a series in which, company leaders inspire travel plans with their favourite adrenalin packed holidays

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