During her school days, Sandhya Chandrasekharayya would go hiking in the hills around Mysuru, her hometown. The shorter climbs eventually led to longer, steeper ones in the Western Ghats, and soon hiking became the activity she loved the most.

After graduating with a degree in computer science from Mysuru’s National Institute of Engineering, Chandrasekharayya joined the IT sector. Trekking was still a constant, with frequent trips to the Himalayas. While planning one such excursion to Roopkund, a glacial lake in Uttarakhand’s Garhwal region, in 2009, Chandrasekharayya decided to reach out to trekking forums for useful tips. That’s when she came across Arjun Majumdar’s blogs and was inspired to start a trekking platform, Indiahikes.

“After reading his blogs, I decided to organize my own trek and left a message for anyone who was interested. He got in touch and told me that he too was going with a small team to Roopkund, so I decided to join them," says Bengaluru-based Chandrasekharayya , 37.

Majumdar soon joined Chandrasekharayya as a partner at Indiahikes.

Twin peaks

The idea behind Indiahikes was to raise awareness about hiking and create a database of trails that could be used by other enthusiasts.

“The (Roopkund) trek was conducted in expedition style where everyone pitched in with the equipment and finances. Back then, trekking in the Himalayas meant organizing everything on your own, which was a cumbersome process and really expensive. Through Indiahikes, we wanted to get people to step into the unknown in a very transparent way. The focus was on having standard pricing, irrespective of how many people were going," she says.

For six months, Chandrasekharayya worked double shifts, balancing time between her technology job and Indiahikes. The overheads were few, considering that there were no employees in the beginning and the expenses of running the treks were covered by the fee that was collected from the participants. Her husband, also an experienced hiker, took keen interest in the project and backed her during the initial years.

“He had a stable, full-time job, so I was able to take that risk. Besides, it was an opportunity that I didn’t want to let go," she says.

Soon Chandrasekharayya hired the first Indiahikes employee, set up a website, and documented more trails by sending out exploratory teams, even as she continued her job. It took a little over a year for the venture to sustain itself.

“Multi-day treks were reserved only for hardcore trekkers. There was no information available on other routes, besides some popular ones such as the Valley of Flowers and Gaumukh-Tapovan. No formal brand existed either that catered to trekking, so it was a huge opportunity," Chandrasekharayya says.

She realized that Indiahikes was going to be a startup of sorts and even if it failed, there was experience to be gained. It was then she quit her IT job. “We put in a lot of preparatory work. We had tested the power of information, experimented with organized treksand had found that people liked them. Besides, the market for adventure tourism was just about starting out and I was certain it would catch on in the years to come," she adds.

While her business was taking off, she faced her first setback in 2011 when heavy rainfall caused severe flooding in Uttarakhand. The trek fee that was collected had to be refunded, and so, the employees had to be laid off. The next few months were spent rebuilding. “It was back to the basics, documenting treks and putting out information. We took a minimalistic approach for six months, which helped reboot our business," says Chandrasekharayya .

Today, Indiahikes has 26 employees, working from Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai and Dehradun. There are 25 full-time workers who are residents of the regions where the treks take place. They also have 30-odd trek leaders.

“In the future, we are looking at Do-It-Yourself treks, where we hope to help trekkers with basic support such as sleeping bags, tents and ration, besides the trekking route. The idea is to get people to hike on their own, without necessarily signing up with us," says Chandrasekharayya .

Despite a year-round schedule, Chandrasekharayya still finds time to enjoy at least two treks each year. “When I quit my job, I was unsure how quickly the industry would grow. Today I can say the growth has been more than expected," she says.Detour features people who quit their 9-to-5 jobs and made their passion work.

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