Letters of reference
Name: Shonali Muthalaly
Occupation: Journalist with ‘The Hindu’
Went for: Rishikesh by the Ganga.
Letter: I'm writing to recommend Gaurav Punj of Connect With Himalaya, in
connection with his nomination on the Responsible Travel awards. Despite being a trekking wimp, I signed up for CWH's Rishikesh/Garhwal trip inspired not only by by Gaurav and Rujuta's stories of pitching tents under cold starry skies, back-to-basics treks and cozy village home stays, but also their high level of commitment towards the people who live in the mountains.
I've always had a horror of group tours, associating them with irresponsible commercialisation and a complete lack of individuality. India's rife with slick operators who efficiently but unimaginatively run huge travel outfits, keeping the bulk of their profits for themselves. Tourism is also limited to the same oft-trod paths, leaving them battered and filthy. As a result, despite the many companies offering Himalaya trips and treks, finding someone to trust has become very difficult.
What struck me about CWH was how unabashedly earnest they are about ensuring that the locals are involved at every stage. This works out well for everyone, since CWH tends to discover places well off the beaten track thanks to the guides, mountaineers and villagers who enthusiastically work with them. And of course, this way, the money they make gets distributed - reaching the homes that really need it.
Like any journalist I'm a hardened skeptic, so I always do research that goes well beyond the brochures if I'm writing about anyone. CWH won me over completely when I saw how warmly Gaurav and Rujuta were welcomed by everyone - right from a lady whose house we collapsed in after a one hour trek to the village in Garwhal (she insisted on slicing delicious ripe papaya for everyone instantly) to the head of the Ramana's Garden Orphanage, where we met the kids and applauded a delightfully over dramatic play on the Ganga.
To be honest, for me holidays are all about self-indulgence, so I would have never visited an orphanage on my own. By a twist of fate, Gaurav arranged for us to visit on my birthday - and it turned out to be astonishingly satisfying. It's easy to guilt-trip people into doing something socially responsible - CWH is remarkable because they ensure you enjoy it so much, it becomes one of the highlights of your trip.
Our visit ended in a restaurant run by the orphanage, where we excitedly bought angora shawls to support the village women's hand loom centre (www.sayyesnow.org) and wolfed down reckless quantities of fudge cake.
It's the small things that really impressed me about my travels with CWH. How we learnt to really communicate to the locals instead of just seeing them as photographic oddities. (Thanks to which i got to cuddle a lamb while chatting up a shepard.) CWH's attitude towards the mountains - teaching by example, and showing us how to connect instead of just sight see. And how to appreciate beauty without leaving a trail: Gaurav, for instance, stopped us from thoughtlessly dunking mud lamps into the Ganga during a puja in Rishikesh,
explaining why it was bad for the river.
Though ironically, I really became a CWH fan when I got pulled up! Too many guides bend over backwards following the 'customer is right' mantra. I admire people who don't compromise on things they consider important. I was happily buying bottle after bottle of mineral water with the rest of the girls till Gaurav firmly told all of us to refill our bottles at the ashram so we use less
I had a great holiday, of course. But, more importantly, I returned with genuine affection - and a healthy respect - for CWH, the mountains and their people.
Occupation: Manager, Bran development, Amazon India
Went for: Jolingkong trek
Name: Ojas Parikh
Letter: Hi, my name is Ojas Parikh. age 38. I'm working in a business conglomerate and love sports ... have been running mainly in the recent past.
In June 2012, I went for my first trek with Gaurav Punj and Connect With Himalaya. It was a 14-day trip in the Himalayan range to the Adi Kailash mountain (4,700 metres base camp). It was a wonderful, delightful, extremely different experience.
Whilst we always refer to trek's in terms of distances or heights attained my experience was a little different. The physicality of the trek took a backseat and what i thoroughly enjoyed was being in the mountains, with the locals, sharing their lives and experiencing the simplicity of their lifestyles. Living in the mountains and experiencing life in such simplicity (and harshness that the locals live in), away from all the trappings of life that have become second nature to us was a surreal experience. It balances you, resets your goals and makes you appreciate nature & the human spirit at its best.
The above greatly happened cause with Connect wiht Himalaya you aren't just doing a trek but you're thrown right in with the locals and get to experience a slice of their life. We stayed with them in their homes thru homestays, we ate their food, they invited us to their actual houses, we interacted with them, learnt about their lives, difficulties, aspirations all of which give you a very real perspective. Gaurav and his team (which again comprises of locals from the area where you are trekking in) are continuously sharing and drawing your attention to little, little details about that region whether it is flora, fauna, traditions, stories, practices. You hence develop a real appreciation of their life and land and the responsibility we all have to maintain this. Since Connect with Himalaya uses all local resources it was good to know that we contributed meaningfully to the income and lives of the locals too.
As someone who wanted to experience trekking I really got what i was looking for. Besides the actual trekking i got a true, real, feel of the mountains, way of life of their people and an understanding and appreciation of nature. That in my mind is the most imp thing one can take away (and an organizer should give) from an activity like trekking.
Name: Rajiv Sethi
Occupation: Managing director, Gemini power hydraulics pvt. Ltd.
Went for: Dzongri trek in Sikkim, Ladakh road trip, Naggar New year trip and more
Letter: On several occasions we have used the bespoke tourism services offered by Gaurav Punj via his entity ‘Connect with Himalaya’.
We have great admiration of the vision and focus on the Indian Himalaya’s demonstrated by the entrepreneur. He not only walks the talk – he treks the talk. The pre trip briefings are always full of sensitivity that is to be shown to the local ecology coupled with the tips on how to respect and learn the local traditions whilst on the trip. It is certainly very impressive to note that CWH in their own way promote local tourism by organising home stay’s with the locals and involve much participatory benefits of the residents of that region, be it local guides, porters or local business.
As a company we were privileged to support an environmental campaign as a school that is locally run in Darjeeling. If it was not for CWH we would not have had this spiritual connect with the Himalaya’s.
On another trip through Ladakh, we had similar experiences of home stays, home cooked meals and visiting a SEMCOL – an eye opening experience for everyone on our group.
Our best to them.
Name: Vyjayanthi Keswani
Occupation: Interior designer
Went for: Dodital trek, Rhododendron sanctuary Sikkim, Kinnaur-spiti trek and many more
Letter: I would have never known how to define Responsible Tourism had I not chosen to travel with Gaurav, who is the man behind his company, Connect with Himalaya. Trekking to me was purely a one-sided, selfish pursuit of pleasure until my first trek with Gaurav. I have trekked with him regularly since then. Travelling with him has not only made me reach great heights (literally!) but also given me the immense satisfaction that I am reaching out to people in those remote regions of our country one would normally never visit.
One of my highlights on our trek to West Sikkim was our stay in Riverdale, an orphange cum school run by a dynamic lady called Smriti. She runs the school for orphans and abandoned children with her incredible family. My group was so touched by these people that amongst us we have adopted two girls and are now sponsoring their education. During our stay at Riverdale we not only shared our beds and food with them but also immense love and memories that we took with us. A rich opportunity that would never have been available if not for Gaurav. Riverdale is very much a part of all of Gaurav's treks to Sikkim and so many chidren have been sponsored for education by the visitors. And now, Riverdale is an integeral part of my life.
I can say the same of Kesang, the beautiful 14 year old girl whose family I stayed with as a home stay, coincidentally also in Sikkim. We have long conversations on the phone every week and she will be visiting my city, Bangalore, to spend some time with me and my family. She is overjoyed as she always wanted to see and experience 'city' life. More often than not, all our stays wherever permitted, are in home stays, where we get to know the people, their culture and history.
On our treks we always eat local dishes made from local produce and are encouraged to buy local crafts as gifts - even if it means lugging back kilos of juicy apples or the local fruit of the season to give our kith and kin and friends back home. These kind of purchases as souvenirs is always a thumps up , but if you chose to take a bit of the flora and fauna of the place as memories, you will be scolded as Gaurav believes that even a 'small piece' taken by everyone will add up and destroy the envoirnment. He would rather watch us freeze than strike a match and start a bon fire even in temperatures below freezing point as the wood used for bon fires come from the forest trees that are felled! A completely different scenario to the soft, comforting images of a bon fire on a cold winter night in the middle of nowhere! No, none of that. - He does ofcourse make up with fat sleeping bags and flannel blankets, so no one's complaining. I am also keen to accompany him on the tree planting exercise he does on some of his treks or the marathons to raise money for a cause.
But to most of us who have travelled with him earlier, this has become our 'way of trekking' and now we too do the same with the new comers. Thus I can confidently say that Gaurav's Responsible Tourism is addictive! An addiction I most definitely do not want to kick.
I am looking forward to my trek to Leh in a couple of days where I can meet, mingle and involve myself in the lives of the locals and I am sure I will be adding some more names to my list of friends. I would have never thought that trekking would make me feel so complete, but it has and all thanks to Gaurav!
Name: Rajeeb Roy
Occupation: Owner at Agriplast
Went for: Kinnaur - Spiti trek, Rupin – Supin trek, Rishikesh by the Ganga and more
Letter: I am happy to note that connect with Himalaya has been shortlisted for the “Annual responsible tourism award”. It is a proud moment for me too as the client of Connect with Himalaya, a company with a difference.
I would like to list few of the points to highlight their different approach towards tourism:
- Connect with Himalaya acquires and transfers enough knowledge about the local culture, heritage and people. As a clients we were briefed about the etiquette of dealing with locals at remote places we visited in all the three trips.
- When we travel with Connect with Himalaya we don’t need to worry about the genuineness of the local organizations to whom we contribute as Gaurav has already done their background check.
- During our Spiti trek we have been part of the local home stay program in Komic and Demul Villages. It was a great way of knowing about the people and their way of life and at the same time contributing financially to them.
- During my Spiti trip with CWH we have visited local Girl orphanage located at Kalpa where we spent time with the kids understood their problems and donated generously to support their cause. During our trip to Rishikesh we had visited another orphanage called Ramana Gardens which is a home and school for orphans and destitute children. It was an overwhelming experience to visit the above two places.
- Last but not the least we have always been advised never to leave any trash or plastic on our trails and I have noticed Gaurav picking up even a single piece of paper if thrown mistakenly also by someone not even from our group.
I strongly recommend that leaders like Mr. Gaurav Punj who heads Connect with Himalaya must be encouraged and recognized. These are the people who make a difference in our society.
Name: Akash Joshi
Occupation: Media professional
Went for: Spiti trek, Kinner Kailash trek
Feedback: Gaurav and his firm Connect with Himalaya offer A++ grade services undoubtedly. The commitment and the professionalism of delivery is a amazing. The experience of associating with CWH is elevated to a higher level due to the sheer personal attention that Gaurav's and his team pay to each individual. Being associated with Gaurav has indeed been an honour and a joy. Looking forward for more.
Name: Dilip Dusija
Occupation: Investment Banker with Axis bank
Went for: Darma valley trek
Feedback: Gaurav is known to me since 2008 when i fist met him at a marathon training group. He had just quit his cushy job with Tata's after having studied abroad from one of the most coveted universities. I was one of the lucky few who attended his initial treks and loved it to the core. What I liked about him was the indepth knowledge of the Himalayas and the professional touch which was evident through his excellent organisation skills. His company has grown leaps and bounds since then and he has been orgainising excellent treks to places people would have never thought about. I strongly recommend Gaurav's treks for someone looking for a different kind of a vacation to Himalayas.
Name: Mantosh Roy
Occupation: General Manager, ADITYA BIRLA RETAIL LTD
Went for: Darma valley trek
Feedback: Having known Gaurav for a very short while, and yet having experienced the Himalayas for the first time with him, I strongly recommend his company for the professionalism and the manner in which all aspects of our journey were executed. The memories accumulated in this one trip far outweigh any financial cost accrued (which by the way is extremely competitive for the support services provided ). Great going and hope to join in many such endeavors in the near future.
Name: Shanker V
Went for: Kinnaur - Spiti trek
Feedback: Gaurav brings in passion to connect unexplored Himalayan terrains with ecology...He has an uncanny perseverance and focus to scout unique Himalayan destinations. Experiencing Spiti, my first ever sojourn to the Himalayas was surreal and breathtaking...Thanks GP for facilitating such a wonderful experience...With love and best wishes, Shanker.
Name: Ajit Naik
Occupation: Own Business
Went for: Rishikesh, Dzongri trek in Sikkim, Rupin – Supin, Darma valley and more
Feedback: Gaurav knows the Himalayas better than anyone I know. In spite of his in depth knowledge about his subject, he personally visits each destination before taking you there, so that there are no unpleasant surprises after getting there. If you want to experience the Himalayas and its people, then you can do no better than CWH.
Name: Akhil Chopra
Went for: Corbett- Munsiyari-Khaliya top trek
Feedback: I along with a friend from the United States went for a week long excursion from New Delhi to Munsiyari in the Uttaranchal Himalayas. The trek was organized by Gaurav Punj. The entire organization was done by Gaurav after discussion with me via e-mail.
I was a bit skeptical at the start since I was not going through a big travel agency. However, Gaurav did an excellent job and all our requirements for the trip were met. I was a bit disappointed with our stop at Corbett national park since we did not get to stay inside the park. However, the accommodations in our resort were very comfortable.
Name: Bhavana Mehta
Occupation: Senior Manager, Caps Gemini
Went for: Kolahoi glacier trek, Nanda Devi base camp, Khirsu, Gushaini and more
Feedback: GP is very creative in his work & has a lot of out-of-the-box ideas. He is also very transparent with his planning & costing details. He selects the most scenic locations which are very less explored & whenever vacation pictures are shown to any of my friends, they are surprised at discovering such picturesque locations in their own country, India. The other interesting part about his trips is the kind of like-minded people you meet & GP ensures that a common chord is touched for the entire group & the trip becomes an interesting memorable experience for everyone with a whole load of stories to be shared for months to come. The third part that I would like to mention is that it is such de-stressing experience that I recommend everyone to experience rather than just read or hear about it.
Name: Madhav Pai
Occupation: Director at EMBARQ India program
Went for: Kinnaur trip, Gushaini trip
Feedback: I have known Gaurav for almost a decade now. He always had a passion for pursuing the unknown. Through connect with himalayas in addition to pursuing the unknown for himself, he has managed to do it for all of us who are busy leading mundane city lives. In the hope of accompanying you on many trips in the years to come, good luck with everything. Wishing you nothing but the best.
Name: Jahnvi Shah
Occupation: Own manufacturing business.
Went for: Panch chuli Trek, Nanda Devi base camp
Feedback: I will describe my experience in 2 parts:
Kumaon Sight Seeing: Places covered are Mukteshwar, Vijaypur, Patal-Bhuvneshwar, Munsiyari. All the sites were very exotic and unique. Perfect places for a quite get away. Far from the town / villages and close to nature. The apricot & plum orchards at Mukteshwar , the view of the Himalayan ranges at Vijaypur was breathtaking. Wish to have spotted a leopard at Vijaypur though. Loved the cottages at Vijaypur and Munsiyari. The temple at Patal-Bhuvneshwar was again very unique --starting from the location to overall feel and the concept. Binsar was also a good relaxation spot. The Tree climbing experience was a first ever for me.
Panch chuli Trek: This is my 4th trek in the Himalayas and I must admit that it was one of the most exceptionally beautiful locations. The highlights of the trek would be the Scenic Views, Home stay & Bugyals at Nagling, beautiful campsites with river flowing alongside, Snow capped mountains which appear like you can almost touch them, the story telling sessions, campfires, delicious food (garma garam phulkas) at 3500 mtrs altitude.
All in all a very memorable trip!!! Truly felt connected with the Himalayas!!!
Name: Kumar Aswani
Occupation: Edelweiss Capital. (Financial firm)
Went for: Srinagar-Sonmarg-Kargil-Ladakh.
Feedback: Very well organized for such a tedious trip. some confusion about the kitty money. guess you need to change that in the brochure. nice places you chose to stay, especially since we had girls with us. glad that you chose 2 vans, than one bus. liked the way you briefed us at the dinner table about the next day's plan, and what we should expect. just one more suggestion.. we could have sacrificed a little driving time for photography.. half of my pics have the glass glare.. :(
Name: Sangita Maheshwari
Occupation: Commercial Director for Lactose India Ltd.
Went for: Dzongri trek, Nanda Devi base camp, Rupin-Supin, Gushaini
Feedback: Was by far one of THE most fantastic holidays I have ever been to. The trek was tough but very doable. The place was sensational! Never imagined that such pure and raw beauty exists in India. Was very well planned out and the entire trek was well co-ordinated. The Darjeeling Marathon was loads of Fun and made me feel like a celebrity. The entire experience was way out of this world.