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How does one capture seven years in one page of writing. How does one capture a million moments, in a few lines.
Seven years back, on an impulse, I put up a trip on Facebook. Bhutan. Not knowing if anyone would join me. I remember how excited I was when Antara made my first business card.
I remember having no clue about being a trip leader when I started out. I remember Googling “Ice Breaking games” one night before my first trip. I remember everyone being sweet to me and always helping me out. Dancing in the middle of nowhere in the mountains came from the beginning, so did impromptu night walks to a river. Swagger,sadly, came in much later.
“Aap log pehli baar mil rahe hain?!!! Aapko dekh ke lagta hai aap bohot pehle se friends hain”, I remember this line asked to me or the group by incredulous hotel staff, transporterts etc. right from the very first trip. In the early years, the trippers would go to sleep by 1-2 am and only five six people who became close would stay up till 3 or 4 am. How things changed from 2016.
We did not have an Instagram account earlier. Not till 2018. We didn’t even have a website till 2019. For five years, we operated out of a Facebook page. I used to love that page. In the first few years, when we were just 2000, 4000, 6000 people, I used to speak to every single commenter. In late 2018, one Kashmir trip post went crazy viral, and we went from 20,000 subscribers to 1 lakh within 3-4 months. I remember Sakshi, Shrimayi, Reshma, Shaurya, Harsh, all of us being on a call the moment the count hit 1 lakh, and screaming and yelling happily.
I remember hiring each trip leader, each one of them being surprised when I first suggested it to them. “Neeraj, I would love to, but do you think I can?” Sakshi, Niyati, Abha , Abhay each one of them asked me the same question. It was simple. I knew them, I loved them, I knew how much they loved the brand, I knew how decent they were as human beings, and I knew how warmly they treated everyone. Each one of them I am so proud of. When people compare us, we laugh internally. These mortals, sigh.
In retrospect, I do not know if I should take pride in the fact that we never used any sort of paid marketing, or sponsored ads on social media to increase our fan base or our post reach. We went the organic way and all our trips still got full. What I do take pride in is a few of my interns writing on our Team whatsapp group on their last working day, “We love being part of this group. Can you not remove us from it even though it’s our last day today?” Shaurya left in 2018, he is still part of the team. So are young Smriti and Vishnupriya. They don’t react to any of the work messages, but if there are jokes being cracked, congratulatory messages going out to anyone, they always message. Today morning, VP and Smriti were the first to write “congrats for seven years guys” on the group despite having officially left the system two years ago
Reshma, Shrimayi, Chandrika, Srishti will always be part of team On His Own Trip despite having their own work setups. Why? Cos in their own ways, they have all sat up nights when I was away on trips, doing things for me and the brand, unconditionally. Radu will always be my child. They will be part of OHOT come 2040 or 2090, come covid or a dozen more viruses, come whatever.
Sometimes people ask me, “All this is ok, but don’t you want to scale up? You are still just 4-5 people in the team. Don’t you want to be more successful?” How do I explain. I must have laughed five million times in the last seven years. I must have hugged at least five thousand people. I dance every fortnight. How many times have we played Dark Room like little kids, hiding under the bed and giggling away. How many times have we cried hearing someone else’s pain, how many dogs love me back. Success cant be just revenue, eh.
Four or five people in my team? So naïve. If I say there are thirty people who would call themselves team OHOT within five seconds of reading this line, I might still be underestimating the numbers. (heh can you guys do that in the comments section )
Somewhere down the line, I became better at reading people. Sometimes it helped me help them become more visible on a trip, and sometimes it helped me help them to open up about things they had shut deep inside.
I remember an eighteen year old girl who’s drawing book was full of suicidal drawings. I remember her hugging me and saying she felt “safest there”. I remember the two of us standing outside the hotel, the rain falling, and her hopping and dancing by herself in the rain. I remember her mother calling me two days after the trip ended, and exclaiming she hadn’t seen her child as happy as that in years.
What do the seven years mean to me? This and such.
Happy Seven Years to everyone who has been with us in this journey, rooted for us, laughed with us, told us they wanted to come but couldn’t, were there in the little or big moments.
p.s 1 The picture is one of the first posters we made in 2014. Its a picture taken in the first group trip. A boy sitting on a hill top, looking at the world ahead. Some pieces in the jigsaw (in place), and some scattered, that will eventually all come together.
p.s 2 would love to hear people’s favourite memories with us in the last seven years, from trips, over social media conversations, anything.