A weekend spent learning all about nature and survival at Youreka’s adventure camp
Lots of fresh energy and the great Himalayas in the background, it was a camp full of laughter, fun and happiness in the magnificently green Tirthan valley in Himachal Pradesh. Located at Sai Ropa Village, on the borders of the Great Himalayan National Park (a UNESCO world heritage site), the camp was organized by Youreka. Every morning was a fresh one, as I heard the gentle rhythm of Tirthan river, watched the waves flow gently while eating breakfast and the children played.
The Great Himalayan National Park is renowned for its more than 400 species of flora and fauna. The nearest tourist destinations are Manali, Kasol, Jhalori Pass, Manikaran. I even went to Manikaran Gurudwara Sahib on Baisakhi (April 13), another moment imprinted forever in my heart.
Youreka, founded by Ronny Gulati in 1995, organises back to nature adventure camps for children and adults. Revelling in the fresh breeze and the relaxed ambience, Gulati and I chatted about the place and his passion. Gulati’s father was in the army and the thrill for new places and new things was inculcated since childhood. He wanted to do something connected to nature and Youreka came closest. “The concept is to engage with children and introduce them to adventure. In these camps children make friends with people from different places and backgrounds,” elucidated Gulati. “Initially we connected with parents directly to explain to them the ‘back to nature’ concept with these adventure camps. Then we introduced it to schools. Families and friends can also join the fun camps. All our trainers are well trained mountaineers from reputed colleges.” In fact, one of the trainers Bhuwaneswari Thakur has been a skiing champion. She won the gold medal as best athlete in South Asian Games and National Skiing competition and has also participated in Asian Games. She had started skiing in 1996 and doing adventure tours and activities in 2004. She graduated from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Mountaineering Institute in Manali.
As I eyed the activities, Gulati informed that there are different activities for different age groups. To name some, hiking, cliff jumping, rock climbing, rappelling, mount geo, outdoor survival. “People need to understand that there is more to adventure than river rafting in Rishikesh,” he expressed his sentiments.
The art of survival was an interesting concept in which children make their own meals, set up their own tents for the night. The slightly older children also get to spend a solo night out at nearby Sarol Sar lake. “This becomes the moment of change, as it is a way of eliminating fear from their lives and make them bold enough to face any situation in life. The goal of all the activities is to make the children more confident. And they are always under the supervision of a trained instructor,” stresses Gulati.
Away from the concrete jungle, this was a back to nature after a long time for me also. Three days in a tent accommodation was an experience to savour. Some tents are for single occupants while others have double beds. When not in the outdoors, we would spend time in KPRD–Khaana Pina Rona Dhona. This is the main hall, made of wood and stone, and designed like a 150-year-old local temple.
As Gulati emphasized, doing nothing is also a connect with nature. And that was what I experienced. After the hectic pace in Delhi, I got time to myself. The gentle and natural surroundings helped as I did nothing but observe the people and the surroundings around silently. I think I began to read them quite well in the relaxed ambience. My eyes swept up towards the sky, gazed in awe at the huge mountains, moved to the river waves and I felt gratitude for this peace. I knew a few days more and I would have understood who I am. I felt the power of nature rush through my veins.
Locals told me that the Tirthan River is famous for its ‘Rainbow Trout Fish’. There was a fish farm near the campus. And a trek to the waterfall and crystal valley is worth every single arduous step. Life is simple in the Tirthan valley. The locals have a traditional outlook and their favourite dish is ‘siddu’, Its a steamed pastry stuffed with poppy seed paste and served with ghee and generally eaten in winter. Like the people in the plains, they enjoy celebrating Lohri, Dussehra, Diwali. Basant Panchami is known as ‘faguli’ by the tribals. I did hear of a festival named hoom but didn’t find anyone to give me details of this. Well, maybe there’s another weekend in the pipeline to know about this, you never know.
After completing his MBA from XLRI, Jamshedpur, Ronny got a degree in engineering from REC, Trichi. He worked as an engineer with Godrej for one and a half years. But a childhood spent exploring the country with his father being in the army, the idea of a nine-to-five job was not appealing. Fond of adventure activities since childhood and influenced by the summer camps in the US, Ronny and three friends came together to start this. Now he manages this alone and has six campuses—at Sitalkhet near Nainital, Tirthan, Yercaud, Junga, Dharamshala and Kambra. He is also the co-founder of iDiscoveri Education and has set up schools such as Strawberry Fields in Chandigarh, NH Goel World in Raipur, Pushp Niketan in Dhampur.