“As an army officer’s daughter, I have had the privilege of growing up in India and enjoying the diversity that our country has to offer. It has been my dream to make others realize these hidden treasures within our country and work with the rural folk at the grass root level.”
“Once when I was on a trip to Ladakh in 2014, I spent two weeks volunteering and interacting with the rural communities. I realized my true passion lies in working with rural communities and I wanted to showcase the hidden beauty of rural India to the world. Also, I thought to use this model of travel to build infrastructure in the hard to access remote but very picturesque regions of the Himalayas,” says Vandana Vijay on founding Offbeat Tracks.
She extensively traveled across the Himalayas to set up an entrusted network of vendors. Most of these regions were in remote, hard to access and politically unstable regions of the country.
“Being bootstrapped it was imperative that we have our financials in order and ensure that our customers feel safe and enjoy the entire travel experience thoroughly,” says Vijay.
She wants to spread the joys of this alternate form of experiential travel to all and get people to enjoy and cherish the abundance that India has to offer.
The journey hasn’t been easy for her. She prepared for 4 years for the UPSC Civil Services exam but could not clear the examination. She didn’t give up and kept working hard.
Fortunately, she landed a job at Facebook in their Business Integrity team.
“Treat every mishap in life as a learning lesson for something in the future. The learnings that I gained during that period were something that has molded me into the person I am today. The knowledge and resilience that this preparation gave me have helped me know in my line of work,” she says.
After working for 3 years at Facebook, Vandana left Facebook to start Offbeat Tracks.
When asked about failures, she says, “I can not specifically name one failure but every roadblock that I have faced during my journey has been a lesson in the making. We have had issues with vendors ditching us in the last moment at a remote location leaving our guests stranded. Last year during the Gorkhaland agitation we had to change travel plans for our guests overnight so as to ensure them a safe passage. Each of these roadblocks is an opportunity to improve your product and offering and not become complacent and too comfortable in our space.”
Recently, Vandana along with a group of 14 people from California, worked on a rural solar electrification project in Village Takmachik in the Sham region of Ladakh. They spent five days in this village which is a three-hour drive from the capital city of Leh.
The solar units were created by middle school children in the USA and crafted especially keeping the village and its geographical location in mind.
“Our primary objective was to power ten houses that were totally off the grid due to their geographical location with solar lights. These homes were a three hour trek uphill and these homes were on two ridges up in the mountains with each home being a ten-minute trek from each other. We also spent time in the village with local families thereby supplementing them with additional income and learnt their methods of Organic farming and other methods of livelihood that are practiced by the villagers.”
“The challenges I faced during this trip were the logistical issues of transporting solar equipment into this region. Our solar batteries weren’t allowed to be flown into Leh by the airlines in the last minute and we had to transport them by road into Ladakh which takes an arduous 7 days. The experience overall was a thorough and fulfilling one where we got a chance to experience rural Ladakhi living and a tiny gesture of ours has brought in a great transformation in the lives of many people in the region.”
“This project also helped promote eco-tourism within the village and help the villagers with an additional source of income. Over the span of our five-day visit to the village, the total earnings by the community were amounting to INR 1,00,000/- which gave a great boost to the locals and their village economy,” she says.
As a woman dream high and dream big. Do not limit your ambition to just a job. Find your passion and true calling and do not let marriage or societal pressure stop you from pursuing your dreams. Fail often, fail hard but keep chipping away.