“When I started my first adventure camp in 2010, my father was so furious that he did not speak to me for over two years,” recounts 36-year-old Jeevan Dangwal at his Camp Sunkiya at Sunkiya village, Ramgarh block, Nainital district, Uttarakhand. Dangwal’s father, Kishan Singh, was angry because to pursue his dream — which his father thought is not viable — Jeevan encashed all his bank policies and applied for the loan.
Dangwal, a 10th fail, has never been afraid of taking risks. Sitting at a tent surrounded by an orchard of plum and peach at his camp Sunkiya, he tells that he never tried to complete the education as it is of not much help in doing what he wants to achieve in life.
Hailing from primarily an agriculture family with the ownership of 2-acre farmland in which they grow apple, peach, plum, pear, apricot, potato, peas, cauliflower, Rajma etc. Dangwal used to visit his elder brother Harish Singh, who used to work as a cook at a hotel near a Camp Purple, an adventure camp in Sargakhet, Mukteshwar. Later, Dangwal also worked at this camp for a decade. While working there, he attended basic and advances courses at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarakashi and various workshops on wildlife and tourism across the state.
While working there, Dangwal developed adventure sports as a hobby and learnt the nuances of the trade. At 16, when he had just taken his 10th exams, he contacted Ms Madhu Khati, Principal of Poorvanchal Academy, Almora for sending her students to his camp. He managed to persuade Poorvanchal and other schools to send their students for camping and adventure sports at Saattaal, Ramnagar etc.” Everyone in this sector knows that getting schools as clients is extremely difficult,” proudly tells Dangwal.
In 2010, he decided to open Vanvaas, a camp in a dense forest in Dhanachuli. To establish this, they borrowed money to buy three tents, each with bed etc. costing around Rs 70,000. As the response initially wasn’t that good, to survive, he worked at a camp whereas his brother worked at a hotel nearby.
However, one of the guests at camp Vanvaas was Pankaj Wadhwa, who was trying to promote entrepreneurship in Uttarakhand. Wadhwa was quite impressed by Dangwal’s journey as a handful of locals are in this sector and that how he was managing with almost zero budget.
In 2016, when Wadhwa decided to establish Udhyam to promote rural-entrepreneurship in the Kumaon region, he contacted Dangwal to help in spending the word (Prachaar activity) as well as coming on board to screen the entrepreneurs. “The first meeting happened in Sunkiya,” proudly remembers Dangwal.
However, while prachaar for the first cohort was going on, local administration, keeping in the safety of the guests in mind, asked Dangwal to relocate his Vanvaasi camp from the dense forest. To do this, he applied for a loan from Udhyam to establish Camp Sunkiya in 2017 and start from scratch again.
In the new camp, Dangwal started offering mountain terrain cycling, hiking, rock sports, rappelling, jumaring, bouldering, swimming cliff jumping, ladder climbing, zipline, and archery. He also organises stargazing activities and invites professionals from Delhi to take leadership programmes for organisations.
Dangwal is grateful to Udhyam, not only because he received financial help when he needed it the most, but also because of the mentorship from Wadhwa and others.
“Pankaj always encourages us to upgrade our skills and expand our business, but we can’t always implement this suggestion due to resource constraints. They also help us in marketing and often send many guests to our camps,” tells Dangwal.
On being asked about his future goals, Dangwal informs, “We want to increase our occupancy rate before expanding. In this direction, we want to lay a thatch roof above camp so that we can do business around the year. Besides, this will also double tent’s life. I am also working on creating a chain of short and long term community homestays in Sunkiya. If I get more time, I also want to work on forest conservation and wildlife in future.”
During the peak season, he has employed even 15 people to serve the guests. In the last two years, he has hosted over 800 guests — students, corporate professionals, and families — which has also helped him in repaying the entire loan much ahead of schedule.
“With gods grace, the family is happy and my children like the adventure sports,” tells Dangwal who can’t stop smiling.