An outdoor adventures personality in all senses, Rohan Ratnapal with a love for diving, nature, fishing and outdoor cooking – the forests and hiking through them will always be Ratnapals’ deepest passion. From trekking through the world’s’ oldest rainforest Borneo (150 million years old), the Himalayan forests to growing up right on the edge of our very own Western Ghats (one of the eight bio-diverse hotspots of the world), Ratnapal believes one learns most from being outside – although underlines the fact that the outdoors is not necessarily for everyone, and that’s okay. With his love for outdoor adventures and nature; and the belief that inculcating a sense of familiarity and respect towards environment will help preserve what we have left of it, Ratnapal turned his passion into his profession by running a Pune based Eco Tour Agency known as ‘Rivers and Ridges’.
Watch Rohan Ratnapal hosting his PassionTalk on Jungle Hikes , at Livingit!
Livingit: When and how did you start outdoor adventures as Passion?
Rohan: I give the credits to my Father Mr. Nandkishor Ratnapal, at a very young age I had a love for nature, animals and my Father introduced me to outdoors, regular hiking in the hills around Pune, swimming in open waters and cycling to the outskirts of the town which was rural back then. Once on a family vacation, he introduced me to swimming in the sea, I’m still not as good as him, though. At the age of 7, I had trekked Torna fort along with him during monsoon (One of the most difficult hill forts in India). After that, there was no looking back! I took my own way by participating in various scout camps for my school which again helped me shaping up as an outdoorsman. Growing up it became my lifestyle, so nearly every weekend there were treks, solo hikes in jungles, lots of fishing around the lakes and rivers of Pune. At one point my classmates and I would bunk college and go swimming and fishing in the lakes!
Livingit: Was it smooth sailing after that or did you struggle to pursue it?
Rohan: Having said that it became my lifestyle I would seek every opportunity to find something to do that had outdoor adventures, immense thrill and helped me in my daily routine – Nature is the best teacher you know ? Yes, some skills you have to practice rigorously to master like fishing or even kayaking which aren’t easy at all in the beginning, especially on an unknown river. Other skills, I picked up pretty fast like cooking with bare minimum ingredients, setting up makeshift tents with jungle wood, tarp, and stones. Later on, these became my skills for survival.
Livingit: Did you have a mentor and how did it help?
Rohan: I actually have two mentors – Mr. Sohrab Chinoy (CEO – ABC Farms, Pune) and Capt. Ramanath Iyer, just like my Father they both gave me a very good start. Capt. Ram or just Ram (That’s what he likes being called) is an ex-Indian Naval Officer who is about 70 years old now and I met him about 15 years ago, he was once a hunter who would get request letters from the Forest Dept. to track and shoot man-eater leopard or tiger. In my opinion, whether you are a mountaineer or diver, it still doesn’t account to what a hunter has to go through to protect livestock and villagers. Today’s game and trophy hunting and even what the British or the Maharajas did at that time was different, it can never be compared with conservation hunting back in those days. Capt. Ram taught me about outdoor adventures, the ethics of the jungle, the importance of wildlife conservation and most importantly ‘how to seek help from the locals’. Although I have never shot any wild animal but with Ram, I have learned marksmanship to the bull’s eye, be it shotgun, rifles and even crossbow.
Mr. Chinoy taught me how to work hard and smart, I met him 5 years ago through a friend and he invited me to his property where we have an upcoming resort. During our early years, we conducted several camps out of this 4-acre land that has vintage bungalows, rustic outback restaurant, organic garden with several foreign species of plants and fruits. Most of my entrepreneurial skills were honed through him.
Livingit: What groups did you join and how did it help you?
Rohan: I neither joined any group nor I went for any formal training for seeking any outdoor adventures sports, I have it all learned and taught myself the hard way and with the help of my mentors.
Livingit: What is your favourite activity among all the things that you do?
Rohan: Deep Sea diving always fascinated me when I was a kid, but we never had any access to the gear back then. Even if we did have an access, money was the main concern. Recently, I started diving and I really love the feeling of maintaining buoyancy in the deep, watching the vibrant marine life and so much more. I recently completed my Open water diver course during my tour to Borneo. Semporna and the neighbouring islands of Malaysia form a Coral triangle which is one of top five places in the world to dive. When you are a beginner to any outdoor adventures, the start must always be memorable in a good way, it’s easier to live through the rough tides later.
Diving may be my most recent passion but my love for forests and hiking through them will and always be my number one favourite activity. With my love for both, the Jungles and Deep seas you can see how it has seeped into the kind of curated outdoor adventures and tours we design – Borneo, has the oldest forest in the world (150 million-year-old) and one of the best places to dive – The Coral triangle, so on this tour we do 4 days – dense forest, 4 days river, 5 days sea (8 islands).
Livingit: What have been your top three memorable moments in your passion till now?
Rohan: Well, for me the top 3 would be –
3. Cliff Diving from 150 ft into Buffalo river – Arkansas
2. Reaching Stok Kangri (Leh – Himalayas) Summit – 6153 mt high climb with my group
1. Hiking through Borneo rainforest to explore wildlife.
Livingit: How did your passion turn into your profession?
Rohan: I returned to India in 2012 after working for about 2 years for MTV Networks in New York and I was looking around as what I should do to make a living. I always loved doing something useful for people, I love to dream big and work hard to achieve them. So, when my mind kept me diverting into taking up my previous business, Advertising, my heart kept me pulling towards outdoor adventures and doing something that could keep my passion alive. Our very first trip I remember was an angling trip we conducted for a group of friends, this was in the end of June 2012, we had a great time being on the river, between 8 people we caught over a 100 fish! Our second and most important trip was a camping trip organized for friends and friends of friends. The reason it was very important was not because we wanted them to have a great time but on that trip I was going to make my decision that, will I go ahead with this plan for business.
My top three things in life are – Outdoors, Food and Music, so we designed this trip for 15 people where we did some hiking in the forest, camped by the lake, caught fish and had a great acoustic jam with BBQ and campfire. My decision for this business would be based on at least 10 out of 15 people should give me five stars for the service and experience. It turned out that 15 out of 15 don’t want to go back home and stay there for another day with similar activities, well that gave me my answer and Rivers and Ridges on July 25th 2012 opened doors to one of the best times people have had in their lifetime.
Livingit: How have you grown since you started?
Rohan: We have grown pretty well since then, we have a team of 5 now. The volume of camps that we did in the early years are double now. There are Indian and International curated experiential tours that we are conducting solely without the involvement of any international operator. We have expanded our office space, we have a whole bungalow to ourselves now unlike earlier it was out of my parent’s garage.
Livingit: What are your current plans and future goals for Rivers and Ridges?
Rohan: We specialize in curating an experiential tour and not a sight-seeing tour. Every trip even if it’s for a day must give our client a memorable experience to cherish and share with more people. We have already started to expand to other cities, in future we would like to have offices there. I have started training more people to conduct camps for us now and I have seen the previous ones getting better every day in both road and office responsibilities.
Livingit: What do you feel has been your biggest achievements/accomplishment since you began this journey?
Rohan: Not many people thought that a career could be made out of a few interesting skills that I had and love for outdoor adventures, now that I have started hiring people and supporting rural families with additional income (through treks and camps we conduct in their area), during Diwali conducting a gifting drive across 20 villages and over 200 families, I have proven myself that my ideas do benefit lives of people. All of this other than the beautiful smile on the face of people after they have completed a trip with us. I think this idea taking shape is my biggest achievement.
Livingit: How many jungle treks would have done till date?
Rohan: With Rivers and Ridges over 250 smaller and longer trips; personally over 1000 in my entire lifetime.
Livingit: What are your top three jungle trekking destinations and why?
Rohan: In no particular order, it would be:
1. Western Ghats, India – 65 million-year-old forest – a Biodiversity hotspot – Home to some of the most scenic hill forts – monsoon time is the best to visit western ghats but also difficult to trek forts.
2. Rainforest of Borneo, Malaysia – 150 million old rainforest – Home to one of the most unique life forms on the planet – Some of the tallest trees – 1000 ft high and 1200-year-old are found here.
3. Appalachian mountains – 480 million old mountains – Abundance of wildlife – breathtaking beauty – multiple activities can be done like – kayaking in the rivers, hiking, trekking, rock climbing, fishing, camping etc.
Livingit: Are Jungle treks safe to do it yourself?
Rohan: Yes, you can if you are a seasoned trekker, you can go solo provided you have seen the trail a couple of times with others. If I am visiting a location after a long time even one year and if it is a different season then I would definitely take a local guide with me.
Livingit: What are top 3 things on your bucket list regarding your passion?
Rohan: It would definitely be:
1. Hiking in the Amazon – From Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru.
2. Completing my Dive Master course at the Great Barrier Reef
3. Travelling to Antartica
Livingit: Do you have any tips for people starting out in outdoors?
Rohan: Well, to start with something easy so that you can enjoy it first. Outdoor adventures is not meant for everyone (it really isn’t) and it’s better to accept than to proceed with guilt and fear of being a ‘chicken’. Be sincere and follow the rules and guidelines, discipline is the most important aspect of outdoors. Adopt a hobby to go along with hiking – like photography, the study of birds, butterflies, plants, animals, history, culture, outdoors cooking, or simply read a book by a river, there is so much to do than just hike or trek.
Catch Rohan LIVE at Livingit PassionTalk on 24th March @ 4 PM! Check more details of the live video chat here!