An inspired traveler, an amateur photographer, an aspiring mountaineer and trekker, a positive thinker and a minimalist Johann Kuruvilla’s ideology is summed up by one quote, “It only ends once, everything before that is just progress.” With a passion for trekking that led him to take up photography to be able to capture and relive his treks (along with long distance running to stay fit for his them), Kuruvilla has been trekking and clicking pictures for about 3 years now, also running a blog to inspire the like-minded. With a love for the mountains of the North East, as many trekkers have, Kuruvilla, has before reached the Base Camp of the Everest – a catalyst he says, which will lead him to greater heights.
Catching an interview with him for the #IamLivingit series, Rachana from Livingit asks Johann Kuruvilla the questions that any trekker who wants to follow his footsteps would want to know the answer to! Escaping life, one holiday at a time, Kuruvilla has travelled to beautiful destinations all over the world.
RJ: What was the turning point in 2014 that made you decide you wanted to start travelling?
Johann: Late in 2014, a Malayalam movie by the title of “ Blue Sky, Green Sea, Red Earth ” in which two men set out on a journey of self-introspection was released. Inspired by the movie, a friend and I decided we needed to plan a trip to Ladakh sometime. Ladakh did not happen as we originally planned but it later led to my trip to the North-East of India and introduced me to the wonderful world of travel.
RJ: More specifically, what led you to take up trekking?
Johann: While on that first trip to the North East, I was exposed to the Himalayas and the mountains and it struck a chord with me. On that trip, there were so many occasions where I had to hike and trek to some of the places. My fitness levels weren’t that good. When I returned home, I took up long distance running as a hobby in order to get me fit for the next trip. In a few months I was busy planning trekking trips and to this day I make it a point to incorporate a trek or a long hike wherever I decide to travel to.
RJ: You describe yourself as an “amateur photographer, inspired traveler, aspiring mountaineer, positive thinker and a minimalist.” How important is it to you to follow your passions?
Johann: My passion for travel is what allowed me to take up photography and mountaineering along with the so many other hobbies I now love. More importantly, travel gave me a different perspective of life outside my comfort zone and these new hobbies and passions have helped me channel my negativity to positivity.
RJ: How do you combine your two passions, trekking and photography?
Johann: Trekking has allowed me to capture places and people that some only dream about their entire life and sharing these moments with the world brings so much joy. And so photography has become an integral part of all my travels and treks.
RJ: What inspired you to start clicking pictures?
Johann: After my first trip, I decided to buy a not so fancy DSLR to save some of the precious moments from my travels. The photos that I take help me relive my travels from the lens and I later convert these and prepare my blog based on my photos. Like the famous saying “A picture is worth a thousand words”.
RJ: Do you trek to get good photographs, or do you get good photos while out on treks?
Johann: The photos I take helps me piece together the entire journey. But for me, trekking came first and photography makes it a worthwhile affair.
RJ: How has trekking developed as a passion for you?
Johann: I think my multiple trips to the highest mountain range in the world has greatly helped me in developing my passion for trekking. Trekking has, in turn, allowed me to develop a liking for running, photography, reading and even writing which I didn’t know until I started blogging. I definitely owe a lot to trekking and so I love to keep fuelling this passion for more.
RJ: How do you stay fit/train for your treks?
Johann: This is a really tough one. For all my treks so far I’ve managed to maintain a small fitness schedule and I work on my stamina. So this means running at least 3-4 times a week and some basic core workouts. And like all people I have slacked off many times. But from failures, we rise again. And so I find myself back at some adventure sooner or later. While physical strength and fitness is somewhat a prerequisite for trekking and other high altitude sports; what plays a more important role is your mental fitness. I think half the battle is won right there.
RJ: Tell us about your Everest base camp experience.
Johann: This has to be the best thing that has happened to me in recent times. Something that could be the catalyst for my future treks and climbs hopefully in the years to come.
After hearing the stories of my friend Neilima’s (now the first woman from Andhra Pradesh to climb the Everest) escape from the avalanche that occurred at the Everest Base Camp in 2015, I was determined to go ahead and do this trek for myself even if it meant that I had to go solo. Money, time and fitness were all an issue but I tried my best to overcome all of that in the end. What made the experience more worthwhile was the comradeship I shared with the Sherpas and a friend who decided to join me for the trek at the last minute.
The moment I got to the base camp will forever be something I’ll always remember. There is just so many emotions that you go through when you make it there and can only be felt than written down or said. Being at the foot of the highest mountain on earth will definitely give anyone goosebumps and it is a moment of pride and accomplishment just like the moon landing.
RJ: What is one of the craziest treks you’ve embarked on? Could you elaborate a bit?
Johann: The trek up Stok Kangri in Ladakh is probably the craziest as I decided to attempt it in the shortest time possible and right after a 13 hour trip through the Manali – Leh highway. It is preposterous but we did give a day’s rest in between. The prospect of climbing something that is almost 70% the height of Everest itself is crazy, to begin with. Trekking and climbing always have the word crazy associated with it no matter what and so anything you do will be considered crazy by most people.
RJ: Tell us about one of your best trekking memories?
Johann: Standing at the top of Kala Patthar was my best moment in trekking. We trekked up in almost -40 degrees at 4 am. It was later found that even Everest summits were called off due to the hurricane force winds that blew that day. But even after all this, I was able to make it to the top to get the view of the rising sun and the first glimpse of Mt. Everest standing right beside it. Makes up for all the blood, sweat and tears you face to get there.
RJ: How do you deal with unpredictable factors such as the weather while trekking?
Johann: I think it’s really important to have a good guide with you with sound knowledge about the trekking routes to help you analyze the weather and help you make better decisions on the way. It is always better to trek with someone along than going solo in hard terrain. Dealing with unpredictable factor like the weather – all depends on the experience you gain from previous times and also your trekking partners. Weather in the mountains is always unpredictable so it is wiser to have a guide accompany you.
RJ: Do you prefer to trek solo or with friends? How different are the two types of experiences?
Johann: I would always recommend having someone along with you for any trek. Having friends along helps you share your experience with your favorite people and also mitigate the risks if there need be. They say, “happiness is best when shared.”
RJ: How was your experience trekking through Nepal?
Johann: Nepal has to be a trekker’s paradise. The Himalayan mountains are a beauty to behold and trekking through the highest mountain ranges in the world is undoubtedly an experience you would always cherish in your lifetime. I can guarantee you that! Nepal is the capital of trekking and mountaineering. Together with its friendly people and beautiful landscape, this is a country that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to experience the thrill of the mountains both high and low.
RJ: Could you tell us a little about your backpacking trip to Georgia, last year?
Johann: After my trip to Nepal, I made a short trip to Abu Dhabi. But I still wanted to make one more big trip to somewhere new. I wanted to do a bit of trekking, travel solo and backpack. As I scurried through the internet I came across the beautiful country of Georgia located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. I carefully laid out a plan to visit some of its important places spread across the country. This was my first solo backpacking trip outside of India and so I was a little anxious and nervous to know how it would go. But Georgia turned out to be such a delightful experience in the end. I backpacked across five different districts and towns and all this without burning the pocket. The food, culture and the people together make Georgia a perfect introduction to Europe. This is where the East meets the West and a place that has seen more wars than any other country yet has one of the friendliest people in the world.
RJ: How do you plan for your trekking trips in terms of overnight stay, finances, route…etc?
Johann: The first thing is to short list on a trek depending on your experience. Research is probably the most important aspect here. Whether solo or with a guide, it is always best to know well ahead about the trek, the weather, the costs and the routes so you have a rough idea of how you’d go about with it. Once that is done I usually try to see how I can get there in the best way possible without compromising on my safety. Hiring an experienced ad knowledgeable guide will help you concentrate and focus more on the trek and worry less about other factors that affect. Most guides help you arrange the stay and also give you a rough idea about the costs. These days a lot of trekking companies offer your services and guidance for treks making it really easy.
RJ: What are 5 essentials to pack while trekking?
Johann: A good spacious rucksack, a basic medical kit with some important medicines, a sturdy pair of trekking shoes, any form of communication device like a cellphone. GPS is an added advantage. and finally a decent camera to capture your best moments.
RJ: What advice would you give a fellow aspiring mountaineer?
Johann: Mountaineering is not easy. An equal amount of commitment and discipline is required to be successful. Most mountaineers took the time to perfect the craft and it boils down to patience and the positive attitude they carried all along. There is one rule I live by in trekking, mountaineering or anything, “Respect yourself and respect others; be it humans, animals, places or mountains.” Oh yes, and dream big!! There are no limitations to your dreams. You could make it happen one day. Like the famous quote by Sir Edmund Hillary “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves”.
RJ: What places are next on your bucket list?
Johann: As of now there’s nothing set in stone. But I would love to visit Bhutan sometime, the Andamans is another place on my list. I want to visit the Northeast again and complete the remaining four sisters states. There are so many places in South India for me to visit too. Last but not the least I wouldn’t rule out another trip to the Himalayas. Fingers crossed!!
A decision to make it a point to travel, a strict minimum of one trip a year, Kuruvilla’s passion for travel led him to the discovering of his passions for trekking, photography, fitness and backpacking. All that, because he simply decided to start #livingit.
You can follow Johann and his journey here
The Himalayas are an attraction to mountaineers, trekkers, travelers and even tourists worldwide. Read this crazy story on Göran Kropp: The Man Who Cycled from Sweden to Everest and Back!