We all love to travel and claim that travel is our passion so what sets Dheeraj Sharma apart from other travellers? He travels and ensures to continually gives back to the travel society – locals whose livelihood depends on travel as well as the fellow travellers.
Let us take a trip down memory lane with Dheeraj and understand the story behind his passion.
How do you define profession and passion?
Profession is something that may give you means to focus on your passion or it makes your bread and butter, while passion is something you hold dear to yourself, something that makes you really happy without something in return. Once you feel the pressure of not getting any return from your passion that is where I believe you cross that thin line between the two.
To me both can be passion. I am one of those lucky ones who is trying to live both passions simultaneously. I was always passionate about Computers and ended up in CS engineering and then ended up in the job or work I really love and passionate about. professionally I am into Software Engineering field, currently working as a Software Development Manager. I did my computer science engineering in 2006 and since then part of this corporate grind.
However. in 2009 somehow, I felt that travel is something that gives meaning to my life. It made me a new person and since then travel became my second passion.
Tell a bit about your passion for travel and how it grew over time?
Apart from computers as my passion which was always there, the passion for travel was born or got ignited in late 2008 and further in 2009. I was going through a rough patch in life during that time, unaware of anything what was happening around me and where the life was heading. You can term me deeply depressed from those years. And during such times, travel ignited a new spark in life. It gave me a kind of new life and since then I devoted all my time outside profession to my passion for travel and it has kept growing since then.
In fact, in 2009 during Chandratal trip, I had a near-death experience which changed my perception towards life and shattered the feelings of depression all at once. My co-travellers and I were literally saved by the locals of the area and I decided to do something for them as well as the future travellers so that they do not make the same mistakes that we did.
And that’s how Devil On Wheels began to promote the locals of the region and connect them directly to the travellers as well as make travellers more aware about the high altitude travel and ensure a safe and sound trip.
Another experience that has impacted me long term happened in 2010 when I got stuck in Ladakh flash floods and the whole life changed. Seeing so much death and pain around, and being stuck away from family, the incident was triggered something inside me and since then, travel became second life for me. It became a passion project for me as I wanted to explore more about myself, uncover what is hidden below each layer and that was only possible by traveling and being in situation which we usually don’t face in our routine lives.
Learning more about different regions and the local lives, their problems and how to solve them became a reason to live. After coming home from each travel, I would work on Devil On Wheels to do something about those problems and find a solution. Everything on Devil On Wheels is not-for-profit and everything earned from the platform goes back into making the lives the locals as well as travellers better.
What has been the response to the project?
The response to the site has been tremendous. The Devil On Wheels has become one of the most-loved Himalayan Travel Community among the locals and travellers of high Himalayas.
Every year, a few million people visit my blog to get the most up-to-date and practical travel information. They get connected to locals of the region like guides, taxi drivers, dhabas or food joints, homestays or small guest house owners. These taxi drivers, guides, porters and small guest houses are aware about DevilOnWheels and traveller community recommends them further on their respective blogs and promote them further. The locals are cognizant of the fact that they have to take care of the customers. So, it is win-win for both locals as well as travellers.
I keep myself updated by local connections. I often talk to them every week with all necessary updates and they all keep sending me updates from various parts of Northern Himalayas. Almost every other year I travel back to India and try to visit some place in the Himalayas now.
How do you promote blog to help community and generate revenue for them?
I get about a couple of million people visiting the blog through organic means of Google traffic. When people connect with me or check articles where local contact details are present, they contact the locals and generate revenue from it. This applies to all services listed like taxi driver contacts, guides, porters, small guest houses, etc.
I also have various threads on the site where DoW Causes are executed under our forum link.
How has lockdown affected the project?
I am always split between my job and DevilOnWheels. Both are kind of passion for me, and I love balancing them both.
Unfortunately, both of them have suffered during the lockdown. As travel is totally down, locals are in a bit of bad state who rely just on tourism. It is tough time and as I see the traffic on the website is pretty low too.
I am focusing on converting the content into a YouTube channel, so lockdown gave me the opportunity to utilize my commute time to do that.
Is your project something that will become need of the hour in post-lockdown
Like I said, I am taking it as opportunity to convert the content into Videos and this helped me revive the YouTube channel. Of course, more and more articles and worthy content is being published each week as well. Of course, it is not helping much the locals and travellers as travel is not at that level, but when things come back to normal, may be it will come out stronger and help more and more folks with all the new content and YouTube channel. I expect it to pick up well and with new media forms, I am sure the hard work will pay as it will reach more and more audience to help them as well as locals in return.
And as Dheeraj pre-empted, we are seeing the travel opening up and tourism picking up. We hope that the effort put in by Dheeraj over the years and during the lockdown pays off and the locals who depend on livelihood have a better start in the post-lockdown era.