Trekking guide Kunal Sanklecha
#FacesBehindPlaces is a special series that spotlights the guides and storytellers who bring our favourite destinations and experiences to life
“Be prepared to be uncomfortable. You may not always like it but that is what’s on offer.” Before every trip he leads, Kunal Sanklecha this is the warning he gives his group. For the 25-year-old Mumbai-based mountaineer and travel guide, discomfort is important. “Especially for people who are used to the luxuries of city life… you grow mentally and physically when you are uncomfortable,” he says.
His philosophy is being put to the test right now. Over the past year, Kunal has seen fellow trekking guides and families go out of work. “Business has taken a massive hit,” he says. “I haven’t earned money in a year and have been surviving on savings that are almost over now.” His plan of being a mountain guide remains on hold indefinitely. “At this point, I’m open to any work that brings in money and allows me to share my skills.”
Kunal has been hiking and climbing mountains since the age of six and has always found peace in nature. “As a kid, I would be saving those tiny caterpillars you find in pea pods at home,” he tells me. That instinct has stayed with him ever since. In 2017, in the middle of his chemical engineering degree, he raised money to go on a social impact driven expedition to Antarctica. “That trip had been my dream since I was in the eighth standard”, he says. “It changed the journey of my life.”
Soon after, he left his course and began working with travel companies. Sanklecha wanted travellers on his trips to interact with locals from villages, pick homestays over hotels and understand the simpler ways of life. “Over time, I realised that people were appreciating the way I designed travel experiences. More and more people began to reach out—from Mumbai, Gujarat, Hyderabad and even California.”
Over the years, Sanklecha has led hikes, day-trips and camping expeditions across the Western Ghats as well as the Himalayas. And his passion for sustainability and the environment has been at the core of all of them. As he makes the climb with his travellers, he introduces them to composting and tells them how they can manage their own waste through the trip. “I want to provide experiences that are meaningful and give people skills they can use in their regular life,” he says.
In the meantime, he’s been making good use of his green thumb—growing a kitchen garden from scratch and volunteering at a permaculture farm near Darjeeling, where he just finished a month-long advanced mountaineering course at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute.
Now he’s headed to Gangtok, where he’ll be closer to the mountains, so he can get climbing the moment things get better.
You can reach Kunal at 7021718731 or on his Instagram