17 Mar 2017
15 min read
1823 words
In a country where every second person wants to secure a nine-to-five job and lead a safe life, Santosh Rai dared to dream differently

What did you learn from your former jobs?
Life was not exactly easy growing up, but I was never scared of hard work. I realised that I was quite resilient after I lived through some of the trying periods in my life—working in the rafting business, going to India, on a whim, for snorkelling training, and coming back to Nepal and being unemployed. This realisation about myself definitely empowered me, and I knew that I had the ability to cope in the face of stress and disaster. I also learned that diversity might as well be a synonym for Nepal. Tourists whom I accompanied during various rafting tours would be thrilled with the natural and geographical diversity that this country has to offer. And in the back of my mind, I always knew that adventure, or the tourism sector, was what I wanted to be involved in.

“In the back of my mind, I always knew that adventure, or the tourism sector, was what I wanted to be involved in”

From rafting to cycling, how did this drastic leap come about? 
One of the best parts of my job as a guide was that I could interact with people from different parts of the world. This gave me the opportunity to make friends from all over the globe. A couple of Israeli friends that I had met as a guide invited me to their country, so I went there on a tourist visa. One thing led to another, and I ended up cycling in the Volvo Cycling Challenge, representing Nepal. I learned cycle maintenance and repair and also worked in a reputed cycle showroom. That’s how the transition came about.

Can you tell us a little more about your first foreign trip? 
During the Volvo Cycling Challenge, I built contacts with a lot of people in the field. Through these contacts, I later got the chance to train as a mechanic in the Kona Bike Store for nine months. The owners there were quite impressed with my work, so they helped me out with my visa, and I was hired to work in their showroom. I lived and worked in Israel for the next year and a half after that.

What was your family’s reaction? 
I belong to a Rai family, so I went through the same old societal pressure of getting a job in the army to become a lahure. But I always knew that I didn’t want to. Luckily, I have a small build, so that worked in my favour. Initially, people were surprised that I had chosen a profession that involved selling and maintaining pedals and chains. If you dream of doing work based on your passions, you need to make sure you’re ready to turn a deaf ear to the people’s comments.

What did your foreign-stay teach you? 
I got to travel to the Middle East and a few European countries—I even ended up working in a lavish showroom for Pro-Bike in Spain for two years. During my stays abroad, I shared rooms with Nepali people from good backgrounds and with fancy degrees. But so many of them were struggling to get jobs. I think this experience taught me that to thrive, and not just survive, one has to be street smart as well as book smart.

Why did you decide to leave everything and come back to Nepal? 
In 2008, I decided to come back to Nepal to participate in the Asian Championship. I got selected, participated in the race and eventually decided to stay for good. But I soon regretted my decision, because for the next three years, I went through a really low phase; I wasn’t doing well financially, and my self-esteem took a serious hit. From working in the fanciest bike showrooms and travelling across Europe, I was reduced to working in a company in Kathmandu for a mere Rs 5,000 per month, which was not even enough to sustain myself. Later, I moved to Pokhara and worked for a mountain-bike company. The worst part about this was that I lied to my family and told them that I was still in Europe. It was during that low phase of my life that I decided to start Himalayan Single Track. While I was planning a rough draft for the website, I got fired from the place I was working at, but now that I think about it, that event helped me focus on creating this company.

How did you come up with the plan for Himalayan Single Track? 
When I was landing in Kathmandu in 2008, it was a beautiful evening—the sky was clear, the mountains made for a majestic backdrop to Kathmandu, and I could see the tiny serpentine roads in the Valley. I remember thinking the roads looked like single tracks for cycling. A couple of years later, that moment became the inspiration for Himalayan Single Track.

What was your reason for becoming an entrepreneur? 
In Nepal, we still don’t give priority to skill, practical knowledge, or even a hard-earned degree or bookish knowledge when hiring people. Leveraging your family-and friend-networks to get the job is still a norm. Plus, I was always put off by office politics and hierarchical power structures, so I eventually decided to turn my hobby—cycling—into a business.

How has your journey been running Himalayan Single Track? 
Himalayan Single Track wouldn’t have been possible without my Australian friend Jenny Caunt, who initially came on board to write the content for the company website. Soon we bonded over our shared passion for mountain biking; and we both saw the opportunity to tap into its potential in Nepal. We started our showroom with just four bikes. Overall, it’s been a good learning experience. We have built a community of more like-minded friends in the last few years. That said, I’m still getting the hang of running a business.

What is Himalayan Single Track’s USP? 
Being an avid cyclist ourselves, our team’s philosophy has always been to discover the best tracks and trails in Nepal and take fellow cyclists from around the world to appreciate what Nepal has to offer. We also want to support local riders, so we’ve developed great camaraderie with the local cycling community. We also introduced Mountain Bike Leaders Award guide training in Nepal and use certified guides who adhere to international standards and implement risk assessment plans so that our clients have a rewarding and safe adventure. Our popular trips are to the Annapurna Circuit, Upper Mustang and the beautiful routes around Kathmandu Valley.

Tell us what goes through your mind every time you pedal around Nepal.
Save fuel, don’t waste money on fancy gyms, reduce pollution, please—and do cycle or walk. It’s a shame how foreigners know our country better than we do. In fact, for those who complain about how they can’t realise their purpose, I say travel locally and see what happens to you—by changing your perception, you can change your life for the better.