ShaikhSpear in Himachal – an exclusive author interview with Ameen Shaikh

ShaikhSpear in Himachal, the storyteller himself - Ameen Shaikh. Photo credit: Abhishek Kaushal

ShaikhSpear in Himachal, the storyteller himself – Ameen Shaikh. Photo credit: Abhishek Kaushal

There are tourists and there are travellers. How do you differentiate the two? A traveller is born from the heart, a tourist out of compulsion. When you sift through the pages of a travel diary, you’ll realise how much you have missed out by merely being a tourist. As I relax over a nice hot cup of tea and read the pages of a travel diary, I am filled with a mix of envy and amazement of how much I have missed and there’s so much yet to explore in our country.

I had featured The Mountain Walker in July 2017, The Mountain Walker – Born from the heart, led by the mind; and in these two years, I have noticed a change, where they have evolved as travellers, entrepreneurs, storytellers, product designers, planners and much more.

Today, The Mountain Walker is celebrating their maiden step as a storyteller with the publishing of ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’, authored by Ameen Shaikh, Co-Founder & Chief of Operations of The Mountain Walker.

Published both in e-book and paperback versions, ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’ was officially launched on 1st April 2019 on their website and subsequently on Amazon on 24th May 2019. Having sold close to 200 copies so far, ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’ has already made it to the Top 15 in the Amazon India Best-seller list in the ‘Diaries, Letters & Journals’ category in June 2019.

It is not always that entrepreneurs land up writing a book, but if the book is inspired by so many journeys, life-altering moments and more importantly, golden memories, then this is what you can expect, a travel diary written from the heart.

The Lifestyle Portal in conversation with Ameen Shaikh on his first travel diary and what inspired him to share his musings with the world. Sharing with our readers some snippets from our conversation…

A happy Shaikh family in 2006 - Right to Left of image - Tamanna (née Raissa Shaikh), Mrs. Alekha Shaikh, Late Dr. Shaikh Abdul Jabbar, Ameen Shaikh; Photo: Mukul Dube

A happy Shaikh family in 2006 – Right to Left of image – Tamanna (née Raissa Shaikh), Mrs. Alekha Shaikh, Late Dr. Shaikh Abdul Jabbar, Ameen Shaikh; Photo: Mukul Dube

How a habit evolved into publishing a travel diary

Ameen started writing diaries when he was 17 after Sanjay Mukherjee (his cousin and Founder of The Mountain Walker) suggested that he jot down his thoughts in a sequential manner.

“The diaries I wrote almost two decades ago were penned down for a different reason and they don’t feature at all in the present book. Maybe those entries can be used to compile a different body of work on how thinking and outlook evolve in a person over the years. The diary entries in the present book are from my travel journeys to Himachal Pradesh in September and October 2016,” shares Ameen.

Was publishing a book ever on the cards?

Ameen admits that with time, as he got busy with life and its usual humdrum, he couldn’t continue writing diaries for more than a few months. He shares how during his formative years, people had been erudite and discerning enough to spot a writer in him. “It runs in the entire maternal side of my family anyway. However, I never really thought of writing a book, although I do have some pieces here and there which might end up in a book in the future,” adds Ameen.

The musings of ShaikhSpear. Photo: Sonam Samajpati

The musings of ShaikhSpear. Photo: Sonam Samajpati

The core philosophy of ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’

The core philosophy and aim at The Mountain Walker are to provide authentic, verified and credible information about the Himalayan region. The Mountain Walker team travelled extensively in the first two years (after the company incorporation) and Sanjay as the Founder of The Mountain Walker once again suggested that the team start maintaining a daily diary entry of their experiences during the journeys.

Ameen adds, “The diary entries added a personal angle to the practical information that we had envisaged to provide as a part of our philosophy. ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’ is a compilation of all my diary entries from the 6-week Himachal trip that I undertook in 2016.”

“This book sees my evolution as a person who was sceptical about walking extensively in the mountains after more than 15 years of being away in the plains. Although it is not specifically outlined, readers of the book will be able to feel the different stages of my personal growth over the duration of the journeys covered in the four sections of the book.”

Main areas covered in the book – ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’

Ameen’s maiden book covers six districts of Himachal Pradesh viz. Solan, Shimla, Kullu, Kinnaur, Lahaul & Spiti, and Chamba. The activities in this book comprise rural life, two hikes, one high altitude long distance trek, and a road trip.

What makes this book unique is that Ameen has been able to cover different stages and aspects of his journeys through this book, making it holistic rather than centring around only one or two areas or specific activities.

Childhood friends together again - Right to Left of image - Dr. Abhishek “Adbi” Sharma, Anil “Goldy” Sharma, Abhishek Kaushal, Ameen Shaikh

Childhood friends together again – Right to Left of the image – Dr Abhishek “Adbi” Sharma, Anil “Goldy” Sharma, Abhishek Kaushal, Ameen Shaikh

Why the name ‘ShaikhSpear’?

Ameen lets us into some wonderful memories and how he was christened with the name ‘ShaikhSpear’. He recalls, “While growing up in Shimla, Hindi was the primary language for communication. At my home, however, I used to converse in English and Hindi with my (late) father, Dr Shaikh Abdul Jabbar.

Even though we were studying in St. Edward’s School where speaking in English was compulsory, my friends and I would fool around and talk in Hinglish or Englindi. An entire play from Shakespeare was a part of our ICSE syllabus and we used to generally crib about how tough it was.

After school hours, we used to play cricket on the main road near our house and we made friends with a boy named Goldy (Anil Sharma) from the locality. All my friends called me “Shaikh” and so did Goldy. Goldy had studied in the Government School, so English had not been their primary language. He would usually hear us talking about Shakespeare being tough English material to study, and he would also observe how my father used to speak to me in English, even if we were not in the house.

It is endearing therefore that it was Goldy who joined the two aspects: “Shaikh” of my name, and the fact that since I was the only one who spoke English at home and Shakespeare seemed to be a very tough English matter, it was best to address me as “ShaikhSpear”. I’d also like to mention that the actual spelling and capitalisation of letters was done by me subsequently to match another way I like to spell my name – AMeanShake.”

Mela Ram Uncle busy with chores in the kitchen; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

Mela Ram Uncle busy with chores in the kitchen; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

Theme and main characters of ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’

The book is a compilation of his diary entries along with practical information about the places Ameen has visited. It comprises of four sections that cover the different experiences and journeys that he undertook.

Ameen explains, “Abhishek Kaushal (my childhood friend and Co-Founder of The Mountain Walker) and I are the main characters for most of the time as we undertook three of the four journeys mentioned in the book together. You’ll get a sneak peek into the dynamics of our friendship during each of these journeys.”

He further adds, “The first section features Mela Ram Uncle (a family friend and IIAS colleague of my parents Late Dr Shaikh Abdul Jabbar and Mrs Alekha Shaikh), and his wife Mela Ram Aunty (Smt. Vidya Sharma). In the third and the longest section, our guide for the Bhabha Pass trek, Mr Prem Chand Negi, and the porters Hari, Dhan Bahadur, Umesh and Param (I believe all Himalayan porters to be The Bearers of The Weight of Our Aspirations) are present.”

Proudly standing atop Bhabha Pass, with the men who made it happen - Negi Ji (in blue cap); seated Left to Right of the image - Param, Dhan Bahadur, Umesh, and Hari; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

Proudly standing atop Bhabha Pass, with the men who made it happen – Negi Ji (in blue cap); seated Left to Right of the image – Param, Dhan Bahadur, Umesh, and Hari; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

How will ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’ influence its readers?

The perceived influence on their readers is that they’ll learn about different areas of Himachal Pradesh as well as about its various nuances. Be it the typical Himalayan way of life, which is so different from the plains, to travelling to off beat destinations and overcoming challenging journeys.

The first section of the book touches upon my experiences in rural life in a village in Shimla district. Shimla is traditionally known only as a popular hill station but just a few hours away, the way of life is still the way it has been for centuries maybe, with technology making in-roads only in certain productive (and possibly more of non-productive) ways.

The second section sees Abhishek and me going to a much lesser known Jalori Pass and hike to two even lesser known destinations in its vicinity – Serolsar Lake and Raghupur Gadh Fort. This section is crucial as it was the final preparatory phase where I had to gauge my readiness for the main journey of the entire trip.

The third section could be considered the main section as the trip was planned for this particular activity in the first place. This section has Abhishek and me undertaking one of the famous Himalayan high-altitude, long-distance, multi-day treks: Bhabha Pass. This section extensively covers the highs and lows of the first-time trekker like me, who was born and brought up in the mountains in the first place but undertook his first trek pretty late in life.

The fourth and final section is a great way to end the book because we visited Chamba district, which has quite a lot of great places for mountain lovers but is not so popular because of its location and the long amount of time it takes to reach there. A few known and some unknown destinations have been covered in this section.

After reading the book, Ameen hopes that the readers of his book will get more interested in travel to the Himalayas in a non-conventional, ‘non-tick-mark-check-boxes’ manner.

“In fact, we also envision that our readers will come forth with their personal Himalayan travel stories, which The Mountain Walker team will be more than happy to share with the world,” smiles Ameen.

There’s a river hidden under all that rubble, and Abhishek is already there, trying to figure out the source of the sound; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

There’s a river hidden under all that rubble, and Abhishek is already there, trying to figure out the source of the sound; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

Upcoming titles from The Mountain Walker banner

In the immediate pipeline, there will be a few more titles in “The Mountain Walker Diaries” series. Apart from that, the team will release an Information Booklet, a compilation of featured stories and researched articles, and a compilation of their Chief Executive Abhishek Kaushal’s unique perspectives on travel and the mountains. An exclusive ShaikhSpear book might not be possible but we may club some stories into a different book on a destination specific title that we are also working on.

Where can we buy ‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’

‘ShaikhSpear in Himachal’ is available in two formats:

eBook:

The eBook is available in EPUB format, which can be accessed on the Books app on Apple devices and Google Play Books app on Android devices.

It is available on our website The Mountain Walker

Travel Diaries – ShaikhSpear In Himachal (eBook – epub version)

The price of the eBook is Rs. 309.75/- (Rs. 295/- + Rs. 14.75/- GST @ 5%)

Paperback:

The price of the paperback is Rs. 295/- + Shipping Charges of Rs. 90/- or Rs. 125/- depending on the location of the shipping address.

Multiple copies can be ordered only through Amazon.

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