In conversation with Neeraj Narayanan aka Captain Nero

·9-min read

Q1. When was the first time you realized you like travelling?

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I grew up in a house of readers. A small child usually gets a toy, or something to play with on his birthday. On my first birthday, my father bought me the whole Encyclopedia set (A – Z) and 7 Lands & People (one for each continent). Each book was more than 1000 pages.

My sister and I grew up listening to stories that he told us about the World Wars, Julius Caeser, the Roman empire. In retrospect, I think that was when I started falling a little in love with the world, and wanting to read more, know more and see more.

When I grew up, I did my engineering in Belgaum. It was nestled in the Western Ghats, and I and my friends spent a huge amount of those four years biking in the Ghats, climbing up mountains, skidding down cliffs on our haunches, jumping into waterfalls hidden deep in the forests. We loved adventure. That was my first proper exposure to the world of travel.

Q 2. Tell us a bit about your educational background, and your early career dreams!

A 2. I did my engineering in Electronics. Later, I did my MBA from MICA, Ahmedabad.

My childhood dreams were entirely different though. As a small child, I wanted to be many things – an ice-cream seller, an elephant (I wanted to be big and strong, plus it would be so much fun to collect water in your trunk and spray random passerbys), and a detective. But one glorious day when I was just nine years old, I fell in love with a game called cricket and a curly-haired boy called Sachin Tendulkar. Every day I’d come back home and play by myself in our verandah, throwing the ball with one hand to the wall, and by the time it would ricochet and come back, I’d swiftly hold my bat with both hands and launch into a glorious shot. Throughout my teenage years, I believed that one day I’d play cricket for India and Sachin and I would bat together.

By the time I turned 21, I figured that that dream would not come true. But I wanted to be associated with cricket in some way, so I wanted to be a commentator. I also wanted to be an author, and write books on adventure, big novels, and stories for kids. That dream I shall fulfil one day!

Q 3. What was that defining moment when you decided you were going to quit the corporate world, and become a traveller.

A 3. It wasn’t one moment, it was, of course, a series of moments built over the course of a year that finally led me to that decision. It was 2013 – I was working in a travel company, reading about travel all day and training teams. Initially, it was all that reading about solo travellers, about backpackers, adventurers that intrigued me.

There was this day though. I had been invited as a travel blogger for the launch of an adventure magazine, in Taj Hotel Delhi. I took notice of this event because of the speaker panel. Out of the three speakers, one was a woman who had just climbed Mount Everest. The second was one of the world’s best kayakers. And the third was Archana Sardana – India’s only woman base jumper.

That night at the event, I was blown. Not just by the speakers who were, of course, fantastic, but even the people in the audience were all adventurers or mountaineers or those who loved the outdoors. I had already been thinking for days and months that I wanted to do other things in life rather than just sit in an office and work all day, but this evening made my head reel. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love my job. But it never made me jump up with joy and pump my chest, the way I would on a sports field. Nor did it make me run to someone across the room and hug them tightly. That night, when I looked around, I craved to be standing there on the stage, and sharing stories just like those three were. That night, I craved to have such experiences where I was lost on mountains or inside deep forests. I craved to be someone who’s eyes shone and hearts beamed with love when they told the world about what they did every day.

A week after that, I saw the movie Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, saw the bull run scene in it, just knew that this is what I was going to do next, went to the office, put down my papers and booked a flight ticket for Barcelona.

Q 4. If you had to pick 5 of your best travel adventures, which ones would they be?

A 4. Running with the bulls in Spain. Especially because I fell in front of the last bull. Also, it happened on day 3 of my first ever solo trip.

Then being lost in a forest in Thailand for three days, and having just five elephants for company. I learned how to mount one and roamed on it back every day. I didn't see or speak to a single human those three days. It's probably the most surreal three days of my life.

Third, deep-sea soloing in the South China Sea – climbed and then jumped off a cliff in the middle of the ocean with nobody around for miles. Fourth, being chased by a bear in a forest in Croatia. Haha, I wonder if I ever ran so fast in my life. And fifth, being held at gunpoint by a mafia don in Istanbul ;)

Q 5. You were a solo traveller. So how come you started leading group trips.

A 5. Initially, when I quit my job, I decided to give myself a year to figure out how to make life sustainable and travel at the same time. For months, I freelanced, picked up content projects, but the pay was irregular, it was too less, and I had a huge MBA loan to take care of. I started thinking about what I loved and what I was good at. I liked being on stage, I loved adventure, and I liked showing people things that I liked. When I became a trip leader, I realized it combined all of these three things.

Even now, that’s the one advice I give to people if they ask me what to do if they want to quit jobs that they don’t like. Think about the things you love, and what you are really good at. And if you can merge them together, and make a job out of it, you will probably be much happier.

Q6. What would be the title of your movie or book?

A6. Haha, the same as my Facebook page name – This Guy’s On His Own Trip!

Q7. Tell us about your company – On His Own Trip. What makes people travel with you guys.

A7. I started the company On His Own Trip in 2014. We lead group trips for different age groups, across India, South East Asia and Europe. And soon are going to expand our destinations list to countries in Africa and South America.

I was a solo traveller first. When I started leading trips, I wanted to show people the world in a non-touristy way - Plan everything efficiently, and at the same time not make everything rigid, and give scope for spontaneity. I wanted to push trippers to try things they never would by themselves. It surprises me how we change as we grow up. Kids dont mind dirtying their clothes, jumping into water etc. But adults, they need prodding. It feels good to coax people to slide in snow and then seeing how happy and child like they become. Also, a lot of people have physical fears – some are scared of water, some of climbing, some of closed spaces, some of their own physical limits. At On His Own Trip, we try to gently push people to fight some of these fears, and conquer them.

The USP of On His Own Trip is a lot of group bonding. Besides the sightseeing, we spend a lot of time together – talking, playing games, going on night walks, having conversations.

Not all fears are physical. A lot of people have their own personal mental battles to fight, and a lot of focus is put on having conversations – be it about gender, sexuality, choices, careers, dreams.

In 5 and a half years, we have lead close to 190 trips and taken 3300 trippers, and we are expanding fast. In my first year, I lead 5 trips in 6 months. In 2018, we lead 42 trips, 70 in 2019, and want to hit a 100 trips this year.

Q8. Who are your role models?

Firstly my father, because of his strong morals, because of all the stories he told us and the values he passed onto us.

Then, I loved reckless adventurers. Those who who are so madly passionate about what they love that they throw caution to the wind, laugh uproariously and their eyes shine the whole time. Men like Bear Grylls – someone who broke his spine during a parachuting accident and the doctors told that he would never walk again. And forget walk, forget jog, forget run, the man went and climbed up Mount Everest in a year.

Men like Steve Irvine who was so passionate about reptiles – snakes, crocodiles that he would risk his life trying to save them. And not just save them but hold them and cuddle them while they hissed at him or tried to bite his head off. He held and cuddled them and showed them to millions of people watching on tv because he wanted the world to be as fascinated by them as he was, with their bodies, their hissing tongues, every bit. Same goes for Grylls.

Irvine, Grylls – they are mavericks. The world needs mavericks as much as it needs sensible and practical men. It needs an adventurer as much as it needs a engineer. It needs a Michael Angelo as much as it needs an Einstein, a Sherlock as much as a Madam Curie. The world needs its Robin Hood.

Q9. What would you like to be remembered as?

A9. A happy go lucky man who hugged people all across the world, danced everywhere, patted every dog he ever saw, and ran up and down mountains faster than anyone else!

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