Over 20 treks of over 20,000 feet, 40 plus high-altitude expeditions, 500 plus hikes and runs, and an elevation of over 1 Million feet in close to a decade of this millennial’s life – with ambition for more. Why? Because he wants to show the world that we can live with the bare minimum. 

Meet 24-year-old Harshvardhan Joshi, a mountaineer and adventure tourism professional. Seven years ago, he was all set to go down the Engineering-MBA path when someone’s post of their Himalaya trip on social media helped him discover his love for the outdoors and sustainable living. He has now set his sight on climbing Mt Everest, the highest point on earth, with minimal carbon footprint by focusing on one of the 17 sustainable development goals – Solar Power. However, this mission was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will resume in April 2021. 

In a conversation with Ragini Puri, Harshvardhan shares the role the outdoors plays in his life. He talks about his endeavours to promote sustainable living practices and offers a simplified explanation of sustainability as a concept. He shares his story of living an active life and how he hopes to inspire change through his example.

How did you get interested in outdoor activities?
When I was 15, I started selling computers. At this job, I met a group of doctors who often went on hikes. I accompanied them on a hike to a place where I often train now, Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary. While I enjoyed the experience I was still quite young at the time; occupied with college life and just being a teenager. But it sowed the initial seed that eventually turned into what I do today.

It was not until my second year of Engineering that I went on a proper expedition. I saw somebody post on my Facebook about a Himalayan trek that they went on and I thought it looked beautiful. They told me about the organization through which they undertook this expedition and when I had a look at their website, I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable their packages were. I guess Engineering had become a little monotonous at that point, so I went ahead and booked two expeditions, one in Uttarakhand and another desert expedition in Rajasthan. When I came back from the trips, somebody suggested enrolling in a mountaineering course. I had no idea what that was, but I read up about it and liked what I saw. That is pretty much how it started.

The recent pandemic we are currently facing obviously affected everybody, including your plans to scale Mt Everest sustainably getting postponed by a year. As someone who finds solace and refuge in the outdoors, how did you deal with the initial lockdown days and what has it taught you?

Camping at Ladakh

Getting to know the local community during an expedition in Ladakh

For the past four years, I have been spending six months of the summer in the Himalayas and during the winter I go to Kashmir for skiing. I do come to Mumbai but even here I camp outdoors almost 2-3 nights a week. When the lockdown happened, my parents got so many calls from people expressing their concerns for me. I came back from Nepal on 1 November 2019 and since then I have not spent more than 24 hours outdoors. I was following a scientific training plan for Everest, and to do that efficiently, it was crucial to follow a set routine (wake up on time, eat on time, sleep on time, etc). I was living a very regimented life up until March and when the lockdown first happened. I myself was quite concerned about how I would manage in those circumstances. More than anything, the upcoming summers were making me extremely nervous as I am completely a winter child. 

For 70 days I did not step out of my house, but I managed better than I thought I would. Of course, the uncertainty that came with the pandemic did impact me, but I think mentally, I coped better than my urban friends. The outdoors has taught me to live mindfully and in the moment. I am currently enjoying city life so much, that I am even considering taking up a corporate job after my mission, just to experience it. Moreover, I also realized I will be able to reach more people with my message this way as people living in the mountains are already living a mindful and sustainable life. After Everest, I want to move to a city which is closer to the mountains so that I can continue climbing whilst also experiencing city life. Up until March, I thought I would spend my entire life outdoors, but the lockdown has definitely taught me the value of family and home life. 

Other than that, I also learnt French during the lockdown and basically kept myself busy. I wanted to ensure that even though I was losing so much time, I wanted to equip myself with enough skills to make up for this time.

You were all set to participate in the prestigious Ironman triathlon to be held in 2020 as well.


The Ironman with his Gear

On 15 March my expedition was called off, and on 23 March I signed up for the Ironman triathlon, which was happening in India for the second time. That week itself the lockdown was extended and quite honestly, I had gotten pretty lazy. I tried to procure a treadmill but then the pessimist in me thought, “What if the world truly goes down from here and I have to sell my treadmill to feed myself?” I finally got a treadmill in June. I was ready to train till November for the triathlon and then move on to Everest training but within a few weeks, the official triathlon got called off.

This was quite a disappointment since I had invested a fair bit in its training. I did not know if I would get this time and opportunity again, so I organized a solo Ironman triathlon on World Mental Health Awareness Day, with the same distance and the same cut-off timing to encourage people to go for a run. I get DMs from people wanting to take up the Ironman triathlon, but they have no clue where to start. I do my best to help them out by sending across a few videos and I always direct them to my coach’s website. In general, I can recall speaking to almost 50 people or so who took up a scheduled running plan after watching my Ironman video. This was my ultimate achievement because nothing makes me happier than getting someone who has never exercised to go for a run.

Let us talk more about Sangharsh – your mission to climb Mt. Everest using solar power. In a nutshell, what are you hoping to gain from this experience?
Sangharsh is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning ‘conquest’ or ‘struggle.’ Whenever somebody asks me about the name Sangharsh, I tell them that this mission is the story of Harsh’s Sangharsh to reach the highest point on the earth, 29,029ft starting from 0ft in Mumbai – the first-ever carbon-neutral footprint journey using solar energy – non-polluting, lean and green. I hope to inspire people to switch to clean energy as a way of living.

Looking back, I was going to pursue an MBA from one of the premier business schools in India and I had secured admission. Somehow, at that point, I thought I should climb Mount Everest and that can be my MBA because I would learn a lot more this way. Right now, I am learning finance, operation, marketing, PR, and more than anything else life experiences. It was indeed my love for climbing which prompted this mission. However, I am also in a stage of my life where this experience is teaching me more than any other thing I could possibly do right now.

Your passion and advocacy for sustainable living is as much as that for mountaineering. Though, everything we hear about sustainable alternatives always ends up being a lot more expensive. Since you have been financially independent since the age of 15, how have you managed this?

Carbon-free Trekking

Solar-powered Expedition: Enjoying a rare moment of rest

I don’t think it is more expensive, but it is definitely an investment. For example, food is one of the basic necessities and organic food is not necessarily always more expensive. It depends on where you are shopping. The area in Mumbai where I stay is surrounded by farmers and I grow my own fruits as well. It is a lot cheaper to buy produce directly from the farmer and with the vendor you hardly get a difference of 10 per cent. I call this an investment because eating organic allows me to stay away from buying any type of health supplements. People today spend copious amounts on various pharmaceutical drugs and health services, especially in developed countries and urban areas. If you eat right and live a healthy life, you end up saving a lot more. Healthcare is one of the most expensive services one can avail in the 21st century.

This is just one example and there are several others like it. My own mission requires the use of solar power and while this is also initially an investment, it ends up saving you a lot of money over ten years. In places like Mumbai, if you are generating enough electricity, you can give it back to the grid and they adjust it in your future bill or they pay you for it and buy it from you. The initial investment for sustainable options is expensive, but the more awareness we create and the more we take a stand, the bigger the market will get hence driving down prices.

How would you convince those who are still unconvinced of switching to sustainable living and solar energy to adopt this way of life?

Solar Energy

Preparing for carbon-free footsteps to Mount Everest

I have realized that there are only about 5% of people who are concerned about the environment enough to make such a drastic step in their lives. I think it is important for people to realize that this lifestyle is better for them too. Let me give you an example here. A family of 4 in a village in India consumes power equivalent to a 0.5-1 kilowatt system. This is an investment of about Rs 60,000- Rs 1 lakh per year. Let us say they invest that 1 lakh upfront, with a pay-back time of 7-10 years. The carbon offset of switching to solar power for that 1-kilowatt system is equivalent to planting over 12,000 square feet of trees every year. Over a span of 30 years, it is equivalent to planting a 9-acre forest. It is a one-time investment and after 10 years, you are practically enjoying free electricity. It is impractical to expect everybody to plant a 9-acre forest but these small changes like shifting to solar energy can go a long way too. 

Us Mumbaikers are very proud of Aarey forest and the 3000 trees over there but using public transport like the metro can prevent the same amount of pollution as 20,000 trees. Every day the metro project gets delayed, we are actually creating a carbon footprint equivalent to cutting down 20,000 trees.

At an individual level, sustainability is basically about making mindful choices, and this can only happen when there is awareness about the same. With my expedition, it is not about me creating a carbon-negative impact, rather it is to intrigue people by the various ways in which I use solar energy. If they can adopt it in their urban environments where it will probably be a lot simpler, that is when I would think I have impacted real change.

Your website has a video for your mission Sangharsh. You also post scenic pictures from hikes on your Instagram handle. What has been the reaction to these images and videos? Are people taking more interest in your work?
My motivation was not to get people interested in my work; it was to simply inspire them to take care of themselves by taking up a sport or any physical activity. It helps you release endorphins and as a result makes you feel good, physically and mentally. I do think people are a lot more confident now to support my campaign after seeing my social media. I actually have not raised too many funds from this, but it has definitely increased my brand value. It was a great PR exercise as people saw my online presence and began featuring me on their platforms; a lot more people got introduced to my mission.

You are working to raise funds for your solar-powered expedition to Mt Everest. Please tell us about your experience with crowdfunding.
Mount EverestIt has certainly been a learning experience for me. I have stuck to my immediate circles and the most important thing that has taught me was that there is no science or algorithm behind why somebody donates. Just because a person is passionate about mountains themselves does not guarantee a donation from them. It is a purely emotional reaction to your cause. I saw a TED talk where somebody said that fundraising is like trying to get a date with somebody who is not interested in you. I am quite a shy person myself, so I find it a little awkward to ask for donations.

However, if anybody has ever expressed interest in my work, I have always directed them to my website. I have designed it in a way which explains my mission and motivation and I have often received donations after people have had a look at it. Most of the major donors prefer to stay anonymous and they tell me that they are not concerned about tax exemptions from third party websites etc. They just want to ensure that their money reaches me so that it can help me out. While the big donations certainly help put, I have often explained to people that I simply want them to be a part of my journey, no matter how much they can contribute. Even if their contribution does not monetarily add much, it is simply the fact that this is where people are choosing to spend their money that means so much to me.

Once you complete the Sangharsh Mission, what is on your list? Where do you want to take your passion for sustainability?
This is just the beginning for me in every aspect, be it mountaineering or sustainability. I intend on climbing many more mountains but not through crowdfunding. With Everest, I am simply an ambassador, but I want most of my future expeditions and endeavours to be cause-oriented.

 Fortunately, I just became the lead ambassador for Project Chirag which is an International NGO based out of Mumbai and they have already provided electricity to more than 19,000 homes in India across 500 villages. We are currently identifying a few villages in Nepal and Ladakh because the plan is to electrify one village when I go for my Everest expedition. I hope in 2021, I will be able to create more of an impact directly. For now, however, this NGO is doing great work, so I am happy to be affiliated with them and I hope to continue working for great causes with great people.

I get a lot of messages from people who did not even realize the hazardous impacts of their lifestyle on the environment. A lot of people have told me that they have reduced the consumption of single-use plastic. This was something people would have probably done a lot sooner because it is not tough, there was simply a lack of awareness. I believe we are all in this together at the end of the day. You cannot judge someone for actions that are taken due to lack of knowledge or awareness. All you can do is further spread awareness because change will not come in one night.

Our Takeaways from the Interview

Sustainable Tips

Join Harshvardhan Joshi on his sustainable journey @travelwithharsh and be a part of his Sangharsh on sangharsh.co!

Published On: January 29th, 2021 / Categories: Changemakers, Interviews /