Let us get the common question about Asia’s first WordPress.com VIP agency out of the way. What does rtCamp stand for?
RT, as the founder Rahul Bansal himself explained to us, stands for ‘Round Table’ after King Arthur’s famed table in the Arthurian Legend. Camp, refers to the whole circuit of bar/blog/php camps in which, Bansal, as a successful WordPress freelancer, actively participated.
Two factors influenced the name and the culture at rtCamp. One factor Bansal says was his “hunger for equality”- the desire that everyone must have a say and contribute by taking initiative instead of just taking orders. The other factor was the unencumbered, open-source loving, community-driven culture around WordPress; which was represented by bar camps and so on, which he had come to appreciate.
These values he says got reflected in their work culture and while he adds that such core values cannot be altered according to the balance sheet, he can also trace the foundation of rtCamp’s growth to these values.
At rtCamp, their core values, have resulted in them building an agency where they love open-source, contribute back to the WordPress community, share the spotlight, and celebrate the contributions as well as exits of their team members.
A reflection of this is Bansal’s description of how, the now VIP partner WordPress agency, landed their first big client; when they were much smaller and younger.
Bansal is quick to attribute credit to the then Marketing Head, Gajanan Sapate; who is no longer with rtCamp and has started his own social media agency, SocialChamps. Sapate had approached Bansal with the idea of creating a company profile on LinkedIn- a popular professional social networking platform. Bansal, admittedly, was not too keen on the idea. Sapate made the choice to create the company profile on LinkedIn without his approval Bansal recollects, appreciatively.
When the ‘big client’- Geometric, went searching on LinkedIn, rtCamp had an advantage, as they were probably the only company to be listed as a WordPress agency in India at the time; around 2012.
This is only one example of how Bansal, and rtCamp set up a platform for many to take initiative and grow. Many of them have left the agency to carry on to big projects while continuing to make contributions to the WordPress community.
If you need an example of the extent to which rtCamp’s contributions to WP core has had an impact, you only need to look at the citation they received when becoming WordPress.com VIP partners. It was consistent contributions to WordPress Core which was mentioned as the main reason for being chosen as Asia’s first WordPress.com VIP partner agency.
Another aspect of the agency that Rahul takes pride in, is the involvement of rtCampers in the WordPress community itself- participation in WordCamps and publishing of tutorials. He says that the company encourages team members to make such contributions.
The culture of sharing the spotlight and getting better at one’s job, while contributing back to the community in combination have produced a team which today boasts of only enterprise clients or funded clients. While rtCamp was not born as an enterprise level WordPress agency, the core values as described by Bansal certainly seem to reflect in the work and now in the client base the agency has developed over the years.
The Summer of 2016 saw temperatures in Bengaluru reach record highs and at BlogVault, we were feeling the heat. We needed something to break the monotony of work while finding a way to deal with the sweltering heat… and in all of this, deadlines had to be met. This is when we came up with the perfect solution: a work-week away from Bengaluru! After a few searches on the Internet, we settled on McLeod Ganj (MG). It turned out to be a great destination for work and play despite our doubts.
We wanted to ensure that our trip would be exciting for us while not falling back to work. We had many questions during the planning of this trip- accommodation, Internet, food, clothing, weather, timings, things-to-do, and importantly budget.
If we were going to pull this off, then we needed a reliable Internet connection. Ideally, we wanted a destination where we could work from different coffee shops when preferred, but we also needed a base.
For this, a simple Google search did not yield results. A search on Airbnb landed us with a handful of options which offered Internet connectivity. Some were close to Dharamsala (half an hour drive from MG) and others were closer to McLeod Ganj.
We knew from prior experience in cities as well as small towns across India that Internet connections are not always reliable. We were always apprehensive about this and frankly, we were heading in blind. Luckily for us through this problem would be solved and the rest of our trip worked out too.
This is how we cracked the planning of the trip. At times when it didn’t work out, we were pleasantly surprised; as you are on all memorable trips.
Bangalore to McLeod Ganj
Duration: 1 Week
Time of the year: 2 May 2016 – 9 May 2016
Team Size: 5
Eateries: Clay Oven (MG- We loved the place, can’t recommend it enough)
Tibet Kitchen (MG)
Shiva Cafe (Bhagsunag)
Moon Peak Cafe (MG)
Snowline Cafe (Illaqa)
To-Do: Hikes to Dharamkot, Triund, Illaqa, Explore the town and the market.
En Route McLeod Ganj
Day Zero: 2 May 2016, Monday
There are two ways to get from Bengaluru to McLeod Ganj when you’re flying. Fly to Dharamsala and get a taxi ride to McLeod Ganj. Or, the more economical (albeit slightly roundabout) option of flying to Delhi, then catching a train to Pathankot and taking a taxi to MG. We chose the second option.
We departed from Bengaluru on 2 May at 5:30 pm and reached Delhi at 8:30 pm. Although Bengaluru was touching 40℃, arriving at a railway station in Delhi at 11:30 pm and feeling the heat made us wonder if Bengaluru at its worst was still better off than other metros?
An 8hr train ride between 11:30 pm & 7:30 am got us from Delhi to Pathankot. Another 5 hr ride by Indigo Taxi and we reached our destination McLeod Ganj- 12:30pm on 3 May.
At MG though, we were already feeling the difference. While it was overcast most of the day, night times were cold enough to need fleece jackets. We had made the journey in one day and for us the contrast was stark and exciting.
Indigo Taxi Rs. 2800/-
The Day With No (Reliable) Internet Connection – So Much For Plans
Day 1: 3 May 2016, Tuesday
Kora House; our base camp to be, was booked from the 4th onwards. For Day 1 we were not sure about accommodation or about our must have resource- Internet. We figured we’d find something even without bookings and we did- Kunga Guest House. Our first pleasant surprise- the place had a rooftop eatery; Nicks Italian Kitchen.
We were then off on a hike to Dharamkot, a town nearby. The route back was not the same as the one we had taken and we ended up on a round trip back to McLeod Ganj. That and the heavy, cold rains made day one adventurous enough.
For dinner, we ended up at Clay Oven, a Tibetan restaurant. We loved the food here enough to make sure we visited the place three times in all before we had to leave. Their Thukpas were very enjoyable; especially in the cold, and we highly recommend them.
The Internet at the cafe and hotel so far was below par, but we were able to catch up on some minor maintenance work and that was Day 1.
Kunga Guest House– 2 Rooms, 1 Day, Rs. 700/- each
Hike to Dharamkot – Free
Day 2: 4 May 2016, Wednesday
We were finally at Kora House (KH) around 11:30 am.
Air Jaldi & Rohitash To The Rescue
It was while we were moving to KH, that we first learned about AirJaldi- the solution to our Internet worries. KH also got their Internet from the same place. AirJaldi had their own router and dish and covered about 30% of the market area in MG. This meant that if we were in range, then we could access their connection in a cafe or from any other place; we didn’t have to be in the hotel. We got a special subscription and used it instead of WiFis at local cafes or other places, which were unreliable.
It wasn’t as if this solution was foolproof. Considering the distance of KH from the town, the connection wasn’t the best in the hotel itself. It worked better when we were closer to their dish- near the centre of the town. That being said the connection was decent and we got our work done! Our Internet worries were more or less sorted.
Another point about KH is that place is about 1 km. downhill from the town and the famous Dalai Lama Temple. Be forewarned, you’ll have to walk uphill for at least 1 km. for anything that you may want in the town.
But, let this not be discouraging. KH had a homely atmosphere to it with only four rooms. It was peaceful, calm, and clean (including the bathrooms). One km. was just far enough to keep us away from the hustle and bustle of the town but still well connected.
An isolated, paved road overlooking the valley leads you to a standalone building perched at the edge of a hill. The place overlooks Dharamsala including the world-famous cricket ground. The gate will be unlocked. Rohitash in CC will be there when you arrive.
Rohitash is the owner of KH and lives in Dharamsala. He immediately made us feel comfortable and with his local knowledge made a bunch of suggestions regarding the eateries in the town. He also offered to bring us home-cooked food for dinner if we informed him in advance. A tempting offer; but McLeod Ganj has a variety of cuisines, and cultures. We wanted to take it all in so we decided to have dinner at KH on only one night.
All of this, AirJaldi, and Rohitash made KH a very good base camp for us.
AirJaldi Cost – One connection -of 1GB (Valid up to 7 days) – Rs. 100/-
Kora House- 3 Rooms (4 days, 4 May – 7 May) – Rs. 27,500/-
(Kora House, Buddha House Rd Past Dalai Lama Security Quarters and Horizon Villa, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh 176219)
Of Rains and Restaurants…
A spontaneous trip to Bhagsunag Falls that evening meant that we turned up to find a place with barely enough water to be called a waterfall. However, the weather which had so far been good, turned. It started to rain. We had earlier begrudged not seeing enough water and now we were seeing a fair amount.
We had come to know by now that rain (along with restaurants and work) would be a recurring theme during our trip and we were prepared with raincoats and trousers. In fact, those in our team who didn’t have it had to purchase one there to make it through the week.
We had some tea at Shiva Cafe at Bhagsunag, and the weather was perfect for it.
Early dinner and some work (the other two themes of our trip) completed Day 2. The town, barring some eateries, shuts down by 8 pm. Plan dinners with this in mind otherwise you’ll have to settle for whatever is open at that hour.
Day 3: 5 May 2016, Thursday
Thursday morning we logged away some work while a hail storm came and passed. Perfect. Two out three themes and it was not even lunchtime yet.
Well, the third theme, ‘Restaurant’, was soon to follow. We had read great reviews and received recommendations of this one restaurant Lung Ta which served Japanese cuisine. We reached the place around 2:30 pm only to find out that the place closes at 2:30 pm.
We were determined to try out the place. We went again on Saturday but were late again. Not wanting to give up, we planned to have lunch there on our last day in MG. We ensured that we reached the restaurant at 1 pm. Unfortunately, it was 8 May, a Sunday and we learned that the place doesn’t open on Sundays. If you’re ever in MG we recommend Lung Ta so that you can pass on the review to us!
Trek To Triund & Illaqa: The Big Day But Not The One We Planned
Day 4: 6 May 2016, Friday
One of our main aims during the trip was to go on a trek. Indrahar Pass is a famous trek in the region but from our research, we knew that it would take 3 days to make the journey. We could not leave our systems/customers unattended for such a long duration and hence the option was ruled out.
Triund, a popular day-long trek from MG, seemed to be a satisfactory compromise. The trek, to and fro, typically takes 8 hrs. is what we were told- we could make it back the same day. At the same time, we wanted to make it to Illaqa. We had read that the place snowed even in the summer and we were excited to see it. The trek was a two-day affair and again, this option did not seem feasible either. Nonetheless, we asked around and Rohitash came to our rescue again!
He suggested that we take a taxi to Galu Devi, instead of starting the trek from MG. This would save us an hour each way and maybe allow us to make it all the way to Illaqa and back on the same day.
A sleepy, 6 am taxi ride took us to Galu Devi where we met Arun- our 21 yr. old guide. By this time, we were fully awake at just the possibility of seeing snow in the summer! We began our trek at 7:30 am; we doubled down and made it in 75 mins., reaching Triund at 8:45 am.
Breakfast- Maggi and Bread! Comfort food but slightly strange as we shelled out Rs. 950/- for 5 plates of Maggi & Eggs!
Triund; below the Dhauladhar Range, was a point of breathtaking contrasts – green grass on one side and snow-capped peaks on the other. So far deviating from the plan was good, and the stage was set for Illaqa. Since we had made good time we decided to push on.
We left behind our bags at Snowline Cafe, where we had stopped for lunch. We were glad to have no extra weight because by this time the trek was very challenging, and we were tired from the effort we’d put into the trek at Triund.
However, reaching Illaqa around noon was a great feeling- we found tonnes of snow and we felt like we were near a glacier. The presence of snow, a stream, and the splendour of Moon Peak 800mts. above our crowns made the trip worth it.
Again; we couldn’t help thinking, what a contrast to the Bengaluru heat!
The trek back to Triund saw the weather take a turn again and mild showers began. We decided to carry on to Galu Devi to make a good time. We were back by 4:15pm and took a taxi to MG.
On returning from a tiring day in the cold weather, some Tibetan Chicken Soup at the Tibet Kitchen was the perfect prescription for the hour. Also, the hot Chicken Soup was the perfect segue to dinner at Clay Oven.
Then some work and sleep.
The day was not the one we had planned for but we experienced all the recurring themes of our trip in their best forms and more.
Hiring the guide: Rs. 700/-
Back to Bengaluru
Day 5/6/7: 7/8/9 May 2016, Saturday/Sunday/Monday
On our last full day at MG, we explored the town and did some shopping- tees, teas, flags, & a traditional garb for one member of our team.
On Sun, after a taxi ride back to Pathankot, we had to wait for about 4 hrs for the train and the only interesting place we found near the station for food was a dhaba. A sleepy train ride to Delhi and we were in the airport at 6:30 am. We landed in Bengaluru around 12 pm on 9 May 2016, a Monday.
After the seemingly long break, we came back refreshed and raring to go. We all ended up coming back to office at around 1:30 pm as no one went home!
It would take some more time for Bengaluru to cool down but the break ensured that we were not burned out (pun intended).
Bengaluru to Delhi (Flight) – Rs. 9546/- each
Delhi (DLI) to Pathankot Cantt (PTKC) (Train) – Rs. 1250/- each
Pathankot Cantt (PTKC) to Delhi S Rohilla (DEE) – Rs. 1062/- each