Recognising the outstanding job our Tour Leaders do is of utmost importance to us. Our annual Tour Leader Awards are one of the key ways we do this, and those who win are afforded the opportunity to visit the UK. This week, Julius White (Whitey), Explore Tour Leader of the Year 2012 and Sudarshan KC (Su), Walking and Trekking Tour Leader of the Year 2013, have been in the office and we had the chance to sit down and talk with them about what life is like for an award-winning Tour Leader.
Welcome to Explore HQ! To start us off, how long have you each been working with Explore?
Su – I’ve been leading Explore tours for 13 years now!
Whitey – I’ve been a Tour Leader for five years, but previous to that I worked with Explore as a porter and assistant leader so in all it’s been almost ten years I’ve worked for the company.
How did you become a Tour Leader? What were you doing before?
Su - When I was growing up I knew someone who worked in the jungle and thought that could be an escape from the city life I thought I was headed towards. I loved it in the jungle because every day really felt like a new day, not the same thing over and over again. When I started I only really knew what a sparrow was and a pigeon but I got to see lots of wildlife and learn all about them, plus I learned English as I went along. Eventually I was able to become a guide. I worked mainly as a birding guide, the hours were long – sometimes 5am until 11pm – but I really enjoyed it. It became hard though as the jungle became unsafe as around that time there was trouble in Nepal and when we would go out with binoculars and cameras to watch the birds, the governement and Maoist groups thought we were spying on them! Maoists would be in the jungle and they’d take our binoculars and equipment, first from just the guides but then eventually from entire groups. It was also around this time that I first came into contact with Explore and was offered a job leading for the company. I didn’t take it straight away but after the second time of asking I did and am now so happy that I took that chance.
Whitey – I was born in Moshi town so I grew up in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. As a child I was entranced by it, it’s in my blood. I went up for the first time when I was 17 and then went straight into working on the mountain. My dad had a motor vehicle company and wanted me to join him running the company. He and my family thought life on the mountain was dangerous but I was drawn to it. When we were growing up there were rumours and stories about what life was like on the mountain – that if you took your hands out of your gloves they’d freeze straight away and any drink that came into contact with the air would also freeze immediately! But I just thought that if others were doing it then it couldn’t be that bad so why couldn’t I do it? So, I chose to give it a go. The first time was very, very hard. I was carrying luggage on my shoulders and head and I’d never done that before. I’d never been away from home, never stayed in a tent, never even been cold really. I didn’t have any of the gear needed – I was wearing socks on my hands as gloves and just had regular shoes not suitable for being on the mountain at all. It was all so new and strange but I just had the heart for it, had the spirit. If there’s something I want to do and my spirit says I can do it then I’m going to try, that’s just how I am. And I wanted to go up the mountain. But, that first time was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. When I was approaching Stella Point I really thought I couldn’t go on, that I’d have to give up. But my friend urged me to keep going, he would say ‘Hey Julius, let’s go, not far to go now, you can do it’. And I did. And now I’ve done it around 200 times! This is what I take with me when I’m leading groups on the mountain – the idea that anything is possible.
What advice do you have for people planning an adventure to Nepal or Tanzania?
Su – Earplugs! Bring earplugs. I always hear about people being unable to sleep due to doors banging, dogs barking or even the sound of a river flowing. If everyone just brought earplugs with them then that problem could be completely avoided! So my advice is always to bring earplugs!
Whitey – I would advise people to expect to go slow. Not just while going up the mountain but in Tanzania in general, the pace of life there is slow! When on the mountain we’ll be saying ‘poli poli’ a lot – ‘slowly, slowly’ – and you should definitely listen and follow the pace set by the leader. It may seem slow but it’s the way you’ll get to the top.
Su (right) with some of the Nepalese team
How does winning the award make you feel?
Su – I love getting good feedback but I feel like the people on the tour do more than me! Leaders just try to facilitate the group and individuals doing what they want. It’s really the groups who I feel make the experience what it is.
Whitey – I found out I’d won when I was on the mountain and heard it over a walkie-talkie and I just had to sit down. The customers didn’t know what was wrong and thought I may have been suffering from altitude sickness. When I managed to tell them they all celebrated and cheered for me. I just kept saying ‘wow, wow, wow’. It took a long time to believe that it’s true, probably around two months to actually believe it. The idea is just too big for me. I’m only doing my job, doing what I love - helping people to achieve their dreams. The first time climbing Kilimanjaro is unforgettable and I want to make sure that’s for the right reasons. People invest so much time and money into their holiday it’s only right that I give everything to make sure they achieve what they want. I always want to do my best for them.
What do you think makes a good Tour Leader?
Su – At the start of the trip I ask why they chose the holiday and what they’re hoping it will be like and I make sure they all get what they want out of it. I always encourage questions and answer them all as best I can. I think it’s important to make the most of the time after dinner so I invite people to come to me and I tell them what they want to know. It’s about making sure they get the most out of every moment on the trip and understanding the needs of the group and the individuals.
Whitey - I’m a simple person but for me it’s all about treating people with love. Love them and treat them fairly, making sure they all get what they want but are safe at the same time. I try to do everything with a big heart and people realise that I always have their best interests at heart, even if they’re suffering and I have to advise them to go back down the mountain – safety is key. It’s important to show heart and compassion for everyone and encourage them to come to me for help; I always offer it with kindness and love.
Whitey (left) and some of the team on Mount Kilimanjaro
You spend your time showing our customers your home countries, but if you could travel anywhere where would you choose?
Su – If I could go anywhere it wouldn’t be far away, just visit the countryside or go back into the jungle to relax.
Whitey – If I could go anywhere it would be here in the UK! I’m really amazed for this trip though it’s been a culture shock and I’ve been here for only a few hours! Everything is so different from life in Tanzania and I’ve loved seeing the people we work with here in England. I said when I got off the plane that even if I got straight back on and went home again it would have been the best experience of my life. I’m just so happy; my life and everything has changed now!
How do you like to spend your time when you’re not leading tours?
Su – I love to work! But when I’m not I always go out to the jungle. Also I relax with my family, go to Temple, and help others get there. People love going to different Temples! If I gave them the chance to go to a new Temple or London they’d probably choose the Temple!
Whitey – In my spare time I love singing and dancing. That’s my life, I really love it. I also enjoy riding my mountain bike along quiet roads. Riding and singing! It’s so good, makes me feel so great, I love it.
Any final words?
Su – We want to thank you all for everything you do for us, there’s such good support but also the freedom to do our own thing. Our group of leaders in Nepal all stick together and support each other – one is climbing Everest this year which we’re all so proud of. We’re also so happy about Explore’s Deepen Rai Award, it made all of us proud. We lost him but the award keeps him alive and in everyone’s mind and heart so thank you from all of us.
Whitey - I love being a Tour Leader because I love taking care of people, even before I was a Tour Leader that was how I was. It’s a great pleasure to be trusted with full control and given responsibility for Explore groups. I love meeting people, solving issues, and helping them achieve those moments of a lifetime. I also love being in nature and believe it’s one of the places where you can truly feel free and sharing that with the groups is also very special to me. I feel at home on the mountain.
While Su and Whitey were in the office they also chatted with Explore MD Ashley Toft which you can. The other 2013 winners, Firat Solak and Aungko Ko Win, were sadly unable to visit the UK at this time, though we're hoping to get them over sometime in the future.