For centuries of human civilization, men and women have climbed up a mountain to find new meaning in their life. For ‘Devil on Wheels’, it was the mighty Himalayan peaks that finally calmed the devil in him. Dheeraj Sharma founded ‘Devil on Wheels’ after overcoming a phase of deep depression in his own life. He owes a lot to the Himalayas - he almost cheated death on his first serious trip to trans-Himalayas.
Ever since he decided to have a platform where people do not fall prey to the luring beauty of these mighty Himalayas and go prepared on their trips. Founded in the December of 2009, Devil on Wheels (DoW) is now a large community of Himalayan travellers who share their knowledge and experiences with each other.
“DoW was started with an intention to provide valuable and practical travel information on visiting remote places of Himalayas so that no one else suffers what I suffered on my first trip, “ Dheeraj said. “The sole intention was to induct travellers with practical information on travel which is not provided in guide books,” he added.
While DoW also helped him find the best way to fuel his passion for travel and driving in the Himalayas, it also helped keep his energy levels high. What started off as a practical guide on travelling to Himalayas, transformed eventually to find a meaningful vision with the growing number of followers of the blog.
Every time Dheeraj travelled to the remote Himalayas, he carried a lot of stuff for the local people or children, and shared these stories on his blog. Readers who liked the concept became active followers of the blog, and around 2012, he received loads of requests from like-minded folks who wanted to contribute to the DoW platform with their own stories and information.
Being the old school type, he did not want to create a mere social media group. He wanted to grow the website and make DoW a recognized name for travellers. Sharing travel stories in the form of travelogues, putting travel articles, etc.. was not possible with social media groups, hence a forum was the best way ahead. He used open source phpBB to build a traditional forum for DoW. The DoW Community Forum was started on 1st June 2013.
The non-profit and non-commercial community is now guided by its vision - to help the Himalayan people and the Himalayas. Over the years, its members have taken up various causes on the upliftment of the local Himalayan lives.
But, the name ‘Devil on Wheels’ sounds nothing like what it does. “This name actually reminds me that there is a devil inside me, which shall not come out in the new age of life. Instead of those depression pills, the reverse psychology of reminding myself of not unleashing that kind of devil again in life has actually helped me restore my life,” Dheeraj explained on the interesting coinage of DoW.
It is the very idea of responsible travel and spreading smiles in the Himalayas that is drawing new members to DoW. The DoW Community forum that started with 1000 members in one year, has grown to almost 3700+ members, adding almost 2700 in the last year alone. The idea of taking up causes has helped the forum enormously. There are about 40+ instances of documented causes and some at a very large scale especially in DoW Mega Meet 2014 in Spiti Valley, he pointed out.
Many such causes were just shared as pictures over the Facebook page or in the Whatsapp group. “If I am assuming correctly there could be as more as 100-120 causes executed by various members of the community in the last two years.”
In a one of its kind travellers-led initiative, the DoW core team is busy setting up a Spiti Library in Spiti, Himachal by the end of this season. This thread on the forum shows how DoW has evolved and contributed to the change in mindset of travellers to Himalayas.
The forum does its best to connect travellers directly with the local Himalayans. It shares lists of drivers, guides that gets one connected to them directly, eliminating the middle men.
One interesting feature of the forum is that travellers can stay connected on the go. The DoW forum has been integrated with Tapatalk so members can use the community in a mobile from Tapatalk mobile app. “The numbers of followers/active members is almost touching 300 now on Tapatalk justifying the reason of its integration to tap the people who look forward to stay connected on the move too.”
The challenges of managing a forum are many – from moderating to replying to all comments. And to the man who has a family, a job and DoW (in that preference order), how does Dheeraj manage its smooth functioning.
When it comes to DoW, moderation is not that difficult says Dheeraj, as “you really care for your community” and “Aashish, Neeraj and Sany are the backbone of moderation”. The difficult part is active participation being the main Administrator of such a community. It helps with the motivation for the new members of the family if someone senior in the community is actively participating too.
“The forum generates more replies in a day than a blog so of course you have to reply to all your blog comments and then also reply upon community comments. I prefer spending time on the forum and website and try to use every second that life gives me free from family and office on it.”
Now almost about 25% of the total visitors on the DoW website are from its community. Sharing some numbers, he said, “In our peak season time of April to June this year we got largest footprint of almost 300,000 sessions, 185000 users and 625000 pageviews in just two months - May and June. We hit an overall high of almost 360000 pageviews in 30 day period in these two months.”
DoW has also hit just under 60,000 overall alexa world rank and 4500 alexa India rank this year. The community is also responsible for generating mobile traffic in majority through the Tapatalk app as well.
Interestingly, all these numbers are organic. DoW never got involved in any kind of paid promotion ever using any of the services - either through PR, Google ads or social media.
The DoW Store which sells community merchandise like DoW stickers, t-shirts, hoodies, is selling well. All the minor profits earned using this helps the community reduce overall infrastructure cost to some extent. Going further, the team wants to provide this platform to the locals of Himalayas so that they can use it to sell their own products. DoW also plans to expand the entire initiative towards rest of the Himalayas - Uttarakhand, North-East, Bhutan, Nepal in its phase of expansion.
Feature image source: Devil on Wheels Facebook