Dr Raj Joshi traded a medical career for a business inspiring the likes of Gary Barlow and David Beckham to pursue exhilarating charitable adventures.
Dr Raj Joshi has encountered hostile tribes in West Papua, been taken hostage by men wearing little except kotekas, almost been killed by a collapsing icefall, but nothing has dimmed his enthusiasm for extreme adventure. He has led the likes of Gary Barlow up Kilimanjaro and seen him navigate David Beckham and the BBC safely through the Brazilian Amazon jungle, to reach indigenous tribes.
It was a passion that started young. At 18 months old he summited Snowden, though admittedly with a little help from his equally adventure-loving parents. They took him across the UK, camping, climbing mountains and hiking. “Thanks to my fantastic family, adventure was in my blood,” he says.
For a long time, however, it was just a hobby, while he continued with the real work of training to be a doctor. When he started earning some money – and in the few breaks he had between shifts - Raj started climbing more seriously in the UK and abroad. He found a group of friends, who were older and more experienced climbers and together they started to curate their own expeditions.
From there, it snowballed: “A climbing friend recommended me to one of the companies he worked for as a guide. I received great feedback and they asked me to work again as an Expedition Leader. This went well and I was asked to work for other expedition companies. Eventually, I built a reputation.”
He was offered more challenging and high-profile jobs, discovering that he was successful in not only ensuring people reached the summit, but also making it an enjoyable and transformative experience. His medical training came in useful, but, for the most part, he wasn’t there as an expedition doctor. “I had a lot of experience, and sometimes there was an expedition doctor working on the trip who found it valuable to have someone else to bounce things off. If a significant medical issue developed that the expedition doctor couldn’t handle, then I could step in medically. It was a useful skill to have.”
The Adventure Boutique
Raj continued working in both medicine and as an Expedition Leader. He shifted from having little inclination that he could make a career out of his adventures, to turning his passion into a profession: “I genuinely believe it is one of the best jobs in the world and I feel very fortunate in what I do.”
He founded The Adventure Boutique with the aim of offering life-changing adventures. He says: “I pioneer new expeditions, looking for places where no-one else operates.” The company can take you through the jungles of Sierra Leone to climb the highest mountain there, to trekking from the high peaks of Mexico all the way to the Pacific Ocean while passing through native lands and meeting the indigenous people, to trekking to Everest Base Camp in Nepal, to sampling the culinary delights and incredible tradition on a Japanese adventure. These are just a few of what The Adventure Boutique has to offer.
He has had some notable clients. He led the BBC’s Comic Relief climb on Mount Kilimanjaro, memorably coaxing the likes of Cheryl Tweedy (formerly Cheryl Cole), Gary Barlow, Chris Moyles and a host of other celebrities to the summit. He has worked on a Hollywood feature film, called Everest, looking after the actors such as Josh Brolin. Raj took David Beckham and three friends to the Brazilian jungle, close to the Venezuelan border. They were specially invited to visit the Yanomami by the Chief of the Yanomami tribes and gained permission from the Brazilian government. Raj says: “The tribespeople generally don’t have contact with the outside world. It was a real privilege and magical moment to be able to spend time and interact with them.”
This expedition was a real challenge he admits, which he thoroughly enjoyed as it tested his ability as an Expedition Leader. “As well as trying to keep David Beckham and the BBC safe through the jungle, there were many elements that I had to weave together to create a successful team such as the producers, film crew, David Beckham and his friends, bodyguards, local staff, not to mention the interesting flora and fauna that we encountered!”
When travelling without clients or celebrities, he likes to get off the beaten track. West Papua, he says, was really wild: “The tribespeople live as they have done for thousands of years and there are probably some tribes that are yet to have first contact. In the not-too-distant past, tribes were found to be practising cannabilism and possibly may still do! For this journey, we were trying to climb the highest mountain in Australasia – which is located on this island called Puncak Jaya. It took us a while, hopping through several islands just to get there. I even remember one of the journeys was via light aircraft with animals on board and locals were allowed to carry their rifles onto the plane.
When we reached our start point, we travelled only 200 metres down the track and were taken hostage by local tribesmen wearing only kotekas, carrying poisoned blow dart guns, bows and arrows, spears and machetes. Communication is the key and after some negotiations and being held for three days, hostility turned into friendliness and we were released.” He loved the local people and thought them remarkable. While on the same trip he encountered sublime beauty with the jungle and incredible snow-capped mountains.
Raj is a frequent visitor to Nepal. He loves the warmth of the people, the enchanting culture and the awe-inspiring mountains. His successful expedition on Everest was the site of a memorable rescue, but also a near-death encounter. Along with some of his team and Sherpas, he helped to rescue a lady with frostbite by bringing her down through the Khumbu Icefall, the most dangerous section on Everest. This is a jumbled river of ice, constantly flowing and moving, with ice blocks the height of a three-story house.
They can crumble on top of you, or a gaping chasm can open beneath your feet. This is treacherous for climbers, especially if caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was nearly caught in a large icefall collapse on the rescue and believes this may have been closest he has come to death.
His enthusiasm for extreme travel hasn’t dimmed, but it has changed focus. He says: “I am pretty content. I’ve seen incredible places and been immersed in amazing cultures. I’ve had my turn, and my passion now is to inspire others. In a two- week trip, people can learn something they can use in everyday life. I want to help them build resilience and character, to be able to put things into perspective and deal with future challenges. Everyone has their own Everest.”
For Raj’s next project, he has teamed up with a winner of The Great British Bake Off, David Atherton. Together they will co-lead this exciting cookery adventure in Morocco. Raj will lead a series of hikes and adventure challenges while David, along with talented native Berber and Moroccan chefs, will impart their culinary skills and knowledge to the group. Raj says “This will be a sensational expedition, where we will combine adventure with the delicious food of Morocco as well as have immense fun along the way. There is a real fusion, not just with adventure and cooking, but through the places we go to, from the serenity of the mountains and interaction with the Berber people, to the vibrancy of Marrakesh.”
Raj and his company have other trips coming up such as recreating the celebrity route up Kilimanjaro (a mountain he has led and summited 13 times).
He will also be taking a group to see the wild mountain gorillas in Uganda. Raj believes this is one of the finest and most impactful of all the wildlife experiences, saying “These magnificent creatures, so regal yet humble, are now critically endangered with only just over 1,000 left in the world. However, what we do through tourism helps save them through money invested in the area that is used to preserve the local wildlife and habitat. It also helps turn poachers into protectors, once those that previously would slaughter, realise they have a viable income through tourism rather than poaching.”
He is clear that exploring the world can change everyone’s lives for the better: “People and nature are really important. The world is a tremendously beautiful place, full of remarkable characters and wondrous cultures. I enjoy fostering meaningful interaction between my groups and the local people in all the places we explore. This creates a powerful two-way learning process where we can learn much from the local populace and hopefully, they can learn a little something from us.
We also need to be careful that we don’t lose our affinity with the natural environment. People and nature should have a synergy. By being more attuned to the natural environment and taking care of it, nature will in return take care of us. Even in medicine there is a wealth of health benefits just by being in nature.
Finally, I think it’s invaluable that we all challenge ourselves in some way. It allows us to grow as a person, develops character, increases resilience and engenders a positive perspective shift where future obstacles are no longer viewed as insurmountable.”
This article was previously published on Smith & Williamson prior to the launch of Evelyn Partners.