She enjoys taking part in challenging tasks

Reena Kaushal Dharmshukta receives the Kalpana Chawla Award from the Chandigarh-based Punjab Engineering College Old Boys’ Association in Delhi.They carry one of the most relevant messages of our time –– save the environment, save the planet. Right from her travel and skiing in Antarctica to her latest adventure of a cycle expedition from Kolkata to Kanyakumari, Reena Kaushal Dharmshukta, the first Indian woman to ski to the South Pole, is spreading the same message.

“All through my cycle expedition, I met young boys and girls and told them that the reckless use of resources and adopting an unsustainable life style have put our planet in a grave danger. We have to rescue our earth from the disaster,” she told Deccan Herald.

“I appealed to them to be active for the sake of our future generation. I wanted them to understand the gravity of the problem and evolve ways and means to fight it,” she said when her month-long expedition ended recently. Always busy in one or other expedition, she dreams of some thing new. There are many more plans of adventures in her store, including an expedition to the North Pole.

“Another mission attached to my expeditions is the empowerment of women. Indian women need to assert.  They should realise their real strength.  They should feel they could do whatever they want to. Only by acquiring this confidence, could they fight discrimination. This would not only change their role in the society, but was also necessary for achieving their personal goals,” she explained.    

Thus, Reena combines green adventure for saving the planet with the broader social goal of women empowerment. But, this transformation of seeking personal pleasure from expeditions to a big mission of humanity has deeper roots, in her childhood experiences.  
Childhood experiences

“It can be traced back to my childhood experiences.  I think the process started when I was in the school. We were in Darjeeling. It was Darjeeling Hills where we grew up. My father was in the Army and was interested in mountaineering. The school where I studied too had students from families with mountaineering background.  My father would take us to walk in the hills. We accompanied him on trekking and mountaineering, too.

It created an everlasting interest in mountaineering.” She vividly recollected her childhood experiences during the conversation soon after she received Kalpana Chawla Award from Chandigarh-based Punjab Engineering College Old Boys Association in Delhi.     

Her close proximity with the nature during her childhood also generated a sense of responsibility for saving and preserving nature, which she pursues with all vigour. Her journey to the Antarctica in 2009 was indeed a turning point in her life.

The Kaspersky Commonwealth Antarctic Expedition was unique in more than one respect. It was an all-woman expedition in which eight women from Brunei, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Jamaica, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom took part representing five continents, six faiths and seven languages. They reached South Pole on December 29, 2009, two days ahead of schedule of New Year’s Day 2010.  

The expedition was organised to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth, and had the mission of demonstrating the potential of greater intercultural understanding and exchange, while at the same time highlighting the achievements of women across the globe.

The idea behind choosing them was that they would return to their countries as role models who can reach beyond the expectation of others.

“The 900-km journey from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole took 38 days. We survived on lightweight dehydrated food and melted snow. We would sleep in tents on the ice at night and pull sledges containing all the food, fuel and equipment we needed,” she recalled the fantastic lifetime experience.

“The high speed wind was the real havoc which could cause injury to the face. The protection of the buff wind-stopper protected us from the brunt of the wind and the cold,” she said.

While the temperature of minus 40 degree centigrade and the high-speed wind threatened to cause physical injury, the loneliness was equally biting. “The habitat was totally different. No human being around and nothing except snow all around, generated totally a strange kind of feeling. You feel all alone on the planet. This feeling, combined with a hostile weather, is something of an experience which can hardly be described in words,” she explained.

“My training in mountaineering helped me a lot. I did my training in Darjeeling-based Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. I took part in many mountaineering expeditions like Gangotri 1, first ascent of Argan Kangri , Fluted Peak , Stock Kangri , Phawararang, Mt Nun  and Sri Kailash, etc. All these expeditions were sponsored by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation,” Reena recalled.

The South Pole expedition made her famous and now she is known all over the world. The expedition also spread the message-- do not pollute Antarctica. The team did not have access to toilet or washing facilities while in Antarctica. However, they were keen not to leave any trace of their presence in the polar environment and so they carried ingenious devices that allowed the team to hygienically store and transport all toilet waste to be shipped out of Antarctica.  

Reena is lucky to have a perfect match. Her husband Luvraj Dhramshukta is from Uttarakhand and himself a wellknown  mountaineer.  “ Our family is dedicated to the  cause of saving environment,” she said proudly.

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