Vikas Sah is envious of his wife. However, he is busy clicking photos of Tanu, the love of his life, who is addressing the media. “You can hardly find a spouse whose likes and interests match with your own,” says Vikas, who came all the way from Hyderabad to be with Tanu before she leaves for the toughest expedition of her life. Tanu, along with her team of six other female mountaineers is going all the way to Kharta Valley, Tibet for almost three weeks, to do what they enjoy doing most – climb the toughest peak of their lives.
But twenty eight year old Tanu is a determined, confident and self-assured young woman who learned early on in life the mantra to maintain a balance in both her personal and professional life.
She is one of those few lucky housewives, who without any pressure are allowed to break the shackles of the mundane chores of life and follow their passion. In her case it is mountaineering. “I hate it when people say ‘will you be able to climb the mountain?’” says Tanu. She exudes confidence, yet there is dismay in her tone while talking about the people who become judgemental of girls, especially housewives, who dream of climbing a summit.
For 15 days, Tanu along with her team will climb peaks of 17,000 to 19,000 feet. For her it is the first tough trek of her life but she looks up to other housewives in the group, who have climbed some of the highest peaks in the world. One amongst them is Premlata Agarwal from Jharkhand, who at 35 started mountaineering and is the first Indian woman to conquer seven highest summits in seven continents.
“It is very difficult to keep everyone happy in the family when you have an interest in something like mountaineering. When you live in a joint family, the situation is more difficult. People around you don’t leave a chance to pass sarcastic remarks like ‘when you can climb rough mountains then why can’t you do this simple household chore’. You have to hear such comments especially when you are not well,” says Agarwal, who considers these as ‘over expectations’ of the family members.
Agarwal, however, considers herself lucky that she got a chance to follow her dreams given that a vast majority of women in the country are trammelled by social obligations. “My daughter was into mountaineering and through her I got a chance to do something which I never thought in my life,” says Agarwal, who ensures maximum time with the family when she is not climbing peaks. Another housewife Chetna Sahu too believes that in a male chauvinistic society women fear to follow their dreams. “I am lucky that I got a husband who was always supportive and we do our treks together. I have made it very clear to my family that mountaineering is like an energy booster which sustains me and fills me with positivity throughout the year. I am glad that my family understands my feelings and allows me to go each year to some trek,” says the 36-year-old Sahu, who is preparing herself for Mt Everest next year.
Interestingly, bringing all these bravehearts together is Bachendri Pal, the first Indian woman to have climbed Mt Everest and fifth in the world to achieve the feat. As the chief of Tata Steel Adventure Foundation, she will lead the all-women, seven-member team to Kharta Valley.
“The women in the expedition come from diverse backgrounds. It is going to be challenging and a learning experience for women to realise their potential and serve as strong building blocks for the communities at large,” says Bachendri Pal.