Allure of aurora

Geethu Mohandas is all set to become the first Indian woman to ever participate in the adventurous sub-zero Fjällräven Polar expedition in April

Geethu Mohandas

An ‘Indian by birth and global by spirit’ is how Geethu Mohandas describes herself. If all goes well, the 28-year-old Keralite, an electronics engineer at a firm in Bengaluru, is all set to become the first Indian woman to ever participate in the adventurous sub-zero Fjällräven Polar expedition in April. The annual expedition to the 300-km Arctic wilderness, is open to just 20 chosen travellers across the globe every year. 

“So far, there have been just two Indians who have gone on the expedition. I would be the third, and the first woman, if I am lucky,” says an excited Geethu, who is counting on the Fjällräven Polar online voting which is her ticket to see the Northern lights. 

Dream come true

“Witnessing the spectacular aurora borealis (the bright dancing lights in multiple colours seen above the northern and southern hemispheres), like any travel buff, is my dream, too. I would consider myself lucky if I won, and luckier if I could inspire more women to apply for the expedition next year,” she says.

Geethu has been travelling for several years now, starting with the school nature camps she has been part of as a teen. Staying in Forest Department dormitories and experiencing the warmth of nature, the passion grew with her and when she got a job, she started living her dream. Having lost count of her trips, she puts it as ‘I go trekking almost every weekend.’

Sometimes solo, sometimes with her husband Prasad Aadish and at times, with her buddies. A founder of the travel group Let’s go for a Camp, which promotes responsible tourism, Geethu believes that any journey should have a purpose. As part of the motto, she and her friends explore a place not just geographically, but along with its culture, history and traditions by giving back to the people the happiness they experienced. 

Making a difference

“Wherever we go, we practice a sustainable lifestyle and are eco-friendly. It’s not just sight-seeing. We believe in making a difference to the lives of people there. Tourism makes sense only if we explore places without upsetting the native people’s lives,” she stresses. In the past four years, Let’s go for a Camp has organised 95 group journeys, thrice outside the country, every time to lesser-explored places. During the journeys, they promote sustainable practices like use of menstrual cups, seed pens and green initiatives. 

“We conduct research on the historical, geographical and cultural significance of the places and while there, stay with the people, experiencing their lives, culture and cuisine, wear their traditional clothing and pay for it all.” As part of promoting employment for rural womenfolk, last April, a 15-member all-women group comprising students, doctors, home-makers, teachers, IT professionals and lawyers from all age groups went to the Ladakh villages of Thakmachik, Choklamsar, Thiya and Mann, where they did a trial of the idea. “It was a great experience, for both them and us. We grew so close that parting was an emotional moment,” recalls Geethu, who, along with her Ladakhi friend Dolma, is planning a bigger exercise next year by taking more batches to the Ladakh villages from April to July when the climate is favourable.  

Inspiring women

Applying for the Fjällräven Polar expedition is also an act of responsibility for Geethu. “I noticed that women do not apply for it. May be because it is considered one of the most adventurous trips on the planet. I wanted to break the myth. So as a preparation, I led a 19-member crew, 12 of them women, to the Chadar trek, where we had to survive minus 15 to minus 30 degree temperature and cross the entirely frozen Zanskar River in the harsh winter. We spent 10 days without water. It was an amazing endurance test. That was when I knew that cold meant pain,” she laughs.

Confident about the Polar expedition scheduled in April, she is now keeping her fingers crossed. “With the required physical fitness and confidence, I am sure that I can do it. The voting is currently on till Dec 11 and I am at the fourth position now. No worries even if I don’t win. I am sure that next year more women would apply. Being an inspiration itself is a victory.”

 

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