Living on the Edge
Exploring the lives of women who live on the edge and have the world at their feet
When 33-year-old Ankita Sheth, co-founder, Vista Rooms, is not busy running her start-up, she is up to doing more exciting things. Since childhood she has been spending a lot of time travelling to different parts of the world with her parents and has had options to explore several adventure sports. Sheth has done bungee jumping, scuba diving, trekking and climbing, and horse riding. On her Europe trip recently, she took a 30-minute flying lesson at the 'The Cranfield Flying School', learning the basics of how to fly a plane.
For Sheth, who has a fear of heights, some of her adventure activities are to conquer that. “I like to fight my fear. It helps me get more thrills out of an activity. Last time, just before a bungee jump, for a moment, I felt there was no ground beneath my feet and felt dizzy but managed to complete it successfully,” she says.
“There are a lot of women taking to adventure sports. Financial independence, access to information and resources have empowered them to take to adventure. Travel trends are changing and women want to experience the wilderness and the sheer adrenaline rush,” says Kavitha Reddy, an avid adventure traveller and the founder of Basecamp Adventures.
What’s your calling?
To get started with any adventure sports, passion is very important. Some would try out a mix of adventure sports and pursue one that interests them. Other would try their hand at different thrills.
Kolkata-based Anita Alimchandani, 50, director and principal of Busy Ants Preschool and Academy of Progressive Montessori, had always enjoyed the freedom of cycling when she was younger. As the years went by, her responsibilities increased and cycling was soon buried. “Years later when my life was more defined I felt a need to reconnect with that sense of freedom on the cycle. I bought a cycle and made sure I connected with a group of cyclists in the city. I just started cycling and there was no looking back after that,” she says.
Alimchandani feels one should get into a sport only if one is serious about it. “The calling comes from within, as it did with me. Just wanting to cycle is not enough; you have to work towards making changes in your daily routine to get into the habit of cycling,” she says. Being the only woman in a male dominated group did not intimidate her and she was willing to learn. “If you want to take up any sport, just go there and literally attack it. Everything just falls into place,” she adds.
Adventure sports options have been increasing over the last few years. India provides options for almost every major adventure sport, whether it is trekking or climbing, cycling or biking, water sports like sailing, parasailing and scuba diving, paragliding, bungee jumping, sky diving and others. Many operators provide these services, while there are several dedicated clubs for such activities where one can join to connect with like-minded people.
Mumbai-based Renu Sharma Wahee, 27, mother of a one year-old boy, finds her calling in biking and photography. For her, the pinnacle moment of her riding was when she rode through the challenging Himalayan terrain to Marsimik La (5,582 metres), a high mountain pass located in the Chang-Chenmo Range.
While adventure sports require you to stay fit, it also works the other way around. Regularly participating in such sports gives you that motivation to work on your fitness. For Sheth, being an entrepreneur means long working hours, but she tries to walk as much as she can and also does a bit of yoga. “I want to start playing a sport and run on the beach soon but have not got around to doing yet,” she says.
Alimchandani made sure that she trained with an experienced trainer as getting a strong core is essential for her cycling. Regular walks have also increased her stamina. Fitness requirements are distinct for different adventure sports, but overall fitness is a must. For a high altitude trek or a challenging bike or cycle ride, one needs to work on one’s fitness for months in advance.
“It is difficult for many women after you have a baby but for many like me it is sheer enthusiasm, will power and a fear of not being able to do what I love to do, that keeps me going,” says Sharma.
Safety is key in adventure, and yes it does come with a lot of perils, without which it will be not adventure anyway. “But one has to take to adventure with right kind of safety standards, from choosing the right operator who has qualified people and have the standard safety protocols. Never compromise on quality when it comes to adventure even if it is slightly expensive than the rest of the operators,” says Reddy. Sheth, who has been keen on doing skydiving, agrees, “I have had several options for doing it. But in some cases, the safety procedures of the operators were not up to the mark. Since there is a risk associated, I want to do it only when everything is right.” Paramita Haldar, 28, a PhD student from IIT Mumbai, makes it a point to double-check the safety standards of organisers when engaging in any adventure activity. “I read up about the activity, what are the safety features to consider, blogs where people have written about their experiences with the organiser and I also find out if the organiser has proper safety certifications in place. For me it is always safety first.”
Participating in adventure sports can motivate you while helping you relax and unwind at the same time. Plus it comes with memories that stay with you for life. Says Seth, “During the flying lesson, we had a minute of aerobatics, where the plane tilted 90 degrees and that is a moment that has stayed with me even now!” Engaging in adventure activities helps her break the monotony of the everyday life. The entrepreneur in her seeks to meet risks headon and tackle them.
For Haldar, adventure sports activities act as a stress buster after long and stressful hours at the lab. “Whenever I get a few days off, I make it a point to try out some new adventure activity. And there are many options in and around Mumbai.” She recollects her water rappelling experience at Vihigaon, Kasara, near Mumbai, where she felt a refreshing flow of water on her face as she descended the waterfall on a rope. “At that moment I could hear my heart beat and these are moments that stay with me.”
As Reddy puts it, adventure sports is indeed the most engaging and relaxing activity, as being closer to nature changes the perspective with which one sees life. For Alimchandani, cycling makes her stronger. “You are constantly telling yourself, yes I can and the adrenaline rush is limitless. Life looks inviting after a good spin on the bike!” Her most memorable experience was accomplishing the 100 km ride with Discover on Wheels, a cyclist club from Kolkata.
“It was physically exhausting. I was the only female cyclist with a group of 40 men. I can never forget the last leg of the ride. My legs had caved in but my mind was determined as I told myself that I needed to complete it.”
Get set for adventure
- Try out different adventure sports to find out of if any particular sport interests you
- Safety is a very crucial aspect for any adventure sport. Make sure that the operator or organiser you are engaging with are experienced and meet the highest safety standards
- Adventure sports require you to be physically fit. While general fitness is a must, you might need to train certain body parts specifically. Talk to a trainer and work on your fitness routine
- Get connected to clubs or groups in your area that are involved in the activity you want to pursue. Staying in touch with people with the same passion helps you stay motivated and find more options to participate in groups
- Adventure sports cost you money. While a one-time activity will set you back by a few thousand rupees, expeditions or activities which involve travelling abroad can cost you a lot of money. Save for it as you would save money for any other goal
The story was first published in Empower, March 2016