There was a time when adventure was considered a male bastion. Only a handful of women opted to brave the physical punishment and mental challenges implicit in adventure. But over the years, that wall has fallen too. More women are now keen to get a taste of adventure sports whether it is mountaineering, river rafting or simply trekking.
Once smitten by the love of the outdoors, many women are also choosing to make adventure a regular part of their lives.
Love of the outdoors
Take Nandini Mehta for instance. The 48-year-old French teacher and dancer based in Bangalore, says her love affair with the mountains began as a teenager. Her first conquest was the 6,000-metre-high Mount Koteshwar in the Garhwal Himalayas way back in 1984. Since then, she has been on several Himalayan treks and hits the hills close to Bangalore nearly every weekend. "The pure air and the natural beauty make me want to go back," she says.
To cope with the burgeoning demand of women who seek the thrill of adventure but with the comfort of numbers, several tour operators have begun to offer women-only adventure trips. Five years ago, Sumitra Senapaty (49) started Women on Wanderlust, a travel company that organises trips exclusively for women, with the objective of "making women confident enough to want to travel". Since then, she has organised treks to Uttarakhand and Ladakh, river rafting on the Zanskar and the Brahmaputra and an expedition to the Everest base camp.
She says the response has been enthusiastic, especially from older women. "Women come all the way from Chennai, Cochin and Bangalore to Rishikesh for river rafting," she says. "It's not the 20-somethings who land up for treks. It's more the 30s, 40s and 50s. The oldest person to come on a trek was 56."
It was to introduce more women to the adrenaline rush of adventure that the Women Adventure Network of India (WANI) was formed last year. The organisation, headed by veteran mountaineer Bachendri Pal, hopes to increase participation by women in adventure sports. According to Vasumathi Srinivasan, secretary of WANI and an avid mountaineer herself, the organisation's aim is to "empower women through the medium of adventure".
Fit for adventure
Among the ambitious projects in the pipeline is a 3,000-km-long cycling expedition from Kolkata to Kanyakumari in October this year. "We are planning to take a few girls from every state," says Srinivasan. "We will have overnight halts every 100 km and at each stop, we will give the villagers a talk about adventure."
But in order for adventure activities to be enjoyable, your body needs to be fit enough to weather extreme conditions. Senapaty says that while ensuring that all arrangements on a trek are comfortable for women, she also reminds them that it isn't a "luxury vacation". "It's unpredictable out there on the trek," she says. "If someone can't catch up, she can't be airlifted like in a Western country."
So if you want an occasional tryst with the outdoors, make a regular pact with fitness. "My mother has been going to the mountains for 30 years," says Shilpa Suchak, a mixed media artist, of her 60-year-old mother, Dr Amita Suchak. "So she walks 7 km every day to keep fit." The rewards more than justify the hard labour. "She loves the peace she finds there."
Valley of Flowers trek from August 22-28 in Uttarakhand by WoW. 8-day Nepal adventure in October with treks, river rafting and paragliding. Visit www.wowsumitra.com. For activities by the Women Adventure Network, email email@example.com