If you are a trekker, and are looking to take up the hobby more seriously, you’ve probably read up about Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, or the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. In the course of your reading, you’ve also probably wondered at the level of fitness and skill it takes to take up this extreme sport as a hobby, not to mention as a profession!
Well, Ishani Sawant, aged 23, has chosen this particular path as her career. Not an easy path by any means, Ishani says that she chose it because once she’d seen the might, the grandeur and the vastness of the Himalayas, she knew that there was no other thing she’d rather do. Even to get started wasn’t easy, but Ishani persisted.
“My mother has always been a tremendous support. She used to pay for all gear and trips. Coming from a middle class family, this was huge amount which others may not be able to afford. So I am thankful to her for life”
Mind you, she made this decision at the age of 13! Over the last 10 years, she gradually pushed herself into taking on the most extreme challenges, and eventually turned what was a hobby, into her career.
Ishani’s career as a mountaineer has always been superlative. For example, she graduated with A grades in both the basic and advanced mountaineering courses in not one, but two of India’s top mountaineering schools – HMI and NIM. In 2014, she scaled the Stok Kangri Peak in Ladakh in a record 2 days (alpine style). However, she says that these accolades are not as important as being happy… and climbing makes her happy! They do, however, help bolster her career as an adventurer, though taking it up as a profession comes with its own set of challenges.
“Mountaineering”, she says, “is very different as a hobby and a profession. The risks you take on, the decisions you can take – whether to add a challenge, or extend your climb – is all on you, when you do it for recreation. But when you do it as a profession, you’ve to become an administrator. You’ve to maintain the quality of food, equipment etc. It’s very different”
Apart from the physical and technical aspects of the sport, she also faced 2 additional challenges in that she was one of the few females in a male dominated arena, and that she (and others like her) needs a fair amount of funding in order to equip herself for some of the world’s record breaking climbs. However, she says that mountaineering teaches you important life lessons, enough to make it completely worth the while even for someone who is only looking to do it once.
“Mountaineering teaches you values such as team work, sharing, caring, communications etc. It is an invaluable experience”
If all this wasn’t enough, Ishani actually graduated as a lawyer. She’s also done a further diploma in Forensic law, another niche field. When she decided to change paths and make mountaineering her life, she faced stiff opposition from everyone around her. She kept hearing that there was no money in adventure, that it would be hard for a girl to be taken seriously in this arena etc. 3 years later, she admits that while she would appreciate a more constant infusion of funds, the actual profession is picking up since the sport is developing in India, and there is a call for experts. In this light, she even teaches Naval cadets, teaching courses at the NDA!
We asked Ishani what the sport needed in India, and predictably, a lack of funds for serious mountaineers is the answer. There are plenty of people out there who have the skill, and will, to take on the mountains, but they don’t have the money or equipment to do so regularly. Ishani claims that her background, and support system actually makes her comfortable in the industry, whereas there are others who aren’t as lucky. She believes that the industry should work towards the model of many developed countries – like the United States – where corporate sponsorships are available to athletes, or where trusts have been established by mountaineer’s families to further boost the sport. She herself wishes to give back by establishing something similar.
Ishani muses “I am actually planning to start a Trust or a Foundation in future for Mountain Athletes where they will be assured of remuneration. Their work will be to explore, to climb new mountains, to train themselves in outdoor climbing skills, to just climb! The only thing stopping them right now is money. Talent, we have. So that’s the plan.”
It is rare to meet someone who is close to the top of their profession and yet expresses such humility. Ishani’s endeavor to ‘give back’ to the profession that has given her so much is creditable, and a lesson to many of us.
It’s this quality and promise that Ishani carries with her that we at Outdoor Travel Gear like and admire. We hope Ishani powers ahead to make her dreams come true, and we hope she continues to climb with everything she’s got!