International Women's Day: Women lead the way by organising treks for all age groups including the disabled

International Women's Day: Women lead the way by organising treks for all age groups including the disabled

Bohemian Adventures (BA) strives to turn their venture into an inclusive one

Rajlakshmi IyengarUpdated: Tuesday, March 07, 2023, 10:15 PM IST
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Sashi Bahuguna with the Mount Everest at the backdrop |

Adventure should be part of everyone’s life. It is the whole difference between being fully alive and just existing. Bohemian Adventures (BA) not just lives this nugget of wisdom, but also strives to turn their ventures into an inclusive one.

The 2013 Uttarakhand flood rescue operations and an affinity for the mountains brought together Mumbai girl Anusha Subramanian – a former business journalist, Doon native Sashi Bahuguna – an ex-banker and Rudrapur resident Guneet Puri – an erstwhile publishing editor to join hands and start Bohemian Adventures, an adventure outfit nine years ago, with the prime purpose of doing inclusive treks. The three crossed paths while on expeditions in the Himalayan region.

BA organizes and executes treks for women, children, senior citizens and most importantly, the disabled which is their niche. “No one talks about this, we are doing this on a regular basis,” says city slicker Anusha, a champion for inclusive trekking who was on ground zero during the rescue and rehabilitation of the victims of 2013 Uttarakhand floods. She and Guneet had the opportunity to rub shoulders with India’s first woman Mount Everest summiteer Bachendri Pal while setting up relief camps.

Bohemian Adventures founders —Anusha, Guneet and Shashi

Bohemian Adventures founders —Anusha, Guneet and Shashi |

Thereafter, while on a climb for a cause in September 2013, the duo met Shashi and found that they vibed well. Interestingly Shashi, who like Guneet and Anusha does high altitude trekking and mountaineering, took to the sport only after she got married. Practising Ashtang Yoga for the past three years, Shashi ensures she includes a few Yoga routines when she leads a team on a trek or an expedition. Entertaining her clients with a soothing session of flute, BA has discovered that she is a great hit with senior citizens as well as children. That is perhaps the reason why many senior citizens find it comfortable to go with them and many single women keep coming back to them as they feel secure with the idea that it is a company run wholly by women.

While not outdoors, Shashi conducts Yoga classes in her free time. A very organic person, Shashi takes umbrage to people advising her to colour her hair for a youthful look which is a socially accepted norm, or when someone advises her to slow down as her trekking expeditions could have an adverse effect on her body with advancing age. “I can’t stand it when people decide what I should or shouldn’t do! Thankfully, my family has always stood by me,” she says.

Anusha with visually-challenged Sanket during a 
50-km trail challenge

Anusha with visually-challenged Sanket during a 50-km trail challenge |

From mountain peaks to scuba diving, Shashi keeps herself busy, hardly sparing time to let idle or negative thoughts invade her mind. That skiing is another sport all three BA women enjoy, just goes on to show how much they are all in sync with each other.

Guneet is currently recovering from a surgery to rectify a meniscus and ACL tear she suffered while on a skiing jaunt. When she is not scaling mountains, Guneet is quite at home with baking and knitting. “Her personality is totally different, she cooks, bakes and knits with as much ease as she does carpentry, plumbing or car repairing,” says Anusha.

“We have to be hands-on car mechanics as we often drive on mountainous terrains ourselves,” says Guneet who keeps shuttling between Dehradun and Rudrapur.

Running an all-woman adventure company catering to an inclusive clientele has been quite an uphill task for them as they are still not taken seriously in the mountaineering industry. “Why, even my mother reacted with a ‘Itna padh likh ke dotiyal (a porter in pahadi parlance) hi banna hai?’ when I told her of my intention,” laughs Guneet.

Anusha Subramanian with a child

Anusha Subramanian with a child |

“People, especially trekking tour operators, brush us off as hobbyists; they are not willing to acknowledge that we are in it for a serious haul. Trekking groups refer clients to each other, but keep us out of the loop,” says Shashi.

‘The girls are capable of giving the trekking operators a run for their money. Shashi and Guneet are excellent mountain terrain drivers, adept at handling a tool kit while tending to vehicle breakdowns as easily as wielding a ladle in the kitchen or “kadhaai and bunaai”,’ smiles Anusha.

BA has worked hard to burst the belief that organizing and handling mountaineering treks is a male bastion. “Many women in their 40s and 50s who had dedicated their lives to rearing their children now out on their own, want to challenge their own adventure spirits. Likewise, senior citizens who refuse to let their adventurous spirit lie, why should they be left behind? While on treks, we familiarize them with our culture, folklore, we take pride in the richness of our traditions and folklore,” says Guneet, the youngest of the trio who is also the number cruncher.

Base camp during a trek

Base camp during a trek |

With an impressive 3:1 client-guide ratio, the trio go all out to make high altitude treks safer and enjoyable for women or senior citizens who have never ventured out of their comfort zone. Right from five year old children to 80 year old gentlemen, the BA lets them cut their teeth on easier trails initially. They assess their age, agility, fitness and disability if any and guide them accordingly on doable treks handling them literally with “kids’ glove”.

Though they ensure that the health history of such untrained and impulsive climbers is checked and documented before moving ahead, the BA have faced issues like people experiencing a sudden drop in oxygen levels, suffering from altitude problems, insulin imbalance and the likes. Such cases are evacuated swiftly in copters despite their objections.

Assisting unconventional climbers to pander to their adventure bug comes with its own set of worries, though BA insists that the aspirants record their health history, there are still those who either don’t come clean regarding health issues or are unaware of underlying conditions which get aggravated while they are on an expedition or a trek. “Some women face severe oxygen drop. Problems due to high altitude can affect anyone. Once a diabetic on insulin, who hid his condition from us, faced problems. In times like these, we brook no arguments and call copters or other means of evacuation despite their objections,” Shashi recalls.

Guneet Puri with trekkers

Guneet Puri with trekkers |

“We have to keep a constant check on the health of people and how they react to different conditions right from the beginning. We tell them to alert us immediately if they face any reaction they are unfamiliar with,” says Anusha, herself an asthmatic.

“We have taken on a trek to the Valley of Flowers, a Parkinson’s patient, kept him under constant observation for any discomfort. Though he was hassled by the narrow path and the crowd, he managed to go up to the penultimate leg of the trek,” says Anusha.

Adventure tourism has caught up, but Guneet feels many small details are overlooked. Anusha, an asthmatic herself, explored with other operators to figure out the nitty-gritties. BA doesn’t operate on volume, on high altitude treks they take no more than 10 individuals. Each episode serves as a learning curve for the girls. While BA strives to provide a wholesome experience, and their services may come across as premium, “some say we are costly, but we do not compromise,” says Anusha. “You pay for safety, adventure is free,” Shashi adds.

Anusha and Shashi at Everest Base Camp after leading a BBC documentary crew and participants

Anusha and Shashi at Everest Base Camp after leading a BBC documentary crew and participants |

They still have repeat clients who often come up with suggestions which help them in improvising. Then there are those who just want to strike another item off their bucket list, says Shashi.

Grappling with all these, there is also the looming threat of the unknown, natural disasters like forest fires or the recent land subsidence at Joshimath. “There is no choice but to call off or arrange for an alternate venue,” says Guneet.

When it seemed that the BA had just established itself and the sailing was smooth, the pandemic put brakes on their onward march. “We sustained,” says Anusha who along with Shashi, led a BBC media reality show in 2017 for National Geographic which hired them as adventure partners, and helped 40 people to complete the Everest base camp.

Their freelance guides, most of them pahadi girls too, are properly trained. In fact, the trio sponsors the girls to complete a certificate course in mountaineering to act as guides, adding their mite to the local economy. These certified guides initially start as helpers to cooks. Some of them are sharp enough, reliable and show promise of growing up to become great guides or trekking enthusiasts. So far, all the girls who have been sponsored now lead treks for BA.

BA’s website has a very catchy tag line -  “Those who dream, discover”, Anusha, Shashi and Guneet dared to dream and discovered that the only way to go when you are down is up.

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