From the first woman amputee to scale Mt Everest to a shutterbug quietly documenting the hidden lives of rural women in India, we celebrate the women who have inspired team Traveldine ahead of Women’s Day 2021.
In April 2011, Arunima Sinha suffered serious leg and pelvic injuries after being thrown out of a train while resisting a group of thugs. Doctors amputated one of her legs below the knee and fitted her with a prosthetic one. While recovering at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, Sinha says she “decided in my hospital bed to take on something that would be tough for me to do.” She signed up for a basic mountaineering course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering and in 2011, under the eye of Bachendri Pal, she defied all odds and naysayers to become the first female amputee to scale Mt Everest. Sinha nearly didn’t make it back down the mountain. She ran out of oxygen as she reached the summit, but luck was on her side that day and she came across an extra oxygen cylinder that enabled her to descend. Since then, Sinha has gone on to scale Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa, Mt Elbrus in Europe and Mt Vinson, the highest peak in Antarctica. The former national-level volleyball player now resides in Lucknow where she is working on opening a sports academy for the poor and disabled.
At 23, Shivya Nath quit her corporate job, sold most of her possessions and began her journey as a “digital nomad”. Eight years later, what began as an experiment has now turned into a lifestyle that has taken her around the world, from remote Himalayan villages to the Central American country of Nicaragua. Nath is a vocal advocate for sustainable, slow travel, choosing to immerse herself in local culture, eating what grows in the region and minimising her environmental impact by taking public transport and avoiding single-use plastics.
“I realised that following the crowds is really not my idea of travel. As someone who’s on the road, I can define what works for me. So I started seeking out lesser-known destinations that are away from the tourist circuit where I can connect with locals and really experience what their life is like,” she says in a 2016 TED Talk. Nath shares her stories on her popular travel blog, The Shooting Star, and contributes to several publications as a writer. When the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to her travel plans for 2020, she founded Voices of Rural India, a digital platform that documents stories from rural India.
A self-taught photographer from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, Deepti Asthana quit her IT job in 2017 to document gender issues and human rights in India. Her flagship project, Women of India, spotlights the lives of rural women in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and other regions. “A lot of assumptions are made about people who live in the villages here, because often those of us from the city think that their lives must be completely carefree, surrounded by all that nature, but the reality is not that at all,” she says.
Asthana’s photos carry an almost luminous quality about them, drawing the viewer in and establishing an intimate connection with their subject. Her work has been featured in leading publications and exhibited across India, Singapore and Canada. In 2020, she was awarded a grant by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration for her project that documents women’s contributions to wildlife and conservation in India.
Nayantara Jain earned a PADI Open Water certification in the Maldives at 17. A few years later, a family holiday at Havelock Island in the Andamans paved the way towards her current career as a marine biologist and conservationist. Her work as a diving instructor took her across the Andamans, Lakshadweep islands, Maldives and the Galapagos after which she decided to earn her masters in marine biology and conservation from the SCRIPSS Institute of Oceanography.
Jain is now a part of ReefWatch, a non-profit set up by Lacadives founders Pralhad and Mitali Kakkar in 1993. The organisation focuses on educating locals and tourists about ocean conservation as well as rehabilitating reefs in the Andamans. If you’re curious what a day in the life of a marine biologist is like, head to her Instagram page where she documents her ocean adventures.
Radhika Iyer Talati
Two separate cancer diagnoses in 2004 and 2009 prompted this entrepreneur and mother of three to re-evaluate her lifestyle. In search of natural alternatives to radiation and other procedures, Talati headed to the Himalayas for nearly five months where she also fell in love with mountaineering. Since then, she has been keen to share her newfound interest with her children. She and her eldest daughter Goutami climbed some of the Panch Kailash mountains together but in 2014 she set her sights on Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Talati decided to include all three kids, aged 11, 14 and 17) on the expedition. The journey scaling 18.885 ft was tough, especially on her youngest who began experiencing altitude sickness, an increased heart rate, nausea and exhaustion at 15,000 ft. Despite challenges, the family made it unscathed. Today, Talati continues the tradition having scaled the Panch Kailash mountains with a trek to Mt Aconcagua in Argentina on the cards. “I think the trick lies in accepting whatever is around you, taking things in your stride, putting your best foot forward and, of course, working very hard,” she says.