(Last Updated On: January 8, 2013)

As part of our series of interviews with adventure freaks, our first interviewee  is Neha Kulkarni who is a self confessed adrenaline junkie – an explorer, an avid trekker and a rock climber and also happens to be an IT professional at one of the MNC’s in Gurgaon. Stay tuned to know more how she manages to keep her passion for outdoors alive while doing a full time job. A must read for those who complain about lack of time for outdoors !!

Many people claim that they can’t go outdoors because they don’t have time, how do you manage to take your time and pursue your passion? What’s ur msg to them?

There are two aspects to finding time to do what you love doing most. One is that where there’s a will, there’s always a way to fit in hobbies/interests/passions. The other aspect is that to gain something, you generally have to lose something too. Prioritization is the key.

I have been having weekends free as part of college schedule and now that I am doing a job, its fortunately the same. So most of my weekends are spent on rock climbing practise, trekking or travelling. What I would typically do is to spend at least some time on keeping myself fit on weekdays, either before or after office hours. Weekends are for venturing out and actually doing things. Sometimes its rock climbing, sometimes its a hike, sometimes its a photo shoot and sometimes its a leisure tour of some touristy spot in and around where I live. All this generally translates to having less time to rest/sleep during holidays, go for shopping, visit hometown or just have a nice time lazing around. Its hectic but its alright. I would rather have it that way and take a break once in a while than not utilizing the weekends because otherwise there’s not sufficient time.

I would like to say that if you have 10 things in your plate, it would be alright to leave out a few things out of them and prioritizing & planning the remaining ones will do the trick. Sometimes this constant activity and planning can seem tiring but its all the more rewarding for the same.

How did it all start?

I have been extremely lucky in having a sports and adventure loving couple as my parents. When I was a kid, they put me under coaching for gymnastics and swimming. So my love for physical activity has roots in there and I kept pursuing those sports till almost I was 13 years old. Trying to keep fit and indulging in games has become an inseparable part of my life.

Treks started out as a family activity to be done is summer school vacations every year. I got exposed to Himalayan ranges when I was 10 years old and since then, there’s never been a year when I have not returned to the mountains. The first 7 out of these 13 years have been trekking trips with my parents and like minded family friends. That’s where and when I picked up my passion. My father taught and encouraged me to climb rocks and cultivated in me, love for all things adventurous and outdoorsy. My mother also happens to be an avid trekker and loves to travel. She has always strongly supported & guided my passion for outdoors. I can’t imagine how it could have started for me had I not had enthusiastic and supportive parents.

How many treks/expeditions have you been to, which ones are your favorite?

I have been on 9 Himalayan treks and multiple hikes to hill forts in Sahyadri. Some of the Himalayan treks were in Uttarakhand, some in Himachal Pradesh and one was Ladakh. All of them were mid to high altitude treks. Apart from these treks, I have also completed Basic & Advance mountaineering courses from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. Each of these courses were a month long and have given me life time experiences and friends. Weekend hikes in Sahyadri are also an inseparable part of my trekking experience and I feel lucky to have based in Pune for 4 years. The mountains are different from the Himalayas and offer a different set of challenges and scenic beauties.

Most interesting among my treks till now has been reaching the summit of Stok Kangri, which is 6153m high.

But my favourite trek is Lingti Valley trek, which I went for last year. Its a remote valley in Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh and it turned out to be the toughest and most adventurous thing I have done till now. I had tagged along with a friend who was going in the valley for wildlife survey. The terrain was most demanding and almost untouched by even trekkers. It was an arduous trek but offered me the rarest sights and experiences. I could also live in Kibber, a high altitude village in Spiti, for a week and made some very good local friends. It was very different from all my previous treks in the sense that I wasn’t going with any trekking club/group. The entire 12-13 days that we spent in the valley, it was just me, my friend, out local support team of 5 people and our donkeys. We walked up and down the hill all the time, crossed rivers using ropes, passed herds of yaks that were roaming on their own, came across snow leopard pug marks and scat samples, watched mountain goats grazing the hills and set camps at places where very few people in the world have gone.

Do you have any road map in vision, Like Kilimanjaro in 2013, Mt. Everest in 2016?

I have always wanted to climb up lofty Himalayan peaks. I grew up with dreams of climbing mountains like K2, Gasherburm and Makalu. The oxygen depleting altitude and the difficulty of climbing these peaks have always enchanted me.

These are really ambitious plans as it requires a very high level of capability as also a lot of planning and investment; but each new trek/expedition is a step towards those dreams. I am going for Hanuman Tibba expedition next month. Its a good peak for someone wanting to do a transition from trekking to mountaineering and technical climbing. I am treating it as my stepping stone towards the bigger picture.

Give us a short description as to how do you prepare for an expedition trip?

I have not been on a big mountaineering expedition yet and Hanuman tibba will be my first. For that expedition and also for Spiti & stok kangri trek last year, I relied on a combination of running(for cardio), gymming(for upper body) and hill climbing(for getting used to walking uphill with load on the back). Also, when actually in the mountains, one has to pay close attention to how the body is behaving and whether or not it is acclimatizing to the altitude. Having previous experience in the mountains will always help one in recognizing correctly how the body is acting up.

How do you react to people when they say “Computer Engineer + Girl + Avid Trekker”?

Its really good to hear when people appreciate the fact that I am pursuing my hobby despite being a girl. I have heard people talking about being a girl and always being outdoors as spoken of in a bad as well as good way. Fortunately, the number of good ways has been much higher!

To be frank, I have met good people at all the times I have been in the remote mountains with all-men groups and I have only praises to offer. Also, nowadays its not too difficult to find female company who have similar interests. As long as one keeps a sharp and alert judgement, problems will not crop up.

As for being a computer engineer, I have realized that IT professionals are the highest in numbers among those who indulge in adventure sports! It allows to you to have a lifestyle where you can give enough time for things you feel passionate about. People only talk about how sedentary a computer/IT engineer’s life is; but letting a sedentary lifestyle creep into you is something that one chooses to do. Its not a compulsion.

Explain the feeling when you reach the summit of a mountain?

First and foremost, there’s a great relief in knowing that the strenuous uphill climb is over. Once I get past that feeling, I have always tried to feel excited about reaching the top. But somehow, that excitement has never really come to me till now. I feel anxious as well as exhilarated just before the end of the upward climb, a few steps before I land on the summit. Once up there, there’s a great view to enjoy and generally a treacherous climb down the mountain waiting for you. The excitement of summitting seeps into me only when I am safely back at the base.

Narrate any specific/interesting incident that happened on any of your trekking expedition.

Last July when I was on Lingti valley trek and was walking the last one kilometer towards our campsite for the day, I was quite puzzled by the weird sounds birds(snow cocks) around me were making. Wondering about what they were warning about, I reached the camp only to be informed by others who had reached before me that a Himalayan wolf had been sitting in the grass, just beside our tents, only a few minutes ago!! It had run away after being discovered by my friends but not before letting them click a beautiful picture of itself.

What are your views on Indian outdoor industry?

I think Indian outdoor industry has really begun to take a good shape since last few years. Its really good to see travel/adventure/outdoor companies giving out a wide array of options to all kinds of travelers. I have seen a great increase in the number of groups and organisations who offer packages designed for hard core adventure and thereby enable people who want to take up these activities to try and get involved in them. Its a liberating experience not to have to depend on limited options or contacts as was the case some years back. Now if you have the will, you can pursue anything.

Although it’s a very good thing that organized travel is on the rise and anybody who is interested can simply sign up and take the activity up, it is also translating into a higher number of footfalls in formerly inaccessible scenic locations. These places easily fall prey to commercialization and become garbage and plastic laden if large groups are not careful in keeping the environment and ecology intact.

We, at Thrillophilia, wish Neha all the best in her life and wish she keeps her passion for outdoors intact and probably inspire others to try adventure more often. For those who would like to follow Neha’s excursions can check out http://wondersandwanders.wordpress.com/ , where she unplugs her love for adventure 🙂