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As A Professional Mountain Climber, I’m Judged For ‘Travelling Alone, Without My Husband’!

A working woman is now an acceptable concept, but a woman working in the outdoor industry and travelling full time is not even a notion. A professional mountain climber's personal account.

A working woman is now an acceptable concept, but a woman working in the outdoor industry and travelling full time is not even a notion. A professional mountain climber’s personal account.

A soothing breeze is withering the sweat on my face. I am trying to catch my breath after the long and continuous summit hike. The gleaming snow on the slopes hurt my eyes. I can’t get enough of the remarkable peaks standing right in front of me.

“Happy New Year Ma’am,” a trekker of my group wishes me. Right, it’s 1st January 2019 and I am on the snow-crowned mountaintop. New Year’s I always dreamt off, I thought. Peace.

Diverse paths, but together always

Although the thought of missing my newlywed husband made me regretful. I knew he was living his dream too, climbing in Hampi. I knew he was happy too.

On the day we got married we knew our life would be spent together, holding hands. The only difference was that we would be walking on different paths, running parallel and adjacent everywhere.

Wedding Picture from 2nd July 2018

We have diverse paths because we don’t aspire for the same goals. While I climb big mountains, he endeavours to be an excellent rock climber. For a common man, they seem equivalent; they are not. Both our ambitions belong to contrasting fields, only the term ‘adventure sports’ conjoin them.

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“He has no problem if you are travelling alone?”

After hiking for two more days, we are getting closer to the habitats. I didn’t want the last few miles of the trek to end. As I march at the end of the group with the slow-walkers, I see three women locals hauling tonnes of wood and leaves on their back. I pace towards them for a picture.

Village locals

After a perfect click, we get to talking. 5-10 minutes into the conversation they ask me if I am married.

“Yes, 6 months ago. His name is Deepak Pawar,” I blush.

“Wow, so your husband is also guiding this trek with you?” one of them inquires of me. I am surprised by their assumption that my husband is with me. “No, he is in Karnataka for work,” I reply.

I heed a change in their expressions. “He has no problem if you are travelling alone?”, “You stay far from him, why?”, “How come your in-laws allow you?” “I would never leave my husband and kids!” And the judgement starts.

I roll my eyes in my head and repeat the sentences I had been saying to people since I started trekking after marriage.

Yes, my husband has no problem with me travelling alone. Because he is a MAN. He respects my choices, he supports my dreams, he loves me and he wants me to be as strong as him, by letting me be ME!

I stay far from my husband because I respect and love myself too. I don’t want my husband’s life to be mine. I have my own dreams, and I want to live my life my way. I believe I will achieve my goals with my husband on the side, supporting me.

My in-laws ‘allow’ me because they respect and love me too. They want me to be happy.

Well, if you don’t want to leave your husband and travel, that is your choice, not mine. Despite living in the mountains for over 30 years the women I met haven’t even been to the mountaintop I just came from. Or even been to Kedarnath (a world-famous Shiva shrine, one of the Char Dhams) next to their hometown and they say they are a true devotee.

If I don’t judge you why are you judging me?

Never-ending societal judgements

Fast forward two years, and I still need to explain these things to people judging me similarly every now and then.

My mom always said, “Once you get married you can travel as much as you can. People won’t ask questions after you have a husband.” This was a problem, because I was then a young unmarried woman travelling alone. Being a wife, I don’t think people are any more Ok with my travelling alone, in fact, the judgement levels have gone up because I am somehow ‘depriving him’ and not staying in his shadow.

A big family gathering on a cold November evening. All our relatives are together to celebrate the retirement of an uncle. I don’t enjoy such family-functions. To be honest, my saviour speech doesn’t work in front of my relatives.

“Where were you last month, we invited you to our girl’s fifth birthday?” a lady asks me as I try to remember her. “I went to Leh for work.”

I still can’t figure out who she was, so I try to be short. “Hmm, Leh! What work do you do? Deepak told me you write on the Himalayas something…?” the lady asks. I am relieved somebody really knows my profession. I smile, “Yes, I work as Content Manager for a trekking company. I explore and create articles on the treks. My company assigns me on these hikes. That is why I went to Leh for a new trek to research it.”

With some distaste on her face she says, “Why can’t you find a job here? You are so educated. I care for you so I am telling you. If you travel like this without him, he will leave you and find another girl.” My heart skips a beat. My face turns pale. I nod my head and walk off.

Me in Markha Valley, the trek I researched in Leh

“With your husband” clause

For the rest of the evening, I keep thinking if I am doing something wrong. I think of moments when I miss Deepak terribly on the treks. I start questioning, “Is it really worth it?”

Thinking of Deepak with me in the mountains makes me happy. But, I also know he doesn’t like trekking, I can’t force him to be with me all the time. On the other hand, the idea of leaving my job makes me depressed. Then I realize Deepak is not present for this family event. He is doing his job as Climbing Coach in Orissa. Why hasn’t anybody challenged his career choice? Is this bias only because I am a married woman and I don’t fit in the boundary of a ‘wife’?

A ‘wife’ is expected to support his husband if he travels for work as he earns the bread and butter. Why can’t a husband support his wife’s travelling profession if she also brings home the money? In this turmoil, I remembered what my mom had actually said, “You can roam the world with your husband and nobody will say anything.” The catch was “with your husband”. Being a rebellious daughter, a rebellious woman, I am again doing the opposite of what society asks me to do.

Deepak and me in Leh

Time for women to stand up for women

Deepak always insists that I ignore such cruel comments. He believes that if we both understand each other, nothing else matters. I know that is true. Sometimes, the nastiness gets to my mind. The irony is that I get such hatred mainly from women. I wonder, is it because I am able to do what they think of doing? Are they jealous of me?

There is no answer. What I can do is rise above it.

A dream for a post lockdown world

Post-lockdown after staying home for the longest, numerous family meets, indirect taunts and missing mountains, I know what I really want. I feel even more motivated to climb higher and higher.

I have learnt to admire the sense of humour of these people, so useful in the taunts they send my way. I also understand that it is not their fault. They have never seen a travelling-working wife before, it is an unheard of thing for them. But they will get used to it in coming years. Probably some are jealous of me as the world was mean to them. Their husbands never allowed them to be themselves. Some believe they are protecting their culture by prejudices against women.

A working woman is nowadays an acceptable concept, but a woman working in the outdoor industry and travelling full time is not even a notion. In this new age where #StrongWomen is becoming a trend, it is important that women stand for women. Only then we will have double strength.

I imagine a world where women of all generations and religions stand together on the zenith of a peak, unfurling the flag of womanhood. A world where nobody mocks a woman, but respects her for being a WOMAN.

First published here.

Images courtesy: the author

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About the Author

Nutan

Nutan Shinde-Pawar grew up in a conservative family with no exposure to outdoors or adventure activities. She was working as a Software Engineer when she discovered her love for the outdoors. After completing a read more...

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