Monday, April 2, 2012

This is one of my published works. The article got published in December 2012 issue of Yuva magazine.

True Grit
By Tanusree Chakraborty

Would you contemplate skiing 350 miles, braving sub-zero temperatures across the Greenlandic ice cap instead of heading for sun-baked Goa? Deeya Bajaj did just that. She skipped the mall and movie plans like most her age and participated in an arduous cross-country skiing expedition held in Greenland earlier this year. At 17, she is one of the youngest skiers’ to have skied across Greenland, braving temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius, also making it one of her toughest expeditions.

Her main aim to participate in the expedition was to put forth the issue of the girl child. Her parents are patrons of a children’s home in Haridwar for children of leprosy patients. These children are shunned by society and, sometimes their parents, because of the social stigma attached to the disease. “This home, run by Divya Prem Sewa Mission, provided shelter for boys and I initiated the idea of starting a girls’ wing at the home,” says Deeya. People pledged money for every kilometre that Deeya skied and she raised R3 lakh for the girls’ wing.

The Mission agreed to use their present infrastructure and to initially bring in 12 girls, who were siblings of the resident boys. “The award I felt recognised this effort and I am glad I was able to do my bit for the cause,” she adds.
Talking to Yuva of her experience, she says, “I feel I am more confident taking on challenges now.  The tough conditions and the white out blizzards had me dipping into my physical and mental strength reserves to ensure that I didn’t give up. Being the youngest in the expedition team, I could have slowed down the team and they would have understood, but I didn’t want to be the weak link.”

Running West to East across the Greenlandic ice cap, the Trans Greenland Ski Expedition is one of the expeditions in the Polar Trilogy, which also includes skiing to the North Pole and the South Pole. Following the line of the Arctic Circle between Kangerlussuaq on the West Coast and Isortoq on the East coast, the Trans Greenland Ski Expedition entails a full crossing of Greenland, from coast to coast.

The 19-day expedition entailed handling unpredictable weather conditions, continuous blizzards and high altitude. “We proudly unfurled the national flag on 31 May, 2011, on successfully completing the expedition,” says Deeya.
Though a part of the Arctic, the interior of Greenland closely resembles the interior of Antarctica, with unbroken snow as far as the eye can see. She started the expedition in Kangerlussuaq, on the west coast of Greenland and skied almost 550 kilometres to Isertoq, on the east coast via the celebrated Dye II station.
This girl from Delhi also received the Aspire -TIE Young Achievers Award earlier this year. Introduced to skiing at a very early age by her father Ajeet Bajaj, the first Indian to ski to the North and South Pole, we can say that skiing is in her DNA. Adventurous at heart, she has participated in activities like trekking, kayaking, rafting, scuba diving and zip lining, to name a few.

She went skiing for the first time in Auli when she was just eight, “My inspiration for this facet of my life is definitely my father. He has numerous accomplishments under his belt and I have always wanted to follow his footsteps,” says Deeya. Her mother is her guiding light as far as her values are concerned. “She encouraged me to utilise my passion for the outdoors to give something back to society,” she adds.

 “One of the biggest challenges I feel was the cold. At no point, were we comfortable. All actions had to be deliberate and thought out and I couldn’t be absent minded at any point of time. When out of the tent, I had to keep moving otherwise my fingers would freeze,” she says. Another big challenge was the wind. Sometimes it would get to 30kmph and while skiing it would actually knock her down if she was skiing in the opposite direction.
During the expedition, the team which included Deeya's father Ajeet Bajaj, Keith Heager (team leader), 63-year-old Tony, Koen and Lieve, a Belgian couple, Salo and Ulrich their mushers, not to forget the 28 Huskies (who carried all their equipment on a sled) skied around 550km over 19 days, skiing an average of 30km per day. “It was tiring skiing for eight hours every day and at the start of the expedition I remember being extremely tired, but after a few days I got used to it,” says Deeya.

This 12 grade student of Shri Ram School, Delhi, also enjoys baking, reading and listening to music. She is also a national level swimmer, has a black belt in Taekwondo, and is a PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) certified advance open water diver. Deeya has been kayaking since she was 11 and has kayaked on the many rapids of river Ganga. Her future plans are to pursue Environmental Studies in America.

Her message is simple, “If you have a positive attitude, then you can do anything,” and with wisdom beyond her years, says “We are from privileged families and it is up to us to not take that for granted and to try and make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.”

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