Mountain Madness

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Devoted mother, doting wife and avid adventurer aren’t often seen in the same sentence, but that’s precisely what Preetha Gopinath is. She speaks to Farah Baig about her love for travel, breaking stereotypes and her journey as a mountain climber.

Preetha’s stunning imagery of her adventures across the world have garnered her a following of over 24,000 and features on Lonely Planet and BBC World Service. The avid explorer has visited moe than 26 countries, but what truly sets her apart from the rest is her love for mountaineering.

“I was raised in UAE and make it a point to go on a reunion trip with my childhood friends every two years. In 2018, we decided to visit Bhutan and go on a trek to the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery which is where I’d say my mountain madness kicked in,” she says.

At the time, Preetha would take pictures with an iPhone and GoPro and it is her picture of the monastery that was featured by BBC. “It was there that my perspective of mountains changed and my interest for photography grew.”

Following the eye-opening trip, Preetha went on a 10-day expedition to Kashmir’s Great Lakes along with her husband, Deepak, and the guidance of a professional company. While the location was spectacularly beautiful, the experience proved to be one that was … traumatic. “We had to live in outdoor camps with absolutely no luxuries, not even a bathroom or phone network. You are 100 percent out of your comfort zone and it was the first time I got a feel for that sort of environment,” she says.

She recounts a particularly dreadful experience when she thought she’d perish. “We had started trekking at 9am that day and ended up at camp by 8pm, but in between it had rained in what was already a cold environment. To make matters a lot worse, when we were walking on thin ice, it broke and my feet went straight into the icy cold glacial water. I was scared and I thought to myself that I would never do this again,” she says.

“Despite the freezing cold and discomfort, you have to keep going. I felt a lot like Leonardo Di Caprio in the movie The Revenant. The only thing missing was the bear!” she says with contagious laughter.

However, the call of the mountains was far too strong for Preetha. “I think that trauma lasted all of three months and then I thought ‘Let’s do this again’, and started training,” she says, adding that her experience at the Great Lakes opened her eyes to a few of her shortcomings.

“I had to really push my body and it made me realise that I never had the right gear in terms of clothing and hadn’t trained right,” she says. “I realised that for mountain climbing, endurance training, not core or strength training, is the focus. This is of course apart from the psychological aspect and need for mental grit.”

Following intensive training over the course of six months and a trip to Iceland to acclimatise her to extreme cold weather, Preetha attempted her next big feat at 39 years old – climbing up to Everest Base Camp. “Surprisingly, I did not cry as I’d initially expected!” she says.

“I love the mountainous way of life. It’s raw and you get to explore your emotions and who you really are. I also have to mention that I’m really blessed to have a supportive spouse like Deepak who understands and nurtures my need for adventure despite society’s comments and expectations of women.”

Despite her amazing achievements, Preetha isn’t done yet. Next stop – Kilimanjaro!
Keep up with Preetha’s travels by following @travelpraylove16 on Instagram.

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