This girl is as wonderfully surprising as her dreams. And immensely inspiring too. How difficult is it to opt for mountaineering expeditions for a Kashmiri girl? I ask Fouzia and she is already ready with an answer. “It is difficult to find acceptance in our society for what I want to do. But qualifying the advance level course will give me an edge. That’ll be something to shut the critics up,” Fouzia tells me with an air of confidence that belies her age of 24 years
I don’t really think there is anything you can write about me.” Now how do you describe someone who says that when you know the person already has several feathers tucked away in the cap? Humble, I suppose.
I recently caught up with Fouzia Bhat whom I would describe as a soft spoken, but a tough mountain girl. Don’t get me wrong. Fouzia is a genuine mountain girl. She has been climbing imposing mountain peaks and trekking tortuous routes in Kashmir and outside for some time now. Her dreams are already flying high as she aspires to conquer new heights. And that too, literally. Even the Everest is in her plan diary.
Come June, Fouzia plans to climb a peak at 58,000 metre altitude. “May be I’ll go even higher. Insha Allah, if I complete my advance level with A grade then I’ll go for Kolahoi, Harmukh, Pinnacle, Nun Kun and other famous peaks of J&K,” Fouzia tells me this with such ease as if climbing these mountains is like taking a morning stroll in your lawn.
Fouzia has done several treks at 4000m. Her highest till date has been 5300 in the Garhwal mountains of Uttarakhand previous June. “That was when I was at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi for a basic mountaineering course where I got grade A,” says Fouzia. She plans to go for an advanced mountaineering course in June this year.
Fouzia’s dovish looks hardly give you any hint of the toughness and resolve you need for scaling such difficult summits. Her calm composure is a sharp contrast to the rugged, raw and risky terrains she treks.
This girl is as wonderfully surprising as her dreams. And immensely inspiring too. How difficult is it to opt for mountaineering expeditions for a Kashmiri girl? I ask Fouzia and she is already ready with an answer. “It is difficult to find acceptance in our society for what I want to do. But qualifying the advance level course will give me an edge. That’ll be something to shut the critics up,” Fouzia tells me with an air of confidence that belies her age of 24 years.
Fouzia, who hails from Srinagar, did her schooling from R P School Malla Bagh. She is currently doing her Master’s in Tourism Management. Most girls want to be doctors or engineers or teachers, so why not Fouzia? “My parents wanted me to be an engineer, so they got me enrolled at the SSM College for a three-year diploma in Computer Engineering. But I’m tough property to handle,” says Fouzia. Indeed she is. She also got herself admitted for Bachelor’s in Tourism Studies at Indira Gandhi National Open University and simultaneously completed her BTS and the three-year engineering diploma.
Now isn’t that something? “After that, my parents also realized that ye engineer nahi banay gee. So they let me go on with my choice. And I went on to do my PG in Tourism Management from Kashmir University.”
I ask Fouzia about her siblings and whether the interest for mountaineering runs in the family. “My younger brother is what I call a ‘leisure trekker’, but my second brother has lot of interest in mountaineering. He is all set to undertake a mountaineering course and follow his sister,” says Fouzia and breaks into laughter at the thought of being a ‘leader’ in the family.
But still the question, why mountaineering? And how did this interest come about? “Well, I have always wanted to do things ‘differently’ as they say.
I used to read in newspapers and magazines about people scaling peaks and skiing down from high altitudes. These things just fascinated me. You can’t help but wonder why people would risk their lives just for a thrill. But then, there comes the realization that adventure sports not only give, a nature lover like me, an open opportunity to be close to nature in its best form, but also a chance to challenge the potentials of the human body outside our comfort zones. Kashmir itself being surrounded by mountains has the best technical peaks, so I took up mountaineering.” Hmmmm! A long statement, very long indeed. But Fouzia suddenly got so philosophical about it, that I just let her go on and on.
Some would say a physically demanding sport like mountaineering is not for girls. Breaking the stereotype and doing so well must have raised many eyebrows? I ask Fouzia about those problems. “I get a mix of responses when I share my passion of mountaineering with people around me. Some say ah, it is crazy, absolutely absurd. But there are a few people who know what passion means to a person. That reminds me of what Sir Edmund Hillary once said: It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.
Fouzia wanted to take up a mountaineering course right after her 12th class. “But then things were not this clear to me. There was no guidance. I didn’t know who to approach and also I suppose my parents thought my obsession with mountaineering would pass. So they didn’t take it seriously.” And while she completed her graduation, she got to know as much as she could about mountaineering. “As they say there is no reason not to follow your heart. Alhamdulillah! I have always got support from my family to pursue my dream.”
Fouzia dreams of scaling the Everest one day, but that requires not just training but funding as well. “I am working on that, and meanwhile also planning to participate in ‘climbathons’ organized by the Indian Mountaineering Federation after qualifying my AMC.”
Romancing the mountains isn’t just a sport but also a great way to unwind. And when you do with the kind of passion Fouzia does, the mountains leave you with many memories. When I ask Fouzia about this, she takes a pause as she goes down the memory lane. Then suddenly she recalls, “Woh 4am ki whistle and then carrying 15-18 kgs backpack to the rock craft area at a distance of 6kms… hard work.” Any special memory? “During our recent trek to a high altitude lake Tchunsar we crossed a couple of fast flowing streams while it was heavily raining. The water was flowing above waist line. It was frightening, but when you summit that height, it gives you a high. The fright of the moment fades away. It leaves you with pureness and innocence. That is my most special memory.”
That’s quite a lot of ‘mountain’ talk. What else interests Fouzia? Movies, books, anything? “Cooking,” she says with a mountainous smile. So don’t worry about food if you’re trekking with Fouzia. Apart from serving you food, Fouzia has other things on her mind as well. “I also want to serve my society, as clichéd as it may sound.”