Srinagar: When 24-year-old Aneeqa Khalid began hiking around mountain peaks and great lakes, little did she know that it will ruffle many feathers.
“My trekking journey started post 2014 floods and it was rare for females those days to trek up to the alpine lakes or other offbeat places in the valley,” she recalled.
Leading treks or climbing mountains professionally is rarely preferred by women in Kashmir – not only because of societal and family pressures, but because it is physically and mentally exacting.
However, few women have taken it up for the love of exploration and leading others to find this joy while clambering up the odd cliff.
Aneeqa, who is a member and one of the team leaders of Alpine Adventures Women Wing group serves as a perfect example of this.
With her grit and determination, she has managed to complete 30-35 treks with Alpine Adventurers and Jammu and Kashmir Mountaineering and Hiking Club (JKMAC).
Her most significant trek has been the Mahadev peak, the highest mountain peak in Srinagar district with the elevation of 3,966 m (13,012 ft) during Ramadan in 2018. To traverse the mountain in a state of fasting was a test of human endurance and became a major booster of self-confidence in her.
Also, last year in autumn, she led a trekking group to Dachigam National Park where she spotted a herd of Hanguls along with a mother bear and cub. The experience in the wild brought her closer to nature than ever before.
Aneeqa who is currently pursuing her masters in Social Sciences and Mental Health from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai believes that trekking expeditions have awakened her hidden love for mountains and made her more connected to her homeland. “The outdoors activities for women should also be encouraged as a lot of oral history is associated with these places. This way, a woman can become an important rapporteur and repository of oral histories. Tomorrow, they can narrate this documentation to posterity,” she said.
Following in her footsteps, Zarqa Sofi, an avid trekker, believes that backpacking with a group of like-minded women travelers is an enriching experience.
Usually, the major block for females to travel on their own is safety. “However, the trekking opportunities provided by JKMAC and Alpine Adventures ensure that females explore and have a good time without thinking about their safety or other arrangements,” Sofi said, whose taxing job in the bank provoked her need to go outdoors on weekends.
Sofi added sharing a platform with women of all ages, types and beliefs helps you learn so much, not just about the place you are visiting and the people you are with, but also about your own self.
“It is an experience of a lifetime. I would recommend it to everyone,” she said.