Kerala, Jan 23, 2020: Fjallraven Polar is an international polar expedition where a group of 20 ordinary individuals are selected from across the globe to venture into 300 kilometres of Arctic wilderness. Expenses for the expedition are covered by Fjallraven, a trekking equipment manufacturing company.
Hailing from the small town of Aluva in Kerala’s Ernakulam district, Geethu is an engineer at Qualcomm in Bangalore. An avid traveller, she was selected for the Fjallraven Polar expedition through global online voting.
Excited to set sail on March 30, Geethu shared her personal journey with MAKERSIndia.
Loving Mother Nature Since Childhood
Growing up in a village near Kochi, this 27-year-old loved travel since childhood. Besides short trips with her family, Geethu also participated in nature camps conducted by the State’s Forest Department for children as a 11-year-old. One of those trips was to Shiruvani in Palakkad district in Kerala, which had participants from across India. Geethu has been in love with nature and travel since then. She recollects that the trips into the heart of forests taught her how to be a “responsible traveller”.
“I am a talkative person and love sharing interesting facts about the places I visit. So, although I don’t dislike travelling alone, I prefer travelling with a group, or at least one or two persons.”
In Karnataka too, she has travelled alone to Shivaganga, Jog Falls, Agumbe, and Shimoga, exploring the locations on her own. Outside India, she has travelled to Thailand and Bhutan.
Geethu thanks her parents for being supportive in her wishes to travel. “I never had to ask for permission from them to travel. They don’t question me or constantly check on me, if and when I travel. All they ask is if I am safe. My father has brought me up to be independent,” she says.
Live, Love, Travel
For someone who loves travel so much, it comes as no surprise that Geethu’s biggest dream is to go to outer space one day. This may also be why she was interested in electronics and sciences, and chose to become a hardware engineer. While doing BTech at CUSAT in Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering, Geethu says she was rarely in class.
“I always scored well; so my teachers did not complain. I had more opportunity to travel then as well. I started a Nature Club at college too, and conducted photo exhibitions, cleaning programmes etc., which gave me experience for travel and organising group trips.”
Later, while pursuing her master’s degree from National Institute of Electronics and IT in Calicut, Geethu was close to nature. Her campus in Mukkam village in Calicut was scenic, and she says she often travelled to the neighbouring Wayanad district, famous for its untouched countryside.
Geethu moved to Bengaluru for work in 2015. In the “Garden city”, which now has more concrete jungles than gardens, she was unhappy every weekend. “I am happy outside the city. I want to be close to nature when I am not working; not in shopping malls,” she says.
This boredom led Geethu to start ‘Let’s Go For a Camp’ – a travel community to promote responsible tourism in India. Since then, the group has conducted more than 100 such camps in India and three abroad too.
Encouraging More Women to Travel
There is no denying the fact that travel gives you experiences and memories that can profoundly impact you and change you as a person. However, women in India think twice about travelling alone or with female friends, as women’s safety is a major issue in the country.
Having experienced the many wonders of travel herself, Geethu wanted to encourage more Indian women to embrace travelling, and started organising women’s-only tours too. In April 2019, she went to Ladakh with a group of 14 women, staying with villagers and experiencing their food and culture. With the positive feedback, Geethu soon did another trip – this time with a group of seven women.
Another of her initiatives is trips tailored for mothers and children. The focus is on enabling mothers to spend quality time with their children, something which working moms often miss out on.
She says she plans these trips in such a way that they also benefit the local community, who often go unnoticed by the hordes of travellers visiting the place every year, in rentals and food.
The Next Big Trip
Having dreamt of visiting the Poles, Geethu was excited when she heard of the Fjallraven Polar expedition to the Arctic two years ago. After thorough preparations for a year, she applied in 2019, and was selected as one among the 20 enthusiasts from across the world earlier this month.
Out of the thousands of candidates from across countries, 11 were handpicked through a panel, and another 11 through online voting. The latter involved dividing the world into 10 zones and selecting individuals who got the highest number of votes from each zone.
The event aims to create friendship between people from more than 20 countries, and hence does not take any negativity lightly. Geethu says that the finalists were not announced for two weeks after the due date, as the organisers noticed cyber spamming and online bullying, which led to the disqualification of the top two contestants – each of whom had got around 2,50,000 votes. This proved to be a blessing in disguise to Geethu, who was in the third place despite facing online harassment herself.
She recounts that she even got phone calls from other candidates asking her to back out of the competition. Even her Facebook posts were spammed by people promoting a male aspirant from Kerala and making comments like “Women can’t survive in Arctic’s low temperatures”. Or “Travels are meant for men”.
But Geethu, who was inspired by astronauts Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawla, was determined. “I knew that if I get through the polls this year, it can inspire more women to travel in future. I could survive in -35 degree Celsius in Ladakh; so I was not worried about the conditions at the Arctic.” She adds that despite all the demotivating comments on social media, she got a lot of support from the local media and celebrities who promoted her voting link for free.
Now she is getting ready for the biggest adventure of her life so far. On March 30, she will begin the expedition with 21 other individuals, all of them on dog-drawn sledges. The 300-km journey is set to end on April 6.
Signing off, Geethu says that her dream is to preserve our beautiful planet for coming generations to see and enjoy. Conscious of the challenges associated with climate change, Geethu hopes to make a change with every trip she takes.