Mountaineer Shipra Batra was raised in an environment where she was made to believe that engineering and MBBS are the only professional paths one can take up on growing up. Although she did end up becoming an engineer, she realised there is more to life and that the exploration never ends. Shipra, who hails from Meerut, works as a project engineer at Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), New Delhi.
This is her story of acceptance, perseverance and adventure along the way. SheThePeople.TV engaged in a conversation with Shipra about her exciting adventures, ideals, passion for mountaineering, her training for Kanchenjunga and Everest, and much more.
“It’s important to be independent and do something different at the same time”
Shipra, who is from a business family, says her quest to live an independent life made her study hard throughout in order to achieve something. She went on to join a top engineering government institution of Uttar Pradesh. “There weren’t many options back then or that’s what we were told. There was always a sense of living life independently and, also, on my own terms. I’ve always been passionate about everything I put my interest into and so, I worked tremendously hard to become an engineer when it came to education. This helped me become financially independent, which I believe should be a top priority for all women,” she adds.
She pursued her B.Tech from Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur. She studied M.Tech at IIT Bombay and is now pursuing a part-time PhD from IIT Delhi.
From Engineering to Mountaineering
Shipra's immense love for nature and its many offerings made her take up an extremely adventurous path. She enrolled in multiple treks, road trips and adventure sports in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and other parts of the country. This was all alongside her graduation and post-graduation studies. She, however, had a life-changing experience when she took up training for the Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest expeditions respectively.
“There is an ONGC Himalayan Association at the organisation I work at. Though I had taken up treks earlier, these major expeditions, however, were something I had not imagined. I didn’t know a lot about mountaineering and this was a chance to learn. I enrolled myself in, alongwith other team members, after taking permission from the controlling officer,” she explains.
She also underwent training in Rishikesh and at a professional institute in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. She calls the ‘winter conditioning training’ as the most rigorous and enriching.
"There isn’t much scope for mountaineering here and one requires huge sums of money and a considerable amount of time, too, for this. So, when I saw a chance to realise my dream, I took it without a second thought."
Kanchenjunga was her recent expedition, which took place in April-May this year. She says the only thing on her mind was to figure how far they could go. She was also part of the ONGC Everest Expedition, for which the aspirants underwent training in 2016. The training covered phases such as adventure course, basic mountaineering course, advance mountaineering course and Satopanth Peak Expedition. Shipra, who made it till the last training phase, did not qualify for the final expedition, which took place in April and May, 2017. This, she believes, has been her greatest learning.
"The fact that I was as much a part of camps as other men is reason enough to believe that gender-based notions are diminishing"
For Shipra, gender-based speculations, during training, were never a problem. She says it's time people accept that women are capable of doing everything that men have been doing. "Our trainings were tougher than the other usual courses. I'm mentioning this because all women and men underwent the same set of training and there was nothing that kept me behind from men. We were oriented towards a particular goal and that was it," she recalls.
She reflects that it is fitness, and not gender, which should matter when it comes selection in areas of adventure, expeditions and sports. "There are people who will speak discouraging things. I'm often asked why I'm constantly trying different things. The thing is people will tell you to slow down because you're a woman. There's always one thing we women can always choose to do: Ignore what people say," she urges.
Shipra shared a small anecdote from her expedition, which taught her a lot about herself and life. "Once, during our peak attempt, we left our camp at six in the morning and were expected to return by two in the afternoon. Our team of 15, however, lost the direction and ended up on a completely different route while returning. Each of us were carrying a load of approximately 10 kg. As we went down the wrong valley, it became tiring and we were left without food. We drank the only limited water I had, turn by turn.We survived on ice cold water for those many hours. We all took care of each other and that gave us the strength to carry on," she recollects.
Shipra says she realised the importance of good air to breathe in when she was up 18,000 ft where she had to survive on half of the effective oxygen compared to sea level. She also recalls how she and her team took an entire month to prepare for the Satopanth Peak Expedition only to realise, at the day of the peak, that they had to cancel it due to bad weather. "Mountaineering, or life for that matter, is completely unpredictable. Things cannot always go as planned and that's where all the learning begins," she reflects.
She recalls how she walked on the toughest route in moraines (moraines are parallel ridges of debris deposited along the sides of a glacier) with high fever. "There were only two options: either go towards the higher camp or walk back to the lower one. The lower, camp, however, was temporary so there wasn't really a rescue option. I carried on regardless and realised the strength of the human mind and body." The most vital realisation, she believes, that dawned upon her was the value of human relationship, trust and significance of team work.
“Manage your priorities, but don't ever settle”
Shipra feels she is yet to experience everything and says nothing will stop her from doing that. “I always question myself that if I don’t pursue something I really want now, then when will I? It’s a matter of managing, multitasking and getting priorities right,” she says.
What would she advise young girls and women? She says it’s self-belief that’s most important in order to live life on one’s own terms. “I say, you should never stay settle. It’s important to continue exploring because even though you may fumble or fail, there’s always a learning in the end and that’s the learning experience you will always carry wherever you go,” she advises.
Shipra’s story is a perfect example of "one life, many passions". She takes French classes, has recently enrolled for a Vipassana course and takes part in marathons. Her story is that of a common girl, who is living her dream. A dream defined by work, independence, adventure, excitement and learning. Her stance that there’s much more to life has brought her to defining her own simple rules and carving a unique path. Shipra’s decisions prove that there’s no end to achieving and that there’s never a best time to realise your passion. The time, as she says, is just round the corner.