adventure sports

Would Your Relationship With Your Father Survive Climbing Everest?

Ajeet and Deeya Bajaj are the first Indian father-daughter duo to have summited the highest peak in the world.
May 30, 2018, 12:30pm
Ajeet and Deeya Bajaj at the peak of Mount Everest on May 16, 2018. Image: Deeya Bajaj/Snow Leopard Adventures

On May 16, as dawn broke over the Himalayas, Ajeet and Deeya Bajaj summited Mount Everest. It was an emotional moment for both of them—they had just become the first Indian father-daughter duo to summit the highest peak in the world.

A 2012 Padma Shri awardee, Ajeet Bajaj is a well known name when it comes to adventure tourism. He started at the age of 12, and eventually in 2006 was the first Indian to ski to both North and South Poles (January 2007). In 2011, he became the first Indian to ski across Greenland’s east coast in -23 degrees Celsius. He’s also the founder of Snow Leopard Adventures, where he works with his daughter to promote a niche, risk-involved tourism in the country.

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Growing up with an accoladed mountaineer as a father, Deeya, a 24-year-old Natural Resources graduate from Cornell University, has been surrounded by the excitement of adventure tourism since her childhood. She inherited from her father the skills required for mountaineering, skiing, rafting and scuba diving, along with the required passion and vigour, accompanying her father in various expeditions from a very young age—trekking the highest peak in Europe Mount Elbrus, skiing across the Greenland ice-sheet, and now scaling Mount Everest. On this occasion, VICE spoke to Deeya about her achievements, experiences, and the bond she shares with her father that has turned them into a formidable adventurous duo.

VICE: What was it like—summiting Mount Everest?
Deeya: Well, it felt surreal to be there, actually. I just couldn’t believe we were at the top of Mount Everest. It was an insane, exciting feeling. It was quite dark when we were climbing, and although we had our torches, it was difficult to figure out the drops on either side. As we reached the summit, it began to light up. My father was experiencing some problem with his oxygen supply, so he reached the summit around 15 minutes later than me. And when he got there, we both got very emotional; we started crying, unfurled the national flag.

Later, as we began our descent, we realised that the drops on our sides were quite steep, and that the descent was going to be much more difficult than the ascent.

Descending the world's tallest peak might be more difficult than ascending it, as Ajeet and Deeya Bajaj discovered on Mount Everest earlier this month. Image: Deeya Bajaj/Snow Leopard Adventures

You’ve accompanied your father on multiple challenging expeditions. How does the chemistry work between the two of you?
Well, when I was young, my father would usually call the shots on everything. But as I grew and gained experience, we became more like partners. He is one of my best friends, and I trust him blindly on the most crucial things during such expeditions.

We do have our differences though. I mean, come on, it’s my father, of course we are going to have arguments. When you are at a high altitude, you get cranky, and you end up having silly, inconsequential fights.

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As a 17-year-old, what was it like skiing across Greenland?
It was a very interesting experience for me, especially since I was so young. We were a team of five along with two local residents from Greenland. We were supported by dog sleds, and we would ski for 30 kms a day. And it's really beautiful out there; you see nothing but snow for miles and miles. But then after a while, you are like, I want to see something else now.

At the end of the day, we would set up our tent, eat our food, sleep in our specialised sleeping bags, and then start again in the morning. Most of the time, we would be skiing one behind the other, so there was no one to talk to. I would be left to my own thoughts, and often I would end up talking to my shadow.

The father-daughter duo during their Greenland Ice-Sheet Skiing Expedition in 2011. Image: Deeya Bajaj/Snow Leopard Adventures

Mountains or water?
Ah, that’s a tough one. Well, to be frank, each has their own charm for me. But right now, I think I will go for water. I have had enough of mountains for now.

How does your mother deal with all of this?
Not well. She gets really stressed out during such expeditions, especially when it’s both of us. It’s very difficult for her. But she has always been supportive. I do all of this with my father, but it is she who provides me with the emotional support.

You are part of an adventure tourism company. What changes have you observed in the participation of women in adventure tourism?
There has definitely been a big change. One of the most important things for us on this expedition was to spread the message that girls can do anything they want to. In the field of adventure, people are usually like, “don’t go out, you will get tanned, you will scrape your knee and then your life will be over.” Our expedition was to demonstrate exactly this—that if their families support them, girls can do anything, surely even better than boys.

So, what’s next on your list?
Well, my mom has just recovered from our trip to the Everest, so I will be laying low for at least a month now. But next on the list is Mount Vinson in Antarctica. It’s the highest peak (16,066 ft) on the continent.

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