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Posted at: May 13, 2018, 12:06 AM; last updated: May 13, 2018, 1:54 AM (IST)

Meet two brave women

Sanjam Preet Singh in Chandigarh
Her feat at 18,380 ft
Sanjam Preet Singh in Chandigarh

HER father gifted her Royal Enfield Classic 350 on her birthday. At 19, she couldn’t have asked for more. About seven months later, she got a chance to make the best use of the machine. She hit the road to Khardung La, the highest motorable stretch in the world, along with three other girls. 

And thus Riya Yadav of Gurugram became the youngest girl to have conquered Khardung La, which is at a height of 18,380 ft. Her name is recorded in the India Book of Records and Vajra World Records. She read about the trip to Khardung La on Facebook. She discussed it with her friend Anita Krishnan and started to prepare. The to-do list included convincing her parents. “They were scared; reluctant to allow me. My elder sister helped me to convince them,” says Riya, 20.

She got her Enfield modified a bit. She needed a new seat according to her height. She is 5 ft 2 inches. “I installed extra lights on my bike. As for the safety gear, Anita helped me get a helmet, jacket, gloves and shoes,” she says.

Riya learnt the basics about the working of a bike, for example, how to change a clutch wire and fix a puncture. Yet, doubt was her enemy number one. “It was my first bike trip to the hills. I was tense,” she recalls. 

On June 17, 2017, she and the other girls, including Anita, decided to burn some asphalt and muddy their machines. It wasn’t going to be an easy ride, yet she wasn’t expecting snowstorm-like conditions at Baralacha Pass. Neither was she expecting a landslide between Pang and Patso. “My bike got stuck in the landslide and water was flowing like a river. I managed to get out of it on my own,” Riya says.

After four days of driving, she and the other girls reached Khardung La. “We all felt proud of ourselves,” she says.

Back home, she noticed a change in her personality. “I have stopped nagging about little things. I am at peace with my surroundings,” she says. Maybe, mountains calm you down.

So what does it take to conquer Khardung La? “Nerves of steel, unwavering resolve and a mean machine,” says Riya, a student of political science at Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University. She has her sights on an Army job. These days, she is recuperating from an accident. Soon, she hopes to hit the road again.

How to get ready

  • Travel light. Drop unnecessary things 
  • Prepare thoroughly; research about routes, food & accommodation 
  • Carry a riding gear such as a jacket, gloves, a helmet, a balaclava, knee guards, thermal liners, rain covers for bags and rain clothes
  • Ensure your bike is in good condition
  • Carry a medical kit and a few spare parts such as spark plugs, a clutch wire and a lever 
  • Be in good physical and mental state

First woman aviation firefighter

Shubhadeep Choudhury in Kolkata

WHEN she was a teenager, Tanya Sanyal earned the grandiose epithet of “virangana” (a courageous woman) from her male tutor. “A cockroach had crawled into the room where we were taking tuition. The discovery created quite a commotion. Girl students were frightened and even the boys present did not know what to do. I coolly picked up the cockroach by its antenna and dropped it outside. Our teacher was hugely impressed and called me a virangana”, says Tanya (25). She was in class eleven then.

The Kolkata girl, who is undergoing training in Delhi, has chosen a job that requires a fair bit of courage. She is an aviation firefighter, the first and the only woman in the country. 

The credit for introducing women in this field goes to Guruprasad Mahapatra, chairman of the Airport Authority of India (AAI). The Gujarat cadre IAS officer felt that women should be encouraged to join as firefighters at airports. He drew up a criterion for selection.

A window was thus opened and Tanya became the lucky one to break into a field that till then was a male bastion. After the completion of her training in June, she will get a posting in an airport as a member of AAI’s Airport Rescue and Fire Fighting (ARFF) team.

Tanya, who has done her masters in botany, is honest enough to confess that she has never thought of becoming a firefighter. “However, the job of an aviation firefighter is quite different from an ordinary fireman. When I saw the AAI advertisement for recruitment of aviator firefighters, I got hooked”, she says.

“There are a lot of women whom I look up to. But on a personal note, I shall like to mention the role played in my life by a grandmother of mine who is no more. Like me she was also a government employee. She always motivated me”, says Tanya when asked about women she idealizes.

Aviation firefighters attend to other incidents such as motor vehicle accidents, fuel spills, hazardous material incidents and first-aid in the terminal. There are quite a number of alarm panels around the airport and they respond to fire alarms.

They have to be fairly knowledgeable about aviation terms and phrases. The firefighters have contact with air traffic control and the flight control centre as well as direct contact with pilots.

An airplane fire may be an extremely rare occurrence, but firefighters will have to be always in readiness for an emergency.

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