Geethu Mohandas, a native of Kerala’s Aluva, is on the verge of creating history. She has been selected for a trip to the Arctic with the Fjallraven Polar team.
Fjallraven Polar is an expedition to the polar region for ordinary people from different parts of the world, with advice and guidance from experts, started by Swedish company Fjallraven, which conducted the first event in 1997.
Of the 20 people Fjallraven picked for the expedition, 10 were selected through online voting and 10 through a judging panel. For online voting, the company divided the world into 10 zones and those who reached the top position in each zone were selected.
A rough journey
Though Geethu eventually won, she faced online bullying by fans of other Indian contestants. Due to the intense competition, she was subjected to cyber bullying by different campaigns, one from another state and one from within Kerala.
On January 7, when Fjallraven announced the results, it disqualified some contestants after an inquiry found that they had indulged in foul play and toxic campaigning.
Geethu is the only Indian in the list of winners and the first Indian woman to join the expedition.
In a Facebook live she did after the results were announced, Geethu said her induction into the team would encourage more girls and women to travel.
“That attack was a nightmare,” she tells TNM, talking about the online harassment she faced. “Several times I thought of withdrawing from the competition. But my dream to travel to the Arctic and the support of my friends made me hold on,” she says.
How Geethu caught the travel bug
Geethu found her passion for travelling in her schooldays. At school, she actively participated in the nature camps conducted by ‘Ore Bhumi Ore Jeevan,’ an organisation that works towards cultivating awareness about nature among students.
“I attended my first such camp when I was studying in Class 5. The camp was held at Siruvani in Palakkad district,” Geethu recalls.
The camp taught her about the responsibilities that tourists have towards nature. She carried her passion for travelling right through college, coordinating several trips for students.
In 2015, she got a job in Bengaluru, which marked a turning point in her life. While she used to travel a lot in Kerala during holidays, she was becoming bored on Saturdays and Sundays in Bengaluru. So, she came up with the idea of starting a travel group based on the theme of sustainable and responsible tourism.
When Geethu shared her idea with her roommates and friends, five to six people expressed interest. But it was not viable to conduct a tour with just a few people. She posted a note about holding a camp in Kakkadampoyil in Kerala’s Kozhikode district. Then, more people joined the group.
“Our first trip was on a super-fast bus from Bengaluru to Kozhikode. The journey was through the Thamarassery Ghat road and the group members didn’t sleep that night,” Geethu recalls.
The members included people from various parts of India, and that was the first time they were attending a nature camp, which included bird watching and environmental movies that Geethu had planned for them. Since then, every weekend Geethu has been conducting tours. Slowly, she turned her passion into a travel startup. So far she has conducted 95 trips to different places in Uttarakhand, Bhutan, Nepal and Thailand.
She makes lots of new friends in every location they travel to. One such friend is Dolma, a native of Ladakh. Dolma once told Geethu that the tourists visiting Ladakh were not interested in learning or understanding the local culture. That discussion sparked another tour package idea.
With Dolma’s help, Geethu conducted an only-women trip to the rural parts of Ladakh in April 2019. The 14 women who attended the programme got to stay in rural households. Geethu is planning another trip this April. The tourism season in Ladakh is just four months long since the weather during the rest of the year is not suitable for tourism.
It is clear that Geethu lives and breathes travelling in every moment. It's one of the ways she braved the online bullying during the Fjallraven Polar competition to emerge victorious.
KC Arun is a Kochi-based freelance journalist who writes on Kerala.