In a feat that can boost the spirit of adventure among Indian women, 33-year-old Sucheta from Pune, has successfully crossed the arduous 1,623 km stretch of the Gobi desert, the largest in Asia and the fifth in the world, in a multi-national expedition.
Sucheta, who was part of a 13-member team led by Ripley Davenport, accomplished the expedition on 15th July, nine days before the stipulated 60 day deadline, braving rigours and heat of the sands in Mongolia.
She became the first Indian woman to cross Gobi desert.Only seven of the 13 stayed and lasted the course, Sucheta Kadethankar being one of the three successful women trekkers along with one each from Australia and Singapore.
Six of them opted out of the expedition due to either injuries or of their own volition.
“The main challenge in crossing the Gobi was how to keep oneself motivated to complete the mission. In contrast to the visual appetite one gets while on a mountain expedition with a changing scenario at every step, you are confronted by the monotonous sight of an unending stretch of sand in a desert trek,” Sucheta said.
She walked an average 32/25 km per day after setting out on the expedition on 25th May from the north of the Khongoryn Els, the landmark sand dunes in Mongolia along with the teammates and of course camels, the ship of desert carrying provisions.
“As expected we encountered extreme weather– hot days and cold nights—and sand storms during our journey. But there was also the most pleasant sight of an oasis that seemed to make up for the rigours of the trek momentarily,” Sucheta, who is supposed to be the first Indian woman to have crossed the great desert in a record time, said.
The other expedition members were drawn from Australia, England, Scotland, Hong Kong and Singapore.
The success of Sucheta, was, however not without minor setbacks she suffered during the journey across the Gobi desert.
“I was down with flu for a couple of days as we negotiated the sea of sand with extreme temperatures during day and night. I was up again after the fever subsided.”
Another episode involved a camel kick that flattened her on the sands!
“We had a warm-up session before we embarked on the expedition and the training with camels is an important part of any desert trek. We were trained to comprehend camel’s behavioural pattern, how to make him kneel, stand, walk and graze.”
She apparently failed to judge the camel’s mood on the day when she found herself at the receiving end of his kick.
Did the thought of leaving the expedition occur to her any time during the course? Sucheta answered with an emphatic “No”.
“As I said motivating oneself was very important as expanse of the desert was so vast that all that one could see on the horizon was only sand. It is not just physical ability but mental strength that perhaps mattered most,” she said.
Incidentally, Sucheta also saw one of her female teammates from Pune— Nalanda Joglekar— opting out after covering about 800 km and returning to the base.
A post graduate in history from Ferguson college in Pune, Sucheta, currently employed with a private company has been an amateur trekker who loved adventure sport.
She approached the mission leader Ripley Davenport to enrol herself for the desert expedition with the Ireland based “Explore Foundation” six months before the commencement of the trek in Mongolia.
“While in Pune, I walked the distance from my residence to office covering about 24 km per day to test and develop my stamina. During pre-expedition camp, the team leader gave us an exercise, attaching three car tyres to the waist as we walked.”
Her eyes reflecting a steely resolve, Sucheta said her next mission could be the Great Himalayan Trail starting from Bhutan and ending in Pakistan. And she is certainly not seeing a mirage.