(May 20, 2022) Sitting at a height of 9,383 ft above sea level, Najira Noushad found her Sherpa hastily telling her that she cannot make it to the Everest base camp (17,598 ft) in five days. As a mother of five who had never stepped into a gym, the Sherpa reckoned the 33-year-old was being too ambitious. For Najira, it was a re-affirmation of why she was there in the first place: To break stereotypes. Najira wants the world to know that India is safe for women travellers and that a woman can do anything she sets her mind on. Not even the wind and sleet of the Himalayas. Najira made it to base camp in five days as planned, becoming the fastest Indian woman to complete the 62-km trek, braving snowstorms and navigating extremely steep and rocky terrain. “It was very challenging. But I knew I could do this. I had my eyes set on finishing the trek in five days. I set the challenge for myself to inspire other women,” Najira tells Global Indian.
Doing the trek without an acclimatisation period was a challenge, but Najira pulled it off. “After two days, I developed shortness of breath and suffered from exhaustion. If not for that, I’d have completed the trek in four days. Despite the difficulties, it was a great experience. It made me realise I can do anything,” adds the Oman resident, who hitchhiked her way from Kerala to Nepal to achieve the feat. “There’s so much negativity about the safety of solo female travellers. So I decided to ditch public transport and hitchhike all the way to prove the point that India is safe for women travellers,” she explains.
When the travel bug bit
The Kerala-born was raised in God’s Own Country by a salesman father and a homemaker mother. Coming from a humble background, Najira lived a simple yet happy life, passionate about travelling even as a child. “I loved boarding a bus for a long journey. I always wanted to see what awaited me on the other side,” says the mother of five, whose first trip was to Tiruchirrappali where her dad was posted in the 2000s. She only ever travelled with her family – a conservative household meant even school picnics were off limits for the young girl. “We made the most of family outings, though,” Najira smiles. “That was the beginning of my wanderlust.”
Najira was married when she turned eighteen and gave birth to her first son within a year. Her urge to travel remained satiated, however. Her husband’s transferable job took the family to Chennai, Dubai and Oman. “He is my biggest support system, along with my mother,” says Najira about her husband, who works in hospitality. “He has always pushed me to do what makes me feel happier, and travel tops the list. Even with my five kids in tow, I have never hesitated to take the road less travelled,” adds Najira, who decided to go on an all-India trip in 2021.
View this post on Instagram
Kerala to Ladakh in 60 days
“Keen to explore India, I decided to travel from Kerala to Ladakh across 17 states and five union territories. A Facebook friend tagged along but I did the planning and drove the entire 13,000 km. It was exhilarating,” says Najira, adding that she was mindful of every move that she was making. “Since we were on a budget trip, I constantly had lodging and food on my mind. I had almost become a CBI officer doing all the research,” laughs the traveller, who was curious to know about different cultures and people. “The trip was an eye-opener where I met so many people who opened their homes for us. We didn’t just travel across the big cities but moved into the hinterland because that’s where the real India lives,” adds Najira. So, they rented an Innova and spent a combined total of ₹6 lakh on the 60-day trip.
It gave her so much confidence that in November, Najira boarded a plane to Lakshwadeep with only ₹3000. “You don’t need money to travel, all you need is an idea,” says Najira who knocked on the doors of the people to let her stay the night. Calling it one of her most “interesting trips”, Najira explored all ten islands without spending a single penny. “The people of Lakshwadeep are not only kind-hearted but masoom (innocent). There is no crime rate, and their prisons are empty. That’s a part of India that everyone should see,” says Najira who explored the coral island for a month. “I didn’t even buy a cup of chai from my money. Every day these people welcomed me into their homes and fed me,” says the YouTuber who has over 50K subscribers.
Travel with purpose
But it was her trip from Kerala to Everest base camp in Nepal that made her a star traveller. As a woman, Najira often heard stories of India being an unsafe country for solo women travellers, so she took it upon herself to change what she believed to be a mistaken notion. “People often say that Europe is safe for women travellers, but so is India. I wanted to prove it by hitchhiking from Kuttanad in Kerala, all the way to Nepal. She made the journey in 32 days, mostly taking rides on trucks. Najira says that lorry drivers have a bad image but that’s another stereotype she was happy to break. “They were very friendly and helped me at every step. There were days that I slept in trucks but felt very safe. Many introduced me to their families either on phone calls or in person. Getting to travel that way gave me a fresh perspective on life,” says the travel vlogger.
She began her expedition with two messages – ‘Admire India’ and ‘She Can Travel Alone’, and Najira truly lived up to them during her month-long journey.
Overcoming fears is what Najira believes in, and that’s exactly what she did on the trip. “Have the courage to follow your dreams, and they often take you to beautiful places and stunning experiences,” she says. During those two months on the road hitchhiking, Najira saw India like never before. “I understood the food problem, the lack of education, and poverty. But I also saw the large-heartedness of the people who would welcome me with open arms even if they have nothing to offer. That’s what makes India incredible,” adds Najira.
Smashing the stereotypes
It was at Lukla that Najira learnt about SVN Suresh Babu, a Vizag trekker who created history by reaching the Everest base camp in a record-breaking four days in January 2022. “When my Sherpa told me about Suresh, it inspired me so much. But he kept dissuading me saying that I was a woman who never went to a gym and had five deliveries. But I was determined to finish it in five days. He warned me that people often die if they are not well-prepared. But I turned a deaf ear to him,” reveals Najira, who completed in five days a trek that usually takes anywhere between ten and fifteen.
View this post on Instagram
“My Sherpa was stunned that I could pull it off. I think if you have a lakshaya and the courage to follow it, nothing is impossible. If we set our mind to something, our body works in alignment,” adds Najira who believes a strong head and heart can take you to places that you cannot even imagine.
She now plans to take a trip to the North East along with Bhutan and Nepal, for “there is no life without dreams.” And she advocates “self-love” to fulfil them. “When you love and cherish yourself, you’d go to any lengths to follow your dreams. Be courageous enough to take that first step and the rest shall follow. Don’t fret if things don’t work out your way, embrace the change,” she advices adding, “Be positive in life, it will bring in more good experiences.”