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Honoured for conquering North Pole

Bindu Shajan Perappadan

Ajeet Bajaj— a rare achievement

NEW DELHI: No ordinary 40-year-old, Ajeet Bajaj is the first Indian to reach the North Pole on skis as part of a cross-country skiing expedition from a Russian polar research station on the Arctic Ice to the North Pole -- a distance of 200 km -- in 11 days.

Ajeet was part of a five-member team that reached the North Pole on April 26. Managing Director of Snow Leopard Adventures, Ajeet was felicitated on Saturday by the Indian Association of Tour Operators at a function here in the Capital.

Recalling what he described "as the toughest and the most challenging period of his life'', Ajeet said: "Making the decision to travel to the North Pole wasn't a chance adventure trip. I put in six months of rigorous training before embarking on the journey. We trained at a small island in Norway. Here we meticulously went over each detail of the journey, we triple-checked all our equipments, our route plans and fitness levels, knowing full well that there was no scope for lucky escapes. I knew that a mistake could cost me my life. It is really sports at its meanest best with zero margin for error,'' said Ajeet, adding that the team was airlifted from Norway and dropped at a place called Bavneo from where their journey began.

Ajeet has also rafted in the most challenging rivers on six continents and is a well-known name in arena of adventure sports.

"Having grown up reading stories about great explorers, my interest in adventure sports is no accident. I am also among the lucky few who have managed to combine my hobby and profession. I have been looking at the possibility of an expedition to the North Pole for some time now and when I got the opportunity I seized it knowing full well that it would probably be the ultimate test of my endurance,'' he said.

Ajeet, the only Indian in the group consisting three Americans and a Swiss -- who had to be evacuated mid-way due to knee injury -- credits his success to good teamwork and training. "The North Pole is one of the toughest terrains to cover in the world and throughout our journey we had to battle sub-zero temperatures, pressure ridges, frequent blizzards, shifting polar ice caps and extreme fatigue. In fact, we were out for 14-15 hours each day trying to reach the North Pole. Here we also got to view the effects of global warming first hand and came back understanding that the threat is very real and near,'' he said.

Speaking about his good and bad days, Ajeet said: "I remember my team was most disappointed one day when we woke up to find that due to polar drift we had lost seven miles and had to work extra hard to make up for the lost time and distance. Then it seemed like we were never going to make it but our motivation kept us going and having reached the North Pole it was a very proud moment when I unfurled the National Flag and sang the National Anthem. We were also very lucky to catch a very rare sighting of three polar bears at a distance, however it did make us nervous as they are known to have attacked human beings.''

Now in no great hurry to try and repeat the feat, Ajeet said: "Today is only the ninth day back from the trip and I am just taking it easy for a while. Though I have been into adventure sports all my life, this one was by far the most risky and I am in no hurry to go back. When I was out there my main objective was to complete the task at hand -- of reaching the North Pole -- and the next was to come back alive. The terrain is so tough that you cannot think beyond that.''

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