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Scaling the heights

For some people, an MBA might be their educational summit. Other people find real-life mountains to climb. Occasionally you find remarkable individuals, such as Bradford Alumni Sangeeta Sindhi Bahl, who conquer both.

And her advice is quite simple: “Never give up if you are passionate about something. Find your own Everest to scale and persevere until you get to it.” A motto for life if ever there was one.

Climbing mountains in her spare time is not something out of the ordinary for Sangeeta - she has climbed six of the world’s seven highest peaks. In May 2018 she successfully summited her latest peak, the greatest of the lot: Mount Everest. In doing so, Sangeeta became the oldest Indian woman, at 53, to achieve the feat. Then again, breaking barriers in the pursuit of success is nothing new to Sangeeta; she started working at just 16 and, in 1998, became the first flying crew member from Emirates Airline to graduate from the University of Bradford Executive MBA programme.

When she isn’t climbing mountains, Sangeeta is usually helping others to overcome their challenges as an Image Consultant. She founded Impact Image Consultants in 2005, based in Gurgaon, which serves individuals and corporates seeking help with their personal image and style. Additionally, as a keynote speaker and trainer, she specialises in mentoring and coaching individuals and corporate staff.

Sangeeta is truly passionate about women’s causes. For her recent climb of Mount Everest, she sought to raise awareness about women’s causes as well. For her recent climb of Mount Everest Sangeeta sought to raise awareness about Breast Cancer for Women with the Women Cancer Initiative (WCI) in association with Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), Mumbai.

We caught up with Sangeeta shortly after her epic exploits to find out a bit more about her and what makes her tick.

Sangeeta Sindhi Bahl
“Setbacks are hidden opportunities to make a stronger comeback.”

Firstly, congratulations on climbing Mount Everest, Sangeeta! Tell us about what it felt like to reach the summit?

Thanks for your good wishes. I was very emotional and cried towards the last steps up to the summit. This is also because I had not made it last year and a sense of exhilaration came over me at that point that I had actually achieved it. I sang the national anthem sitting for the fear of getting blown away; it was very windy up there at 70kmph. I also thanked Ankur, my rock, my support, my husband and son Aarnav in a short video.

Like all successes, the most triumphal come after a previous failure and that’s true for you having failed in your initial attempt to scale Everest in 2017. Tell us about the journey to the top this time, what trials did you face along the way?

I thrive on challenges. My life has been like that. The Everest expedition takes about two months from start to finish and the summit push, as we call it, takes a week on its own. The Khumbu icefall was a huge challenge as that’s where we head for our rotations starting from the base camp. I went up and down through icefall six times, so I heaved a sigh of relief when I came back in one piece. The support I received, especially from my two Sherpas, was phenomenal. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

You have now scaled six of the world’s seven highest mountain peaks, with only Mount McKinley left. We know you attempted that in 2014, but were thwarted by a knee injury, so what is your inspiration and motivation behind taking on these challenges again?

Setbacks are hidden opportunities to make a stronger comeback. For Everest this time I had trained doubly, looked after myself daily and went back with a more determined mindset to conquer myself on the mountain. Mount McKinley will be happening next year.

Your mission was both personal and for a social cause. Tell us about the social cause you sought to climb for.

Women are the centre of the universe, looking after their families, work and social lives but they need to look after themselves too. Sometimes cancer can creep up and it’s too late. Someone close left behind two small kids without a father. Hence, I took up this cause and will continue to work with Tata Memorial Hospital and Women Cancer Initiative Mumbai to help raise awareness of Breast Cancer in India.

Sangeeta Bahl Soaking in sunlight at Mount Everest Camp 2 at 21500 feet

On the summit with mount Makalu in the background

Sangeeta Bahl Climbing

Sangeeta climbs the yellow band between camps 3 and 4 

To some people, studying for an MBA is like climbing a mountain, their very own Everest. How did you find completing your MBA and what did it teach you?

I love to learn, but when I started studying for my MBA, whilst working as a Cabin Services Director for Emirates Airline, it was a challenge to balance my flying and studies. I had to carry my books inside my suitcase, but I believe in doing stuff and that results will be testimony to the fact. I always was and am self-motivated, but my Executive MBA got me a head start with starting up my own business in 2005. I still have my MBA textbooks close at hand in the office! What I have learned in life is simply to never give up, and remember, setbacks are hidden opportunities to make a stronger comeback!

Running a business must seem easy after conquering some of the world’s biggest mountains? What are your immediate and future plans?

I need to get back to work now as I’ve been away for over two months. I’ll be looking at attending many speaking engagements and also working on my mountaineering company, Impact Mountaineering. I will be running Everest base camp treks twice a year and mentorship for high peaks worldwide.

Besides mountaineering, you’ve been a model, an actress, a manager and a Miss India Finalist, so Sangeeta, what advice do you have for people out there facing their own challenges?

I have been self-driven from the start and the life I lead is all encompassed of the experiences I have had. I feel I have a strong instinct about what will work. But self-belief takes the lead here; don’t worry about what people think, do what your heart desires as you only live once!

Sangeeta Sindhi Bahl celebrates reaching the summit of Everest

Sangeeta Sindhi Bahl celebrates reaching the summit of Everest