When woman and mountain meet: Interview with Daniyah, a Pakistani trekker

Published: April 24, 2013
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A trekker, traveler and freelance photographer, Daniyah has been a mountain climbing enthusiast for many years.

A trekker, traveler and freelance photographer, Daniyah has been a mountain climbing enthusiast for many years.

A trekker, traveler and freelance photographer, Daniyah has been a mountain climbing enthusiast for many years. A trekker, traveler and freelance photographer, Daniyah has been a mountain climbing enthusiast for many years. A trekker, traveler and freelance photographer, Daniyah has been a mountain climbing enthusiast for many years.

It’s 3 am in the morning. The temperature is -14 degrees Celsius and in the light of the headlamp all one can see is a frozen river of snow covered with deep crevasses. One breathes with difficulty as the altitude is more than 4,000m.

In this feeble light, at this formidable height, a woman walks on the Darkut glacier that twists onwards like a huge snake. A team of hikers walk behind the woman, taking each step with great difficulty. Each step is a test of these hikers’ strength and determination. For Daniyah Sehar, this is a dream climb; set in conditions that would break many men, it is a challenge that she’s been preparing for years.

I first came to know about Daniyah when I saw a photo of her by Karomber Lake on Facebook. A trekker, traveler, freelance photographer, and most of all, a nature lover, Daniyah has been a mountain climbing enthusiast for many years. Once I’d gone through Daniyah’s numerous albums, there was just one word on my lips: wow.

In Pakistan, where women are generally considered to be home-confined and those who pursue careers do so in fields such as teaching, fashion designing and medicine, I was convinced that Daniyah might be one of the coolest Pakistani women alive!

Before meeting her, I expected a tomboy, wearing a bandana and sporting an attitude, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Daniyah turned out to be a shy, dainty and sweet person with large eyes full of life and energy. Had I not heard about her from reliable sources including the acclaimed mountaineer Sir Nazir Sabir, I would have taken her for just another demure Pakistani housewife. While her fellow trekkies think of her as a daring, adventurous soul, the 31-year-old who has set her eyes on scaling Tirich Mir next, solemnly tells me, “I never go on any trek without taking permission from my mother.”

Here the intrepid mountaineer tells us a little bit about her life and travels. 

6

A mountaineer is born

My maternal grandfather Khan Bahadur Khan belonged to the royal family of Afghanistan and in my childhood I was fascinated by the stories that I heard about his travels. Then came Mustansar Hussain Tarar sahab’s safarnamas (travelogues) which further ignited this desire. And when I gradually started going on treks the thirst to explore the world increased tenfold.

I hold a masters degree in Mass Communication and English Literature but I always wanted to view the beauty of the world. So here I am with my backpack and my camera, exploring the wonders of Nature. I have been to spell-binding places which are totally inaccessible. Perhaps the most enriching times in my life have been when I’ve been sitting in the wild, listening to the world around me. It’s not just mountains, I am highly inspired by other geological features too.

Learning the ropes

My friend Sahib Khan [Samina Baig’s cousin] really taught me the basic. Then experience teaches one a lot. My role model is mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, an Austrian, the first woman to summit all 14 8,000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen or porters.

The best trip ever

My most challenging trek was to Gondogora LA. We planned it so that we went from Hushe to Saichto, Dilsanpa, Khushpang and then Gondogoro La. We had no time to acclimatise since we were gaining height quite rapidly. Then we faced terrible weather conditions because of which we had to move back. We did the whole thing in less than a week so it had all the elements and a challenging trek which I can never forget. I also find the Desert Safari trek very interesting — there is nothing more beautiful and soulful then a desert in full moon and the sound of cattle bells. 

On female climbers

I think that men are physically stronger than women. That doesn’t mean that some women aren’t stronger than some men, or even a lot of men, but the significant physiological differences in our bodies are obvious and we can not change that. When a woman like Gerlinde comes along and scales all 14 8,000 peaks without supplemental oxygen, or a route that has been up for a decade or two, and it is the first female ascent, then it’s a historical moment and is inspiring to myself and many other female adventurists. It shows that women are continually pushing the limits of the sport. I don’t see anything wrong with defining women’s accomplishments separate from the men’s. I can see why some might feel that grouping men and women in the same category is like telling women that we are just as good, and can be just as good as men. I think that is mostly true, but that still doesn’t mean we should all jumble ourselves together as if there is no difference in our make-up.

3

Overcoming barriers

To follow your dream you have to overcome a lot of hurdles — the biggest of which is going against the norms. Travelling and trekking is considered to be the provenance of men. A woman who travels on her own is not considered very respectable. People sully her character and discourage her with words such as, ‘Awaara’ and ‘Aurat ki jagah ghar par hai bahir nahin ( A woman’s place is at home and not outside)’, and even bring in religion just to impose restrictions. My biggest support was my family, especially my mother and elder sister who told me not to pay heed to what people said. I learnt that if remained focused I could utilise the negative force of such words to propel myself to action. 

Facing fear

In a recent trek to Darkut Pass, I truly tasted fear. My knee was badly damaged and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do the 1,800m descent strewn with huge boulders which required a lot of stretching. Just before Darkut, I had trekked along the Wakhan Corridor and injured my knee by slipping from a rock. At that time, it hadn’t hurt at all and I’d thought it was just a bruise. Even while while ascending the Darkut Pass I was perfectly fine. But when the descent began my knee refused to move. My best friend and trek partner Rahat Latif continuously backed me and kept diverting my mind from that knee. But there came a time when I refused to move an inch and he literally scolded me. If he had not scolded me and supported me I would have not been able to make it. When I finally did it, I felt on top of the world — even though we were in a plain area by that time! I had conquered my fear and there is nothing sweeter than doing something that you thought you wouldn’t be able to achieve. That day we walked 13kms on foot. This 1,800m descent made me realise the true strength of a human being. We think even a needle prick gives us lots of pain but there are circumstances in our life when we bear much more pain than we normally would — it is during such moments that we realise our true strength!

Trips 

Fairy Meadows & Nanga Parbat BC (4,300m), Dadarelli La (Swat),

Hushe — Gondogoro La Trek (5,700m) , Ganga Choti AJK Trek (3,045m) ,

Neelan Bhutto Trek,

Shimshal Pamir  Darkut pass (4,703m),

Along the Wakhan Corridor trek and many more

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, April 21st, 2013.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Iqbal
    Apr 24, 2013 - 7:02PM

    Great to know about about such an extra ordinary girl. Keep it up. But ET there is surely a type mistake with this statement “an Austrian, the first woman to summit all 14 8,000 meter peaks without supplemental oxygen or porters.
    8,848 m is the height of mount everst so i am wondering what is 14 8,000 meter?

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  • Yousaf
    Apr 24, 2013 - 7:07PM

    amazing Sis i wish i could meet you :) Actually i am also a bit of trekker not as good as yourself God bles you

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  • Rahat Latif
    Apr 24, 2013 - 7:09PM

    Bravo .. proud of you .. you indeed are a daring soul a source of inspiration for many

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  • John the Baptist
    Apr 24, 2013 - 7:36PM

    Amazing woman–smart, educated, adventurous and fearless! She will make a perfect Toursim Minister in the PTI government.

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  • Daniyah Sehar
    Apr 24, 2013 - 8:31PM

    @Yousaf:
    Thank you dear brother . Do keep me in your prayers . God Bless you !

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  • Daniyah Sehar
    Apr 24, 2013 - 9:10PM

    @Rahat Latif:

    Remember ! If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward…NO LOOKING BACK ! NO TURNING BACK!!!

    Together We flew ,Together We ran ,Together We walked and many more to come in future InshaAllah

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  • Daniyah Sehar
    Apr 24, 2013 - 9:16PM

    @John the Baptist:

    Thank you Brother but my place is somewhere out there on that road that is less taken , listening to the soul of the world .

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  • shuaib
    Apr 24, 2013 - 10:36PM

    @Iqbal,
    There are 14 mountains in the world which are higher than 8,000 meter high.
    And the Austrian lady has successfllly summitted all of them.

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  • Aamir - Toronto
    Apr 24, 2013 - 10:37PM

    Love you sister, you are certainly an inspiration for many girls in Pakistan.

    Stay blessed !!!!!!!!!

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  • Amna
    Apr 25, 2013 - 12:11AM

    It’s not all about women being confined….people need lucrative careers…in Pakistan people look for jobs that pay the bills. Unfortunately most people can not afford to pursue their passions without starving.

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  • Aviator
    Apr 25, 2013 - 2:03AM

    Daniyah you have shown immense bravery, not only on your expeditions, but also in following your heart in spite of the negative attitudes of our society.

    Keep on following your heart and exploring.

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  • Mahgull
    Apr 25, 2013 - 10:18AM

    Sorry i differ . I think Samina Baig and of those six girls from hunza’s achievements are far more grater they summited mountains. Nwayz nice

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  • Ayesha Rehman
    Apr 25, 2013 - 10:43AM

    Hey girl it’s good to see such good response from the people. Just wanted to let you know that you are truly amaZing !Be strong. Be Confident. Be you! Stay blessed ! And to all the readers thank you so much for liking .

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  • Ayesha Rehman
    Apr 25, 2013 - 12:56PM

    @Mahgull:
    Dear Mahgull it’s ok to differ . And yes Samina and those girls achievement is far more greater . Infact i am really anxiously waiting for news from Samina Baig who is gone on basecamp Everest .but why I have called Daniyah coolest is because Samina and others are born in mountains they are well acclimatise to the environ on the other hand if someone who is not born there goes there irrespective of whether its Daniyah or any one else who are not born or raised in mountains . Think of the training they do they have to do extra training extra effort to be there . But hey why are we discussing it no matter who is doing what ultimately they are bringing good name for Pakistan and showing the world that we have good tourism environment !Recommend

  • Daniyah Sehar
    Apr 25, 2013 - 1:45PM

    @Aamir – Toronto:
    Thank you brother for the love and appreciation . God Bless you

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  • Daniyah Sehar
    Apr 25, 2013 - 1:55PM

    @Amna:

    Totally agree with you Dear Amna pursuing ones passion do involves lot of money .And if one follows one’s passion than sometimes one really has to make an effort to make both ends meet

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  • Daniyah Sehar
    Apr 25, 2013 - 2:00PM

    @Mahgull:
    One woman’s victory is a victory of all women . Being a woman i am really proud of not only of Samina Baig , but of those courageous ladies from Hunza, of late Raheela Gull , of Anoushka Kachelo (the first Pakistani woman to reach north pole ) , of Wali Sisters and of all those ladies not only in this field but in other fields too .

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  • Daniyah Sehar
    Apr 25, 2013 - 2:06PM

    @Aviator:

    Thank you brother for such encouraging words . I strongly believe that when one’s heart follows ones dream then no suffering is a suffering at all . Its a process of learning .. a process of having a close encounter with our Creator …

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  • Daniyah Sehar
    Apr 25, 2013 - 2:10PM

    @Ayesha Rehman:

    Thank you Ayesha for your endearing words . And indeed am waiting for good news from Samina’s side too . Infact everyone lets pray for the success of her expedition . May She brings more fame and fortune for our beloved country .

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  • Beelam Ramzan
    Apr 26, 2013 - 11:48AM

    Keep it up Daniyah . Looking forward to hear /read and view more of your adventures .

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  • Nomi
    Apr 29, 2013 - 12:00PM

    Dear Sister I am proud of you for being so brave and also for bringing a positive image of Pakistan . May Allah bless you and you keep following your dreams . Will be waiting to read more of your advents !

    I would also like to thank ET for promoting Tourism . May be this way our tourism industry will flourish the way it should had .

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  • Ateeq Rehman
    May 4, 2013 - 7:13PM

    Wow…..That’s Great …Proud of you ….yes of course you are inspiration for new girls in this field like other fields ….keep it up ….ALLAH BLESS YOU !!!

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  • imran
    May 20, 2013 - 4:38PM

    Coming down that steep descent at the end of that long walk through snow would have required a lot of determination. Its a tough ask for a fully fit person after having walked in snow for over 12 hours at that altitude. I commend your effort and determination having gone through the experience in 1978 when we crossed darkot pass as part of Aitchison college trek party comprising students of age group 12 to 18 years.

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  • Areej Jamil
    Jun 12, 2013 - 4:25PM

    Actually, I want to contact this girl may i have her cell no? Or anything like Her Email Id? I would be very great full to you! :)

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