Meet Prakriti Varshney, a 26-year-old woman who recently made history by becoming India’s first vegan woman to summit Mt. Everest and the second Indian woman to ever climb mount Ama Dablam. A fashion and graphic designer by profession, the mountaineer has now shifted gears to conquer the riskiest of avalanches and fulfil her passion to explore the world— all while following a vegan lifestyle. The solo traveller talks to Travel + Leisure India & South Asia about her idea of travelling, trips that changed her, and how to be more mindful while travelling. By Srushti Kulkarni
T+L India: What and who motivated you take up mountaineering?
Prakriti Varshney: Prior to mountaineering, I was a full-time traveller. At the time, there were very few female travellers in India. Then, these solo travels and adventures in India were [more] fun as [they] didn’t have to be Insta-perfect. With the evolution of Instagram, travel [has] became dreamier. Personally, travelling didn’t seem as challenging or adventurous as before.
I have always wanted to summit mountains but couldn’t due to financial reasons. Last year I took the plunge and registered myself for a basic mountaineering course. Since then, I have just been climbing.
T+L India: What is your idea of travelling and what kind of traveller are you?
Prakriti Varshney: I am a traveller who loves backpacking. I am not one of those travellers who captures videos or uploads fancy images. I would take off on a bus to various locations and put up there for a couple of months. I would gather regional experiences and help locals as well. Unfortunately, nowadays only picture-perfect initiatives grab people’s attention and I had a hard time understanding how should I keep travelling in that scenario. I am a slow traveller who moves consciously. I like to travel sustainably instead of taking short trips.
T+L India: What led to your switch to veganism?
Prakriti Varshney: We had a milkman who delivered fresh cow milk to my place in Manali. One day, I learnt that the milkman killed the cow’s calf because it was male and could not lactate. It broke my heart! One day, I just stopped having milk. On researching, I discovered that this heinous act is quite normal. I learnt that it is a common practice to slaughter female cows across the country. I choose to switch to veganism only for animals.
T+L India: On May 12, you became the first Indian female vegan to ascend Mt. Everest. Tell us about how it felt when you reached the top?
Prakriti Varshney: I had dreamt about that moment since I was a 15-years-old! I recall telling my dad that one day I will climb Everest, but I never knew how to go there. When I started out, I realised that it is going to be very expensive to summit the peak so I dropped the idea. I consoled myself that it it is okay If I can’t climb or afford it.
I summited Ama Dablam—from where you can see Mt. Everest up close—last year. When I saw the peak, I realised I had to fulfil my dream. I was there for 15-20 minutes and instead of clicking pictures or conversing with others on the summit, I invested the little window of my time to soak the view.
T+L India: When and how did you prepare for it?
Prakriti Varshney: The climb to Mt. Everest is not a technical one. I trained for about five months in Manali. I prepared by building my endurance and stamina by running, cycling, working out, and practising yoga. I was very conscious as I invested four hours of training every day. Even as a vegan, I only rested for two days in a week to recover.
T+L India: What were some challenges you faced while scaling the mountain as a vegan? How did you overcome it?
Prakriti Varshney: I did not face any challenges. People did not understand how I was going to summit [the mountain] with this my diet as I wasn’t consuming any dairy products, eggs, meat, etc. They often questioned my chances of reaching the top. At that moment, I realised that if I don’t accomplish this dream of mine, then I will have to keep hearing similar comments from everyone. It felt a bit like mental torture.
But otherwise in terms of food or energy, I was very strong throughout the climb. It did not feel tiring. Instead I felt very energetic at the top and while coming back as well. I was cheerful and also motivated my team members to descend quickly. It takes about 24 hours to ascend and descend Everest, which can often drain people out. Surprisingly, I did not experience any pain at all!
T+L India: What kind of vegan diet were you following during the climb?
Prakriti Varshney: It was very basic. Dal, chawal, roti, nuts, almond milk, hazelnut spreads and sometimes chocolate bread because I am fond of chocolate. Otherwise, I was just enjoying regular vegetarian food.
I was required to take protein and dal is filled with proteins. Apart from these, I really love anything made of tofu. But I did not get a chance to have it during the climb.
T+L India: You are also the 2nd Indian woman to climb Mt Ama Dablam. What are some obstacles you overcame during your journey on the South-West ridge?
Prakriti Varshney: When I began climbing Ama Dablam, I experienced a pain on my back and abdomen. I assumed it was because of the altitude and did not consider that I could be menstruating. Ama Dablam is very technical and I couldn’t fight the pain after a certain time. Somehow, we managed to reach camp three. There was a resting tent wherein a mountaineer from Czech Republic and his Sherpa, and me and my sherpa, were resting. The mountaineer enquired if I was turning back and I said of course I’m going up! I don’t know what got into me but in that moment, I knew I wasn’t going to waste my one chance to summit Ama Dablam. Thanks to my sherpa who kept motivating me throughout the journey, I made it to the top.
After summiting, I actually fell down and did not rise for the next 15 minutes. I laid down and couldn’t care less about the view. Eventually my Sherpa spoke up again and demanded that I take a look around. I got up and saw the view; it was Mt. Everest up close and clear.
T+L India: What are some challenges you face as a vegan traveller?
Prakriti Varshney: I find my own place and I find my own cause. If a problem arises, I don’t register it as a problem. Instead, I focus on resolving it.
T+L India: As an advocate for sustainable travelling, any tips on being more mindful on holidays?
Prakriti Varshney: I advise them to look around as there is a lot happening. Certain places have been altered just for the sake of luxury travels. It would be great if one can choose sustainable stays over these places. Walk for a day and not take your car out. While it may not mean much at the time, but on a bigger scale, if we all start doing our bit then we can contribute positively. If one is hiking, drink fresh water as it is safe to drink.
T+L India: Your most memorable trip as a solo traveller?
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Prakriti Varshney: Nagaland. I was there for around one-and-a-half months. It was so special because I was 21-year-old who hardly knew anything. I have heard people state that Nagaland cultivates cannabis and people eat humans! It was only when I got there, I realised how warm and caring the locals were. Everybody was very helpful! That trip changed me as a person. I want to travel consciously and motivate people to travel without making them envious of my picture-perfect vacations. I want to communicate that even they can afford to travel like I do without harming nature.
T+L India: What destinations are on your bucket list?
Prakriti Varshney: I want to learn scuba diving. I have been to the top of the world, but now it’s time to explore the depths beneath!
T+L India: Which mountains are next on your radar?
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Prakriti Varshney: There are two mountains: one is Manaslu, and the other is Annapurna. Both are in Nepal.
T+L India: Any tips for vegan travellers, particularly mountaineers?
Prakriti Varshney: Mountaineers training every day must maintain their protein level. Protein intake should be at least 25 grams to 30 grams of protein, depending upon the intensity of the workouts.