Long ago, in Hoshiarpur in Punjab, shopkeepers would hurry out of their stores and elders would pause on their hookah puffs to get a glimpse of the little girl who had just vroomed past them on her scooter. Three decades later, open-mouthed stares still follow Moksha Jetley as she sits astride her silver-grey 350cc Royal Enfield, leading bikers—mostly men—up precarious mountain slopes to Leh and Spiti or past parched dunes in Rajasthan.
Miles away, on a different terrain, Poonam Darne, a scuba-diving instructor with Ocean Pearls in Havelock Island, evokes a similar reaction of incredulity. “Are you going to take me scuba- diving?”—most tourists hesitantly ask this when they see a woman dive leader. “Their faces fall at first,” Poonam laughs, “but once they have explored the ocean with me, they insist I lead them on subsequent dives too!”
It irritates Anita Deshpande no less when people ask her at meetings, “Who’s the man running the show?” Anita and her husband, Avi Malik, own Temple Pilots, a paragliding school in Kamshet, near Pune. Well, times have changed and now women are effortlessly diving, gliding, rafting, trekking and biking their way through adventure sports. What was till recently an all-boys club is no longer so.
“It’s all about breaking that mental block,” says Poonam, who found her calling during a holiday in the Andamans three years ago when she wore a wetsuit for the first time. Within months, she was off to Thailand on an internship to learn diving. Back in Mumbai, her family thought it was a passing phase—it was only a matter of time before their little girl came back to her secure food products business. But Poonam’s world had, literally, undergone a sea change. “Diving is all I...