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UK PIO woman becomes first ‘woman of colour’ to make solo trip to South Pole – Times of India


LONDON: A British-born Indian Sikh woman has made history by becoming the first woman of colour to complete a solo expedition to the South Pole.
Captain Harpreet Chandi (32), from Derby, reached the South Pole on Monday, the 40th day of her unsupported 700-mile trek across the Antarctic wilderness in temperatures of up to -50 degrees Celsius and wind speeds of up to 60 mph.
Chandi, who named herself “Polar Preet” for the trek and is a physiotherapist in the British Army, said in an audio blog after arriving: “I made it to the South Pole where it is snowing. It feels so surreal to finally be here. This expedition was always about so much more than me. I want to encourage people to push their boundaries and to believe in themselves without being labelled a rebel. I have been told ‘No’ on many occasions and told to just do the normal thing. I don’t want to just break the glass ceiling. I want to smash it into a million pieces.”
UK defence secretary Ben Wallace congratulated her, saying “her history-making expedition is an inspiration to all of us and a phenomenal achievement”.
Chandi joined the Army Reserves when she was 19 and joined the regular Army about six years ago having never camped in her life.
She began the journey on November 24 from Hercules Inlet after being dropped off by a Twin Otter plane. She travelled with a pulk (Nordic small sled) carrying a cooker and freeze-dried meals weighing 87 kg without any resupply. Every day she skied for up to 11 hours per day, wearing carpet-like material on the bottom of her skis to help her grip the snow, and each night put up a tent, melted snow to drink, and cooked dishes like pork pasta. She sometimes fell on icy terrain and on Boxing Day vomited and had diarrhoea. Some days she had a “whiteout”, and she did not see anyone for days on end.
Bhangra music by the likes of Diljit Dosanjh and Jay Sean, audio books as well as listening to 45 voice notes she had stored on her phone from friends, and daydreaming about her upcoming wedding to partner David, kept her going. She wore a rakhi tied on her by her two elder brothers for protection, a reminder “to anyone that it is okay to change traditions”.
In her blogposts she often reflected on her life. “It can often be those closest to us that hold us back. I am often called a rebel for doing things out of the norm, for pushing my boundaries,” she said. Listening to Bhangra “made me think of my Punjabi roots and all of the things I love about them”, she said.
She explained how she used to be embarrassed about her Indian roots — “having eggs thrown at me and people spit at me when I was a teenager because I looked different,” she said. “It took me a while to appreciate my culture and my roots, so when I describe myself as a ‘woman of colour’ it is because I am finally proud of my skin colour, my roots, my culture. Having been told on many occasions that I don’t look like a polar explorer… let’s change the image you expect to see.”
One of her blogs is dedicated to her grandfather who moved to the UK when she was born and raised her. “He always made me feel just as important in a community where I sometimes felt as though I was less. I always used to think he looked like an Indian Santa Claus,” she said. She also commented on how many people from the Indian community thought she was going to Southall. “I can still imagine them thinking why I’m making such a big deal about heading to Southall. I think it might be just a little bit colder here,” she said.
Her preparation included various extensive training exercises, such as dragging tyres, and earlier in the year she headed to Greenland for a warm-up expedition.

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