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Onelife 27

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V I C T O R Y I S M A D E O F T H I S 74

PIONEERS Bangladeshi mountaineer and human rights activist Wasfia Nazreen is proud to defy convention STORY: GEOFF POULTON IMAGES: COURTESY OFFICE OF HH DALAI LAMA, SEBASTIAN GRAU Wasfia Nazreen never imagined she’d watch the sun rise from the top of the world. Her journey to the top of Mount Everest was a treacherous one, battling extreme cold, sickness and the daily threat of deadly avalanches. The frozen bodies of perished climbers she encountered along the way offered a stark reminder of the danger. As she neared the summit, more than 26,247 feet above sea level, the first tears began to fall. When Nazreen finally reached the top, she was sobbing uncontrollably, overcome with gratitude. “After feeling so alone on the ascent, I suddenly sensed a connection to every single being. My entire life flashed in front of me. I felt tinier than a bug on these Himalayan gods and goddesses.” Climbing Mt. Everest in 2012 was a life-changing experience for the 36-year-old from Bangladesh, giving her a “newfound realization of how limited our time on Earth is and a fresh strength and perspective for activism.” Nazreen doesn’t just climb for herself: it has become her way of promoting strength and hope for women, both in her native country and beyond. Everest was just one part of ‘Bangladesh on Seven Summits’, her tribute to the fortitude of the women who had suffered during Bangladesh’s war of independence. In 2015, she reached the top of Carstensz Pyramid in New Guinea, becoming the first Bangladeshi, and one of just a few hundred people, to climb the highest peaks on each of the world’s seven continents. At each summit, Nazreen proudly displayed the Bangladesh flag, before pulling out a collapsible hula hoop and twirling it around her hips. “I was chastised for doing this as a child, so I do it for me and the girls Nazreen‘s conquest of mountains is a tribute to Bangladeshi women. Top left: showing the Dalai Lama a photo of Tibet taken from the peak of Mt. Everest. Top right: atop Mt. Denali, Alaska back home. It’s my way of saying ‘No more.’” Nazreen grew up in Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second-largest city. After finishing school in the capital Dhaka, she received a scholarship to a college in the US to study art and psychology. Her thesis on how women use art as therapy took her to numerous regions in India, including Dharamshala, home to the Tibetan government in exile, where her passion for the mountains and human rights grew. She worked for aid organizations before deciding to combine her passions for climbing and activism full time; she works to raise awareness of human rights abuses and climate change. Despite the “love” she received from all over the world, as a Bangladeshi woman, completing the Seven Summits presented major challenges – and not just the physical, mental, financial and logistical. “I encountered discrimination, insults, even death threats. But these only serve to make the rising feminine force stronger.” A self-confessed perfectionist, Nazreen considers planning an expedition an art form. Logistics work will often begin months, even years in advance, alongside her year-round physical training. “No matter how well you plan, though,” she says, “you also have to accept that almost anything can and will go wrong.” Nazreen aims to start each day with meditation. “Mindfulness is essential while climbing, and mountaineering is a source of reflection and calmness for me.” It’s an unconventional career choice, she admits, especially coming from a society in which everything she has chosen to do is considered “abnormal” or “taboo.” “But that’s exactly what I’m most proud of: living the life I choose to.” 75


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Land Rover Magazine 39


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