After having a rather quiet and provincial childhood in the Kashmiri Valley of Srinagar, little did Archana realize her calling for the outdoors and adventure would begin much later in life. At the age of 40, Archana today is India’s first and possibly only woman BASE jumper, Skydiver, a scuba diving instructor and a mountaineer. A mother of 2 and the wife of a submariner, an electrical officer of the Indian Navy, Commander Rajiv Sardana, Archana is one of the those rare Indian women who have ventured in the world of outdoors after marriage.
“My marriage was an arranged one; twenty days after meeting him I was married. It was my husband who encouraged me into the world of outdoors. My very first outdoor trip was a 42 km walkathon event in Vizag, while in retrospect it seems very minor, it was this trip that changed my outlook, something clicked inside and before I knew it I was doing an adventure course in the Himalayas with my husband,” says Archana.
“There is something very enjoyable about the outdoors, no matter what you end up enjoying that experience, even if it is difficult and has its moments when you feel you will be giving, in the end there is something very memorable about the outdoors,” says Archana.
While experimenting with mountaineering and trekking might be fine, BASE jumping is something different altogether. The acronym for BASE is Building Aerial Span Earth; BASE Jumping grew out of skydiving, however BASE jumps generally take place close to the object serving as the jump platform.
A BASE jump is closer to the earth, with a possibility of a huge impact. According to scientific studies, it is the world’s most dangerous sport and is believed to be illegal in several countries. However before attempting BASE jumping, in 2007 Archana had begun Sky Diving and had done over 200 jumps from a plane before attempting BASE jumping. Archana is the first Indian woman who has attempted BASE Jumping.
Skydiving happened incidentally in the Navy there was a team of skydivers, and Archana’s husband happened to be interacting with them. “At that time we were in Vizag, Vishakapatnam and there wasn’t anything much to do in terms of mountaineering, so after interacting with the Naval guys, we got an idea into sky-diving, and I went to US to do and learn about Sky Diving” says Archana. It was in Perris Valley, US did Archana begin her sky-diving adventure, it was here that she did her skydiving course and did several skydives.
Having sky-dived both in India and abroad, her journey in Skydiving has been long and diverse, when asked what is difference between sky-diving in India and in the US, her first statement was, “In the US, they are very particular about safety, they follow stringent safety procedures and rules. After several skydives, I thought I should just try BASE Jumping,” says Archana. After her stint in Sky Diving, Archana went to Salt Lake City for BASE Jumping, “It was difficult initially, as the height is pretty low and even a little scary, but I did it nevertheless,” says Archana.
Talking about a skydiving experience, Archana states, “one time during dive in Arizona, my parachute did not open, I was pretty freaked, and when the parachute opened it was very low, I thought I wouldn’t survive, but luckily nothing happened, I was safe and everything went well.” Even after this incident Archana continued sky diving, this incident just did not seem to stop her, “I started immediately after 2 days. In fact let me give you another incident about BASE Jumping, I went for BASE Jump along the twin towers in Malaysia, and I was injured in a jump on the first day, it is rather easy to get injured during BASE jumping, I couldn’t even walk, but I nevertheless went for a jump after 2 days. I just don’t want to carry on with a negative experience of the outdoors; I wanted to change that immediately.”
After conquering the skies, it was now time to explore the underwater world, it is rather interesting that when Archana did her first scuba dive she was scared of water and did not even know how to swim. Today, she is amongst the best scuba-diving instructors of our country! Talk about facing your fears and then conquering them! Like for every other outdoor activity that Archana has pursued, the driving force behind her attempting scuba diving was her husband Rajiv, “I remember him encouraging me and telling me to try it out. So I went with my kids, (who were 8 years and 10 years old that time) and learnt swimming and then diving.” says Archana.
Talking about her very first scuba experience, Archana states, “the very first dive all four of us (me, my husband and my kids) did it together. I still remember on the morning of the dive I was so nervous that I even told my husband not to talk to me, I was scared of water and I recollect that my husband egged me on by telling me, do one dive you will like it so much that you will keep doing it for the rest of your life. And that happened, and I just wanted to go.”
“The world underwater is simply breath-taking, you do not have to talk, there is no need for small talk or interaction, the world surrounds you completely, and you are a part of something so beautiful and unique that there are no words that can describe it aptly. You just don’t want to come up, nobody is interfering, and you are within yourself,” adds Archana.
Of all the different outdoor activities and sports she has tried, Archana finds scuba diving the most relaxing and soul-touching, “it feels as if you can conquer the world after scuba diving, nothing can affect you, there is this sense of calm that envelops you, which no external force can destroy,” says Archana.
Archana believes that adventure activities make you a very strong and independent person, it is a fitness mantra not only for your body but even your mind, and it helps build determination. “It helps you explore yourself as an individual, who is a part of a vast and mighty universe, where you realise nothing can be bigger than this universe, it helps you be calm and strong at the same time,” says Archana.
Advicing all the women who want to pursue outdoor activities, Archana advices, “I first of all would request all the families encourage their girls to pursue what they want and feel, family support matters a lot. Please open your minds, also for all the women I ask you to take the initiative and be strong, if this is what you want to do and you are sure of it; please don’t let anything stop you. You have to prioritise why you want to do some outdoor activity, you need to be sure of why you want to do what you want to do. You have to be passionate about whatever you do, be sure and determined, and everything will fall in place.”