Almora : 15 February, 2016

 18, she has several mountain peaks under her belt. Now, Poja Mehra, the daughter of a farmer in a remote village of Bageshwar district of Uttarakhand, is going to scale the world's highest peak, Mount Everest. A class 12 student of a government college, Pooja is one of the ten National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadets selected nationally to climb Mount Everest in April.

Pooja told TOI that she came to know about Mount Everest only a year back. "I never heard of Mt Everest. I never saw glaciers. It was only when I went to Darjeeling for a training in glacier, I saw how glaciers are. I came to know from my NCC (National Cadet Corps) senior that Mt Everest is the world's highest peak. Yes, I am going to climb the Mt Everest and it will take two months to climb Everest. The approximate date for flag-in at the summit of Mt. Everest is June 15."
She belongs to 24 UKSW Girls Battalion Almora of NCC and is the only cadet from the hill state to be selected for the mission.

Pooja will leave for Delhi on March 1, where all the ten cadets will be given physical training for one month. From there, they will head to Nepal on March 28. The Uttarakhand girl said that she was hopeful of climbing the peak on her first attempt.

"People are able to summit Mt Everest on their fourth or fifth attempt, but I am hopeful that if weather permits, I would be able to summit on my first attempt itself. I believe I have all the required mental and physical strength to achieve it. Moreover, I have successfully achieved the pre-expedition climbs," she said.

Pooja never got any formal physical training before she joined NCC in 2013.
She believes that all her endurance came from working in fields and helping her mother in household chores. "I am the only girl in the family besides my mother. I work all day at the field, milk the cows, wash them, cut grasses, sow seeds and reap crops - everything that's required to do in fields. I also help my mother in the household chores," Pooja said.

In January 2016, Pooja went to Siachen glacier for another training. Earlier, she had climbed Trishul peak in October 2015. She also climbed Deo Tibba peak in Himachal Pradesh in the same year. When asked what she learned from her expeditions, Pooja promptly said, "It's all about how not to give up in life. I learned the ways of fighting against the most difficult situations. If you have the strength, you can overcome any situation."

Pooja goes for a 10km run every day near her home followed by rigorous physical exercises for an hour. Her father, who is a farmer and couples up as bus driver in spare time, is a proud man.
"We would like to support and encourage her in whatever ways we can so that she can progress in her life," said Chandan Singh Mehra, who does not want her daughter to get married anytime soon. Singh wants her to be financially and emotionally independent. The family earns a little less than Rs 9,000 a month from the farming and Singh's driving. Pooja has two brothers. The elder one is in Army Medical Corps, while the younger is in school.

Pooja studies in a government college in Garur tehsil. The principal of the college, Prema Bhatt, is equally proud of the fact that one of her students will summit Mount Everest. "It's a proud moment for all of us. She has been good in academics and sports. In college too, she remains attentive," she said.

When asked about her next target, Pooja says, "I am not sure. I would like to join Nehru Institute of Mountaineering for a mountaineering course. But later on, I have decided to join Indian Army." TOI

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