Chipping a tooth in the Arctic

Aug 19, 2012, 09:41 IST | Dhvani Solani

Gurgaon resident Alamjit Singh Sekhon jumped on to the polar express to out-battle his opponent and win the honour of hoisting the Indian flag in the desolate terrains of the Arctic as part of a reality show. We spoke to him about his arduous journey to the top of the world, which left him with a broken tooth

We know it’s a great interview when responses to our list of questions for an article we’re writing leads to freewheeling conversation, peppered with tangential comments. Or when your phone bill keeps rising. That’s what happened when we spoke with Alamjit Singh Sekhon — what should have been a 30-minute interview got stretched to 90 minutes, and we weren’t done.

Gurgaon resident Alamjit Singh Sekhon hoisted the Indian flag in the the Arctic as part of a reality show. Pics/Husain Akbar

Sekhon has done everything, from climbing up a waterfall, cycling through snow, surviving in the deceptive barrenness of the Arctic, kayaking in bone-chilling waters to dog-sledding. He even lost a tooth in the bargain, for god’s sake. All for the glory of pitching the Indian flag in an uninhabited terrain of the North Pole. “And for an unparalleled experience that helps discover new limits and potential within you,” adds the 32 year-old. Are you hooked yet?

Sekhon was the winner of Mission Arctic, an adventure-based reality show that was recently broadcast on National Geographic Channel. Eight shortlisted contestants tested their guts in the northern region of our country, after which two of the final contestants headed to the Arctic to battle in the final rounds.
“I have always dreamt about visiting the North Pole. I read a lot, and many of my childhood heroes were the ones who have explored this terrain,” says the Gurgaon-based resident who works as a senior brand manager with one of the largest food brands in the country.

From heavy-duty auditions over the phone and in Gurgaon to battling seven other participants in the preliminary round in Kunzum Pass — the gateway to Spiti Valley — to finally competing against Delhi-based Chirayu Sood, it was hardly smooth sailing for him. “One of our tasks in the prelims included kayaking in an icy-cold river. I was the first one to go, and my kayak overturned. My face hit some boulders and I lost a tooth. At that point, you are in shock. But I kept telling myself to concentrate on the task at hand. The kayaking was followed by having to climb up a rope ladder. Since your hands are already numb from the cold waters, going up each rung of the ladder feels like a crushing pull-up.” But Sekhon made it. These activities also prepared the top two for the harsh landscape of the Arctic.

Hoisting the flag, says Sekhon, was a culmination of a journey that proved to be a life-changing experience

After changing four flights, the team reached Tromso in Norway, from where they proceeded to Kaperdalen, a farm on the small island of Tromsoya in the county of Troms, 350 kms north of the Arctic Circle in May. “When we first caught sight of this region, we were taken aback. There is a moment when you feel that no matter what the future holds, your dreams do come true,” he tells us, as we close our eyes and imagine what it would be like to be in the northernmost part of the world.

The activities in the Land of the Midnight Sun were similar, but only that much harsher, thanks to the topography. So after a survival test in the snowy regions of Spiti, the duo had another survival task in the Arctic. “The Samis, who are the original inhabitants of this region, had given us tips on how we can survive.

Sekhon battled it out with seven other participants in the preliminary round in Kunzum Pass — the gateway to Spiti Valley

One of the tasks was building a shelter by shovelling through the snow.” Other tasks included kayaking in the choppy waters of the sea to get to a lighthouse, followed by the final task of dog sled harnessing and racing. “Since you have to make your own sled by choosing the right Siberian huskies and harnessing them, these are much more than menial tasks that test your physical endurance levels.”

Sekhon’s competitor beat him to this task, but his easy win in the previous tasks ensured him the top honour of climbing to a high point in the area the following day, and hoisting the Indian flag deep in the snow. His 6-ft stature meant that he often sunk to waist-level snow. “It’s amazing that these incidents were shot on camera, but the memories I carry will stay with me forever,” he says. “And hoisting the flag was a culmination of a journey that proved to be a life-changing experience.”

Just do it
> Be adequately prepared for where you are going, and research on the kind of clothing you will require. If you have under-packed, you might be too cold to enjoy your trip, and if you have over-packed, you might end up carrying too much stuff around
> You need to have a certain degree of fitness. If you go to the Arctic, you will definitely want to walk around a little, and this is not too easy to do. Work on your fitness levels so you can take what nature throws at you
> You must definitely know how to build a fire, and a shelter by digging a hole in the snow. If you get stuck somewhere, this is what will save you
> You might be tempted to stay put once you get here, but I suggest you keep moving to warm up your body
> You wouldn’t want to miss sea kayaking and dog-sledding. Though we didn’t catch the northern lights, you might want to schedule your trip keeping this spectacular phenomenon in mind, adds Sekhon 

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