Kerala doctor wins his way to a polar adventure

His wanderlust and a taste for the unconventional life have taken Dr. Babu Ahmed Sager of Kerala’s Kozhikode district to different climes, terrains and cultures of 26 countries, including the Scandinavian region.

Now, the 41-year-old Dr. Sager, who has been growing apple at a remote mountain village near Manali in Himachal Pradesh since 2013, will be off to the Scandinavian Arctic Circle to participate in the Fjallraven Polar Expedition. He has been selected for the annual adventurous Arctic Pole expedition from among thousands of contestants from scores of countries. The selection was through an online voting conducted by the Swedish company Fjallraven, maker of winter outdoor gears.

Sledge ride

In April, Dr. Sager will ride a six-dog sledge cruising 300 km across the tundra in Sweden and Norway where the temperature can go as low as minus 30. The trek through the Arctic snow, in the company of some 20 men and women selected under ten different categories, will take five days. Ferocious, chilly winds can send the sledge off the snow track.

“I am grateful to all my travel-loving well-wishers, especially those on the ‘Sanchari’ travel blog, for helping me to win with a huge lead,” Dr. Sager told The Hindu over the phone. While Dr. Sager came out tops in the ‘The World’ categories with 82,715 online votes, Jayaraj Gedela of Andhra Paradesh followed him close with 66,017 votes. Only one person from ‘The World’ category, in which contestants from over 50 countries, mostly from outside the Americas and Europe, gets selected. This is the second time that an Indian is selected for the high-adventure event. Last year, Niyog Krishna from Kerala’s Punalur town, became the first Indian to qualify.

For Dr. Sager, life has been a journey from the balmy seaside village of Kadalundi near Kozhikode, to the freezing St. Petersburg in Russia, then to the apple farm in a snow-capped mountain village near Manali, where he has temporary ‘settled down.’ And from studying microbiology in Bangalore, to eight years of medical studies at St. Petersburg Medical University and then to four years of study and practice of permaculture in the mountain folds in the company of his Siberian Husky dog.

His 13-acre apple farm has been a shelter for lots for Himalayan travellers — artists, musicians, writers pennyless teenagers —from around the world. They stay with him for weeks together and help in working the farm.

Be at home, buddies

At the start of the 45-minute uphill trek to his farm, Dr. Sager has put up a welcome signboard in Malayalam that says, “Come on up buddies.” No wonder, he is popular with Himalayan travellers from Kerala who voted him to the polar expedition.

“I guess I can complete the Arctic expedition smoothly as I have the experience of staying, during my Russian years, in extremely cold places,” Dr. Sager said. And, last year’s winner Niyog Krishna, who spent one month “training” with Babz Sager, says that there is not a single mountain in the Manali region that the the doctor-turned-apple-farmer has not climbed yet. Together the two had spent days in places where the temperature was often minus-20 so that Niyog could get acclimatised for the Arctic expedition.

Niyog said his expedition, in April this year, was really tough and adventurous. Riding the sled pulled by six Alaskan Huskies, pitching the tent in chilly winds, and sleeping in snow trenches were all hard. For days after the trip, he could not speak as his facial muscles had been “frozen.” But, he had thoroughly enjoyed it all.

“Ï am looking forward to the trip,” Dr. Sager said.


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