Season 4 Episode 1 | Preet Chandi AKA Polar Preet
Alok Jha talks to Guinness World Record-breaking polar explorer Preet Chandi MBE – known as Polar Preet – about her extraordinary, inspiring and boundary-breaking achievements in Antarctica.
After we spoke to her, Preet went back to Antarctica – this time to attempt a speed record for the fastest woman to complete a solo South Pole ski expedition, covering 702 miles of Antarctic ice in 31 days, 13 hours and 19 minutes.
Listen now (a full transcript is available below):
Season 4 Episode 1 Transcript Preet Chandi AKA Polar Preet
Alok Jha: Let me take you on a journey. To the coldest place on earth, and its last and greatest wilderness. On a voyage to Antarctica…
Hello and welcome to the fourth season of A Voyage to Antarctica, brought to you by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. I’m your host Alok Jha.
Today, I’ll be talking to Guiness World record-breaking Polar explorer Preet Chandi - aka. Polar Preet – about her extraordinary achievements in Antarctica.
In 2022 Preet became the ninth woman in history to ski solo to the South Pole and the first woman of colour to complete a solo expedition on the continent. The next year, Preet set out on another adventure: covering 922 miles in 70 days and breaking two Guinness world records for the longest solo unsupported one-way polar ski journey.
Preet is a British Army Officer and physiotherapist in the Royal Army Medical Corps. She’s completed large scale exercises and deployments in Nepal, Kenya and South Sudan, and has a masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine.
On her return from Antarctica in 2022, Preet gave more than four months of school talks all over the UK, reaching more than 18,000 students; received an honorary masters at Derby University; and was appointed an MBE as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 2023, she was named ‘Explorer of the Year’ by the Scientific Exploration Society.
After we spoke, Preet went back to Antarctica – this time to attempt a speed record for the fastest woman to complete a solo South Pole ski expedition, covering 702 miles of Antarctic ice in 31 days, 13 hours and 19 minutes.
Alok Jha: Now, I read that a few years ago, you didn't know anything about Antarctica. But now we all know that you're a Guinness world record breaking polar explorer. It's quite a journey. You've said you don't even like the cold. So where did this idea that you might spend so long in the cold come from? What was the genesis?
Preet Chandi: For so long, I remember people saying that I couldn't do certain things. And for me, when I did them, you know, little things like – wasn't smart enough to get into uni. And I remember when I did them, I was like, wow, I could do this. You know, that's incredible. And I think the more we do, the more we're capable of, or we realise we're capable of. So for me, I got to a point where I wanted to do something big, I just didn't know what it was. So I was searching for that something and I'd speak to people and say, you know, I really want to do something. And, Antarctica came up in conversation.
I remember the first time it was mentioned, I was like, no way. You know, that's not for me. I don't know anything about it, but that seed was planted. I thought, how amazing would it be to go do something? I don't know anything about, that was the appeal for me. And I did genuinely start on Google and did some research and found Antarctica logistics and expeditions. And then they were great. And I was like, you know, what do I need to do?
Alok Jha: Well, we'll get into the logistics for all in just a sec, but. You said that Antarctica came up in conversation. What was that conversation? Do you come from a sort of background of family and friends who are talking about these things all the time, or was it kind of rare?
Preet Chandi: Yeah, no, definitely not. So the conversation it came from is because I, I think probably for a little while, you know, I started doing a few ultra marathons. I started doing different events and people be like, Oh, what are you going to do next? And things. And For me, I was like, I want to do something big. So that would come up in conversation.
I want to do something big, but I don't know what. So no, that didn't come from family and friends. It was mentioned in like a work setting as I was saying it. And I think somebody had seen somebody else do something in Antarctica. And I don't remember who they'd seen in Antarctica. I just remember thinking Antarctica because I didn't really know much about, I didn't know anything about it at that point.
And that sat in my mind for a while before I even started looking into it. probably like well over six months. And it was just – ah, you know, this thing someone mentioned Antarctica is a seed in the back of my head.
Alok Jha: So clearly there's a part of you that just wants to keep pushing boundaries and pushing the extremes.
And you mentioned marathons and ultramarathons before even the Antarctica stuff came up. And I noticed that in your background, you've done several ultramarathons, you've done lots of marathons, you know, very early on in your life. And I just wonder, Was running something you really liked? Was exercise something you really liked?What was it that pushed you to the idea of a physical challenge?
Preet Chandi: You know, I think it was running. So I did play tennis when I was younger as well. So I started tennis when I was 10. So not like specifically from a sporty family at all. Me and my brothers were the first ones really to, you know, start doing sports, I guess.
Alok Jha: But is it the physical stuff or the competitive element that you like the more?
Preet Chandi: Oh, that's a good question. I think when I was younger, definitely competitive, but against my brothers. So not just going into competitions and winning. So I think the physical side of it – I say physical side. I don't think I was ever very good at tennis. I think the only reason I used to win was from the mental side. So I would go and get that next ball and then the next ball and –
Alok Jha: you didn't give up.
Preet Chandi: Well, exactly. We will get frustrated because I keep getting that ball back. So a lot of the times I think I'd win not because I was technically the better player.
For me, it's funny, isn't it? Even early on, I think it was more of a mind game. and then when my opponent was sometimes down, I'd quickly win the next few points, you know, or they would quickly lose the next few points. I used that to my advantage. I remember doing that in my teens and I ran my first half marathon when I was at uni and I enjoyed it
You know, I think it was exciting and I was like, well, if I can do that, what else can I do? Tried my first marathon.
I haven't actually done that many ultramarathons. I've done a few, but not that many. And I was one of these people, I just see something, you know, I'd search online and find something, get really excited about it and I was going into a lot of the time.
Alok Jha: As you said already, you know, you pushed yourself to further and further physical challenges as you went along, and as you said, Antarctica came up in a conversation and so you're Googling away, you find yourself organising it, how does somebody who doesn't know anything about Antarctica start to find out the logistics involved, because that is not an easy task. It's not just training every morning in your local park and then doing the ultramarathon. I'm not suggesting a marathon training is easy either, to be honest, but – but, you know, it's a lot easier to sort of do than travelling to another continent, building up all your supplies and all that.Just take us through the organisational challenge.
Preet Chandi: Yeah, 100%. So you're right. Where do you even start? And I came across Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions, emailed, you know, like, I'm interested in doing something. And it was Steve Jones who first emailed me back. And I still got that email with a big list of things that I would need to do to go and do a trip to the South Pole.
And that was really useful. You know, it's a checklist and I was looking down at – okay, what have I done? Have I navigated on featureless terrain,? No. So it was a big list of things.
Alok Jha: And is this a company or an organisation that sort of helps people basically organise trips?
Preet Chandi: Yeah. So it's a company, Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions are the company that I use, they're the backup. They are the medical support, logistical support. They fly us into Antarctica, fly out of Antarctica and, you know, either expeditions like I've done, but people go for loads of different things and run out there for the summer seasons in Antarctica. So November to Jan time, which is when I've gone and done the expeditions.
Alok Jha: So once you have your checklist and you realise that you have a lot of training to do, how do you go about organising it? Do you have to sort of persuade someone to let you go or can anyone just go if they want to, even if they don't have the backup?
Preet Chandi: I'm trying to think the first person who recommended Hannah McKeand's course, a polar training course in Norway.
Once I created Polar Preet, I followed anyone who had done anything Antarctic related. And I have to say people were so helpful. I've spoke to anyone I could – what would you recommend doing? And I think it was actually Louis Rudd, who said Hannah's course was a good – or it was a few people that said Hannah's course was a good one to do.
And this course was called a Polar Training Course. So it was like great. And it gave me like a really good baseline of skills, like how to camp on snow, like the kit you need, cooking in those conditions. So all of those types of things. And I was at work full time and I just took leave. So I took two weeks of leave from work and I booked on the course.
Hannah then called me, asked me a little bit about my background, gave us a kit list that you needed to head out there. See, they would loan us some as well. And then I went on that course and I think there were 12 of us on that course, all individuals from different places wanting to do something in the polar regions.
And that was, to be honest, my baseline. It gave me a really good baseline. So doing that course was really useful. And then from that course, you know, they said these are different good training grounds that you can. Go to, to train, to go to Antarctica. One that I felt kept coming up was Greenland's a really good training ground to go if you can do an expedition there.
So again, I took leave from work. Basically, I used all the leave I could to do my training at this stage and so on for the trips to go there. So Greenland was the same. It was not easy to get support to go to Greenland. I used my life savings to do that trip and more – actually took me a year and a half to pay it off. So it was challenging and I don't want to say, Oh no, I knew I was going to do it all along and I was always super motivated. Because I wasn't, there were times where I really struggled with the debt I'd gotten into – am I even going to be able to do this? Am I going to get support? Yeah, it was challenging.
Alok Jha: Antarctica's always one of these places that is full of stories and explorers and adventurers that we know about, Shackleton and Scott and all these other great explorers.
Did any of them ever enter your sort of mind when thinking about these big adventures? Because, I mean, the story you told just now is very much one of just pushing your own boundaries and deciding that you wanted to do something that you've not done before as a sort of inspiration to people. But I wonder, did these other ideas and thoughts come into your head at any point from history?
Preet Chandi: So I'll be completely honest. I had heard the name Shackleton, but I honestly didn't know anything about his story at all. And Amundsen and Scott were names I had never heard or didn't recognise. And I remember, When I would tell people I had this idea and, you know, after doing some research, people would ask me, were you inspired by Shackleton?
And I'd say, yeah, yeah, I was because I saw what I'd seen other people say and do as I start speaking to others.I think it's difficult because I felt like I was at a time where, you know, I was a reasonably confident person and sure of myself, but I still felt, I don't know, I think maybe it's because I felt like I was going into something I didn't know anything about?
I remember on the website, I even wrote like one of the first lines was previously I was inspired by Shackleton, Amundsen and Scott. And probably like a month later, I then changed it. I was like, I don't need to follow that same path.
Actually, I wasn't inspired by them, not because they don't have amazing stories, but personally, I didn't relate to them and that's okay. So I changed it and wrote that I was inspired by wanting to do something different. So now I've obviously learned a little bit more, but they weren't stories that came into my mind.
Alok Jha: That first expedition that you started in 2022, just give me an overview of it. What was the plan and what did you achieve?
Preet Chandi: When I started, I looked into Antarctica.I really wanted to do a crossing of the landmass. I thought it'd be a really amazing thing to do. And after I'd done some training, I put my application in to Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions and they didn't approve it because I still didn't have enough experience, which is, you know, completely fair.
So I actually did the first one to show that I had experience, to get that experience, to show that I was And for me, it was about Doing it well. So getting to the South Pole in a good state, you know, not needing loads of support when I was on the ice doing that trip and what I mean by that, you know, I'm still checking in every day, but I'm not saying I don't know what I'm doing or getting lost or any of those things. So to show that I could do the bigger trip.
Yeah, it's so funny looking back now because, you know, when I finished that trip, so it was 2021 I started and finished early 2022. I remember thinking, you know, there was definitely some challenging moments because I found the second trip so hard. I look back now and I think it was actually all right. It's funny, isn't it? Because you put everything in context.
Alok Jha: Can you give listeners a sense of a day to day schedule? I expect that things are not the same every day, but what are you doing in terms of waking up, checking in? What are you using to check in with? I mean, how are you contacting people back at home?
Preet Chandi: So my routine was, I was skiing between, yeah, on the first trip, 10 to 12 hours at the start, and I would stop kind of around every hour and turn around, put my big down jacket on and quickly have some snacks. I wouldn't stop for longer than 10 minutes. And then I'd repeat that over and over again. My timings did change a little bit, but that's what I was trying to stick to at the start of that first trip.
And when I'd finished for the day, I put my tent up. One of the first things I want to do when I'm in my tent is start boiling snow. So I've got water to eat my dinner. You're trying to do as much concurrent activity as you can. So you can then get your head down and go again the next day. And then I had a satellite phone. And I would call the logistics company. So I had my check in time – tell them how I'm feeling. So for me, I was like, yeah, I'm doing okay, this is my GPS location. So that was my check in call to them.
Alok Jha: How did you keep your phones charged? I mean, that's one thing I'm curious about.
Preet Chandi: Yeah, so I have a solar panel charger. So it's 24 hour daylight at this point. And the solar panel charger charges my power pack. And then the power pack charges the other equipment I have. So I do have my normal phone and I keep that on aeroplane mode. And then the satellite phone, I'm only turning on for five minutes every day. So I don't have to charge it much. And then it's off the entire time. I didn't have it on unless I needed to have it on. And that's the same with the other equipment, even the GPS. I only turned that on in the evenings, check my location and check the direction of travel that I needed to go in. But at all other times I kept that kit and equipment off to try and savour that battery life for as long as I could, because even with the solar panel charger, what I found was on days where it's like super bright, great – charges really nicely, on the cloudier days, and depending on how long you're in your tent, obviously things won't charge as quickly.
But then, yeah, after I'd called the logistics company for the check in, I then would do a blog and I was leaving a voicemail. So I'd been working with ZeroSixZero , who are an amazing company, and they would then attach that voice recording to a map on my website. My partner and my sister in law would type that up onto the website, onto social media. So yeah, it was a really good system.
Alok Jha: So you actually were regularly in touch with people back home. They knew what you were doing. I mean, it's quite incredible actually to think about it in terms of how present you can still be in people's lives, even though you're so many thousands of miles away and vice versa. I'm assuming were you getting messages from people at the same time?
Preet Chandi: So that's what's interesting. So for other people, they're hearing from me every day. For me, not so much. So I spoke to my partner every day, but for me, it was a check in call. So a lot of the time that call was 15 seconds. I'm okay. You know, I always felt like I was going for the next day.
Some days it's probably a little bit longer, but generally it was quite early hours of the morning for him as well. And he had to get up and go to his job as well.
The device I had for messages, my in reach people can only message me if I've messaged them. And I actually find when I'm on the ice, like there's a few people who do message me that also on the ice doing their trips, it's nice to hear from them. But I find that I actually don't want to speak to too many people only because there's not the pressure for me to respond and, you know, it's quite all encompassing I find when I'm on these trips, it's the same thing over again, but you ski, obviously I listen to audio books, but as soon as my tents up, I want to get my admin done. So cooking my food, doing my blog, sorting out any injuries or any kit that I need to repair and then going to sleep and then doing the same again the next day, so I wasn't hearing from that many people.
I remember on the first trip asking my partner when I was on the ice, you know, is anyone listening? Is anyone following along? And he's like, yeah, loads of people, but you don't really, um, it's hard to not believe it, but it's hard to realise how many people are until I was back in Wi Fi, which was after I finished the - when I was back in Chile, you don't really put it in context.
Alok Jha: Yeah, there's no way you possibly can – given you look around you and there's nothing, absolutely nothing all around you. Everything is white.
Just on that, what was your first impression of Antarctica when you sort of got there and then what was it like day after day? Did it ever get dull or boring to see all of the white or were your nerves heightened all the time?
Preet Chandi: So when I first got off the plane, it's very wow, right? This amazing – actually not even got off the plane, as I was looking out the window coming in, and it is wow, it's this incredible place. As soon as you get off the plane, it was very windy. So like the wind is the first thing that hits you. And for the first trip, I did have moments of like, this is incredible. And There was like one or two days where there was like minimal wind. And it was like, wow, you're looking around, you know, you can't, can't see anyone on the horizon. And you can see for quite far on the good visibility days. But yes, a hundred percent, there were dull moments. It's an incredible place to be, but no way did I think every day, this is amazing. This is amazing.
Alok Jha: You can't possibly, because otherwise how would you survive?
Preet Chandi: Yeah, it's difficult. And the second trip, I mean, I didn't enjoy one day of the second trip, so I know that I didn't think that once. Probably when I finished, actually, it wasn't even joy. I think it was relief, if I'm honest.
Alok Jha: I mean, your first trip involves travelling 700 miles, carrying a massive sled of 90 kilos worth of supplies and everything, and that was a trip that was successful. And then your second – phase two, as you call it, of the expedition involves travelling almost a thousand miles in 70 days.That one didn't quite go to plan. Talk to me about what happened.
Preet Chandi: Of course. So my aim was, you know, to do the crossing of the landmass. I didn't make it, so I failed to meet my initial goal. It was challenging –
Alok Jha: You say it was challenging. I imagine all of it was challenging. So what was specifically challenging about this one? Sorry to push you.
Preet Chandi: No, no, it's okay. Yeah, you're right. It was all challenging. So we set off on the ice a bit late, but I wasn't stressed at that point. That's just the usual, you know, until there's a good weather window, you can't fly into Antarctica anyway. But as soon as we got to Union Glacier, I was like, right, I know I need to go because I left on the last passenger flight out of Antarctica 24 hours after I finished, so I knew I needed to get going.
And from the beginning of the trip, nothing really went the way I wanted it to. So I struggled a lot with the weather. I felt that the weather was a little bit more challenging this time. So there was a lot more sastrugi, those wind shaped ridges, and some storms came in early on and I had an 120 kilogram sled. So with those conditions in mind as well, it made things a bit more challenging. And obviously this is all how subjectively I felt when I was on the ice.
So first trip, I didn't cry once. I remember my eyes welling up a little bit, but I didn't cry. Second trip, first time I cried was about 14 days in, and it's when my sled flipped over. So at this point, my sled still weighs 100 kilos because once you eat the food, that's the weight going down. And it flipped over three times in a row in the sastrugi, and it was really difficult to try and like pull it back over, check the fuel's okay, nothing's spilt, and... Yeah, I've, I was behind from the offset. Every day was a struggle, probably about 10 days in, I had this intense worry that I was going to fail, that I wasn't going to make my end.There was so much like media attention around this. I felt like, you know, I'd failed myself and others and, you know, obviously I've come out of that, but you know, this is how I felt on the ice and it was constant. And I, you know, did a lot of positive reinforcement. I tried to get lost in my books, but every day you're checking that GPS. And every day you're pushing the hours so much, not going as far as you want.
And the last week was really, really difficult. At this point, I've lost a lot of weight. I had to ration my food. I was mentally in quite a dark place. And. I was exhausted mentally and physically and in my head I've got this voice telling me I failed. So I think, you know, all of those in combination with each other was challenging and I was, you know, pushing as hard as I could. I was doing at this point, like that last week, 24 hours at once before I even slept because I was doing everything so slow at this point. It was taking me so long to put up my tent.
I found there was a lot more sastrugi. I think because I was slower, everything was harder. So, you know, I remember like falling 14 times or so every two hours. And it just – the last week, I don't think I did cry because it was just – I didn't have anything left.
I don't think I've ever in my life thought, I really don't know if I can keep going. And I had those thoughts then. And what I would do is, I think, you know, I don't know if I can do this next few hours. And I just put like my one foot in front of the other, and that was it. And then I'd think to myself in the next few hours, I don't know if I can do this few hours. And I'd remind myself that I just did the last few and I didn't think I could do those either. So, if I've done... Those few, then, you know, I can probably do the next few as well.
What's funny is I don't even know, looking back at the time, if I knew how bad I was. However, from the amount of time it took me to recover, I can say that I was not in a good state.
Things that were quite powerful for me – listening to audiobooks on the ice. So I actually took South Asian authors with me and a mixture. And to be honest, loads of comedy, because when it's, when you're finding things difficult, I realised I don't want serious books. I listened to one or two people talking about their polar adventures when I was on the ice. But I think I prefer the lighter hearted ones.
Alok Jha: Yeah, I was going to ask you about this. So you wrote that you had all these audiobooks and podcasts and music as you were trudging along on the ice. Who were you listening to? Who were the authors and what kind of music was it?
Preet Chandi: I had such a mixture. So comedians, I had Tez Ilias, I had Ramesh Ranganathan and James Acaster. I love listening to comedy because when you're having like a really bad time and then just to like laugh out loud is so great. And then I had like a mixture of South Asian authors. I had Anita Rani, Poorna Bell. So it was just really nice having their voices with me.
And then music was a complete mixture.So I had some Bhangra music. I had some Bollywood music. I had R&B, a little bit of pop as well. So like such a mixture. And I think It's nice to have the mixture depending on what mood you're in that day because what I would usually do is start it off and then I didn't really want to have to change it as I was going in the day.
Alok Jha: Yeah, I mean it sounds wonderful to me that if someone was looking on a bird's eye view that you were walking along this ice by yourself maybe for 10, 11 hours at a time and then occasionally just laughing out loud. In the middle of nowhere, you know, did you look around to think, is anyone else looking at me laughing?
Preet Chandi: Yeah, do you know what, on the first trip, I actually started hallucinating towards the end and I was so sleep deprived. And honestly, if somebody could see me, I was going in circles. I remember touching my arms and my legs thinking, no, it's not me. I'm fine. I think I'm just in a dream I can't get out of. I started retracing my steps backward. Honestly. So I think there'd be a few interesting things if people could see me.
Alok Jha: I'm glad you're laughing about it now. It sounds quite difficult in the moment.
If you were checking in with people back home, letting people know how you were and assuming some of the difficulties must have got through to them, what were they telling you? Were they telling you to turn back? Were they encouraging you? How did they keep you going?
Preet Chandi: So I'm checking and I'm speaking to two people only. So one is my partner. One is a logistics company. I'm telling the logistics company I'm okay, you know, I'm going to keep going. but yeah, it was my partner really that I was saying – I'm struggling, but I'm going to keep going.
Alok Jha: that must've been difficult for your partner to hear.
Preet Chandi: Yes, a hundred percent. I don't think I ever would have said it in this detail, looking back. And to be honest, I don't know if I even realised, if that makes sense. I don't know if I realised, like I know I was struggling, but I don't know if I realised that, if it was that bad.
I think I remember looking around and I remember thinking, is it this bad or is it just me? because I always try to tell it as it is and I try not to exaggerate, so I do remember looking at where I was in that last few days and thinking – is it this bad or is it just me and I genuinely think it was that bad and obviously this is all subjective, you know, I'm, I've been going for 68 days and I'm not doing very well, but 100 percent my partner takes a huge brunt because I am not in a good place for that last section or for a lot of that trip, to be honest, and I know that I can't take anything in, you know, if there was anything I need to, you know, tell me things, but I knew if there was like, I wouldn't be able to concentrate that much and he was great. He was just a rock really, I think is probably the best way to describe him and solid in my tough moments.
Camilla Nichol: Hello, I'm Camilla Nichol, CEO of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.
As a charity, we work to preserve and protect Antarctica's unique heritage, from the wreck of Shackleton’s Endurance and historic huts of early pioneers, to the amazing discoveries in climate science. Our mission is to inspire more people to discover, value and protect this precious wilderness.
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Thank you - enjoy the rest of the show.
Alok Jha: It's really interesting hearing you talking about all of this because you're obviously processing a lot of it still in terms of how difficult it was and I suppose one observation I'd make is that most trips to the Antarctic probably fail, you know, most expeditions fail, never mind the one you were on.
And so things change all the time because of the weather and even in major expeditions on ships and with lots and lots of people, they can't get to where they're going because of the conditions down in Antarctica. So I just wonder when you look back on it. a year or so later. Do you still think of it as something that's a failure, or do you see the amount of skill and challenge it took to even get to that place in the first place?
Preet Chadi: So I do, but I also think it's okay to talk about the failure and I think it's important to talk about it.
So I could have very easily come back. Only talked about the fact that I got these two Guinness world records. Don't even have to mention that, that I was, you know, a hundred or so miles off my actual initial goal.
And I, you know, I remember writing a post not so long ago about failure. And a lot of people say, you know, you didn't fail. And I'm like, it's okay to admit that I failed to meet my initial goal because I did, you know, my aim wasn't to stop where I stopped. However, I am proud of how much I managed to do. And I'll be honest here, it took me a while to feel proud. I was covered in this disappointment and I felt. That was a little bit of a struggle for me and also recognizing that when I got back, it just took me a long time to recover. And obviously I had a polar thigh on my calf. I had surgery in February. I'd lost 20 kilograms of weight.
Yeah, it took a while, but no, I am proud and I do see what I've achieved and I think it's so hard to like just look back and if I look back, you know, even three years ago, I'm like I really do have to do that sometimes. I'm like, wow, actually, I can't believe I've got here, um, after just, you know, looking online and being like, is this something I can do?
So I do see what I've achieved. And I just also think it's okay to say, you know, I did change the goalpost. I had to adapt it, even if, you know, I wasn't cut off. So the last passenger flight was the next day. So I wasn't able to continue, even if I wanted to. Even if I was allowed to continue, I actually don't know if I would have made it.
Like I said, I was rationing my food. I was starving at this point. So I'm not sure that I could have made the end point. So I think sometimes you're your own worst critic. So it wasn't that easy to feel proud, but when you see reactions from others or, you know, I see my mum's face when she's seen like my poster up at my homecoming, like stuff like that is incredibly special.
And some of the messages I received were incredible, really.
Alok Jha: Now, I mean, as well as all of the incredible achievements we've just discussed, you were the first woman of color to do this solo expedition. That must have been quite special. And I just wonder if you, in the back of your mind, were you thinking about that in terms of bringing down some of those sort of traditional impressions of people who go to the South Pole?
Preet Chandi: You know what? That was beyond powerful. During the trip, no. I often find, I have a mixture during the trip.
Sometimes I do think about the bigger picture. I think sometimes I find that hard. And I just concentrate on putting my left foot forward, my right foot forward. I'm going this next 10 miles. So sometimes I'll keep it quite small. What's coming into my mind, they're lighthearted books, but there's that powerful piece behind it.
So, you know, I've still taken South Asian authors. My skis are named after my nephews, Gauran and Arjun. Has anyone else ever had an Indian name for their skis before? I've got a sticker of my niece's name on my sled, on my pork, Simran. Has anyone ever had a pork named Simran before? So there's all this messaging around me and when I finished, it's like with anything, I don't think it hits you straight away because I finish and you know, there was one person there and then I went back to the camp and there was a few more people there and I did loads of interviews, but on my satellite phone. So often my partner would just message me with a number to call, you know, and I would call those numbers and do the interviews.
When I came back a week later, after the first trip, that was incredible. I have never felt so… I don't think I even have the words to describe it. It was so incredibly heartwarming. Seeing little girls dress up as you for World Book Day was just...
Alok Jha: Oh, that must have been amazing.
Preet Chandi: Uh, yeah. I think it's my height.
It really was incredible. And having classes named after me, it's like, oh, it's really emotional. It's so, so special and I so appreciate how many people had my back. So I was a bit worried about using the term woman of colour. And it's funny, isn't it? Like you think, Oh, how are people going to perceive it? And then I was like Preet, you're describing yourself. Like, it's okay to do that. And of course, you know, there was this stuff I expected and comments on sites and things like, why does it matter? Great story, but ruined by the fact that you mentioned the color of her skin, we're all equal.
And I think what's interesting there is, There was actually a few of my differences in these headlines. It was female British army officer becomes first woman of colour. So they picked out that woman of color, not female British army officer. I'm like, well, the fact that I'm a British army officer is a difference too.
And for me, it's not about ignoring people's differences. That equality for me is embracing everybody's differences.And today we're all different and it's okay to embrace that. It's not only one thing that defines us. There's loads of different things for me, but, um. That is beyond powerful. It really is.
So many people say, if you, if you can see it, you can be it. I think that's the term and it's not about, okay, who wants to be a product for your adventures? It is anything it is saying that it is okay. If you haven't seen anybody that looks like you doing something for you can still do it. You can do. anything. You can do the thing, even if everybody in your community tells you you cannot do it, or doesn't understand, or doesn't even know, you know, for me, where Antarctica is, or thought I was going to Southall instead of the South Pole, it is okay.
Alok Jha: That's not true. Is that true?
Preet Chandi: Genuinely true. Genuinely true, by more than one person. So 100 percent true.
Alok Jha: I shouldn't laugh.
Preet Chandi: No, but it is true. And I can't even say how powerful that is for me. It's everything.
Alok Jha: When you came back from the expedition and you were telling people about it, as well as it being experienced as way outside your own comfort zone, I'm sure that for many people you spoke to afterwards, and you still speak to, there's probably so many surprising things, things they don't know.And I just wonder, what kind of questions did people ask you? What do you find difficult to get across in the expeditions you've been on?
Preet Chandi: I don't know, like how much I actually struggled out there, like how raw it was.
There's a few bits I remember vividly well, I remember seeing the plane in the distance, that tiny little dot and it getting bigger and bigger and a lot of things went wrong that day, my water in the thermos had frozen and how many times I fell on the way getting there, like, it felt like it still took hours to get to them and, you know, it was Rob Smith, who was one of the guides there who'd come to pick me up and I hugged him and I cried and I just said it was so hard, it was so hard. As though I was trying to justify why I didn't make the end and that rawness, I think no matter how much I would try to describe that, I don't think I have the words for it.
Alok Jha: We've talked a lot about adventure and suffering and the sort of physical nature of Antarctica, which is something, you know, we talk about a lot on this program, but the other sort of avenue of conversation that we normally talk about when it comes to Antarctica is the sort of pristine nature of it all and how it's being affected by the other environmental changes going on around the world.
I just wonder, after you went there, Did you come back with a different appreciation for nature and the changes we're making to it? I just wonder if you've got a new perspective on those things, given your experience.
Preet Chandi: For me, on some of the training I'd done in other places, I remember seeing signs that, you know, 10, 15 years ago – the glacier started from here and that kind of going back.
In Antarctica, where I landed and where I was, I was on the landmass. So visually, I didn't kind of see that. However, I hope I am very respectful to the places I go to and I think it is incredibly important to do that. I think it's important to be aware of it as well. Like, I do feel very privileged that I've been able to go to Antarctica.
Yes, it was tough to go there, but It really is an amazing place. I'm always respectful when I go there. Like the last degree, obviously, we Go to toilet in poo bags and then you carry that and then that waste is all taken out by the logistics company and you don't really want to leave trace behind where you go.
Obviously, I'm still flying out there so there is that as well. You know, I have a carbon footprint for sure. I don't know where that line is, if that makes sense. I don't know where we should, you know, during COVID lockdown, I think a lot of the places, nature was probably, uh, doing quite well because it wasn't having us walking everywhere.
But at the same time, I find it very good for my mental health to go out and do things like that. Not meaning I have to go to Antarctica, but the reasons I wanted to go, I hope are respectful.
The word conquered comes up every now and again, and I don't think anyone conquers these places. I think they're amazing places to be, you know, you treat them with respect, and you hope they give you safe passage I mean, end of the day, if nature wanted, it could take you out very quickly, you know, we're not conquering these places at all.
Alok Jha: Preet, it's been absolutely fascinating talking to you. I really, really enjoyed it. Just one final question that we ask all our guests. Why does Antarctica matter to you?
Preet Chandi: Why does it matter to me? It is this incredible, incredible place that I think, I was going to say like, not that many people have been to, but that's not the beauty or importance of it.
I do feel like it needs to be protected. but I didn't think it was for me.You know, I didn't think it was somewhere someone like me could be part of. And now being part of that is really important to me. So it is always going to hold a really special place in my heart forever.
And who knows, a few people have told me to turn my polar thigh scar on my calf into Antarctica. So might add a little peninsula on there and then it will always be with me.
Alok Jha: I think it's always in you already. It sounds like. Uh, Preet Chandi thank you so much for your time.
Pret Chandi: Thank you. Thank you very much.
Thank you for listening. A Voyage to Antarctica is brought to you by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, and made possible by support from Hurtigruten Expeditions.
To find out more about our guests and how you can support the Trust, please head to our website at www.ukaht.org, or find us on social media. If you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to follow and rate us, wherever you get your podcasts. It makes a huge difference to us.
In the next episode, Dr Susannah Maidment will be taking us 100 million years back in time to when Antarctica was a rainforest, and home to some of the biggest creatures to ever walk the earth – dinosaurs!
A Voyage to Antarctica was presented by me, Alok Jha. Theme music is by Alec Hewes, and Editing and Additional Music is by James Stickland. The show is Produced by Jessica Norman.
See you next time.