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You would be proud to know, the twin sisters with roots in rural conservative Haryana, at young age of 22, have made our country proud at international level by making highest number of world records in mountaineering by any Indian:

a) World’s First twin sisters to conquer Mt Everest (World’s & Asia’s highest) on 19 May 2013

b) World’s First twin sisters to conquer Mt Elbrus (Europe’s highest peak) in Aug 2013

c) World’s first twin sisters to conquer Mt Aconcagua (South America’s tallest peak) in Jan 2014.

d) World’s first twin sisters to conquer Mt Carstensz Pyramid (Australasia’s tallest peak) in Mar 2014

e) World’s youngest twin sisters to conquer Mt McKinley (North America’s tallest peak) on 04 Jun 2014, 2nd Indian women ever to climb it, 1st Indian women to climb in 1st attempt!

f) World’s First twin sisters to conquer Mt Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest peak) in Feb 2012

They are also the First twin sisters ever to conquer an unclimbed, un-named peak at 21000 ft located in Indian Himalayas (Bara Shigri glacier) on 12 Aug 2013

Their next goal is to become the First Twin Sisters to scale the highest peak of Antarctica in November-December 2014 (the 7th and final summit). This will enable them to become the ‘World’s First twins to climb all 7 summits’.

* How did the whole idea of #Mission2for7 came into existence?

Climbing Everest was a personal dream. But #mission2for7 was inspired by our concern for the girl child and gender equality issues in the country. While at Everest base camp for over 7 weeks, having to brave long wait for a clear weather window to make final summit push for Everest, we often discussed with each other on how to combine our passion for mountaineering with a much bigger purpose, so that our achievements do not benefit only us but our society at large. There we met many mountaineers and several suggested that doing the ‘Seven Summits’ was like entering the hall of fame of mountaineers. We liked the idea both to pursue our passion to the hilt, as well as for its social value…to inspire our girls and women to dream and exceed their goals. Of course, by then we had also learnt that no siblings had done this before! We’ll like to share a few details of our #mission2for7.

What

Conquering the tallest peak in each of the seven continents for the cause of the Indian Girl Child (gender equality NOW: Let’s FIGHT against female feticide!)

Vision

  • Through our achievements, promote mountaineering as a sport.
  • Encourage the girl child to dream and achieve.
  • To win on behalf of all girl children

Mission

“We will together climb the highest peaks on the seven continents to promote mountaineering as a sport and to save and empower the girl child”

Why

We too are girls, with roots in one of the most conservative rural areas of Northern India (Haryana) with one of the worst sex ratios and heinous gender violence. We feel the pain of the blatant and epidemic violation of our girls’ human rights Many parents, especially in rural India still consider boys as the only off springs.

The girl child is caught in a vicious cycle of feticide & infanticide, denial-exclusion-malnutrition-lack of education-domestic work and eventual economic dependence on the male.

Right from her birth (that is, if at all she’s fortunate to be born!), our girl child has numerous ‘Mountains to climb’ to merely survive. And even more to realize her potential and full human rights.

We stand solidly with her and pledge to use all our resources to help her earn her rightful and equal place in the society. Let the world realize that ‘Girl child is a human being first always and every time’!

How

There’s a saying, “Seeing is believing”. By our world record feats in mountaineering, an area demanding extreme physical and mental capabilities and very high degree of risks, we want to show that girls can compete on equal footing with men even in areas traditionally seen as ‘men’s forte’.

And by this, we want to shatter some of the stereotypes about girls.

By our achievements and the consequent media interest, we want to send the message of gender equality and the fight against female feticide. Additionally, we deliver gender related talks at schools and social forums to directly appeal to parents and stakeholders to change their ‘angle of vision’ and see the girl child as a most trusted source of love, joy, progress, and strength.

We also plan to design memorabilia (T-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars and other utility souvenirs with gender themes) to spread awareness and pride in the girl child and raise money for our mission.

 

* Living in the hills for a long span, you must have acquainted with the conditions on these places. Did it help you on your expeditions in any way?

Yes, especially in quickly adapting and acclimatizing to ever changing and extreme climatic conditions. The fact that we completed 5 summits in span of under one year, and if we had funds we could have done all 7 peaks in 8-9 months, reflects our bodies’ excellent adapting capacity. We believe that for some one residing in plains, such quick acclimatization is time consuming and their body’s reaction to sudden attitude gain could cause medical issues. A large part of our schooling was done in mountains, places such as Ooty, Mussoorie and in Manipur hills. The most visible advantage we have had is in speed with which we can go up the mountain, which has earned us the nickname of ‘Shatabdi’ and ‘Rajdhani’ express from fellow mountaineers and our instructors! Having said that, any one from plains can aspire to excel in mountaineering, just that proper acclimatization to increasing altitude should be planned and adhered to.

 

* How did you discover your passion for mountaineering?

Nungshi: If I were to answer in one word, it would be ‘by chance’. It’s an incredible turn of events. Without our knowledge or concurrence, our father applied on our behalf for the basic mountaineering course at NIM Uttarkashi (being close to Dehradun). He only told us once confirmation for participation was received. Initially we felt ‘awe’ and bit of ‘fear’ but dad’s logic was strong: through exposure to physical danger and challenges, we would know much more of hitherto unknown part of our selves. This too, dad said was essential education. He is a great motivator and is more like our ‘buddy’ than a typical father. We communicate exceptionally well. Also, luckily being twins, it has always been much easier to accept such new challenges and opportunities to ‘tread less frequented trails’ in life. Then on, things have happened almost by default or call it ‘by destiny’. Neither we nor our father had the slightest idea that very soon we would set our sights on Everest!

We think that among others, one factor particularly influenced our decision to scale Everest.

Right from the Basic mountaineering course in 2009, we liked the outdoor adventure, the group energy, the physical and mental challenges, a sense of greater self discovery and high self esteem associated with successfully completing arduous, demanding tasks. It was so very different than the typical class room learning and ‘routine’ less challenging physical activities that our school and college life offers. And being girls in predominantly male dominated courses (average girls to boys ratio in all 4-5 courses we did, was 20:80) It tremendously boosted our pride and sense of achievement. We obtained highest possible ‘A’ grade in all courses and ‘fit to be instructor’ grade in the final ‘Methods of Instruction’ course (only three out of some 30 participants won this grade, we two and a man! During each of our trainings, our instructors were very impressed with our grit and motivation, and would often comment ‘you two should climb Mt Everest’ and started jokingly calling us ‘the twin Everesters’. This sowed the seed of ‘must scale Everest’ in our mind. Col Ishwar Thapa, then the principal of NIM, Uttarkashi further cemented this belief in us. We remember our father calling him frequently to confirm if he genuinely believed in our capabilities. Each time he received a stronger ‘absolutely, sir’! His endorsement was the tipping point for our parents. Incidentally, last year beginning only he had tied up our clubbing with the Indian army’s women expedition to Everest and called our mother very excitedly ‘maam, I have tied up the girls’ mission for Everest with the Indian army women’, and our mother immediately replied with scorn ‘ sorry Col Thapa, we don’t want to lose our daughters’! He was taken aback and ended the conversation with polite retort ‘maam, we have scores of road accidents every day, does it mean we stop going out?’ But mom would have none of these. We were sitting nearby and felt so sorry for our Principal. At that time our father was out working in Afghanistan. We are sure, if he was around at that moment, we would have made it to the Everest one year earlier! But mothers are mothers, and our mother’s world revolves so much around us!

Actually, we had declared that we want to scale Everest as early as 2010, soon after our advance mountaineering course. While our father had only advised more training and preparation, mother was absolutely devastated by our decision and for next two years, even the talk of climbing Everest in front of her was a strict taboo! Within ourselves though we knew that eventually we would prevail, and at whatever cost.

Tashi: We have been exposed to outdoors from very early childhood due to our father’s military profession and his passion for outdoors. We did parasailing at age 7, tied with a shawl to our father’s back! we also did river rafting and skiing. Our serious engagement with mountaineering started soon after our 12th exams got over, when our father applied on our behalf for the basic mountaineering course at N.I.M, Uttarkashi. But that was for education – to make us better self aware. I haven’t looked back ever since! I decided to climb Everest because it being the highest peak, conquering it symbolizes my ability to dream big and to achieve it by combining passion with commitment. As Sir Edmund Hillary put it “We do not conquer the mountain, but ourselves”.

 

* Which was the most difficult peak to conquer? 

Each of the six peaks that we have so far scaled, posed different and unique risks and challenges. However, considering all aspects, we would still rate Everest s the most difficult, with Mt Mckinley in Alaska (USA) coming a close second. Everest is the only ‘above 8000 meters’ peak of the ‘seven summits’. Any climb above this altitude has serious life threatening consequences. Mountaineers refer to the altitudes above 8,000 metres (26,000 ft) as the “death zone”, where no human body can acclimatize as the amount of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life.

Many deaths in high-altitude mountaineering have been caused by the effects of the death zone, either directly (loss of vital functions) or indirectly (wrong decisions made under stress, physical weakening leading to accidents). An extended stay in the zone without supplementary oxygen will result in deterioration of bodily functions, loss of consciousness and, ultimately, death.

At extreme altitudes, above 7,500 m (24,600 ft), sleeping becomes very difficult, digesting food is near-impossible, and the risk of High Altitude Pulmonary Eodema or High Altitude C Eodema increases greatly.

The experience of living for 8 weeks in the company of shifting Khumbu glacier (the fastest moving glacier in the world), daily thunder of snow avalanches, of crossing hundreds of feet wide crevasses on shaking ladders and finally negotiating the dreaded ‘death zone’ cannot be adequately described in words! In brief, it was a life changing experience in every sense of the word! Here we will also like to share some developments that almost ruined our chances of success.

Tashi: For me, my worst fears came true: one of my wisdom teeth starting aching just a week before the planned push for the summit! This seemed like a disaster in the making, because the pain is unbearable, and there was very little time to do anything about it. Both I and my sister were having the recurring pain from overgrown wisdom teeth much before we started out for Everest. Nungshi was wiser to have it removed in time. I am generally very scared of dentist. So I kind of took chances! I called up dad; he consulted a dentist and advised pain killers to see me through the week long final summit with all its uncertainties. Miraculously though, just a day before the start of our climb, the pain subsided on its own and didn’t recur until well after the climb.

Nungshi:  A technical snag in my oxygen cylinder from Camp 3 onwards during our final push for the summit was causing me to feel nauseated, dizzy and weak, as the oxygen supply was blocked. We didn’t know the reason; until we reached camp 4 (at the edge of the death zone) and Tashi in fact asked our Sherpa guide to check out the cylinder in detail. It is then we detected the potentially fatal consequences of carrying on with this ignorance! You know about the “death zone’?

 

* What motivated you to climb the peaks?

 

*Its a risk taking job…why did you still choose it ?

Risk taking? You ask us! We too fear death. For example, on Everest, we knew that we would encounter bodies of earlier climbers along the way. The worst thing was that we also had to cross the body of a fellow climber from our own season. It is a strange feeling-few nights before you are together, talking, sharing your dreams and sipping tea, few days later, you see that person lying lifeless on your path. We also lost one of the sherpas of our group even before the final push for the summit. On one of his outings to put the logistics in place on route to the summit, he probably forgot (or ignored) anchoring himself to the fixed rope line to prevent from slipping, lost balance and went few hundred feet into a crevasse. Fleeting thoughts to cross the mind that it could just have been one of us! I think those who make the final attempt to the top are those whose motivation to reach there is stronger than the fear of losing their life or limb. We also saw the loss of complete foot below the ankle of one of our dear friends and fellow climbers, an actor in Nepal film Industry. He developed serious frostbite on the way to the summit. During our climbing season, 16 climbers lost their lives, most of whom we had either met or seen occasionally at the Everest base camp. But it is these very challenges and sense of overcoming our fears and physical dangers, that instills high degree of self awareness and self confidence to face the ups and downs of day to day life.

Nungshi: Serious mountain climbing is definitely very demanding. On one hand, it is generally an individual and lonely effort (it is you and the mountain!), on the other, there is immense physical pain and impending dangers. Nature is all powerful and this you realize when you are attempting a summit of a high Mountain, and become aware of your vulnerability and insignificance in front of gigantic mountain and imposing mass of snow. A small shake of mountain (avalanche) can easily send you into oblivion. The quietness and remoteness add to the sense of loneliness and fear. There are times when evacuation is not possible and the chances of things going wrong are very high. I value the spiritual awakening and heightened self awareness that these experiences have given me. This is a great education and leading a holistic and balanced life in a mutually nurturing relationship with our environment.

*Were your parents accepting your decision?  Were they supportive of you doing this?

Tashi: We have been exposed to outdoors from very early childhood due to our father’s military profession and his passion for outdoors. We did parasailing at age 7, tied with a shawl to our father’s back! Dad made us learn swimming at very early age and we jumped from 7 m board in the swimming pool at 9 years of age. We also did river rafting and skiing. Actually our serious engagement with mountaineering also started due to a small initiative by dad. Soon after our 12th exams got over, without our knowledge or concurrence, dad applied on our behalf for the basic mountaineering course at NIM Uttarkashi. He only told us once confirmation for participation was received. Initially we felt ‘awe’ and bit of ‘fear’ but dad’s logic was strong: through exposure to physical danger and challenges, we would know much more of hitherto unknown part of our selves. This too, dad said was essential education. He is a great motivator and is more like our ‘buddy’ than a typical father. He jokingly calls himself our ‘third sister’! We communicate exceptionally well. We think that two factors strongly influenced our decision to scale Everest.

Nungshi: Although mom is a Gorkha with roots in mountainous Nepal, she’s a typical Indian mother. She had dreams of us getting into cushy well paid jobs, get married and raise kinds. She is fond of jewelry and kept adding bit by bit to her collection in the hope that she will pass it on to us. We have none of these dreams and both the office jobs and marriage are very low on our wish list! The last thing mom ever expected to hear was that her daughters wanted to climb Everest! She nearly fainted when we first told her of our intention. “Over my dead body” was her instant and firm response. So our biggest mountain to climb for next 3 years was ‘getting mom to agree to our mission’. Well, we persevered and finally won! Even now, though mom is obviously very proud and happy about our achievements, she is constantly urging us “this is enough”, “I really don’t understand what you girls are up to”, “children your age have settled in well paid, secure jobs” etc etc. She is a very worried soul. As a policy, we three (recollect Dad is our third sister!) never share likely dangers of our expeditions with mom. Nor do we ever tell her of our difficulties during the climbs. Having said that, for our success she has given her full support. She was the first person to offer to mortgage her favorite possession – her jewelry, for a gold loan to meet the short fall in funding. That is still in the bank after a year and half!

*Is it hard to get along with this journey being a girl…it takes a lot more courage right? What hurdles did you face as a girl?

Oh yes, such a journey for a girl, especially in the context of societies such as ours, is full of numerous and unique challenges.  And the hurdles operate at many levels. The society views mountaineering and outdoors as a ‘boys’ thing’, girls taking it up is frowned upon. Then there’s the attendant high risk to life and limb, which in case of girls is a much greater concern for parents. Our parents were often cautioned by friends and relatives, “If the girls get injured or lose a limb, who will marry them”. Then, mountaineering is dominated by men, and to travel alone to remote mountains, spending days and weeks together in the company of men, often sharing limited spaces in tents has its own risks and dangers. Several medical issues such as ‘periods’ are a particular challenge. We recollect while attempting Everest, our worst fears came true as periods started just the evening before we were to leave for the summit bid! With mounting cramps and absolutely no way to change sanitary pads, we labored on for 21 hours to reach the summit and return to the safety of Camp 2 at some 23,000 ft. In our case we have additional challenge of poor eye sight and have to use power glasses! These easily get foggy and pose huge problems of fitting in with all other extreme climate gear over the head and the face. In fighting off these hurdles, it is a definite advantage to be together as sisters. There’s an inbuilt safety mechanism.

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