Sweta Ranjan | July 11, 2015
Nungshi and Tashi Malik have become the world’s first female twins to successfully climb the famed 'Seven Summits' (highest peaks in all continents). They have achieved the success climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mt Everest (Asia), Mt Elbrus (Europe), Mt Aconcagua (South America), Mt Carstensz Pyramid (Oceania), Mt McKinley (North America) and Mt Vinson Massif (Antarctica), the 'Adventurers Grand Slam' (seven summits plus ski to North and South Poles) and 'Three Pole Challenge' . They are also reportedly the youngest in the world to achieve the feat.
Popularly called the ‘Everest Twins’, the duo also hold the record for being world's first twin sisters to summit Mount Everest in 2013. At the age of 21 their names featured in the 60th edition of Guinness world records. The twin sisters met the union minister of home Kiren Rijiju on recently. The minister lauded their achievements and said that they are role models for women and a youth icon in India.
The twin sisters share their experiences with Governance Now.
How did you come up with the idea of mountaineering?
Nungshi: Whenever people hear our names, they immediately relate us as the mountaineering girls; however we are more than that. Since childhood both of us were excellent sportspersons. We had hands on everything except soccer and cricket. In 2009, when we finished school we got enrolled into journalism. Our father, who was in the military is an ardent believer of holistic living, suggested us to take a basic course in mountaineering. He wanted us to expose ourselves to such challenges and learn about life. We were stunned at this as we had never heard of it. But then we decided to do it. We went to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarakshi. We were among 16 girls as opposed to 80 boys. We were doubtful at first, but as the course proceeded, it turned out to be a game changer. Even the basic mountain climbing of 5,600 metres gave us a sense of achievement and accomplishment. From acclimatisation to the environment to performing on the ice polls, our instructors were very impressed by our performance on the mountains. They were flabbergasted with the energy me and my sister had. They were certain that we would be able to climb Mount Everest. With this encouragement, we felt that we were capable of doing it. When you think of doing something so challenging it gives you a great benchmark in life how.
Any fear factor that struck you when you thought of the Everest as your benchmark?
Tashi: In school, we had often heard about the Everest in our geography classes. We had also read about Tenzing and Norgay and the dangers they had to face. Death for us was never a fear factor as we realised that anything could happen to anybody. But other things like losing a limb filled us with fear. Many mountaineers in the world have amputated their fingers or toes. Though we were scared yet it did not stop us from thinking about the Everest. It’s the highest point on our planet and reaching that point would give us a great sense of achievement. Hence we started preparing ourselves, our father always told us “kabhi bhi training mein koi kasar nahin chhodhna” (Give your 100 percent while training). He told us never to leave anything on chance and to believe in God. For four years we consecutively did all the courses. This gave us a great spectrum of what mountaineering is all about and it exposed us to all the technical aspects of it. Finally we knew we were ready for the Everest.
Nungshi: We approached our parents in 2010. Our father never thought that a basic course will turn into a serious passion. He told us that he needs time to think. Our mother was completely baffled and threatened us that she would commit suicide if we even thought about climbing the Everest. For the next few years we tried convincing our father.
When we were in Rwanda, Africa we thought of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. We called our parents and asked them if we could climb it. They fortunately agreed. It was our first climb outside India and we performed very well. People there also encouraged us to climb the Everest.
After coming home we decided to take our mother to our institute to attend the method of instruction course. There instructors referred to us as the “Everest judwa baheine” (Everest twin sisters). On hearing this, our mother knew that people had high hopes for us.
Being women mountaineers, did you face any problems?
Nungshi: The biggest external drawback is when the society doesn’t believe in you. We faced a lot of discouragement as people kept pointing out the dangers of death or amputation. This made us feel left out and unfit to be a part of the society. It is sad that mountaineering is seen as a male sport. We feel that it is all in the mind. It is self-created. We transformed all this into something positive. We pledged to prove our strength. Parental support is also necessary to break this stereotype. It is important to provide an enabling environment to one’s daughter. They are as good as boys.
Tashi: During a climb, the major problem faced by women is sharing tents with men. Fortunately, we two were together. It was much easier for us to adjust as we gave each other company. There are many instances when climbers cut ropes of fellow climbers or they leave other climbers to die because they were not in the position to help them. But for us we knew we would not leave each other in time of need. There was a mutual understanding between us. It is challenging for girls during menstruation cycles. In the mountains it is tough to deal with such things. We face dehydration and pain. Things are little easier for boys in many ways.
Nungshi: For girls it is little challenging to take up something like this but being mountaineers we learn to deal with these things. We have had such fantastic experiences. We met international climbers. It has been a very transformational journey.
What message would you like to give to the people of India?
Tashi: Today children are getting addicted to technology and hardly go out to play. We feel that outdoor sports should be promoted in India. You learn great qualities like team building and self-motivation. Knowing yourself is very important, getting acquainted with your strengths and weaknesses is pivotal. These qualities and skills are developed outdoors because you put yourselves outside your comfort zone and face challenges.
Nungshi: We both are working on a foundation called ‘Nungshi Tashi Foundation’. This is to promote mountaineering as a sport and encourage women participants. We will teach how to sustain oneself in the environment and community. This will also give girls a sense a confidence to achieve great heights.
Was there any moment when you felt like quitting?
Tashi: While climbing the Everest, we were on our way to camp three situated at 7,500 meters. At 6,100 meters we started having breathing problems. We were suffocating and had to use the oxygen mask. On Everest, beyond 8,000 metres is known as the ‘dead room’. When we were traveling from the last camp to the summit there is a place known as the ‘balcony’ which is at about 8,400 metres. Summit was around four kilometers away but it took us 11 hours to reach the summit. When we were in the balcony I felt my eyes closing at every step.
Nungshi: I felt I would collapse, I was trying to breath. I could not feel myself, I could feel anything. I was in so much fear that I did not know where I was. I saw my sister; she was 15 minutes ahead of me. She stopped for me and asked me why I was crying. Someone even told me to come down. At first I thought I should quit. Then my sister started encouraging me. It was something we had dreamt together. We knew this is going to be a world record. Suddenly I realised that my parents had taken a Rs 40 lakh loan and if we did not successfully complete this then we would not get a second chance. I pushed away my thoughts and continued climbing. Once I reached the peak everything seemed surreal. I felt like I was ruling the world. It was a great feeling.
How did the Indian government react to your accomplishment?
Nungshi: It is sad that in India mountaineering is not recognised as a sport. “Unko ye bhi nahin pata ye tourism mein aana chahiye ya sports mein” (they don’t even know whether to include mountaineering as a sport or a part of tourism). I think it’s high time that it should be recognised as a sport so that policies can be made. There is a lot of potential in mountaineering and it should be promoted in the country.
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