"Mt. Everest was too common a dream."
And that is indeed what it remains. A dream. But Nungshi and Tashi Malik have kicked stereotypes down 14,000ft and are breaking records with every peak they conquer with their strength, determination and unwavering companionship.
Having found their calling at the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute Mountaineering during a vacation, they soon made their way to become the only South Asians to complete the Explorers Grand Slam. The challenge was not just of climbing peaks but also an emotional and physical turmoil which women are often considered incapable of handling in adventure sports. Tashi Malik in an interview with Women's Web points out,
"Mountaineering is still largely a men’s sport. Globally, women represent only a small percentage of all climbers, perhaps in the range of 20 percent. Also, if you look closely, nearly all the world’s ‘first ascents, fastest and most-number of times’ belong to men. In the case of Indian women, this ratio was even worse especially up until the last 5-6 years. There seem to be several reasons for this. And gender issues operate even in western societies, even if far lesser than in India!"
In their accounts of life threatening situations, they mention that extreme mountaineering comes with the constant confrontation of death. The fear might not be present before, but when you see carcasses of fellows you were once sipping tea with, the sublime grandeur of nature sinks in. And though the thought of giving up is only humane, the option was far from their minds while climbing Denali whose success rate is of 35% (far less than Mt. Everest). Their determination was not just driven by the sheer thrill of gut-wrenching adventure,
"Imagine getting stuck up at that altitude, in a tent the size of your bed with absolutely no way to move about, and temperatures dipping to minus 35-40 degrees! Our rations and fuel were meant to last only a week extra, and were almost over. Aborting this attempt would have huge impact on our future funding and credibility. Our parents had with extreme hardship raised the fee for this climb, and we knew how terrible our failure would be for them."
But the tougher the climb, the more rewarding is it's conquer.
"I cannot describe the feeling when we finally stood on the top of North America. Only one Indian woman had earlier climbed this peak, and even she succeeded only in her second attempt. We had done it in the first attempt and under conditions that had scared most climbers into aborting their attempts."
Tashi and Nungshi are not just out to tame mountains. Being based in Haryana they acknowledge and seek to improve the terrible sex ratio and gender violence statistics of the state. The internalized desire of having "at least one son at all cost and consequent widespread phenomena of female foeticide." To reiterate a sense of appreciation for any child, be it female of male, devoid of forced gender stereotypes, the girls give the example of their father in their interview.
"Dad also grew up with same desire for a son, but he says our birth slowly transformed him, despite initial disappointment and determination to go in for more children until he had a son. Finally to avoid giving into the temptation, full credit to him for taking a very courageous step to undergo vasectomy within two years of our birth! Due to these credentials, we felt that our story will inspire many and will make a huge difference to the cause of the girl child in India."
Their missions #Mission2for7 and Mission #UnchaiyonseAage were specifically dedicated to the cause of girl child. There are determined to use their popularity and the impossible terrains of Earth to spread awareness and approach governments to lobby policies which are focus on women empowerment.
The Nungshi and Tashi Foundation focuses on developing the sport and as well as making mountaineering more accessible to women. In their inspiring Ted talk, the twins further elaborate on their journey from conformative households to a journey of self discovery through the many peaks they have conquered by betting their lives.
Such endeavors which require an unwavering robustness have taught them that taming the wildest mountains acts as a metaphor for conquering the stringent peaks in our mind which stop us from reaching our true potential. Be it because of social norms or personal tribulations, we all have a climb to embark upon, and a peak to accomplish.
Their story is best concluded in their own words,
"For encouraging reflection and deeper self awareness and to get the best of our potential, we all need a guru, or a wise person. In our case the mountains have kind of acted as a guru where we are in our element, where we do lot of such reflection and are able to discover our untapped resources for realising our full potential."
Picture Credits: Tashi and Nungshi Malik