There is a saying in Manipur that there are, on average, two bicycles and one sportsperson in every Manipuri home. Bidyapati Ningthoujam comes from one such home.
On May 17, the 30-year-old Ningthoujam became the first Manipuri woman to scale Mt. Everest. If you imagined this mountaineer would be a sturdy Amazon of a woman, you are mistaken. The slender and graceful Ningthoujam is, among other things, an accomplished dancer, and has given performances both on television and in several public performances.
A graduate of Liberal College in Luwangshangpham of Heingang valley, the keen sports girl was a National Cadet Corps cadet. Her father Kokngang and mother Borni are poor farmers who are hard pressed to provide two meals a day for their three children, leave alone the balanced and nutritious diet that a sportsperson needs. They say it’s a miracle that despite the deprivation their daughter has conquered the highest peak in the world.
Ningthoujam took part in debates and adventure sports while in the NCC, but she had an irresistible urge to climb and finally joined the Manipur Mountaineering and Trekking Association. Her mother recalls how every morning she would go jogging on the Imphal-Dimapur highway. Her promising performance got her selected to the North-Eastern team of climbers to Mt Everest, an expedition sponsored by the North Eastern Council and guided by the Manipur Mountaineering and Trekking Association. “It’s a dream come true,” she says, smiling. She is the proud winner of the Rs 10 lakh cash reward that the Manipur government announced to each mountaineer who scaled the peak. Biren Nongthombam, the MLA from her constituency, is persuading Chief Minister Okram Ibobi, who is keen to patronise sports in the state, to give her a job.
Not that Ningthoujam is resting on her laurels. She plans to climb Mt Kanchenjunga next. “I would love to climb K2 as well, but since it is in Pakistan, I will first conquer Kanchenjunga,” she says.
Despite her hectic schedule, like other Manipuri daughters, Ningthoujam helps her parents in the paddy fields and also earns money for the family with weaving and embroidery work.
Ningthoujam likes to talk about the difficulties of the climb and her close shave with death, as she scaled the peak with an icy wind blowing at 80 kmph. Already, she has become somewhat of a hero in her tiny state with its population of 27 lakh people, and several young sportswomen and climbers say they are eager to follow in her footsteps.