Premlata Agrawal, a 49-year-old home-maker from Jharkhand, looks like an average next door woman except that she has accomplished a Herculean task of scaling seven continental peaks. She is also the first Indian woman to do so.
After Premlata succeeded in scaling Alaska’s formidable McKinley Peak on May 23, she immediately hoisted the National Tricolour. It was a proud moment for her and she basked in the glory of becoming the first Indian woman mountaineer to conquer seven summits – Vinson Massif peak (January 5, 2013), Aconcagua (February 10, 2012), Elbrus (August 12, 2012), Carstensz Pyramid (October 22, 2012), Mt. Everest (May 20, 2011) and Kilimanjaro (June 6, 2008).
Scaling McKinley Peak or Denali was fraught with danger. Speaking to The Hindu after being felicitated by Jamshedpur MP Ajay Kumar in the Capital over the weekend, Premlata said: “Even though I was greeted with foul weather, I was determined to plant the National Tricolour atop Denali. There were no porters this time round. Therefore I had to carry my tent as also food packets that contained chocolate biscuits and noodles.” Premlata was married off early after schooling, but life became more mission-oriented after a meeting with the legendary mountaineer Bachendri Pal. “Undoubtedly, Bachendri Pal is my role model, whose kind, encouraging words gave me a sense of direction and purpose in life. As she is head of Tata Steel Adventure Foundation, she came to Jamshedpur for a programme. She had a long interaction with me and told me that I had the strength and stamina to become an expert mountaineer. For a simple woman like me, who grew up in the hills of north West Bengal, these words boosted my morale and compelled me to take the plunge.”
However, it would not have been possible if Premlata had not put in gruelling hours of training. “With the single-minded aim to become a top-class mountaineer, I trained at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling, in 2001. Throughout, I did not reveal to my colleagues that I was a 30-plus housewife, who was a mother of two daughters.”
While Premlata was descending after conquering Carstensz Pyramid she had to pass through a rainforest. She was bedraggled and had been thoroughly exhausted walking for six days. “Suddenly, a huge rock fell on my leg. I had the emergency medical equipment but it turned out to be ineffective. I could not have been evacuated by a helicopter and so kept walking and dragging myself for another five-six days till I reached the base camp. So it was an acid test of my strength and determination.”