The many women who scaled great heights

‘I became a mountaineer by fluke’

Santosh Yadav, an Everest conqueror, delivers lecture on ‘motivation, team building, leadership and risk management’ at the 2nd Annual Radhika Ranjan Leadership Lecture at IIT Bombay on Monday. —Photo: Mukesh Trivedi  

Had she not been a mountaineer, Padmashri award winner Santosh Yadav (48) would have been an environmentalist. She was the first woman to climb the 29,035 feet high Mount Everest twice, in 1992 and 1993, and the first woman to climb it from its Kangshung face. Ms Yadav, a former Indo-Tibetan Border Police officer, is passionate about nature.

In Mumbai to deliver the second annual Radhika Rajan Leadership Lecture at IIT-Bombay, she urged students to be true to nature, not as a virtue but out of necessity. With examples from her life including life-threatening incidents, Ms Yadav wove in many lessons for the students, including some that were philosophical and others that ran contrary to an IIT student’s life. She exhorted them to not be competitive, sleep by 9 pm and wake before dawn, avoid studying at night, remember everything learnt from teachers, accept situations and face them tactfully and surrender graciously with faith when you have no option.

Above all, she asked them to be patient and positive. “If you yearn for something without wistfulness but with happiness and faith, it comes to you. That’s what pulled me through every situation and kept me going is good health. That comes from the state of mind,” she said.

Narrating her story, she said, “I became a mountaineer by fluke. I was born in a village called Joniawas in Haryana in an affluent family that wanted to get me married at 14, as that was the norm then. I decided to stay in a hostel in Jaipur and continue with my studies to escape family attention. From my hostel room, I could see the Aravalli range. It fascinated me.”

To view the mountains from close quarters, Ms Yadav decided to join the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. There were many hurdles. Her father refused permission, so she decided to skip going home after exam and joined the institute directly. When her father got to know, he got ready to get her back home.

However, a hairline fracture kept him at home for 45 days, by which time Ms Yadav was through with her course. “I understood my father’s concern that nobody would marry me if I became a mountaineer. But I never wanted to be one. I simply wanted to see the Himalayas,” she said.

She had expected to return home after her month-long training at the institute, so she paid little heed to the instructors’ lament that she had ‘tiny lungs’ compared to other girls, most of whom were from hilly areas. She was also underweight, but up ahead of her class. “Many of them were in a hurry to beat others. I was never competitive. I simply focused on my goal. Competitiveness breaks your rhythm; it breeds negative emotions like greed and envy. It harms you.”

During her training, they tested her patience, compassion and perseverance. She says she scored well in physical tests because of her childhood habit of waking up early. “I would wake up at 4 am. Our lungs are very active from 3 am to 5 am, and the energy around is very good. I have kept up this practice, because of which my lungs, though small, have the maximum oxygen saturation among Everest climbers tested during a Japanese study,” she said.

While climbing down from Mt Everest on one occasion, her fingers developed third-degree frostbite. “There were just crevices in the vertical slope down for which I needed to use my hands, and they were not working. Two foreign doctors told me there was nothing to do except to wait for a bit. I was told I’d lose all my fingers. At that time, I remembered my instructors’ advice that the best medicine for high-altitude sickness is to come down, so I resolved to go down in spite of the weather.”

She not only climbed down but also completed four days of travel in 23 hours. At some point, her hands started aching. “I was just happy to get sensation back.” While doctors felt it was a subject of research, Ms Yadav said she succeeded because of her patience, presence of mind, and a balanced temperament.

Invoking Newton’s third law of motion, she said it applies in life too. “Every action has a reaction. By staying positive, you are attracting positivity. This is not bookish knowledge but the gist of all my experiences,” she said. Her respect for nature underlined most of her speech. “Nature is very powerful. If you approach it with a sense of humility, it will bless you. If you approach it with bravado, it will destroy you.”

Having weathered many a storm successfully, she should know.

The writer is a freelance journalist

If you yearn for something without wistfulness but with happiness and faith, it comes to you

Santosh Yadav


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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 2:33:14 PM |

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