The many women who scaled great heights

A high like no other

AIMING FOR THE TOP Bachendri Pal exhorts women to take up mountaineering  

More than three decades have passed since Bachendri Pal became the first Indian woman to climb the Mt. Everest in 1984. Yet there is no dilution in her determination and passion when it comes to talking about it and leading subsequent expeditions there.

All set to lead an all women’s expedition to Gokyo Everest base camp from March 26, Pal’s team includes Hemant Gupta and Payo Murmu who will attempt to scale Mt. Everest. “Both will accompany my team and trek to the base camp to get acclimatised to the altitude and rigour,” explains Pal. Having made it to the top and led contingents there, Pal says every expedition has its own challenges. “One can’t afford to lose focus or take it easy after all Mt. Everest is one of the the toughest climbs in the world.

For me, leading expeditions has always been more satisfying than even climbing the summit,” says a beaming Pal. Why? “Reaching the top is for self but here we are changing the life of people by teaching them team work and coordination, making them aware of their strengths and weaknesses and creating a sense of confidence.” Following her 1984 achievement, for Pal the objective has been to make create awareness of self among individuals. “I recall that Indira Gandhiji in 1984 said to me ‘Bachendri I want you to create hundreds more like you.’ When I told her that I will promote adventure sports, her suggestion was to bring more women and rural people into that.”

Enrolling women in this sport, Pal feels, has tremendous effect on them. “Being subjected to gender disparity and bias many have ceased to believe in their capability and potential. Moreover, since mountaineering is treated as men’s domain, participation by women immediately gets them respect.” Hardly looking for physical strength, Pal chooses those determined and willing to strive and bear discomfort. “That spark is enough. The rest is shaped during the training which encompasses walking, running and carrying tonnes of load. So by the time it is over one is fit to do anything,” she jests. Exhorting women to change their attitude, she observes: “They must cease to take help from men and instead of feeling privileged to hold somebody’s hand to climb a mountain do it themselves.” In fact, of late, she perceives a remarkable change in her fraternity with many of them winning Olympic medals and flying fighter jets.

For the educated

Himalayas always open a floodgate of memories for Pal. As a youngster, mountaineering was never her goal. It was simply to get educated and secure a job. “After finishing my studies, I was waiting for a suitable opening when I met Colonel Prem Chand, Vice Principal of Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi who impressed by my qualifications said, ‘Mountaineering is a sport for the educated as they can understand its significance better’. That somehow stuck to me and I enrolled in the institute to do basic and advanced courses. Later, I received a letter from Indian Mountaineering Foundation for pre-Mt. Everest selection and after that there was no looking back.”

Pal feels climbing the summit was a catalyst in her life. “It made me realise my strengths like fitness, positive attitude, tolerance and patience.” Pausing she adds: “It also made me realise that I was not aware of many practical aspects of life like how an achievement like completely changes your life.”

The expedition is also etched in her mind for another reason. “Dorje Sherpa and I attempted the climb. Due to some problem we did not use rope which meant that we were independent so any slip would have meant certain death with no chance for the other to save. It was a huge risk. The morning conditions made the snow very hard rendering it very slippery. I kept wondering as to how we will make it back when we reached the top and then everything changed.” With a twinkle in her eyes she exclaims: “I realised there is nothing to climb now. I bowed my head in reverence, remembered my parents and took out the Durga statute my mother had given to me to thank the Goddess for giving me strength.”

Born to climb

On the present day climbs becoming easier because of light weight equipments and gadgets, Pal makes a pertinent point. “It has robbed the essence of learning. Expeditions in past were like classrooms where constant uncertainty taught one decision-making, quick reactions, team work and managing against all odds.” She cites her example when in 1984 when along with others she was hit by an avalanche. “While many decided to discontinue, I went on and because that incident made me realise I was born to climb Mt. Everest,” she says.


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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 12:37:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/other-sports/a-high-like-no-other/article17572451.ece

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