'It took us three years to convince mom'
'At the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering boys would joke, 'Shatabdi and Rajdhani Express are here'. That gave us a lot of pride.'
Rediff.com's Manu Shankar caught up with Tashi and Nungshi Malik ahead of their mission to scale the Mt. Vinson
Picture this! Sub-zero temperatures, snow everywhere and not a soul in sight.
Add to that carrying a backpack weighing almost 40 kg and the elements testing you all the time.
Such a situation would give anyone jitters, but not certain twin sisters from Haryana, who now reside in Dheradun. It’s a challenge they relish.
Daughters of a retired Indian Army officer, Col Virendra Singh Malik, Tashi and Nungshi, better-known as 'Everest Twins', are set to scale the highest peak of Antarctica in a bid to become the world’s first twins to achieve this feat.
At 23, they have already conquered some of the toughest terrain, which includes Mt Kilimanjaro (in Feb 2012), Mt Everest (19 May 2013), Mt Elbrus (in Aug 2013), Mt Aconcagua (in Jan 2014), Mt Carstensz Pyramid (in Mar 2014).
If they do succeed in climbing Mt Vinson, or 'Mission 2 for 7' as they put it, they will become the world’s first twins to scale the 'Seven Summits', the highest mountains of each of the seven continents.
Although not the toughest of climbs, the extreme cold and windy conditions mountaineers encounter along Mt Vinson, one of the remotest mountains on earth, first conquered in 1966 by Nicholas Clinch, make things harder than they look.
After their assault on Mt. Vinson, which is supported by Livguard Energy Technologies, a notable name in the automotive and two-wheeler battery market, they plan to target the 'Explorers Grand Slam' by skiing to the North and South Pole. All this for the cause of the Indian girl child.
Rediff.com’s Manu Shankar caught up with the twin sisters, who in May 2013, at age 21, became the world’s first twins to successfully climb Everest, for a candid interview, wherein they spoke about their passion for mountaineering and the risks and challenges that come with the sport.
How did the idea of mountaineering come across?
Mountaineering and Sir Edmund Hilary’s name are synonymous. We were in sixth grade when the news flashed all over that he scaled Everest.
It was our father who pushed us into the basic course. The first time we heard this, we were like, ‘kahaan bhej rahe ho pahaad chadne’ (why are you sending us to climb mountains). Then we went to the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering and the instructor there made us feel comfortable.
‘It took us three years to convince mother’
Many would have been surprised to see two girls walking into a mountaineering institute?
Yes. Actually we were tougher physically than most of the people there, even the boys. Then they would joke, 'Shatabdi and Rajdhani Express are here'. That gave us a lot of pride.
It gave us confidence that we are not the ones who would be subdued or the ones who can’t carry a heavy backpack; so we had to break that stereotype and our instructor did a great job. He always said, ‘If anyone can climb Everest, it would be the two of you'.
How tough was it to convince your mother that you wanted to go on an expedition?
It took us three years to convince her. She would try and deviate our minds from it and urge us to take some other course. Luckily we took her to the institute, where the instructors joked, ‘Here comes our Everest sisters'. Mom was floored when she heard that.
‘We do lot of our exercises in glaciers’
Getting acclimatized is a big factor in such cases. Was there any special training you'll did for the same?
I have noticed that we acclimatize better than others. We generally tend to move a lot, rather than sit in our tent. Besides that, there is an exercise regimen, which focusses on the calf muscles.
Apart from that we do lot of our exercises in glaciers or in the camp, as moving in that environment gets you close to the environment you would face.
Tell us a bit about your foundation and how do you plan to celebrate should you be successful in scaling Mount Vinson.
The message is simple: women empowerment. In India, when a boy is born you welcome him with a thali and aarti, but when a girl is born she doesn’t get these privileges.
So that really caught us and we said we should celebrate on the summit of Antarctica. I hope, with our achievements, girls get inspired.
About the foundation, it will definitely aim at girl empowerment, mainly in the mountain region, to create a career option. It should start in a fortnight. We hope it will bring in a change.
‘Before leaving for the Everest expedition we wrote messages on stick-ons’
Of all the summits you'll have scaled so far, which was the toughest?
Each summit has had its own set of challenges. We often debate which one has been the toughest of them so far. But, if you look at the Everest climb, we were dealing with low oxygen and atmospheric conditions, while during our climb to Mount McKinley, of North America, we had to do everything on our own.
During the Everest expedition, you still get the assistance of sherpas, who would help you to an extra (oxygen) cylinder or other stuff, but at McKinley, we had to carry ration, the tents, everything on our own. So, basically, we were carrying a load of approximately 40-50 kgs on our backs.
Besides that we also had to deal with wind speed. So if the temperature is, say, minus 30 degrees, due to the wind speed, it felt like minus 50 degrees.
And, of course, the frostbites, wherein we were not able to feel anything for a month.
How do you react to the fear and concern of your parents?
Well, we are aware of their fears and concerns. So, basically, this happened before leaving for the Everest expedition; we decided on writing a note behind on the stick-ons.
It was important because, God forbid, if anything happens (during the expeditions), then we want them to know that how much we love and care for them for everything that they have done for us.
‘During the Everest summit my oxygen cylinder malfunctioned’
Can you remember any of those moments, when things almost went awry for you?
Oh, yes! There were a couple of instances.
For example, during our Everest expedition, as we were crossing what we call the ‘Death Zone’, on our way to the ‘Balcony’ (a place where mountaineers usually stop to change their oxygen cylinders), I realized my oxygen cylinder had malfunctioned.
We had started from the ‘Death Zone’ at around 8:30 in the night and by the time we reached ‘Balcony’, we had already climbed for eight hours.
I was almost about to experience hypoxia, where oxygen doesn’t reach your brain. Tashi had already reached ‘balcony’ and was wondering where I was and I felt the distance, which was barely 15-20 steps, felt like a lifetime. Luckily, there was a Sherpa, who was descending and he offered his oxygen cylinder.
Then, on our way back, I just felt that I needed some rest. So I just stopped there and suddenly felt unconscious. Had it not been for the person who was behind me, who shook me up and said you can’t stop here, things could have gone bad.
Mountaineering is a sport that needs financial support. Your take on that.
Our father used up his savings, close to Rs 40 lakh, just to back our dreams. Usually one would want immediate support if you have achieved something. Like when some of our friends climbed a peak they got immediate financial support for the next climb.
So when we scaled the Everest, which also happened to be a world record, we thought that support would come, but nothing of that sort happened.
Financially, it was really traumatic. I mean, our father working late, writing to every corporate for support. But Livguard was the one to come up and support us for the Antarctica trip.