8 Indian women who’ve set extraordinary records on Mount Everest
Climbing the highest peak in the world? All in a day's work
Despite the copious amount of kale juice we’ve consumed over the past few years and the extra hours spent sweating in the gym (as part of our mid-year resolution), climbing a hostile and possibly life-threatening mountain is still a daunting prospect. Now imagine the hostile, life threatening mountain to also be the highest peak in the world and you can understand why we would much rather prefer to look at Shah Rukh Khan romancing a chiffon-sari wearing Juhi Chawla on top of snow-capped mountains in Darr.
These Indian women, however, are made of stronger stuff and have set new and extraordinary records at 29,029 ft above sea level. Recently, 37-year-old Anshu Jamsenpa became the first woman to climb Mount Everest twice, within a week. With the movie Poorna, we were reminded of the awe-inspiring story of the 13-year-old who became the youngest girl in the world to reach Everest’s summit. These women have inspired generations of people to take on their biggest challenges without any fear.
8 Indian women who have set records on Mount Everest
When Anita Kundu scales Everest at the age of 29, she became the first Indian woman to scale the peak from the Chinese border. The police sub-inspector from Haryana had completed a climb to the Everest peak in 2013, and this was her second attempt to do so. She began her ascent on April 11, but soon lost contact with the base. After almost a week, it was communicated that she was 1,110 meters away from the peak, and finally hoisted the national flag at the summit on 21st April. With this, she has also become the first Indian to climb Everest from both sides.
Just one day before her 30th birthday, Bachendri Pal became the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest. Born in a small village in the Himalayas (now a part of Uttarakhand), Pal discovered her love for mountaineering at the age of 12. She fought against her family’s wishes to take up a more conventional career path, and got herself enrolled as an instructor at the National Adventure Foundation, where a special school had been set up to train women to be mountaineers.
In 1984, she was selected to be a part of India’s first mix-gendered team to climb Mount Everest, called Everest ’84, and on May 22, she made history. Pal stayed active post her Everest achievement. She organized, and led, several all-women expeditions to Mount Everest and across the Himalayas. She was also a part of the team of Everest summiteers who carried out relief and rescue missions in Uttarakhand after the devastating 2013 floods.
In April 2013, Arunima Sinha became the first female amputee to climb Mount Everest. She is also the first Indian amputee to complete the expedition. A national level volleyball player, Sinha lost her leg after being pushed off a moving train during a botched robbery. According to her, the resolve to scale the highest peak in the world solidified while she was recuperating in the hospital after her amputation.
After being trained under the OG Everest summiteer Bechandri Pal, she went on the extraordinary expedition and set a new record for the world. It is now her goal to climb the rest of the Seven Summits (the highest peaks in all the seven continents of the world). After Everest, she has managed to reach the peak of four other highest mountains, including Kiliminjaro (Africa), Elbrus (Europe), Kosciuszko (Australia) and Aconcagua (South America).
When 48-year-old Premlata Agarwal scaled the world's highest peak, she became the oldest Indian woman to do so. She is also the first Indian woman to scale the Seven Summits. Agarwal took to mountaineering at the age of 35. “I got married at a young age and then I got busy with the family. It was only when I turned 35 that I became interested in mountaineering,” she said in an interview.
It was a chance meeting with Bachendri Pal that finally made her take up mountaineering. Agarwal conducts adventure tours in and around Jamshedpur and has asserted time and again how her victory can be used as proof that anyone can achieve anything they set their minds to. “Many people think they are weak. I think it's all in the mind. I believe that if I can do something like this, everyone can. I want to change the mindset of people who think they are weak,” she said.
In 2013, 21-year-old Haryanvi sisters Tashi and Nungshi Malik became the first siblings (and female twins) to climb Mount Everest. They went on to become the first siblings to climb the Seven Summits and reach the North and South Pole. Aside from being featured in the Guiness Book of World Records twice for their mountaineering achievements, they were awarded with India’s highest adventure honour, the Tenzing Norgay National Award, in 2016.
Even though they're now considered to be among the top mountaineers in the world, it was not something they chose for themselves. It was their retired Indian Army officer father who enrolled their names at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering without their knowledge. Fortunately for all those involved, the twins discovered a surprising passion for it and the results are there for everyone to see.
In May 2014, 13-year-old Poorna Malavath became the youngest girl ever to climb Mount Everest. Malavath, who hails from Telangana, wanted to accomplish this feat to prove that girls can do everything. You’d expect that the biggest challenge on such an adventure would be the harsh weather conditions or the treacherous ascent, but Malavath had other worries in mind. In an interview with People magazine, she recounted the horrid packaged food mountaineers had to consume as the toughest thing about climbing Everest. “I did not like its smell or taste,” she explained. “I [wanted] to go home and eat my mother’s food.” More recently, she was the subject of a biopic directed by actor Rahul Bose, titled Poorna.
Anshu Jamsenpa recently broke the record of Nepalese mountaineer Chhurim Sherpa— the first woman to climb Mount Everest twice in a single season—by completing the double ascent within a week. Jamsenpa, 37, returned from the peak on May 16 and, after a short rest, turned around and climbed the summit again. The Arunachal Pradesh native is a mother of two, and was reportedly blessed by Dalai Lama before she started off on her expedition. She has now climbed the world’s highest mountain peak a total of five times.