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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

‘We saw the sun rise from under our feet’: Everest Twins Tashi and Nungshi Malik

The Malik sisters are among the 400+ women from across the world who have taken on the 'Women Peak Challenge' in Switzerland, where they are representing India

Written by Prerna Mittra | New Delhi |
October 7, 2021 12:30:23 pm
Everest Twins, Everest Twins Tashi and Nungshi Malik, Tashi and Nungshi Malik interview, Tashi and Nungshi Malik mountaineering, Mt Everest, climbing Mt Everest, mountaineering, Swiss Alps, Switzerland, female mountaineers in Indian, indian express newsThe twins are representing India at the '100% Women Peak Challenge' in Switzerland. (Photo: PR handout)

It is morning time in Switzerland and Malik sisters Tashi and Nungshi are a tad distracted. They are on a train, taking in the breathtaking landscape of the country, when indianexpress.com reaches out to them. The sisters, who are participating in ‘100% Women Peak Challenge’, take the call, and what follows is a long conversation about their love for mountaineering.

This is their very first experience in Europe, and they tell this outlet that they have already summited two 4000 m (13,000 ft) peaks in the Swiss Alps — Mount Breithorn (13,662 ft) and Allalinhorn (13,212 ft) — and intend to stay a few more days to do more “adventurous” stuff in the mountains.

The challenge was launched on International Women’s Day this year — by Switzerland Tourism — with an aim to encourage women-only teams to come together to ascend all the 48 13,000 ft peaks in the Swiss Alps.

The Malik sisters, hailed as ‘Everest Twins’, are among the 400+ women from across the world who have taken on this challenge — including both seasoned mountaineers as well as those who have never climbed such high peaks before. They get candid about their journey thus far, in the 29 years that they have lived on this planet.

“Our father was in the Army, and was posted in all these mountainous states, including Sikkim,” they say about their love for climbing, adding that it began when they were 18. “We got initiated into the sport by default, but ended up following it because that was our deepest passion. The mountains cast a spell and there was no looking back.”

Hailing from Dehradun, Uttarakhand, the sisters recall their first ever trekking trip, somewhere in Nepal. “When we were young, we went to Pokhara; there is a lake there. We went to the mountains, and then to the lake, from where we took a boat. On the hike down, there was a leech stuck to my leg,” Nungshi recalls, laughing. “This is why I have the memory embedded in my mind till today.”

Journey to the top of the world

The sisters, as mentioned earlier, are famously called the ‘Everest Twins’, a moniker they earned when they became the first female twins to summit Mt Everest in 2013, at the age of 21.

“Our initial plan to summit Everest was when we were 19. By then, we had finished two courses at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Dehradun. But our mother — a worried soul — was adamant. Once we completed all the formal training, and after a lot of convincing, we decided to summit,” they share.

Interestingly, the sisters had no idea they were to become the first female twins in the world to ever do it. They had only climbed a 19,000 peak before that. “Our feat was proposed by the sherpas. We were on the summit — we speak Nepalese, because our mother is half Gurkha — and the sherpas told us of our achievement, saying this must be sent to Guinness World Records.”

That was just the beginning; the sister went on to bag nine more Guinness World Records, seven Limca Book of Records for their climbing feats, Nari Shakti Puraskar Award 2020 — India’s highest civilian honour for women recognising services towards the cause of women empowerment — Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award, and others.

‘A malfunction in the regulator’

There, however, was a lot of uncertainty before the Everest summit. Nungshi says her regulator had malfunctioned, making it difficult for her to breathe. But making it to the peak with her sister was a “beautiful experience and feeling”. “Just to see the world from above was mesmerising. We saw the curvature of the Earth, like how you see from space, and everything else was so minuscule. You don’t usually get to see the sun below your eye level, but there, we saw it rise from under our feet!”

On being called ‘Everest Twins’ the sisters say people usually think they made it to the base, and not the peak. “It is interesting that people recognise and associate us with this moniker, but we have so many other feats, too,” they say.

Training prerequisite 

Without a certain training, there will be imminent failure, the twins warn. Every expedition requires training, because “you are going to a place where — for about a month or more — there will be absolutely no communication”. There is also loss of weight that happens on a daily basis, so it is important to know how to “preserve energy”.

“Training includes a mix of aerobics, strength and yoga — we have always kept that basic level of fitness all our lives. Without this, we are honestly not going to make it past the base camp,” they say.

Mountaineering as a gender-neutral sport

Besides scaling them, the sisters are also trying to move mountains by making it a gender-neutral sport. The involvement of female mountaineers is crucial, they say.

“Traditionally, mountaineering is viewed as a male preserve. Of course, now with women setting trends in many countries, there has been a surge in the number of female mountaineers, but a lot of people still cannot fathom it.

“Finance is a deterrent for many women, because in India, especially, it becomes difficult for people to find an incentive to continue doing this activity. For us, it was particularly important because we wanted to remind girls that if they set their mind to something, they need to back it with commitment,” the sisters say, adding that one has to be “particularly crazy to pursue this sport”.

‘Switzerland has tested our nerves’

The country, where they are currently, has given them “many firsts”. “We went for canyon-swinging and paragliding, things we have never done before.”

“Climbing with an all-women crew is a different feeling,” the sisters remark. “The energy that we felt on this trip was unmatched. Everybody here is so fit, they do the job so well — they seem to have this genetic advantage of being exceptional climbers. It was a badass experience!” The sisters make it clear that they are not here to compete, but to represent.

And would they ever imagine going on an exclusive expedition without their twin? “We have been climbing all our life together, and it is almost impossible to think about doing a summit without each other,” they conclude.

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