Seven Summits And More…

Twins Tashi and Nungshi Malik (23) have climbed 8 mountains and 7 summits. They undertook their first serious high altitude climb of Mt Rudugaira in 2011. Thereafter, they climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the highest peak in Africa in February 2012. Thereafter, they have set the record for the world’s first twin sisters to climb high peaks in the following order:

  • Mt Everest: Conquered on 19 May, 2013 at 7.30 am
  • Climbathon 2013: Successfully participated (20 July-10 August 2013) and conquered unclimbed, unnamed ‘virgin’ peak at 6300 m (21000 ft) ‘Alpine Style’ in Bara Shigri glacier in Himachal Pradesh
  • Mt Elbrus (Russia): Scaled the highest peak of Europe on 22 August, 2013
  • Mt Aconcagua (Argentina): Scaled the highest peak of western hemisphere on 29 January, 2014
  • Mt Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia): Scaled the highest peak of Australasia region on 19 March, 2014
  • Mt Mckinley (USA): Scaled the highest peak of North America on 4 June, 2014
  • Mt Vinson (Highest peak of Antarctica) on 16 December, 2014

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Of all the experiences, they consider climbing Indonesia’s highest peak Mt. Carstensz Pyramid the most interesting, freakish and nerve-racking. Located in a remote island of west Papua, the duo reached the base camp after a week long trek through rain forests (20 hour non-stop rain) and negotiated deep mud pools and mossy tree trunks with an umbrella on one hand and a walking stick on the other. Also, their enemies (mosquitoes) were adamant about not sparing them. They are responsible for 40% of declined expedition.

One night, the sisters decided to eat inside their tent due to heavy rainfall and not visit the kitchen tent. They switched on their headlamps and started munching, when all of a sudden, hundreds of insects and bugs surrounded their tent looking for a possible inlet.

After successfully summiting the peak, they had to head back to camp 2 the following day. They were accompanied by their friend Samina from Pakistan. They came across a river with a fast water current (owing to heavy rains that had occurred for a week). They had to cross over using a log, but it was very slippery. Tashi wanted to avoid the mossy log so she jumped across. Samina imitated Tashi’s jump but slipped and fell into the water.

“Ohhhhh my god, Saminnaaaa,” we screamed. Tashi immediately grabbed her using a rucksack and tried pulling her out. Samina, who was aqua phobic, shouted ‘tashiiiinungshiiiiii’ and fell unconscious within seconds. Nungshi too jumped and helped Tashi pull Samina out of the water. It took them approximately 4 minutes to get her out, splash some water on her face and resuscitate her. That day, the sisters had many unanswerable questions on their mind. “What would be the consequences had she drowned? What would the media from the two nations portray this as?” we thought.

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Every mountain has taught them something or the other. “Each is unique,” they said.

So how did the idea of climbing Mt Everest strike them? During their advance course in 2010, they climbed a mountain called Rudugaira (5819 m) in the Gangotri region. This was their first ascent on high altitude. “We started with the sole purpose of standing on the top of that imposing mountain,” said Tashi. The trek took a toll on both body and mind. It was tough negotiating ice falls and possible avalanche areas. Several climbers opted out at various stages of the climb, several more lagged behind. They were among the first ones to reach the summit along with their instructor.

Nungshi added, “The view from the summit was simply breathtaking. We felt a great sense of accomplishment and heightened self-esteem. At that moment, the idea of standing on top of the world flashed through my mind and I tried to imagine how joyful and overwhelming that moment would be.”

The sisters are extremely attached to each other and can hardly stay some five minutes apart but Tashi is clearly the boss. Fights are common and parents often have to intervene. Life without the other is unthinkable for the girls. They have always shared the same passion of climbing the mountains, accepted the challenges and grabbed opportunities to ‘tread less frequented trails in life’.

“On a mountain, it’s very important to have someone you can count on. The trust we have and the bond we share has got us this far. If I give up, my twin acts like my left hand and boosts me,” said Nungshi.

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Tashi recounted an incident when Nungshi’s mask regulator was not functioning during their final climb from camp 4 of Everest. She almost turned back but Tashi made sure she doesn’t give up so easily. “I motivated her to carry on and together we set foot on the highest peak of the world,” said Tashi.

The sisters don’t recollect a single thing they have done separately till date. Their CVs are copies of each other, the only difference being their first names and marks. They share a spirit of ‘first among equals’. Their parents realized very early that they had to get one of them to take the lead and the other would automatically follow.

“Mom often worries we might push each other off a summit in a fight,” said Tashi laughingly adding, “Now we understand why dad’s closest buddies are those with whom he fought in dangerous operations against the militants in Kashmir and elsewhere.”

When they aren’t climbing, you’ll either see them with ‘ghungroos’ dancing to the tune of classical music or with an apron of colours. The sisters wish to set an example by competing on equal footing with men, even in areas traditionally seen as ‘men’s forte’. They wish to pursue higher studies in sports and exercise management, support girl empowerment and development of outdoor sports through their charitable society ‘NungshiTashi Foundation’, start their long-cherished ‘mountaineers for peace’ project and write a book of their journey on #mission2for7.

Gender discrimination has always been a sore point. Tashi said, “Our parents were often cautioned by friends and relatives about our fate if we get injured or lose a limb”. Medical issues such as ‘periods’ are a particular challenge for women climbers. While attempting Everest, their worst fears came true as both got their periods before leaving for the summit bid. With mounting cramps and absolutely no way to change sanitary wear, they labored on for 21 hours to reach the summit and return to the safety of camp 2 at some 23,000 ft. In their case, they had the additional challenge of poor eye sight and had to use power glasses, which easily get foggy and pose huge problems of fitting in with all other extreme climate gear over the head and the face. “We have an inbuilt safety mechanism,” said Nungshi.

Lack of funding remains a challenge. The government and corporates have extended little support.

The experience of living for 8 weeks in the company of shifting Khumbu glacier (the fastest moving glacier in the world), daily thunder of snow avalanches, of crossing hundreds of feet wide crevasses on shaking ladders and finally beating the dreaded ‘death zone’ to realise the biggest dream of my life cannot be adequately described in words. It was a life changing experience in every sense of the word, said the sisters.

“Mountains have taught us to be humble. Life is about fully realizing one’s human potential,” stress Tashi and Nungshi.

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How to deal with altitude sickness?

Climbers have to keep themselves well-hydrated. Other effective techniques include taking acclimatization hikes prior to the climb. The more hydrated the climber is, the better he/she feels at high altitudes and the faster they acclimatize because oxygen easily assimilates into the blood stream. A person should drink between 4 and 6 liters per day while climbing or training. They may take electrolyte drinks to help replenish electrolytes lost from sweating and exertion. It is important, however, to eat as well as drink during the day to maintain energy levels and prevent hyponatremia. Drinking too much water without replacing electrolytes can make a climber hyponatremic (the flushing away of important electrolytes in the bloodstream due to excess water), which can be a life-threatening illness. “We often avoid medications, but Ibuprofen or aspirin can help with the headache and other symptoms of altitude illness. We also exercise at high altitudes so that the body adapts to the changes of the altitude,” said Tashi. Generally, just being fit helps feel better at altitude.

Resident of a once-sleepy, upcoming town called Navi Mumbai, Falguni Banerjee always wished to study in Pune, the cultural capital of Maharashtra. She studied journalism from Pune University and began her career in the media industry there. She later worked with top media houses in Mumbai and Nagpur and has been felicitated for her work. Falguni is multi-linguistic and enjoys painting in her free time. A voracious reader, she boasts of a personal collection of an odd-2000 books!

Readers can write to her at pinksworth.com@gmail.com

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