By B Shrikant
Mumbai, Oct 1 (IANS) They were born a few minutes apart and have achieved all their feats including conquering Mt Everest — a few minutes apart.
In the last two weeks, Tashi and Nungshi Malik, the renowned twin mountaineering sisters popularly known as the ‘Everest Twins’, represented India in Switzerland’s ‘100% Women Peak Challenge’. As part of the challenge, the twins summitted two 4000m (13,000 ft) peaks in the Swiss Alps. The challenge was launched on International Women’s Day as a part of the 100% Women Only campaign this year to encourage women-only teams to come together to ascend all the forty-eight 13,000ft peaks in the Swiss Alps.
The Malik twins successfully conquered Mount Breithorn (13,662 ft) and Allalinhorn (13,212 ft) as part of the challenge that saw over 400 women from across the world take part.
In an exclusive interview with IANS, the twins talk about their journey so far and their plans for the future.
Q: How did you both get interested in mountaineering?
We have a lot to thank our father for. He was the one who believed we could do this even before we could put forward our fears and doubts. Dad felt that we could be more self-aware, all-rounded, and in charge, if we challenged ourselves through physically dangerous and challenging situations. He told us we could develop rare leadership attributes by engaging in mountaineering and it has been the biggest turning point in our lives. Ever since we began mountaineering after school in 2009, we’ve done very well in all our basic as well as progressively higher courses including advance, search and rescue, and instructor courses. During the same period, we also completed a ski course in Kashmir, and since then, there has been no looking back.
Q: Why take part in this challenge as mountaineering is not a competitive sport? How does it work out?
By taking part in this challenge our aim was to encourage more women to step out of their comfort zone and participate in outdoor, physically challenging activities that are mostly associated with being male-dominated. The 100% Women Peak Challenge promotes camaraderie amongst diverse women from around the world as they complete a challenge together over a course of time, rather than competing against each other on a single day. This campaign offers the perfect opportunity for us to spread our message internationally — one that states that Indian women can and should reclaim their power. Being a part of a campaign with significant media exposure and over 250 international women who have already undertaken the challenge allows us to redefine the way in which Indian women are viewed by the public. More than just for the thrill of the climb, we embark on these adventures to overcome stereotypes that claim Indian women cannot achieve the same things that Indian men can. Every day, Indian women move mountains to overpower patriarchal challenges and achieve their dreams — so it is about time we start climbing them too.
Q: What kind of challenges did this event present to you both?
The core idea of the 100% Women Peak Challenge is to address the ‘gender challenge’ in mountaineering and adventure! By scaling peaks of 4000m altitude with all-women crews, we are here to inspire women to see this as gender-neutral activity because, as we always say, ‘mountains do not discriminate based on gender!’ It’s a campaign to encourage more Indian women travellers to experience Switzerland with a different perspective and try out the outdoor life by participating in high-altitude hikes, mountain biking, climbing, or camping! Despite recent positive trends, overall, women still form perhaps not more than 15% of the total number of serious adventurers and climbers in the world!
On the personal side, this challenge is our first-ever experience in the Swiss alps! It takes time and experience to get a ‘feel’ of the topography and weather conditions of a mountain we’ve never scaled before. In every which way, the Alps are so different from our Himalayas, with their own set of unique challenges.
We see this as a great opportunity to understand the Alps so that we can train hard and prepare well to come back next year and scale ‘The Trilogy’ which includes, Mt Eiger and Matterhorn in Switzerland! Both of which are alluring summits we hope to summit one day!
Q: Are you both open to participating in sports climbing events too although mountaineering is a different activity? But the basics are the same, so would you like to participate in that too as there are limited numbers of mountain peaks in the world and you have already climbed a lot of them?
We are always game for a new and exciting challenge because that’s what keeps us going! There are still so many peaks we haven’t set foot on – almost all the 8000 m peaks and so many virgin 7000 m peaks in India! It is always better to get into sports climbing when you are young so that you develop and strengthen the required set of muscles early on. It is very encouraging to have sports climbing included as an Olympic sport with three medals up for grabs! In India, we still have a long way to go to be considered serious contenders for this honour.
But our trip to Switzerland has shown us so many more adventure sports that we would absolutely love to explore more often like paragliding, hang gliding, bungee jumping, canyoning, water skiing and so much more!
Q: How much does it help to have your sibling participate in the same activity with you?
Tashi: Twinship is a huge synergy in mountaineering and luckily for us, we both always shared the same passion for climbing mountains. We are best buddies when we are on an expedition because on a mountain, that trust, camaraderie, and companionship are very important. You need someone you can count on when you are standing on the edge of a precipice!
Nungshi: All of these 30 years we have never been separated and there isn’t a third person who has been closer to any of us. Now that through our mountaineering achievements, we have shared some of life’s most dangerous moments together, we have become even more conscious of our identity as twins and of us being known as unique achievers. This has bonded us in ways that very few two persons are. We now realize that bonds built sharing the most dangerous moments together are the strongest. Most people who haven’t experienced such moments can never understand this.
Q: How much sibling rivalry do you have between you? Siblings are known to fight with each other. Is it the same with you two?
Nungshi: We are like any other siblings who love to hate each other during fights and disagreements, but on a mountain top we are one. Though Tashi is younger than me by a few minutes, she is bossier and always gets away with her demands even though I am physically stronger than her and weigh 2 kgs. more than her!
Tashi: Nature-wise, we are very different, and of the mountaineering missions, we are often each other’s worst enemies, just as we are best friends. Mom often fears that if such vicious fights were to ever occur during a dangerous climbing, we might push each other off the summit!
Q: Your names are different, especially Nungshi. What does it mean? Did your parents ever tell you why they chose these names?
Actually, soon after we were born our official names were Akita and Nikita! Nungshi and Tashi were given as pet names some months later. However, since these former names were never used by anyone except in early school records, our parents decided to convert our pet names into formal names. Nungshi & Tashi are now part of all our public records from our 10th board exams onwards.
Tashi is a Tibetan word, meaning ‘good luck’ and Nungshi is a Manipuri word that means ‘love’. Manipur, as you know, is our home state in North East India.
Q: What’s your next aim in terms of mountaineering and general life?
We’ve just begun with mountaineering and have much still left to do. We have our plate full of exciting stuff that is coming up shortly. We are looking forward to: Embarking on a four-year epic journey #twingirls4icecapschallenge in which we will participate in a full-length ski expedition covering 5000 km of Antarctica, Arctic, Patagonia, and Greenland – one ice cap each year starting with Greenland (currently stalled due to inadequate funding support); embarking on a ‘#TwinGirlsHimalayanTraverse’ recording and presenting human stories along the way (awaiting funding support).
We also want to launch a few adventure-reality shows in India (can’t divulge the details right now!). We want to annually lead all women Everest & Kanchenjunga base camp leadership treks for women and produce and anchor a video series – #invisiblemountains showcasing how subtle and often invisible socio-cultural practices limit girls based on gender. It will first cover states, societies, and sub-societies in India and then cover all continents.
With one video each week/month it will go on for a decade or so. Author educational animation book on Explorers Grand Slam for kids on theme of twin sisters’ adventures, highlighting gender issues and increasing geographical awareness. To support girl empowerment outdoors through our foundation we want to write a book on our journey.
Q: How was your experience in Switzerland? How was the terrain, the weather, etc. during the climb?
We scaled three mountains Allalinhorn (13,212 ft), Breithorn (13,662 ft) & Rifflelhorn (9603 ft). All of these are such serene mountains, which we found most exhilarating because of their altitude and different terrains! The weather was blissful, and a good layer of snow worked in our favour!
Breithorn, a peak in the Pennine Alps was the first peak we scaled in Switzerland, it helped us get acclimatized to Swiss weather and terrain. It was extremely windy on the summit, but the sheer beauty of the Alps took our breath away! For Allalinhorn, we started very early in the morning for it. The mountain had lots of crevasses to negotiate in the beginning and exposed rock to climb towards the summit and was more technical than Breithorn. The ascent was arduous, but the energy of our team helped mitigate the stress. An ‘all women’s climbing crew’ isn’t a bad idea after all. Riffelhorn also known as Matterhorn’s little brother was our first multi-pitch ascent of a peak. A climbing grade of 4a-Riffelhorn grants steep bolted routes Slippery rock and exposed sections which are challenges in themselves. And the climb was made worth more with the epic views of surrounding peaks and glaciers, especially Matterhorn!