May 19, 2013:
On their way from Camp 3 to Camp 4 on Mount Everest, Tashi and Nungshi Malik passed their first body. The dead climber was on Tashi's side, as if napping in the snow, his head half covered in the hood of his parka. They had heard that bodies of those who could not descend in time, who made a crucial mistake or simply suffered bad luck, remain littered across Everest's treacherous path.
But seeing a dead body up-close was completely different for the 23-year-old twins. They tried to rationalize it but couldn't. It could have been one of them! Was this a grim warning, both wondered. They trod on, one step at a time, but the image of the dead man kept flashing in their minds throughout the journey to the peak of Mount Everest.
April 21, 2015:
The Dehradun-based girls completed the Explorers Grand Slam, by skiing to the North Pole. The Slam is a challenge to reach the North and South Pole, and to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks in each continent – a feat completed by fewer than 50 people in the world.
At 16, after finishing high school in 2009, Nungshi and Tashi weren’t sure what they wanted from life. They are trained classical dancers, enjoy singing and love sports. So when their father suggested they take a basic course in mountaineering, they thought, 'Why not!' and signed up for the Basic Mountaineering Course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. Much to their amazement, they aced all the tests, outdoing the others.
Lean on me
As I see the 23-year-old twins fighting over what to wear for the photo shoot, I wonder how easy or difficult it is to have one's sister as a partner on an expedition.
What if they were both hanging off a cliff on a rope, which could only save one? Nungshi and Tashi smile and exchange knowing looks. They have talked about this before.
"Atop a mountain, you are not always in a position to help somebody else," explains Nungshi. "If I was dying, my sister probably wouldn't even think about addressing me, because she would be worried about her life too. Tashi and I are always debating, "Tashi would you let go off me, or would you let go off the two of us?"" says Nungshi , breaking into a throaty laugh.
They don’t know what they would do when faced with their mortality. But say that it's very common for mountaineers to cut the rope, especially in the French community.
And that's the reason it's very important to undertake expeditions with somebody who you can trust your life with. "If either of us falls into a crevasse, the other would put in her 100 per cent to get her out. It would be hard for the other to let go easily," she says.
She cites instances when people have tried to demotivate them from going on when they already had a thousand reasons to give up. It is at times like these that the twins have supported each other.Does that mean they never disagreed high up on the mountain? Or when deciding which route to take? Their mother answers my question. "I think that is the only place and time they don't fight!"
Death is not a mere possibility though. It is a harsh reality: 12 of their friends have died in the last year. Some were caught in an avalanche while some could not be rescued from a crevasse.
“After Everest, we wanted to celebrate. But then you lose your friends to the mountain and it is heartbreaking. One moment you are talking, wishing them luck for the summit. And the next moment you see them lifeless in front of you.” Nungshi and Tashi have been lucky to have finished the Explorers Grand Slam in their first attempt, unscathed.
All the highest mountains on each continent - check. The North and South Poles - check. Numerous records to make their parents proud - check.
So what's next on Tashi and Nungshi's agenda? "We want to write a series of story books for children about each of our expeditions," says Nungshi. "But we shall spare them the gory details."
"Don't be too surprised to see us acting on the silver screen, adds Tashi with a wink.
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From HT Brunch, August 23
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