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Woman at the top

india Updated: Mar 04, 2009 01:27 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

That change comes aloft the quiet wings of time is an inevitable law of societal evolution. But sometimes it needs to come astride sturdy shoulders.

In the hinterland of the tourist town of Manali, a giant leap in the emancipation of women happened in a manner befitting its environs: a girl climbed a mountain.

The massif in question happened to be the highest in the world and the girl was, at the time, the youngest ever to manage the feat — a record she went on to hold for 10 years. The fact that she had not undergone any advanced mountaineering training made it all the more noteworthy.

When Dicky Dolma, aged 19, trudged to the top of Everest on May 10, 1993, she brought about a revolution in the sporting aspirations of women of the region. “It was difficult for girls to even go to Kullu alone. Trips to places like Delhi — so essential if one is to succeed as a mountaineer — were a strict no-no,” laughs Dolma.

Before her historic climb, barely two women from Himachal enrolled for mountaineering courses. “I was pleased to note the number jumping up to an average of about 15 in the coming years,” says Dolma. “There has been a fundamental change in the attitude towards adventure sports since then. While I was warned by my parents not to ski as they felt I might end up breaking a leg, girls are now actively encouraged to go ahead.”

Dolma has also made a new life for herself through mountaineering. The resident of Palchan village — a few kms ahead of Manali — earns a living as an instructor in the Skiing and Mountaineering Institute in Manali. “The belief that sport can be a vehicle of economic change for girls from the mountains has now taken firm root. It is no longer looked at as the exclusive domain of men,” she says.

While she was national alpine skiing champ for nearly a decade, Dolma’s greatest regret stays not having made it to the Winter Olympics. “Skiing was my first love. Climbing Everest forever changed my life but I always wonder what I could have achieved if only we had better facilities for skiing,” she says.

But there have been great joys, too. And one of the greatest is to have contributed to “the belief that Indian women are no less than anyone else.”