Her effervescent smile and humility touch the ground but as she speaks, the steely resolve that made Bachendri Pal a pioneer, the first Indian women to climb Mt Everest 28 years ago, shines through.
"I'm paid to pursue my hobby," chuckles the leader of the successful Indo-Nepal expedition to the world's highest peak in 1993, recalling how India rejoiced as one when the mountaineer from a humble background in Uttarkashi broke the mould by scaling the Everest in 1984.
"When it comes to women and adventure, people think they are timid and not capable, even I had to struggle," she told reporters on Wednesday. For nearly three decades now, Bachendri has shared her leadership and resolve with adventure sports enthusiasts and serious climbers as the head of the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation.
With the Everest climbing season approaching fast, she has chosen two of her wards, Binita Soren, a 24-year-old economics graduate, and Meghlal Mahato, 30, to make the attempt. They will be accompanied by Rajendra Singh Pal, her younger brother and an experienced instructor.
The trio will be part of an international group that will take the popular East Ridge route. The actual attempt, after acclimatisation, will be made in May.
"Every climber has a dream — Mt Everest," said Bachendri after introducing Mahato and Soren, who have climbed Mt Aconcagua, the highest peak in the southern hemisphere (22,900 ft). Mahato and Soren’s village, Seraikela Kharswan in Jharkhand, has not been hit by Naxal violence but Tata officials feel their achievements should encourage more tribal youth to tread the path of adventure.
How did Bachendri pick the two for the adventure? "Their can do spirit," came the reply.