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The continuing adventures of the mountain twins

Tashi and Nungshi Malik began their climbing career with a bang in 2013, summitting Everest. It has been a long, adventurous trip since then with many more peaks under their belts
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Tashi and Nungshi Malik on a climb in the Swiss Alps in September. (Courtesy: Tashi&Nungshi/Twitter)
Published on Oct 15, 2021 07:49 PM IST
ByRutvick Mehta

As avid climbers, Nungshi and Tashi Malik have worn the flagbearers’ tag for India on multiple occasions—be it as the world’s first female twins to scale Everest in 2013 or the first siblings to complete the Explorers Grand Slam two years later. Yet for the twins, touching a couple of peaks towering over 13,000 feet in the Swiss Alps as the lone Indian faces among 400-odd women gave a different high.

“This was our very first time experiencing the Swiss Alps,” Tashi says. “The terrain here is so different to anything that we have done in the past, especially in the Himalayas.”

“If the sheer altitude of the mighty Himalayas is intimidating,” Nungshi adds, “the Alps have a unique allure that combines both gentleness and the daunting challenge.”

Popularly known as the Everest Twins, the 30-year-old duo from Dehradun scaled the Breithorn (13,662 ft) and Allalinhorn (13,212 ft) mountains in the women-only Switzerland peak challenge held in September-end. It was another tick off their list which includes, among adventures and achievements aplenty, becoming the first siblings, twins and South Asians to scale the Seven Summits as well as ski to the North and South Poles to complete what is termed the Explorers Grand Slam.

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In comparison, the Swiss sojourn was less daunting task but the temptation of giving an Indian flavor to the global all-women climbing challenge was reason enough.

“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 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,” Nungshi says.

Tashi, younger by a few minutes, concurs. “Each time women raise the bar in climbing, public respect and acceptance for them too rises. They can be seen being equally strong and capable as men in areas that demand extreme physical and mental robustness,” Tashi says.

Women empowerment and gender equality has been at the heart of the sisters’ adventurous soul. It’s a perception battle they have overcome crisscrossing the world while kissing peaks and breaking barriers. It’s a perception battle they are eager to overcome in India, where, Nungshi says, “concerns of safety and security of girls wanting to venture into the outdoors” limits opportunities. The nagging thought gave birth to the Nungshi Tashi Foundation and the Outdoor Leadership School in 2015 in Mussoorie, which is home to a range of outdoor and adventure activities and courses especially for women.

“We are perhaps the only adventure setup led and managed by women, which in itself is a powerful message of gender equality,” Nungshi says.

“A lot has changed in India in the past decade or so since we started out in climbing. It’s still far from being mainstreamed. But the recent mix of girls getting more assertive about the life they want to live, resistance to early marriage and the increased adulation and acceptance for their adventure feats has brought in a visible perception change,” she adds.

Not that they personally had to grapple with it starting out. The sisters’ foray into the climbing world was down to their father, Col. Virender Singh Malik, who got his daughters enrolled at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi in 2009 sensing their interest in sports in school. The father’s hunch turned out to be spot on.

“I recollect telling our dad after we returned from the first mountaineering course that, 'dad, we've found our passion!’ What started out as a one-off exposure for personality development and self-awareness emerged into something much deeper,” Nungshi says.

Completing the basic course in 2010 that imparted skills ranging from technical (teaching knots and lashes to bouldering, icecraft, route setting, use of climbing gear) to life-saving (packing materials, handling injury, rescue), the sisters took off on their first real climb in Garhwal in the Himalayas. They subsequently finished the advance, search and rescue and instructor courses, and also added a ski course in Kashmir to their CV.

A breathless two-year phase from 2013 to 2015 ensued, where they knocked off one peak after another. Starting with Everest, they ticked off the highest peaks on each of the seven continents--the so-called "Seven Summits Challenge".

To celebrate their graduation in bachelor of sport and exercise from Southern Institute of Technology in New Zealand, they scaled the country’s tallest peak, Mount Cook, in 2015. A year later, they were handed the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award, India’s highest adventure sports honour.

The escapades have since dropped in frequency, mainly due to their work in India and the restricted budgets. “There are two invisible mountains we usually talk of in our description of climbing as a unique challenge: the gender mountain and the financial mountain,” Nungshi says.

According to the two, about 40% of their funding is dug out from their family savings and fees from the various public events they attend to speak in. The rest comes from avenues that open up sporadically: corporate funding, individual donations and sponsorship; for example, they are the current brand ambassadors for two US-based outdoors gear and health products companies.

“Financing extreme adventure is a nightmare,” Nungshi says. “Each of our life-risking adventures demands the best gear, best accident insurance, best guides and best training and preparation. Unlike many other sports, there is almost no funding for such pursuits in India. The government funds programs and expeditions through Indian Mountaineering Foundation but these are very basic events with just too many seekers. They almost never fund any globally significant climbs outside India and Nepal.”

Yet, they want to continue pushing their own boundaries while also pulling more Indian women into the magical mountaineering world. Among other plans, the twins want to embark on a ski trip over 5000km covering the Antarctica, Arctic, Patagonia and Greenland each year and organise an all-women Everest and Kanchenjunga base camp treks annually.

“What drives us to continue despite its ever-lurking risks is that we find climbing very therapeutic, very spiritual and very self-empowering,” Nungshi says.

As avid climbers, Nungshi and Tashi Malik have worn the flagbearers’ tag for India on multiple occasions—be it as the world’s first female twins to scale Everest in 2013 or the first siblings to complete the Explorers Grand Slam two years later. Yet for the twins, touching a couple of peaks towering over 13,000 feet in the Swiss Alps as the lone Indian faces among 400-odd women gave a different high.

“This was our very first time experiencing the Swiss Alps,” Tashi says. “The terrain here is so different to anything that we have done in the past, especially in the Himalayas.”

“If the sheer altitude of the mighty Himalayas is intimidating,” Nungshi adds, “the Alps have a unique allure that combines both gentleness and the daunting challenge.”

Popularly known as the Everest Twins, the 30-year-old duo from Dehradun scaled the Breithorn (13,662 ft) and Allalinhorn (13,212 ft) mountains in the women-only Switzerland peak challenge held in September-end. It was another tick off their list which includes, among adventures and achievements aplenty, becoming the first siblings, twins and South Asians to scale the Seven Summits as well as ski to the North and South Poles to complete what is termed the Explorers Grand Slam.

RELATED STORIES

In comparison, the Swiss sojourn was less daunting task but the temptation of giving an Indian flavor to the global all-women climbing challenge was reason enough.

“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 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,” Nungshi says.

Tashi, younger by a few minutes, concurs. “Each time women raise the bar in climbing, public respect and acceptance for them too rises. They can be seen being equally strong and capable as men in areas that demand extreme physical and mental robustness,” Tashi says.

Women empowerment and gender equality has been at the heart of the sisters’ adventurous soul. It’s a perception battle they have overcome crisscrossing the world while kissing peaks and breaking barriers. It’s a perception battle they are eager to overcome in India, where, Nungshi says, “concerns of safety and security of girls wanting to venture into the outdoors” limits opportunities. The nagging thought gave birth to the Nungshi Tashi Foundation and the Outdoor Leadership School in 2015 in Mussoorie, which is home to a range of outdoor and adventure activities and courses especially for women.

“We are perhaps the only adventure setup led and managed by women, which in itself is a powerful message of gender equality,” Nungshi says.

“A lot has changed in India in the past decade or so since we started out in climbing. It’s still far from being mainstreamed. But the recent mix of girls getting more assertive about the life they want to live, resistance to early marriage and the increased adulation and acceptance for their adventure feats has brought in a visible perception change,” she adds.

Not that they personally had to grapple with it starting out. The sisters’ foray into the climbing world was down to their father, Col. Virender Singh Malik, who got his daughters enrolled at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi in 2009 sensing their interest in sports in school. The father’s hunch turned out to be spot on.

“I recollect telling our dad after we returned from the first mountaineering course that, 'dad, we've found our passion!’ What started out as a one-off exposure for personality development and self-awareness emerged into something much deeper,” Nungshi says.

Completing the basic course in 2010 that imparted skills ranging from technical (teaching knots and lashes to bouldering, icecraft, route setting, use of climbing gear) to life-saving (packing materials, handling injury, rescue), the sisters took off on their first real climb in Garhwal in the Himalayas. They subsequently finished the advance, search and rescue and instructor courses, and also added a ski course in Kashmir to their CV.

A breathless two-year phase from 2013 to 2015 ensued, where they knocked off one peak after another. Starting with Everest, they ticked off the highest peaks on each of the seven continents--the so-called "Seven Summits Challenge".

To celebrate their graduation in bachelor of sport and exercise from Southern Institute of Technology in New Zealand, they scaled the country’s tallest peak, Mount Cook, in 2015. A year later, they were handed the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award, India’s highest adventure sports honour.

The escapades have since dropped in frequency, mainly due to their work in India and the restricted budgets. “There are two invisible mountains we usually talk of in our description of climbing as a unique challenge: the gender mountain and the financial mountain,” Nungshi says.

According to the two, about 40% of their funding is dug out from their family savings and fees from the various public events they attend to speak in. The rest comes from avenues that open up sporadically: corporate funding, individual donations and sponsorship; for example, they are the current brand ambassadors for two US-based outdoors gear and health products companies.

“Financing extreme adventure is a nightmare,” Nungshi says. “Each of our life-risking adventures demands the best gear, best accident insurance, best guides and best training and preparation. Unlike many other sports, there is almost no funding for such pursuits in India. The government funds programs and expeditions through Indian Mountaineering Foundation but these are very basic events with just too many seekers. They almost never fund any globally significant climbs outside India and Nepal.”

Yet, they want to continue pushing their own boundaries while also pulling more Indian women into the magical mountaineering world. Among other plans, the twins want to embark on a ski trip over 5000km covering the Antarctica, Arctic, Patagonia and Greenland each year and organise an all-women Everest and Kanchenjunga base camp treks annually.

“What drives us to continue despite its ever-lurking risks is that we find climbing very therapeutic, very spiritual and very self-empowering,” Nungshi says.

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