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Bachendri Pal: Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Chitra Sanam

The Tibetan mountain range looked like it was up in a plume of smoke. That’s the picture that Bachendri Pal, India’s first woman mountaineer to scale the Everest, has etched in her memory when she stood on the summit of the world and looked around. Amid many thoughts and prayers to descend to ground zero safely, that was all that she captured.

“Most accidents take place while descending, so my mind was totally occupied with my safety to reach the base camp,” she shares. But as the descent began, with each passing moment, what started to sink in was the impact nature can have on an individual. It’s been over two decades but she recalls, “I lived by the hours not knowing what’s in store. The uncertainty taught me to live one day at a time. In turn, it made me realize how insignificant we are in the presence of a mountain. A small dot in nature! Man is tiny in comparison. Mountaineering has helped me understand the power of nature,” she adds.

That was back in 1984. “I climbed for myself then,” she says.

‘Everest material’

Born and raised in Uttarkashi in Garhwal, she was determined to do live an extraordinary life. “I used to see Indira Gandhi laud achievers and those news clips and pictures would inspire me to do something different with my life,” she shares.

Being born into a community that lives in the mountains, she was always fascinated by mountaineers. But the mind-set of those in her community back then was that they didn’t need any training to trek. They believed they were born mountaineers. So it wasn’t until Pal completed her studies that she had a chance to attend a mountaineering course. It was that course that put her on a straight track to scramble to the top of the world. “It was there that my coach told me I was ‘Everest material,’ and ever since I heard those words, there’s been no looking back,” she says.

Dream come true
Upon her return from the 1984 expedition, her dream to meet Indira Gandhi came true. She also had the opportunity to meet JRD Tata, who roped her in with the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF). She took over as the chief of TSAF’s adventure programs.

Nearly nine years after she had trekked the Everest, Pal had the opportunity to climb again but instead led an expedition which had 18 members who scaled to the top, of which seven were women. “I remember the press asked me why I chose not to climb again and instead led an expedition, but I told them that I had the opportunity to climb to the top 18 times over. That’s the beauty of leadership and taking responsibility, which TSAF taught me.”
Lessons from adventure sport
With more awareness, today there’s a demand for adventure sport. Today, one can see more clearly the benefits that can be gleaned from adventure sport. Pal muses over, “Adventure sport is a demanding classroom where you have to perform. It helps build your personality, team spirit, tolerance and patience. It’s like an open book that you can’t read and learn from while sitting in a classroom built with four walls. And women need to know that they are mentally stronger and have to overcome fears. Stop telling yourselves that you can’t do this or can’t do that. We’ve excelled in all fields in life.”

Besides her work with TSAF, Pal has now embarked on another adventure to reach out to needy children who need support and education. After one of the sherpas she trekked with was struck down, she took over the responsibility of his children and started to teach them. “It’s a lifetime adventure to make a difference in someone’s life. It takes three months to climb the Everest, but being responsible for another’s life is a lifetime adventure,” she emphasizes as she goes about her work.

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