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What Daughters Can Do: Twins Tashi and Nungshi Malik’s Mountain Mission

The intrepid Tashi and Nungshi Malik set out to conquer the Seven Summits and the North and South Pole to show patriarchal Indian families what daughters can do.

By Neha Kirpal

They are the first siblings and twins to climb the Seven Summits and reach the North and South Poles as well as complete the Adventurers Grand Slam and Three Poles Challenge.

In 2016, Dehradun-based duo Tashi and Nungshi Malik were conferred India’s highest adventure honour, the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award by the President of India.

In September 2019, they competed in the Eco Challenge Fiji, which pitched 66 teams of top adventure athletes from 30 nations against forces of nature and against each other, traversing 671 kilometres of rugged Fijian landscape, ocean, rivers, lakes and jungles using a dozen adventure activities. They became the first and only South Asians to participate in this global adventure race.

We caught up with the twins about their climbing journey.

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Tashi and Nungshi Malik in Washington DC for the Global Sports mentoring program (Photo: Jaron Johns)

How did you both get interested in mountaineering, and why did you decide to make a career out of it?
We were initiated into this sport soon after leaving school in 2009. An ardent believer in all-round development, our father persuaded us that exposing ourselves to physically dangerous and challenging situations was a key step to self-awareness and developing leadership attributes.

What started out as a one-off exposure for personality development was to emerge as our deepest passion! Following the basic course in 2010, we completed all the progressively higher courses: advance, search and rescue, and instructor courses. During the same period, we also completed a ski course in Kashmir.

eShe Dec 2019 coverWhen we were preparing for our Everest climb, the 2012 Delhi gang-rape outraged and shook the conscience of the whole nation. We too were extremely angry and wanted to do something to break social stereotypes of girls being weaker than boys.

Having met many accomplished mountaineers, we learnt about the Seven Summits – the highest mountains of each of the seven continents – being considered a landmark achievement among the mountaineering community.

After successfully summiting the Everest, the idea gradually crystallised that we could attempt all Seven Summits. If successful, we would be the world’s first siblings and twins to have done it!

We sensed the opportunity to use this as a medium to campaign for gender equality and fight against female foeticide in India. We are glad to say we have been able to do so, and further went on to complete the ‘Explorers Grand Slam’, which is the Seven Summits plus the two Poles.

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At the outdoor leadership school founded by the twins (Photo: Jaron Johns)

Has mountaineering been a source of courage, self-growth and confidence?
Mountaineering has taught us that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage – the courage to cross the barriers in our minds, to cross the mountains in our hearts!

Nature is all-powerful and this you realise when you attempt a summit, and become aware of your vulnerability and insignificance. A small avalanche can easily send you into oblivion. The silence and remoteness add to the sense of loneliness and fear.

Sometimes, evacuation is not possible and the chances of things going wrong are very high. We value the spiritual awakening and heightened self-awareness that these experiences have given us.

Facing these challenges and overcoming our fears and physical dangers instills a high degree of self-confidence to face the ups and downs of day-to-day life.

It is a total revelation, a deep inner change. It has helped us see the bigger picture of life because we realise how fragile and precious life can be.

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Approaching the summit of Mount Cook (3724m), New Zealand’s highest peak (Photo: Nungshi Malik)

Please share your most memorable climbing moments.
The experience of living for eight weeks in the company of the shifting Khumbu glacier (the fastest moving glacier in the world) on the trek to Mt Everest, daily thunder of snow avalanches, of crossing hundreds of feet wide crevasses on shaking ladders and finally negotiating the dreaded ‘death zone’ cannot be adequately described in words!

How do you train for expeditions?
We have trained the mind to rule the body. The basic motto we follow before attempting any of the high peaks is to ‘preserve energy’. Our training and nutrition program includes strength training, aerobic and endurance. All these exercises become progressively strenuous and challenging as the climb gets closer. In addition to solid alpine snow and ice-climbing skills, we need strength endurance, high-altitude tolerance and strong cardiovascular conditioning.

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The twins summited Mt Kilimanjaro twice (Photo: Jason)

You are one of the few young Indian women in this field. What are the challenges and scope involved?
Parents in our native state Haryana love their daughters, but due to social norms of dowry and being a patriarchal society, many parents see their daughters as a burden and ‘someone else’s property’ or ‘paraya dhan’.

We hope that by our achievements, these parents will change their views and will give equal opportunities to daughters. Each successful climb makes us feel like true champions with a mission accomplished for the Indian girl child.

The first thing we did on reaching a summit was to strike a steel plate with a spoon as a celebration of being girls, much like families in many parts of rural India do to celebrate and announce the birth of male child to their neighbours!

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Is this a viable, long-term, sustainable field? What are the finances involved?

Climbing big peaks is very expensive. We were among the very few Indians who scaled Mt Everest with our parents’ own savings of about Rs 45 lakh. There are only a few professional climbers, and none are famous or well-to-do! Corporate players or the public at large do not see it as something rewarding unlike sports such as cricket.

This is compounded by the government’s lack of a policy for the development of mountaineering as a sport. Some states have it under the Tourism ministry. We hope that by our global achievements and world records, the sport will get due attention and respect.

We are trying to also glamourise it with photo shoots to draw corporate sponsorships. We have also launched the Nungshi Tashi Foundation to foster outdoor spirit among Indians, especially girls and women, to promote empowerment through self-awareness, leadership and outdoor livelihoods.

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Ascending Mt Dixon (3019m), New Zealand, after successfully climbing Mt Cook (3725m) (Photo: Andrea Bruni)

What is your advice to young women mountaineers like yourselves?
We are all human beings first, each uniquely gifted with unlimited potential. Gender is a human reconstruct that prevents us women from realising our full potential. Let’s be watchful against gender discrimination: know it and fight it!

Lead image: Photo shoot by Dennis Randall for Mountain Hardwear (subsidiary of Columbia Sportswear based in Richmond, California).

First published as the cover story of eShe’s December 2019 issue

Syndicated to CNBCTV18

1 comment on “What Daughters Can Do: Twins Tashi and Nungshi Malik’s Mountain Mission

  1. Harbhajan Garcha

    Kamal Hai G
    It is a great feat and accomplished by these twin sisters. I am so proud to see them do it, Congratulations

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