Bachendri Pal, first Indian woman to scale Mount Everest, reveals story of bruised egos 35 years on

Bachendri Pal recounts the challenges she faced to become the first Indian woman to scale Mount Everest.

Bachendri Pal shares the story of her pioneering Mount Everest climb 35 years on.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

In India, maybe the first lesson in school textbooks on women's empowerment comes with the example of Bachendri Pal. How she braved all adversities and became the first Indian woman to unfurl the tricolour on top of the 8,848-m Mount Everest on May 23, 1984, is widely known.

However, not many know that Pal wasn’t done with her adventures after that historic day.

Pal led an Indo-Nepalese Mount Everest expedition of 18 people, including seven women, in 1993. A year later, she headed an all-women team of 18 rafters in ‘The Great Indian Women's Rafting Voyage’, successfully completing a journey in the river Ganga from Haridwar to Calcutta (now Kolkata), covering 2155 kilometres in 39 days.

Named one of India’s 50 most illustrious women in a book authored by Indra Gupta in 2004, Pal could never stay away from the excitement life brings along with it.

Pal, who was named the director of the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF) soon after she conquered the highest peak of the world, said it has been a memorable ride with the company. Speaking on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the historic day of her Mount Everest climb, she said, “Tata Steel backed me when no one else believed in me. Even as my family kept pushing my brothers towards higher education, Tata handed me 1500 rupees before my climb. In those days, that was a lot.”

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Is mountaineering actually considered a sport? This is a question the 65-year old has often faced. “Obviously it should be, considering the risk that we take... life and death... but things are better now,” she said.

The Padma Bhushan awardee added, “There are a lot of people pursuing the sport now. Actually, it is not spectacular and people do not get to sit and clap in front of their TV sets. It is not always about competitiveness. Sometimes we should consider team effort as well.”

Pal, however, stressed on a specific incident which she hadn’t revealed. “I have never talked about this. It has been 35 years... I guess it is okay now.

“There were specific people who weren’t happy at all that I was a part of the team... as if I was some rucksack or some extra baggage. People feel women are not capable enough to do great stuff. There were egos I had hurt when I had taken a momentary break to climb down to help people who were finding it difficult to climb by bringing some hot water and tea for them. There were other climbers who were ahead of me but refused to come down. Even if you are unable to help, at those moments even your presence makes a difference.

“Actually my leader had called and asked the others about where I was. The others complained saying I had gone down but my leader was a good man. He refused to hear a word from them and instead scolded them for letting me leave the camp alone. He later asked me what the situation was.

“The next day I had also overheard people objecting to my climb saying if it happens they wouldn’t accompany me. The leader would have none of it though,” laughed Pal.