Both dressed in t-shirts and jeans, Tashi and Nungshi Malik might seem like average, young, Indian women who happen to be twins. But this is the exact kind of situation that reaffirms the metaphor, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Thankfully, I had already done my research and gotten prepared enough to know that the “Everest Twins” as they’re called are anything but ordinary. They are the first twins to climb all seven summits as well as reach the North and South Poles. What kind of amazing record is that to hold, right? Well, I got the answer to that and much more recently. Read on…
The chance to do a basic course in mountaineering kind of made us realise that there are sometimes passions that you don’t know you have, till you try them. There are things you are really interested in, but you don’t discover them earlier on in life. This was the case with mountaineering. It really drives you to push your limits, set big goals and work towards creating winning teams – things that beautifully resonate with the two of us as twins. We already share that bond, but it has extended it in a way because it made us conscious of the interconnectedness and dependence on each other as humans and as an integral part of nature. To us, climbing gives continuity to our lives. We felt early on that this is something that really drives us and makes us want to push our boundaries.
We were 17 or 18 and the first peak we ever climbed was in the Indian Himalayas, in the Gangotri region. It’s called Mount Rubegera which is about 19,000 feet. It was part of an all-women expedition, which was great ’cause when we got to the summit, it was a turning point in our lives because when we finally stood on the summit, we actually believed in who we were. Until then, we heard so much about how mountaineering isn’t for girls etc. You’ll always find people trying to pull you down.
That’s the thing! The mountains don’t know or care if you’re a girl or a boy or an Indian or whatever, it’s going to throw the same challenges at you irrespective. And to overcome those challenges, and feel confident about who you are, that’s what the mountains give you.
It isn’t just one. There are quite a few that come before we go on an expedition. One of them being, leaving home. The thing is that, on such adventures, you can never be sure about a safe return or if you’re even going to make it back. So losing your life is a major roadblock. In this case, twinship can also be a curse because we’re constantly thinking about each other and there’s a constant thought that if something happens to the other, we wouldn’t know what our lives would look like. It’s also really expensive to pursue this sport. In a country such as ours, mountaineering is just beginning to come up, so it’s really hard to find sponsors, so we’ve got to be 100%sure we don’t screw this up. I think that’s actually the biggest mental challenge. Like it’s fine to pretend that money doesn’t matter but it really does.
For us, it becomes more of proving a point because it is a statement we are trying to make. We have a cool story, but in India sadly, we still haven’t got that attention. But from the West, it’s crazy! The President of Iceland called us to visit 2 years ago; The Prime Minister of New Zealand has met us twice now. So we do have important people in our lives who encourage us and keep us going. Eventually, you do have people to back you up and make you believe that what you’ve done, is worth recognition.
What would happen if you asked your mother for permission to climb the Everest? She’d probably say, “Climb steps, that’s more than enough.” Right? This was literally our situation when we told our mom. I think dad though, being in the Army and being the daredevil kind, was okay, but even he was taken aback when we told him. I guess since we’re thin and fragile, people used to think that we won’t be able to climb because the breeze would just blow us away. Our dad was little more focused on training and other aspects. Mom was just petrified though. Even today, we can’t tell her what we’re up to next because she just says, “If you want me to live, don’t tell me what you’re planning to do in life.” As cool as our dad tries to be though, he is always worried too.
Accolades are one thing, but nothing can ever replace the feeling that you get when you reach the summit of the mountain and whether it be about girl power or be it about our own abilities to challenge ourselves. What we love most is that we are inspiring young girls. All these records do matter though, in the way people perceive this sport. So in our country, when we say we have 6 Guinness records it makes a huge difference. You then get validation. Among others, they hold Guinness records for ‘First Female Twins To Climb Mount Everest’ and ‘World’s First Siblings & Twins To Scale The Seven Summits’
In a society where people think the girl child is useless and just kill them off because it is assumed that they are weak, we feel it’s important to do something to prove them wrong. It’s the 21st century, so how and why does stuff like this happen. People’s mindset needs to change. It’s like if you’re a girl, you’re at a disadvantage from the beginning. People have even told our parents that.
That was a very special moment for both of us and Samina Baig from Pakistan. The bond, the friendship…we were like triplets. Nothing could tear apart. You see, in mountaineering, we don’t see boundaries or anything like that. We are all just humans on a mountain doing something we’re all passionate about. It’s just this whole sisterhood moment that is really emotional. Imagine that and hoisting the flags of 2 different countries. It feels extremely symbolic. It’s a message about compassion, unity, strength and about sisterhood. There are NO boundaries.
We would say that its the fact that gender is basically a human-made construct. We want to change the perception that people have about girls and women in any walk of life regardless of the field. We are all together. Everyone is human, and we hope this is a legacy that we will continue to keep living.