By Us, About Us: Women are born with mountains to climb

By Carla Bustamante, GSMP 2015 Alumna May 06, 2016

By Us, About Us is a series of blog posts by journalist alumnae from the Global Sports Mentoring Program: Empower Women through Sports where they interview fellow participants and share their stories. This post was written by 2015 alumna Carla Bustamante of Mexico on classmates Nungshi and Tashi Malik of India.

With only a 21-minute difference separating their births, twin sisters Nungshi (named after a Manipuri word meaning “love”) and Tashi (named after a Tibetan word meaning “good luck”) Malik from Haryana, India are the first female twins to climb Mt. Everest and the youngest women to complete the Adventurer’s Grand Slam.

The story of the sisters’ thrill-seeking lives began six years ago when Nungshi and Tashi were 18 years old. Raised in one of the most rural and conservative parts of India, their father suggested that exposing them to physically dangerous and challenging situations was a key step to self-awareness and developing leadership attributes—especially as girls. Knowing that not all classrooms have four walls, Col. Virender Singh Malik, had always encouraged them to explore the outdoors.

“What we started out as a ‘one off’ exposure for personality development came to emerge as our deepest passion,” Nungshi says years later.

From there forward, things happened almost by default. Nungshi and Tashi took training courses in mountaineering and a true love for the sport came naturally.

“Mountain climbing has helped us see the bigger picture of life and realize how fragile and precious life can be,” Tashi says.

“We have trained the mind to rule the body. We strongly believe that when the body says ‘give up’, the mind can command ‘get up’; the desire to achieve our goal is far stronger than the fear and risks in its pursuit.”

As one of their biggest followers, I really believe the twins are Super Heroines. Just look at some of their displays of strength: they were not afraid of the Everest’s “death zone” (altitudes above 8,000m), where more than 200 previous climbers died; they lived for eight weeks in the company of shifting Khumbu glacier (the fastest moving glacier in the world); hauled 150 lbs. in their backpacks during various expeditions, and faced temperatures dipping to minus 35-40 degrees Celsius (minus 95-104 Fahrenheit).

“As human beings and as girls we consider ourselves very strong,” Nungshi says. “Especially having challenged tough mountains that are traditionally considered ‘male forte,’ and having outperformed many men in our climbs, we feel empowered and second to none.”

I met the Maliks at the 2015 U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program 2015. One of the program’s goals is create a network of sisters around the world, in which you can find the force to empower yourself and empower other women. During the first week of our GSMP experience, Nungshi was my roommate. On most nights we had very long talks. I was surprised at all I was learning about life from this very mature young woman. In the time I spent with her sister, Tashi, who taught me all about Indian dance and culture, I learned about the lack of opportunities women have in India and how the twins want to promote and inspire more girls and women in their country to follow their dreams.

Nungshi and Tashi inspired me with their passion and purpose. Through their stories, I learned about the real meaning of having a sister to watch your back. In their cases, it often meant the difference between success and failure; life and death.

“During our attempt on Everest, between our final push for the summit from Camp 4 in the infamous ‘death zone’, the regulator of my oxygen mask was not functioning causing a huge breathing problem for me,” Nungshi says. “The moment I realized this, I gave up and decided to turn back. But, at that point in time, Tashi made sure I didn’t give up because we had dreamt of scaling Everest together. She motivated me to carry on and together we were able to set our feet on top of the world.”

Nungshi and Tashi have temporarily put their climbing pursuits on hold as they attempt their next challenge: “Twin Girls 4 Ice Caps Challenge.” The challenge is expected to take three years as they ski 5000 kilometers across all four of the world’s ice caps. If they are successful they will become the youngest people in history to complete the trek.

Apart from this challenge, Nungshi and Tashi also support girl’s empowerment and development of outdoor sports through their charitable society, the NungshiTashi Foundation. They are in the process of writing a book on their journey to completing the Adventurer’s Grand Slam, and are regularly invited to give talks at schools and universities in India and New Zealand.

I cannot be more proud of meeting these trailblazers. If the twins had “the courage to cross the barriers in their minds, to cross the mountains in their hearts” it means that you and I can do the same.

So, what is the next mountain you will climb?