Trekking with the legend – Padma Shri Bachendri Pal Madam

Mam

Some things we never imagine in life, not even in our wildest dreams. Trekking with Padma Shri Bachendri Pal Madam was one such thing for me. It just happened.

During Young India Fellowship program, I got the opportunity to work on a project with TSAF,ย Tata Steel Adventure Foundation. Since the historical ascent of Mt. Everest in 1984, Bachendri Madam heads TSAF.

As part of the project, I, along with my two teammates, visited TSAF’s camp site in Uttarkashi for 3 days. Bubbling with excitement, we started our journey at 5 on a November morning from Delhi. After an exhausting day, we reached the camp site in darkness. Hemant, our Project head, introduced us to Bachendri Madam right before dinner. Well, I was no longer tired.

During dinner, we found out that there was a leadership course going on for a group of Tata employees. They were going for a 3 days trek.ย Bachendri Madam was also going with the group. We were supposed to accompany them on their first day. A trek with Bachendri Madam! It couldn’t get any better.

Next morning, we began the trek. Initially, we all started together but later my teammates, new to trekking, decided to slow down. To keep the interview going, I went ahead with Madam. I had already read her biography ‘Everest – My Journey to the Top’ and accounts of her other expeditions. But nothing could compare to listening to her experiences in her presence. It was a privilege.

Madam talked about her humble beginnings, her 1984 Everest expedition. I imagined the young Bachendri Madam in my mind; an ambitious young lady with nerves of steel. She attributed her success in life to the values given by her parents.

Bachendri Madam showed remarkable integrity from young age. On her successful ascent of Everest in 1984, she was showered with lucrative job offers. Everyone, be it government or private, wanted her in their organization. But Bachendri Madam chose to stay with Tata. In her own words, “Tata supported me when nobody knew me”.

After successful summit of Everest, Madam set up TSAF from scratch. She visited leadership schools outside India, did courses and learned from their experience. She overcame every challenge to build TSAF.

In my conversation with Bachendri Madam, I found a lady who was way ahead of her time. In spite of education and resistance from society, she chose a career in mountaineering at a time when people didn’t consider anything, except teaching, as a profession for women. She stood against evils of society from time to time. She faced the wrath of Indian society when she stood by the family of lovers boycotted by her village. She raised her voice against the suffocating norms of Indian society to help others. She successfully led all women Indo-Nepalese Everest Expedition in 1993 against the doubts of everyone. Her Trans Himalaya expedition, traversing Himalayas from Arunachal to Siachen, was an exemplary feat. Madam proved her mettle again and again.

In the evening, while talking to the two Everest trainees, Poonam and Swarnalata, I got a glimpse of Bachendri Madam’s impact in young people’s lives. As told by Poonam and Swarnalata, “We knew nothing. Bachendri Madam taught us how to talk, how to eat, how to take care of ourselves and how to be a good mountaineer, during our time in Everest Base Camp. She fed us with love when we visited her home.”. The girls were focused and excited for their impending training in Argentina in January.

The next morning, Poonam, Swarnalata and I trekked till near by Damini Top. We went running, singing old hindi songs and returned in half ‘n hour.

As I parted ways with Bachendri Madam, I couldn’t stop smiling. I’ll remember her ๐Ÿ™‚

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A Presentation to Remember

The topic was partial review of contents of Dennis Dalton’s book: Gandhi’s Power. Teams of 10 or more members had to present the content. There was no restriction on number of members involved in presentation from a group, though it was to be graded as a group assignment.

A group came to present on the idea of Satyagraha. Everyone from the group was involved in the presentation. Most of the members explained via dialogue with slides in the background. Meanwhile, one member kept making a painting on the side of the stage. At the end of the presentation, audience asked questions to the team. The painter person explained the expression of truth through his painting and also commented on the painting being a medium to make memory of that presentation.

Well, I was left to wonder the last time I had seen such a presentation. I’ve presented and also attended presentations in academics as well as corporate settings. Why a presentation has to be few slides explained in a certain way? In real world, we are often working with people than as individuals. We all are more than just a particular title or role. More often than not, we are a mixture of interests. For example, a person is a mathematician with interest in football or a person is a teacher with interest in music. And no matter how hard we try to act as machines, as if we care about one thing only, we tend to get affected by different things. So why not give space to people to bring all their colors into work?ย  Even if we account for time and focus, isn’t the aim of presentation an honest engagement of both the parties? Why do we force people to see things in a certain way? Why not see the concerned issue in the light of varied perspectives? Won’t it give a better idea? Won’t it actually include people? We often force kids and people to fit into a certain pattern and lens of expressing and looking at things. But it often kills people’s desire to contribute and also degrades their contribution quality. What if we include the diverse perspectives of people to solve our problems? What if we give space to people to bring the variety of ideas to the table โ€“ not only in the way we are used to?

Of course there may be scenarios where it’s not possible due to constraints of time as it often happens in work settings. But surprisingly a space for such presentations and engagement is absent in most of the times even in the academic settings.

What does your experience say? Have you ever tried or witnessed something like this in presentations?

DIY Diaries

Few days back, I was browsing online to buy a beautiful diary for birthday present to my sister. I found some designs that I liked. But nothing called out for ‘That’s it’. Then suddenly a thought struck, ‘Why not make a diary myself’. (Another way out could have been to get a customized diary but naah!) So I began with left out white sheets of old half used notebooks. I used water colors, doodle art, ribbons, woolen thread and basic stationery. In next 2-3 days, I made 3 diaries – everything from scratch.

Here are the diaries I made in the order of making.

Diary 1:

 

Diary 2:

 

Diary 3:

 

Cutting sheets to make pages of diary was a task. But I loved the outcome, more so for the novice I am with water colors and doodle art. I hope these would make a nice birthday present. Which one do you like the most? ๐Ÿ™‚

Flowers – beauty of North East India

During my time in Darjeeling and Sikkim, I was mesmerized by the beautiful flowers growing almost everywhere.

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I visited Darjeeling, Ghoom – a hill station 8 km from Darjeeling, places in Sikkim including Jorethang, Yaksum and Gangtok. During my stay and travel which was mostly in shared taxi rides, flowers were as common a sight as the mountains.

These flowers blossomed everywhere – from huts and houses of common people to hotels and public spaces.

The plants were teeny-tiny in size, often kept in small painted tin cans. Colors of flowers covered a wide spectrum. It is not often that one finds such variety of natural colors at one place.

I was wondering if this beauty was restricted to the places I visited or if the whole North East was a witness to this charm. Talking to my friend from Kohima, I found out that it’s a similar case in Kohima. One of my aunt who has spent some time in Kalimpong, also talked fondly of the flowers there. My childhood years spent in Hasimara in West Bengal, reminded me of the Sadabahar and Marigold which bloomed in the whole Air Force campus. Undoubtedly, the North East is home to vibrant natural flowers in many of its places.

It’s indeed a nature’s gift to the natives of North East India. Beautiful! ๐Ÿ™‚

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Basic Mountaineering Course experience

As I’m writing this piece, I’m trying to figure out the beginning of this. Getting a seat in Basic Mountaineering Course in any of the Institutes in India is itself a daunting task. They get full; well not just months but an year in advance. I applied in HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute), Darjeeling in November 2016. I got a seat in women only batch of May 2017.

We were more than 60 women in the batch. We belonged to different parts of India and came from different walks of life. We also had one Japanese and one German lady among us. We had three women from Indian army and one from Indian Air Force too. The age group varied from teenagers to 40 years old.

The first morning in HMI, I woke up at 5 by the hustle outside our room. I came out to find girls staring in awe at the mountains far off. From HMI hostel, we could see the mighty Kanchanjunga range .

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Kanchanjunga range seen from HMI, Darjeeling.

After the P.T. on first day, we were divided into 9 different teams/ropes. After all, mountaineering is a team sport. Each team had 6-8 members. Each member led the team for 3 days in the course.

The course was divided into two phases: training in HMI, Darjeeling and training in HMI Base Camp, Sikkim.

During the time in Darjeeling, we had 5 km run every morning followed by P.T. exercises or yoga. Rest of the day was a mix of theory classes and practicals. We learnt knots. We learnt natural rock climbing and rappelling on Tenzing rock. We also had artificial rock climbing practice on indoor and outdoor walls. We received all the mountaineering equipments. After a week, we had our practice trek to Tiger Hill. It was 12 km one way. If clear weather, one can see Sikkim Himalayas, Nepal Himalayas and Bhutan Himalayas all together from Tiger Hill.

One day after Tiger Hill trek, we left for HMI Base camp. We moved to Yaksum, Sikkim by cars. From Yaksum, we began our trek to base camp. First day we entered Kanchanjunga National Park and trekked 14 km to Tshoka. We stayed one day in Tshoka for acclimatisation. From Tshoka we moved to Zongri. That day it rained like cats and dogs. We trekked the 11 km distance completely drenched in rain. Next day it continued raining. We trekked 13 km from Zongri to reach the base camp.

Base camp was a beautiful place. But the idea of spending 10 days in complete isolation with 50 people living in a single hut was something for each one of us. We acclimatised for one day. Then our glacier training began on alternate days. We used to trek two hours one way to reach Rathong glacier. We had ice climbing, rappelling, jumaring, crevasse rescue and anchor base training on glacier. Last day, we had our ice climbing test. Meanwhile, we had our theory lessons in base camp. After glacier training, we had one day of height gain. B C Roy peak of height 17,000 ft was chosen for us. It was a clear day. We started around 6 in the morning from base camp. But as it happens with mountain weather, it turned really bad during the climb. Five of us reached closest to the top. But 150 m away from the summit, we had to turn back due to worsening weather. It was overwhelming to experience what an expedition feels like. One day post the height gain, we left base camp. While returning, we covered the distance from Base camp to Yaksum in 2 days only.

On reaching Darjeeling, we had our graduation on the auspicious date of 29th may, the day Tenzing Norgay conquered Mt Everest and also the birth anniversary of Tenzing Norgay.

Twenty-eight days were amazing learning experience. I got more than I expected, be it the technical knowledge of mountaineering or experience of mountains. But the most amazing part of the journey were the people I met.

Love got a new meaning when I met the young lady who is working hard to save money to get married in Everest Base Camp to the love of her life, a mountaineer.

The army officer, 3 months into her marriage, taught me about leadership and giving your 100% in everything you do.

I have heard people complaining about how they are too old for things. Well, a 29 year old lady, quitting her government job of 7 years, just proved it’s never too late for anything.

I met someone who in spite of being selected for Masters program from London School of Economics, is crazy for Young India Fellowship. ๐Ÿ˜€

It’s said that mountaineering is like the mother of all sports because in mountains there is no second chance. You make one small mistake and it costs you something. But we are humans and we all make mistakes. I met someone who learned the lesson hard way. He climbed Everest but lost his two fingers due to frost bite because of not being able to see little snow inside his gloves.

I met Sirs who reminded us not to consider ourselves girls but humans first.

I learned there is so much scope to be better than who I was yesterday.

I hope mountains call me again, may be for advanced course. It’s timeโ€‹ for home now. ๐Ÿ˜€

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Mountains of Darjeeling covered by clouds ๐Ÿ™‚