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, 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. 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 🙂