Bachendri Pal

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Bachendri Pal, 67
Expedition Leader

“I always believe that the biggest risk in life is not taking risks and this belief has given me the guts to take risks, lead many path-breaking expeditions, face numerous challenges and continue the journey. With the same belief, a team of 12 women will be undertaking a five-month long Himalayan journey and the biggest challenge this time is the age factor. The team members are aged over 50 and 60 years, and the expedition’s duration coupled with multiple challenges like emotional, social, mental factors, fatigue and weather constraints make it unique. We intend to set-up an example for all women and raise hope that it is possible to stay fit and healthy in old age.”

 

Words fall short for Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri Bachendri Pal – the first Indian woman to climb Mt Everest and the team leader for this expedition. An embodiment of sheer grit and valor, she leaves no stones unturned to encourage women to practice a healthy lifestyle. Age is just a number for her, she is still as young as the day she summited Mt Everest. She broke through the shackles of the societal stereotype of staying in the kitchen and taking care of the household, to pursue her dreams. Her dreams became her passion with constant perseverance.

 

The cornerstone of this consistency was sheer will power and conviction to achieve the impossible. The Himalayan grandeur have enthralled her forever. ‘You can climb a peak but you can’t possess it. It is simply there, serene and impervious to your love or hate, and it will be there long after you and I are gone’, she says. She is as humble as the majestic Himalayas, appealing to both the spiritual and sensual self, teaching us to rise high above but keep our feet firm on the ground. She chose the road less travelled by. Every morning when she saw the glimpses of the mountain ranges shrouded in the clouds, she dared to dream to be on top of the snow-clad peak. That dream did not let her sleep. That dream made her determined to do what no female in India had done before – stand on the top of Chomolungma (Mt Everest, as it is known in Tibet). 
 

Life was good to her that she was born among the mountains of Garhwal Himalayas. The winter trek with the family and cattle from Harshil to Nakuri to spend the summers at the lower elevations was something she always looked up to. Every single glimpse of the mighty Mt Everest in a photograph made her heart flutter. There was sheer grit to be on top of the world. Life gave her the opportunity to join the 1984 Everest expedition. Although in the initial days she was not ready to accept the offer thinking that she was not yet prepared for Sagarmatha (Mt Everest – as is known in Nepal), her seniors and mentors trusted her capabilities and made her go for the pre-Everest camp. She believes every single step taken in the forward direction counts in a person's accomplishment. Even today, she is open to gaining knowledge from anywhere and everywhere. Every single moment she spends amongst the mountaineers, she tries to learn something new. 
 

Financial troubles crept in after she switched her job as a Sanskrit teacher to a mountaineer. Her inclusion in the Everest team helped and she was made Sports Assistant at Tata Iron and  Steel Company (TISCO), in Jamshedpur. Eventually after the success of the 1984 Everest expedition, Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF) was founded and she was given the position of manager there. Since then, TSAF has actively been the forerunner in supporting women in the field of adventure sports and mountaineering. She has actively been a part of the massive projects undertaken by TSAF like the Mission Gange – a venture to clean the river Ganga from Haridwar to Patna.
 

The mountains have always been very personal to her, the changing colors of the hillside, crampons, ice-axe, spittoons, snow clad peaks, high altitude, oxygen cylinders, climbing gears, jumars, ropes – all things are largely personal, a feeling that cannot be described in words. Away from the hustle-bustle of city life, she chooses the mountains to find peace and tranquility. Serene evenings after a long trek, some warm tea beside a camp-fire, navigating amongst the conifers, some chit chats with the trekking party, are a few of her favorite things.
 

Major Expeditions: 
 

  • Indo-Nepalese Women’s Mount Everest Expedition – 1993

  • The Great Indian Women's Rafting Voyage – 1994

  • First Indian Women Trans-Himalayan Expedition – 1997

Awards and Accolades:

  • Gold Medal for Excellence in Mountaineering - Indian Mountaineering Foundation (1984)

  • Padma Shri  (1984)

  • Gold Medal  -Department of Education, Government of Uttar Pradesh, India (1985)

  • Arjuna Award (1986)

  • Calcutta Ladies Study Group Award (1986)

  • Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records (1990)

  • National Adventure Award by the Government of India (1994) 

  • Yash Bharti Award - Government of Uttar Pradesh, India (1995)

  • Honorary Doctorate from the Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University (1997)

  • Virangana Lakshmibai Rashtriya Samman 2013 - Ministry of Culture, Government of Madhya Pradesh

  • Padma Bhushan – the third highest civilian award of the Republic of India (2019)