Aasha Khosa/New Delhi
Nahida Manzoor is India’s first Muslim woman mountaineer to scale Mount Everest and that happened one-and-a-half year ago, yet chances are that you might not have heard of her.
The reason: the fast-paced political changes like the abrogation of Article 370 in her home state of Jammu and Kashmir that overshadowed all other events post-August 5 2019 coinciding with her return from Everest. “I received a warm welcome at the airport; my parents, sponsors, and officials were there; everyone praised me on social media and then everything went into the cold.
“As I was recuperating after the Everest mission, I received a call from the office of Mamata Banerjee; her office wanted me to visit Bengal,” Nahida told Awaz the Voice. As luck would have it, on August 5, the Parliament passed the Bill on changing the status of J&K State – splitting it into two Union territories and scrapping its separate constitution and special status – and the resultant two months of restrictions on movement and telephone cut her off from the world.
Unmindful of this, at 26, this gutsy Kashmiri woman has not only become the third person from J&K (Others include an Army man and a Policeman) to scale the world’s top peak but also the first woman to set up an adventure company in the Union Territory.
Nahida’s story of the climb to Everest and fame has all the elements of a thriller: Excerpts from her interview:
How did you decide to scale Mount Everest?
Mountains have always attracted me. As a child, I would go on trekking to all the mountains around my village. Instead of going to picnics to Mughal gardens, I would ask my cousins to join me on a climb to the hillock near my home. I had trekked all the peaks around my village. I loved sports while studying in the Kendriya Vidyalaya and didn’t like academics much. Four years ago, the NCC instructor at Vishwa Bharti College, Srinagar, where I was studying to be a graduate, told me that I could go to Uttarkashi for training as a mountaineer. There was one seat left in the basic course at Nehru Mountaineering Institute. I had no idea that it was going to change my life. In the Institute, I did a basic course and followed it up with many advanced courses there and in Manali.
There I took a conscious decision that I have to do my best. Building mental and physical stamina is the key to becoming a good climber. I would make sure to carry double the weight that others carried while training.
When did you decide that it’s time for you to go to Everest?
During the training, I was evolving into a tough person physically and mentally. One day while rippling, my hair got entangled in the hooks. I was dangerous. My coaches started panicking and rushing to launch a rescue operation for me. I stayed calm and told them not to worry and I will manage. I did manage to free my hair and climb down safely. My coaches and teachers often said I was extraordinary. When I was getting trained and scaling some peaks, I knew Everest is my target. There was no way I would not go there.
Scaling Everest is an expensive proposition: How did you manage the funds?
It costs around Rs 30 lakhs. I raised money through crowdfunding on social media. Some local companies, Sports bodies, the Tourism department, CRPF, and District administration funded my trip. Today, after I am successful, suddenly many people are claiming they had sponsored my adventure. (Chuckles)
Tell us about the climb.
It takes about two months. We were a group of five climbers who went through India’s first adventure company Transcend Adventures of Hyderabad. We started our journey to the base camp on April 6 and reached there in ten days. We spend about one month there acclimatizing our bodies. Each day we go from one camp to another and return. One of our teammates had to leave from the base camp because of health issues. I made friends with other climbers in my group: Tuakaram and Tirupati from Hyderabad and Anjali and Sharad Kulkarni, a couple, from Maharashtra. Anjali Ma’am treated me like her daughter. We played cards and had a lot of fun. I would cook my favourite onion chutney and sometimes kehwa (Kashmiri tea) and garlic-flavoured eggs for everyone. They called me Kashmir ki kali.
What problems did you face on the way to the summit?
The climb to Mount Everest brings you face to face with shocking events and situations of life. I faced the biggest tragedy of my life when Anjali Ma’am died of exhaustion at Camp 2 as we were descending from the summit. She was breathing her last few breaths when the Sherpa attending her called her husband Sharad and asked everybody to move on. I froze in shock, disbelief, and fear and even collapsed. My willpower was giving up; a woman who called me her daughter was dying and I could do nothing. In between, I felt I was sinking and then I suddenly remembered the faces of my parents and felt rejuvenated. I also saw many bodies that lay on the ice; some bodies were being retrieved. The climb makes you see the best in humans and also the worst. My Sherpa refused to carry an extra oxygen cylinder for me. I had to carry two. Some Sherpas don’t care about humans; they are only concerned about the commission they get at the end of the summit.
Tell me about your moments of ecstasy and sorrow?
Besides Anjali’s death when I reached the summit, I broke down. I cried my heart out: it was a mix of tears of joy and sadness. My two fingers were inflicted with stage two frostbite. I was lucky to get immediate medication from a foreigner who carried special medicine; my fingers were saved otherwise I would have had to get these amputated. The journey tests your patience and resilience. At one stage of the journey, I got sick. My oxygen levels would suddenly fall at that particular point and there was a possibility of I had to drop out. I couldn’t even think of it. I cried. A team of NSG (National Security Guard) came to our camp and patted me. They told me to wait for one more night before taking a final call. I was fine the next morning.
What bad experiences did you encounter in Kashmir?
There are always some people who don’t want to accept the fact that a girl from Kashmir can climb Everest. They would taunt me; others trolled me on social media and some even say I am a fraud. I was so disgusted with all this at one stage that I thought of ending my life. But my parents rescued me from that situation. In Kashmir, again it’s the elite whose success is celebrated; the poor people have no clout and their success is not a piece of news. I ask the government to make provisions for poor children to do rock climbing and adventure sports.
What are your future plans?
I want to see Kashmiri youth fall in love with nature. Once you get hooked on Nature it will never leave you. Boys who have taken to drugs and other vices will be fine once they turn to nature. I want girls to take up adventure sports in a big way; we have everything that Nature can give humans. Then if so many girls from states like Uttrakhand, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh can take to mountaineering in a big why can’t the girls of J&K?
Who has inspired you the most?
My parents have encouraged me the most. I believe girls can do anything provided their efforts are backed by their parents. My father Manzoor Ahmed Pampori is a butcher by profession. He always told people his three daughters are his sons. He encouraged us to follow our dreams and participate in sports in school. I remember he never bought us a salvar-kameez (traditional dress) as a gift always get us trousers. I have named my company Pampori and daughters Adventures after my father.
Who are your favourite mountaineer?
My favourite is Tikki Dolma who hails from Himachal. I met her in Uttarkashi. also wanted to do rifle shooting. I contacted Chain Singh and told him about my wish. He was so encouraging and told me to come over to Delhi for training. I couldn’t go because of financial constraints.
I am given to understand you had to go to the police against those trying to harass you.
Yes, I have lodged FIRs with the Crime branch and Cyber polls against trolls and those abusing me and trying to spread rumours against me. They want to bring me down; initially, I was scared and frustrated but now I am killing them by ignoring them and doing what I should.