Aasha Khosa/New Delhi
Nahida Manzoor is India’s first Muslim woman mountaineer to scale the 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 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 the 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 Police man) 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 the Everest and fame has all the elements of a thriller: Excerpts from her interview:
How did you decide to scale the 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’s going to change my life. In the Institute, I did a basic course and followed it up with many advance courses there and 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 a 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 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 were 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 di you manage the funds?
It costs around Rs 30 lakhs. I raised money through crowdfunding on social media. Some local companies, Sports bodies, 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 basecamp on April 6 and reached there is ten days. We spend about one month there acclimatising our bodies. Each day we go from one camp to another and return. One of our team mates had to leave from the basecamp because of health issues. I made friends with other climbers in my group: Tuakaram and Tiruputi 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 my 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 on 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 of shock, disbelief and fear and even collapsed. My will power 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 in the ice; some bodier 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 frost bite. I was lucky to get immediate medication from a foreigner who carried special medicine; my fingers were saved otherwise I would have 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 having 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 next morning.
What bad experiences you encountered in Kashmir?
There are always some people who don’t want to accept the fact that a girl from Kashmir can climb the 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 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 to the 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 out dreams and participate in sports in school. I remember he never bought us salvar-kameez (traditional dress) as gift always get us trousers. I have named my company as 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 Uttrakashi. 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 police against those trying to harass you?
Yes, I have lodged FIRs with 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.