Just before its launch a few weeks ago, a TV show that celebrated the highs of mountaineering, asked viewers, ‘What’s your Everest?’— a poser that is completely relevant to Nungshi and Tashi Malik, the 23-year-old twins from Dehradun, for whom the challenge has always been the conquest of the highest peaks in the seven continents. They pursued their dream over the years and today, they are the only pair of twins in the world to have scaled the tallest peaks in six continents and hold the Guinness World Record for this feat. In November they had embarked on their conquest of the seventh as well.
During a visit to Mumbai, the girls had participated in a shoot with Verve. Despite spending months on end away from civilisation, they were extremely chatty, eager to talk about what drives them to greater heights. Tashi says, “Partly due to our own want-to-do-many- things, become-many-things nature and partly due to our father’s free-from-concern conversations, until we cleared our SSC exams, we were not sure what career we wanted to pursue. When our parents were scouting for possible schools in Mussoorie for 11th and 12th, we met the principal of one school and he asked me, ‘Yes, girl, what do you want to become? I instantly replied ‘Astronaut!’ Mom and Dad turned red in the face, as I had secured less than 50 per cent in Science at the boards! But the principal was impressed and immediately offered to take us in. When later my parents inquired why I had said such a thing, I told them that at that point I was really thinking of becoming an astronaut.”
Her sister, younger by a few minutes, says that they became mountaineers “by chance”. “Without our knowledge, our father applied on our behalf for the basic mountaineering course at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarkashi. He told us only once the confirmation was received. Initially, we were in awe of the activity and were a little afraid, but dad’s logic was strong – through exposure to physical danger and challenges, we would get acquainted much more with ourselves. This, Dad maintained, was essential education. After we started, things happened almost ‘by destiny’. Neither we nor our father had the slightest idea that very soon we would set our sights on Everest!”
Although the Malik sisters’ aim was to scale each of the tallest peaks in all the seven continents, they started with Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa which Nungshi says was “the easiest of them all”. They soon decided to use their skills to build awareness for a cause close to their hearts: gender equality and rights of the girl child. Their “#Mission2For7” project was conceived while at the base camp of Mt Everest, and since then, the aim behind all their climbs has been to support and promote their movement. “We liked the idea of pursuing our passion to the hilt, as well as for its social value…to inspire our girls and women to dream and achieve their goals,” says Tashi.
Two girls, seven peaks, seven continents – being together is a bonus. Tashi points out, “After sharing some of the most dangerous moments, we have become even more conscious of our identity – of the fact that we are unique achievers being twins. This has bonded us in ways that very few duos are.” And, Nungshi and Tashi are like any other pair of siblings – fighting and arguing, to the extent of throwing ‘I’ll cut your throat’ tantrums’! They jokingly state that their mother’s greatest fear is that if they fight on a mission, they may even push each other off the summit. As one assumes with twins, the Maliks too have similar personalities and likes, and in fact, Tashi can’t recall “a single thing we’ve done separately till date”.
Nungshi, obviously looking out for her younger sister, tells us, “Even if I am reminded by my sister that I am wrong — I have the belief that my sister always needs me and that without my protective umbrella and care she will get easily manipulated and hurt by others. Dad has often told us we must do our Masters in different places so that we can discover our own unique personalities.” Though they may study at different universities, the twins, like everything else they’ve done together, want to major in the same field — sports and exercise management.
Their achievements have been noticed by even the biggest names in the country. Their list of ‘fans’ include Yuvraj Singh, Sachin Tendulkar (who gifted them T-shirts saying ‘Nungshi-Tashi, the sky is not the limit for you’) and actor Boman Irani.
Apart from mountaineering, the two speak passionately about dance, an art they’d like to master at some point of their lives. Nungshi says, “If we were to define our strongest passions, it is two – mountaineering and dancing. Strangely, while we discovered the former recently, we grew up loving and practising dancing. What we regret is that we never quite pursued it after initial training in Trivandrum in 2000, this is one dream we have yet to fulfil to our satisfaction.” And her twin adds, “If we had not been exposed to mountaineering, we would most likely have become famous dancers by now.”
After scaling great heights, one wonders if there’s anything they’ve wished for themselves on a personal level. Tashi is the first to respond, “For the past few years we have been living very intense lives, realising our dreams one after the other and as more exciting avenues and possibilities are opening out. In the midst of it all, I don’t find the idea of marriage, falling in love with someone, or having a boyfriend at all exciting and attractive…I do hope that I will have opportunities to unwind a little bit and think of settling a bit more in life. This is one flip side of being with my twin sister 24×7, because no third person, least of all a boy, is able to come close.” Her sister adds, “I am so used to staying with my sister and in many ways so dependent on her approval and her endorsement on most of things I do, that for me it would surely be a personal peak to be able to live by myself and form my own opinion and make my own decisions.”
And for those who want to conquer their own ‘peaks’, Nungshi offers some advice, displaying wisdom seldom seen in young adults of her age. “Mountaineering has taught us that life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage – the courage to cross the barriers in our minds, to cross the mountains in our hearts. This applies to all jobs and to every field of human activity. Without passion and commitment we believe, such accomplishments would rarely be possible.”
Tashi adds, “Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture the heart. And you will begin to experience an unprecedented joy when you have learnt to celebrate life as a most precious gift to be fully enjoyed, without fear, without self-doubt.”