Nungshi and Tashi Malik

Nungshi and Tashi Malik, are the world’s first siblings and twins as well as youngest individuals and the first South Asians to complete the ‘Adventurers Grand Slam’ (scaling highest peaks in all continents including Everest, and skiing to the North and south Poles). They use their climbing as metaphor for the ‘invisible’ mountains of gender discrimination, exclusion and denial of basic rights that millions of girls in India have to face daily. Last year they started ‘NungshiTashi Foundation’ with the twin objective of promoting Outdoors Leadership and girl empowerment through Outdoors.

What was the path that lead you to today?

Quest for self-discovery and self-awareness built on the desire for leading a balanced and holistic life. Our early exposure to varied cultures and geographies across India instilled in us higher consciousness than most kids of our age and a sense of connectedness to larger ecosystem.

Who inspired you to do what you do?

Dad! An infantry officer from Gorkha Rifles, he was almost always deployed on far flung borders or just too busy with his professional demands. He barely spent time with us during our early childhood. But the very little he did, it had profound effect on our world view. He always asked us: ‘what sort of person you want to be?’ and then ‘follow your passion, never be afraid to dream big. Go confidently in that direction. The world may not, but you can always count on my big Yes to all that you decide to do’. Having embarked on mountaineering, a route so less treaded especially in our part of the world, our second inspiration came from Indian girls, majority of who we saw struggling merely to survive. Their smile and resilience despite numerous visible and often #invisible gender mountains. We had to change the status quo, to prove that girls can do anything.

What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered?

Despite dad’s unflinching support, we realized the world around us is too big, too overwhelming. Our socio-cultural norms expecting certain roles and responsibilities from girls weighing heavily in favor of boys, frequent disapproval from friends, peers and relatives and our own mother’s fears for us were always at play. Not to mention the huge financial challenges of sport such as mountaineering given dad’s earning from pension and mom being house wife, society, govt and corporate not forthcoming to support the way they do for other sports.

Biggest triumphs?

First big personal triumph we recollect is jumping from 5m high board at a swimming pool when we were some 8 years old. To learn to overcome fear, Dad was exhorting us to jump off that height challenging us ‘let me see which one of you’re braver’. Each of us was pulling back from the edge out of fear. In the process Tashi slipped and fell in the pool. Within an instant Nungshi also jumped feeling she’d lost out. Dad caught this hitherto hidden twin-sibling rivalry which has actually helped us raising bar in pretty much every sphere.

Ability to act in the face of all odds in pursuit of our belief and our dream is another of our biggest triumphs. This has of course evolved gradually building on our experiences and experiments. Maintaining ‘balance’ and wider perspectives is our third biggest triumph. The famed poem of Rudyard Kipling ‘If’ has been the biggest source of inspiration from our early days. It was framed and gifted by dad to us as he himself drew immense inspiration from it.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

If we deeply desire something and back it with massive determined action, the world conspires to make it happen. Life expands or shrinks in proportion to one’s courage. And such courage often stems from pursuit of purpose. Higher the purpose, bigger our courage and positive energy that goes with it.

What things help you get through each adventure and why?

Our simple philosophy is ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst’. Extreme adventure often doesn’t give second chance for our mistakes. We also place highest value on risk management. While appreciating that there are always objective hazards in such adventure, we do believe that a successful adventurer is a living adventurer. There is often a thin line between life & death. Our right decisions are critical.

What scares you and how do you deal with fear?

Haha, pretty much all the ‘fears’ we inherited from parents, peers, relatives and society! ‘Girls aren’t meant to climb mountains, what will happen if you lose a limb, who will marry you, how will you make a secure living out of climbing mountains? How long? You should have been models! It’s time to get married and settle down. Who will fund your next adventure?’…and so on. Fighting such fears is never a ‘once for all’ event. It is a process. It is a daily reality. But overtime we have learned to recognize and appreciate fear for the role it plays in refining our preparedness, fortifying our defenses. Not to deter us from our dreams. Communication is key tool to deal with such fears. We surround ourselves with positive people, discuss often with our dad and we study the lives of achievers and great adventurers.

Why is getting outdoors so important in modern life?

It’s recognizing that many aspirations and demands of modern life can actually be best fulfilled by leading balanced life. Time outdoors is investment, not a waste. Physical, psychological and emotional benefits of time outdoors translate directly into better output, team work, cooperation, mindful living, patience and sustained energy. This coupled with higher self awareness and environmental connectedness make for good human beings leaders and change makers.

Do you have a motto you live by?

Steve jobs CEO of Apple Inc. once said, “Life is too short, don’t waste it trying to live someone else’s life. Be You”.

Which has been your most unforgettable adventure and why?

To have dreamt of scaling Everest together and to have made it a reality! And it was all such a touch and go experience, at one point seeming ‘beyond reach’, at another ‘we gonna make it’. Given some serious brush with potential death, the success was like the thrill of scoring a winning goal at the end of a closely contested match! There were of course many more special moments, frequent highs and lows, in fact too many to recount. Just the experience of living for 8 weeks in the company of shifting Khumbu glacier (the fastest moving glacier in the world) at Everest Base Camp, daily thunder of snow avalanches, of crossing hundreds of feet wide crevasses on shaking ladders and finally negotiating the dreaded ‘death zone’ cannot be adequately described in words! In brief, it’s been life changing experience in every sense of the word!

Who has been an unsung hero in your life?

Dad’s our first and biggest hero! Much of our world view is inspired and shaped by him. He always exhorted us to follow our dream, to tread the path less taken and to break through gender stereotypes. And he has walked the talk despite all his inner fears and anxiety about our safety and well-being. How hard must it be for him to balance out the two ‘often conflicting’ demands of father in him wanting to give us all comfort, and coach in him asking to push our limits and expose to extreme dangers. He gets frustrated often but also enjoys the fact that he is directly contributing to our development and we three have become best buddies! He ‘leads form the front’ in terms of working 18 hrs a day, joining our fitness regimen himself, doing research on each climb in terms of dangers and preparation, making our nutrition plans and organising all logistics. At the peak of his brilliant military career, he had the courage to take premature retirement so he could devote time for our development and has served in some of the world’s most dangerous places in Afghanistan to earn money for our hugely expensive adventures! With all cribs and complaining we eventually follow most of his instructions in letter and spirit!

What's next for you?

Apart from running our foundation, whatever we do will involve travel, adventure and intercultural living, which in the foreseeable future will include:

  • Pursue higher studies in sports and exercise management. We aim to specialize in physiotherapy or nutrition.
  • Write a book of our journey on #mission2for7 and beyond.
  • We certainly wish to take up our other deep interest, i.e. dancing!
  • Deliver motivation talks to academic institutions, corporate, civil society and govt institutions. We have outstanding communication skills, and have delivered inspirational talks across India and in several countries abroad such as New Zealand, US, UK, Brazil, Iceland, Norway, Dubai and Chile. We also delivered TEDx talk in New Delhi and in Queenstown and recently spoke at the prestigious WE Day event in Wembley stadium in London alongside likes of Kate Winslet and Paula Abdul
  • We are already trying to raise funds for our #girls4icecapsChallenge wherein we aim to ski full lengths across the world’s four ice caps spanning over 5000 km of ice.