The Dalai Lama flagged off her expedition and Prime Minister Modi tweeted about her achievement. We spoke to the extraordinary mountaineer and exceptional mother about her feat
By Jayanthi Madhukar
Last year, May 16 and May 21 are two days that Anshu Jamsenpa will never forget. On those days she stood on the top of the world, precisely at a height of 8,848 metres, on the summit of Mount Everest. This incredible feat of scaling the majestic peak twice within five days is a world record held by a woman. But when she reached the top, that wasn’t on her mind as much. “Standing there, I felt I was close to God, who was watching me,” says Anshu.
What makes this achievement mind-boggling is that she has done double ascents twice, the first one was in 2011 on her first expedition, which she did in ten days. The second expedition followed in 2013 and then came the world record climb. The total number of times she conquered the summit is an envious five. Mountaineer extraordinaire and loving mother to two girls, Anshu is a picture of grit and determination. She speaks to ParentCircle about her family, achievements and her daughters. Excerpts from the interview --
Q. What were your growing up years like?
A. I was born in the remote town of Dirang in Arunachal Pradesh. When I was 13 years old, my family moved to Bondila, a bigger town. My father was an officer in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and my mother was a nurse. I am one among four sisters and a younger brother. My parents were very strict, and we were forbidden to participate in co-curricular activities in school. I had wanted to participate in everything (she laughs) but I guess, because we were girls that freedom was not given. However, I learnt singing and dancing on my own, and performed for my family. My parents loved it! I used to sing sentimental songs in Hindi and English. My curiosity was unabated. When I wanted to learn karate, my brother would teach me at home. Learning to drive was not enough. I had to learn how to change a tyre and do basic repairs.
Friends would wonder why but I was genuinely interested in learning. I believe that every day we must learn to grow.
Q. Did you always want to become a mountaineer?
A. No. I had wanted to become so many things. Air hostess, pilot - you name it. At one point, I was disheartened by the negativity in the society. I also wanted to become a journalist, so that I could report positive stories.
Q. When did you start mountaineering?
A. It was much after marriage and after my daughters, Pasang Droma (17) and Tenzin Nyiddon (11) were born. I married Tsering Wange in 2001, when I was 21. After my second daughter was born, I was eager to do something and told my husband that I wanted to start my own business. My husband didn’t take it too seriously as he thought I was still immature. I was very young, but I convinced him about my intent. I started a gaming parlour with his help while he had his own travel agency which kept him very busy. My business did very well, and people were surprised that I managed to do so. Slowly, my husband began asking my opinion about his business and later, I decided to work for him in 2002. I soon got immersed in it, from marketing to keeping accounts. After a point, I got tired of sitting in the office.
Around that time, my husband was the president of Arunachal Pradesh Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Association, which organised camps. One set of experts had come for a programme and I was delivering lunch for them. They were doing a recce of huge rocks and I decided to watch them. They looked unsure and were urging each other to rappel down the rocks. I offered to do so because I was tired by their slow pace. When I rappelled down they were impressed. Later, I joined the batch for a 45-km trek and again, all were impressed with my fitness. The guide told me that if I can’t tackle Mt Everest no one else can. It made me want to train in mountaineering.
Q. How did you go about it?
A. I enrolled in one of the best institutions in Uttarkashi. But, I had to wait till September for the course to begin. Meanwhile, I joined a 15-day basic adventure course in Manipur. The drill was grueling from 4:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and we had no time to even sit and talk. But I learnt a lot. Then I did the Uttarkashi course, followed by an advance course of 28 days. Finally, I was up for the pre-Everest training in the mountains. My fitness was not an issue. Earlier, I would jog 10 km but after the training I could jog for two hours in the morning and evening.
Q. Tell us about the experience.
A. I climbed the summit from the South Col, which is on the Nepalese side. South Col base camp is at 17,600 ft and there are five camps along the way to the summit where climbers can acclimatise and refuel. On the first expedition, at camp three my sherpa gave me the idea to scale twice. Due to visa issues my double ascent got delayed. The record of the first woman climber to scale twice went to a Nepali climber Chhurim Sherpa, who did it in a week. I had wanted to break the record and attempted again in 2013 but could not get visa to scale twice. The next year there was a deadly avalanche, which killed 16 sherpas. In 2015, there was an earthquake in Nepal. So, my next chance at breaking the record happened last year. But all records are meant to be broken. If the weather is good, it takes only six hours from South Col to the summit.
Q. What was your family’s reaction to your first expedition?
A. In 2011, I joined nine climbers to scale the summit. I was so busy arranging for the sponsorship. Then it would cost US $ 11,000 for an expedition. The equipment is really expensive and one wouldn’t want to compromise on it. Except for my husband, I told my family only later. I sat down my daughters and explained to them. At that time my younger daughter, who thought it was a competition, said, ‘Mummy, aap first hoke aana (Mummy, you come first)’. That motivated me throughout.
Q. What do you advise your girls?
A. I tell them: Love yourself first. Believe in yourself no matter what people comment or tell. Do good for others wherever possible. You have a responsibility towards society and give back to it. Sometimes, people will take advantage of it but try to do good for others whenever you can. And listen to your inner voice.
Q. Being the unconventional mother that you are, what is the parenting style you and your husband have adopted?
A. My children tell me I am strict, but that is only when I have to be. I am more like a friend. Both my girls are in a boarding school and they remain my priority. I am there if there is a function at school, I am at home when they are at home. I tell my husband that we can only motivate and guide them. But we can’t pressurise them because we don’t know how they will take it. My older daughter was not so good at studies unlike the second one. Once, when I visited them at school before exams, I could sense she was disturbed. She wouldn’t tell me why but later she asked me, ‘Mummy, what if I fail?’ I told her to give her 100 per cent and not worry about the results. I asked her not to focus on negativity before the exams and just do whatever she felt could to improve herself. She studied very hard, even when others were playing.
After I scaled the summit twice last year, I informed her over phone and asked her about her results. She had scored cent per cent. We both were overjoyed for each other. Later, when I visited her school, I touched her feet. She was uncomfortable with it. I told her I touched her feet not because of her but the hard work she had put in. I respect that.
Q. So, what’s next?
A. This year I am planning to lead a woman’s expedition to Kanchenjunga. As usual, I am seeking sponsorship and am hopeful of help from the Government.
Q.Your message to all girls and women.
A. I feel many women get into a comfort zone and resort to blaming their problems for not achieving what they want. All I can tell women is to not lament about their problems and say ‘I can’t do it’.
There are problems for everyone and you must try to overcome it. Focus on yourself and believe in you.
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