As the Covid-19 lockdown has forced us to stay indoors to ensure that the dreaded virus can be contained. This unprecedented lockdown has made people value their freedom which was taken for granted before they were confined to their houses. And, today, most of us, including celebrities, do reminisce our dream journeys on social media. In these ‘throwback’ times, wouldn’t it be wonderful to retrace the journey of Tsering Ladol who had conquered the great Mt. Everest, the earth's highest mountain at the young age of 15.
Tsering Ladol spent her childhood in the Changthang region in Ladakh, located 270 km southeast of Leh district. Inhabited by Changpas, the pastoral nomads who practice yak, sheep and goat rearing as a part of their subsistence, Changthang was completely undeveloped during that time. “I completed my primary school in Changthang after which I had shifted to Spituk. Post my Class X exams, I went to Leh for higher studies. It was while studying in the Girls Higher Secondary School in Leh that I got the opportunity to join National Cadet Corps (NCC),” says Tsering, who believes that the spark for mountaineering took off when she became a cadet.
Tsering was born in one of the highest and toughest regions of the world. She grew up looking at the great Himalayas and trekking through the steep mountains. The relationship between Tsering and mountains was an old one, so the idea of climbing mountains wasn’t completely new for her. It came naturally to this young girl who was fascinated by the snow-clad, sky-touching peaks.
“I was well aware of the strength, both physical and mental, required to climb the Mount Everest. However, it was my fascination towards exploring the greatness of this tough terrain that pushed me towards climbing Mt. Everest; and to my surprise, I was able to scale it in my first attempt,” shares Tsering, recalling the journey of her lifetime, adding that the credit for her success certainly goes to Dr. Norboo and his family members with whom she had stayed in Spituk.
The scaling of the summit isn’t as easy as it appears when one starts putting it into words. One has to live the experience to understand the diversity and severity of challenges the journey throws at those trying to put their foot on Everest.
“I had received adequate training in Phyang, Siachen Glacier, in Uttarakhand and Delhi. This prepared me to scale Everest from the North face which is from China’s side and is considered to be hardest,” says Tsering.
Cadet Tsering Ladol was part of the Indian Army’s Women’s Everest Expedition which conquered the world’s highest peak on June 2, 2005. The team which set out to conquer Mt. Everest consisted of 9 members, 5 men and 4 women. Apart from Tsering Ladol, the other 3 women members were Capt. Sipra Majumdar, Capt. Ashwini Pawar and Dechen Lhamo from the Nepal special frontier force. They were the first women from the Indian Army to have taken part in such an expedition.
While climbing, it wasn’t only the adrenaline rush but also the fear of the dead bodies she saw on her way that kept her going. “There were so many dead bodies lying on the journey to the peak. Suddenly, a scary thought started haunting me. I was asking myself if I had gone there to die? I had already climbed 8,500 meters when my head torch fell on the face of a dead person. Even today I don’t remember if I was hallucinating or that dead person started laughing at me! Somehow, I started moving ahead, and when I looked back after a while, that dead person seemed to be following me. I gathered all my strength and managed to climb towards the peak. I still think as if that dead person was there to make my journey easier. It was on June 2, 2005, that I had completed the journey to the greatest mountain peak,” says Tsering who was so overwhelmed after completing the summit that she couldn’t open eyes for several minutes.
It was the moment that made her think that she had conquered all her dreams and fears, but that feeling was momentary. Soon after coming back, Tsering’s priority was to get a government job keeping in mind the poor financial condition of her family. It is important to note here that in 2005, there were not many employment opportunities in Ladakh. Tsering applied for many jobs – from the highest to the lowest post - but nothing turned out in her favour.
“I received awards and recognition for my feat, but my priority was to get a job at which I failed. I was enlisted in State Award 2005, Raksha Mantri Padak in 2008 and the Himalaya Hero award in 2018. All these awards and no job disappointed me a little,” rues Tsering, but the champ she is, she continued to break the gender stereotypes and is today working as a snow skating instructor in Gulmarg, Srinagar.
Tsering’s journey from the remote journey of Changthang to scaling the heights of the gigantic mountain is truly inspirational. She is one of those several courageous women who have challenged and ventured into the territories which were earlier meant only for men. She has set an example for the younger generation in Ladakh and has inspired them to leave no stone unturned when it comes to achieving their life goals!
(This article was written under the Sanjoy Ghose Media Fellowship, 2019)