Known for summiting Mount Everest at the age of 48, Premlata Agarwal transpired impossible to a possible.
At 50, she became the first Indian woman to conquer the top peaks of all the seven continents, popularly called the ‘Seven Summits’ after climbing Alaska’s McKinley Peak in May 2013. With this, she became the first Indian woman mountaineer to step on the highest peak of North America. Being a housewife and mother of two was hardly an obstacle for her.
SheThePeople.TV met Premlata Agarwal, to know more about her experiences.
Premlata, when did you discover your love for mountaineering?
I was born in the hills of Darjeeling, but never in my dreams had I thought of becoming a mountaineer. I was married at a young age and then I got busy with the family. However, as destined, at 35 I met Bachendri Pal who exposed me to the exciting world of adventure.
I used to take my daughters to the Sports Complex in Jamshedpur there I saw a notice for a trek to the Dalma hills (a small hill on the outskirts of Jamshedpur) was being organised. Casually, I participated in that stood third amongst some 500 plus participants.
The trek changed my perception and I took to adventure sports. Then in 2000, I completed my basic mountaineering course and climbed the Mount Everest in 2011 after my elder daughter got married. In 2008, I was in the now famous Thar Camel Expedition, the ascent of Mt Kilimanjaro in 2008.
As I slowly acquired the skills of mountaineering my journey in the mountains turned to a passion.
Fortunately, I never struggled to become a mountaineer. However, to push myself outside of the comfort zone and to develop mountaineering skills through regular expeditions at my age was surely challenging.
The oldest Indian woman mountaineer to have scaled Mt Everest completed climbing the “Seven Summits”. How does it feel?
My climb to the top of the world was not a cakewalk. Scaling the seven continental summits was a challenge that I accepted and overcame. The moments will remain ingrained in my heart each time I scaled a peak along with the national flag.
My success has made me more accountable towards the society, especially in the domain of women.
Who helped you financially in the initial stages?
Getting sponsors for climbing mountains is very difficult, but I was fortunate enough to get my climbs sponsored by Tata Steel.
Do you have any particular future plans?
There are two places I would like to unfurl the Tricolour – the South Pole and the North Pole.
What were the challenges you faced before and during mountaineering?
While climbing any mountain, my mind is not on what challenges are expected to crop up, but it is the conviction and the will to persevere and accomplish the mission I have set out to attain.
Challenges are a part of mountaineering. The most difficult ones were language barriers, a persistent pain emanating from an old ankle deformity, food preferences and the vagaries of oscillating climatic changes were the hardest to cope with.
Tell us 5 things the mountains teach you…
I think its Strength, Stability, Purity, Inspiration and as Sir Edmund Hillary said
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
What are the physical attributes essential to become a professional mountaineer?
I am not a professional mountaineer, I am a mountaineer by passion. For a housewife like me, scaling such kind of summits was not a simple task. The fitness levels play an important role. Hence, it becomes imperative that one goes to such summit fully prepared, or it might turn out to be a disaster and pose a serious threat to others lives as well.
I adhere to my daily exercise routine of almost five hours. I practice Yoga and Pranayama religiously.
Undoubtedly, Bachendri Pal is my role model, my mentor and my Godmother whose encouraging words and support gave me a sense of direction and purpose in life. I am what I am just because of her.
Do you enjoy travelling? What are your favourite places in the world?
Yes, I do enjoy travelling, but the only places that I touched on the land where the last stops to the starting points of my expeditions. My schedules were so packed that I never got a chance to visit any place that I could have explored as a vacationer. Moreover, the anxiety before the expedition and the exhaustion after the summit never really gave me the break to visit the countries that I touched.
However, there can be many places in the world that I will love to travel, but before that, I will like to see Kashmir, Rajasthan, South of India and Goa.
Tell us a little bit about your family.
I have two daughters; the elder one, Priyansha, is married and the younger one is Rajshree, my husband, and my mother in law we stay together. I am blessed to have a family who is an unceasing force behind all my accomplishments.
Being a woman mountaineer, a warrior, standing as summits achiever, what do you think the particular strengths every woman has and why they need to follow their dreams and do something beyond household duties?
By nature, women are considered as tender but their endurance is much higher. Gender inequality holds back the status of our women otherwise we are second to none. I think that even in a household of average means, the women always have enough spare time for various household chores and they should realise the importance of following their passions.
Our women have proved that ‘The mainstream does not remain a malestream’ anymore. With the growing number of women professionals, we are changing the perception of Indian women being considered only as good homemakers. With better education and becoming economic contributors in the family, our women have surely made the difference.
One message for all young women who are chasing their passions…
My mentor said, put your first step forward, the second step will automatically rise. I did exactly that. Moreover, this is the secret of any success.
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