youngest woman in the world to climb Mt Everest in 1993
girls with hair glinting like amber in the morning sunlight
traipse past with milk cans or school satchels in Palchan
village, a few miles above the tourist resort town of Manali in
the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh in India. Dicky Dolma,
who at 19 was the youngest woman in the world to climb Mt
Everest in 1993, also began life in a traditional wooden house
with bales of hay sunning on the flagstones in the courtyard and
vistas of snowy peaks, alpine meadows and the rushing white
water of the Beas river.
"I once heaved a sack of grain half a kilometer uphill with a
boy from the village. We took turns carrying it on our backs and
by the end he was reduced to tears so I offered to do his share
as well," recalls Dolma who has also been the national women's
ski champion for over a decade.
Thoughts of skiing, much less
mountaineering, never crossed her mind, she says, laughing in
retrospect at how easily she might have missed becoming an
outstanding sportswoman and a world record holder.
Dolma's world record as the
youngest woman summiteer of Everest was set on May 10, 1993,
when she reached the top of the world's highest mountain as a
member of the Indo-Nepal Women's Everest Expedition.
The expedition, led by
Bachendri Pal - herself a record holder as the first Indian
woman to climb Mount Everest in 1984 - put seven women atop the
summit. Dolma, then 19 years old, became the youngest woman
summiteer ever while another member of the team, Santosh Yadav,
set another world record as the first woman to climb Everest
twice, having already summitted the year before.
Nine years on, Dolma's face
still glows with satisfaction as she asks, on the anniversary of
her climb, "Need I have any fear of my world record being broken
in the near future?"
No, she does not. Like the
record for the youngest man to summit Everest, set last year by
15-year-old Temba Tsheri of Nepal, even Dolma's record is
unlikely to be broken. With an eye on safety, the Nepal
government has decided this year to refuse climbing permits for
Everest to anyone below 18 years of age.
As for Dolma's record, she
points out that few women mountaineers from the West come to the
Himalaya at such a young age; and those from India or Nepal, for
whom the Himalayan foothills are home, lack resources. In fact,
Dolma has never managed to visit her Tibetan family's ancestral
home in Lahaul-Spiti, in the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh.
This is a cold desert under 30 to 40 feet of snow in winter. So
remote is the region that her relatives do not even know that
she is a world record holder.
Dolma's success story could be
the fantasy of every little girl. "It was in 1986 that I first
began playing in the village with home-made skis -- shaved
wooden planks with rough straps to slip on over shoes. Then I
won a scholarship for the Basic Skiing Course but my family
didn't like the idea of my missing school. It was after one of
the senior skiing instructors at the skiing and mountaineering
institute in Manali wrote a letter to my parents that they
agreed. And then there was no looking back. I did all the
courses and began participating in competitions," she says.
The Manali institute, formally
known as the Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports,
has played a major role in Dolma's life. After she completed the
Institute's skiing courses, she underwent the Basic
Mountaineering Course in 1991. It was after this that the
institute recommended her for the Pre-Everest Women's
But, ironically, Dolma is also
probably the only climber to have summitted Everest without
completing an advanced course in mountaineering. "Ah, yes, I
finally did that course in 1994," she laughs. Her association
with her alma mater continues today: she is a skiing and
mountaineering instructor at the institute.
Dolma's career as a sportswoman
has enabled her to travel far from her mountain home. As a
champion skier, she went to New Zealand for a contest in 1997
and to the Asian Winter Games in Korea in 1999. In India, she
first won the Women's Slalom gold in the 1989 All-India Open
Auli Ski Festival and has reigned supreme in her pet event --
the Giant Slalom, in the National Winter Games of 1991, 1996,
1998 and 2002. She was also the coach of the Indian team at the
Junior Asian Games in Japan in 1995. Skiing also brought her a
friend whom she eventually married in 1999. "My husband had come
here to ski and we became friends. My in-laws are very
encouraging and even come to watch me participate in skiing
competitions," she smiles.
Her first love remains skiing,
though, and she admits that she has, on occasion, opted to go
for a skiing competition rather than a mountaineering
expedition. "But I will definitely do some more climbing if I
get the opportunity," she adds, when asked why she followed
Everest (28,029 ft) with ascents of only minor peaks like
Ladakhi (18,300 ft) and Hanuman Tibba (19,450 ft).
Yet, her happiest memories are
of the three years from 1991 to 1993 when the women's team was
whittled down through two Pre-Everest expeditions to the final
team that went to Everest. She also speaks of her immense sense
of loyalty to the leader, Bachendri Pal. "She awakened in us a
desire to overcome all hurdles. We never felt the hardships and
gained tremendous confidence. We learned to hold our own
Dolma's achievements have had a
ripple effect on the community, on whom she has had an immense
impact. "There are women who don't travel alone from Manali to
Kullu (a town two hours' drive away). Since we climbed Everest,
the attitude of girls and their parents has been changing. Girls
are now encouraged to venture out of the house and try to do
things on their own." (Yana Bey)
Re-printed from CROW magazine with
permission granted to EverestHistory.com/EverestNews.com. Yana Bey, an
Indian journalist contributed to this article. www.crowmagazine.com/dicky.htm