Trekking with the mountain ladies: Bachendri Pal and Premlata Agarwal
While I was still thinking of a theme for Women’s Day article, I got a call from Rakesh (TTH Co-founder). Excitedly he said, “Nutan, we have good news. Bachendri Pal will be trekking with us and we want you to accompany our other female trek leaders. Tata Steel Adventure Foundation have organized Nag Tibba trek for their female staff on Women’s Day. Bachendri Pal and Premlata Agarwal will be leading this event for them…” While he was still talking, my mind just hung there. I was going to meet Bachendri Pal and Premlata Agarwal. I was going to be star struck!
Every time I travel, there is an excitement, but the enthusiasm this time was different. Throughout my journey to Mussourie, I was rehearsing what my first conversation would be. I was reading and reading about the humungous achievements of these ladies. I was as high as a kite all the time.
Tick, tick, tick, the moment to meet them was coming closer.
And there they were, waiting for us to pick them up for Nag Tibba trek at Mussourie. Before I could greet them, Premlata Maam asked my name. Next, I heard Bachendri Maam saying out loud, “She is Nutan. All of you, if you have any problems you can ask her. She will help us to load our luggage now. Cmon, everyone!” she looked vibrant. Her solid voice clearly spoke for her strong personage. On the other hand, Premlata Maam had a calm voice, that showed her poise. These two contradictory yet inspiring personalities were exclaiming my name. I was feeling on the top of the world!
All the 25 members of TSAF hopped in and shortly we arrived at Patwari, the base for Nag Tibba trek. Two other trek leaders Meenakshi Bisht and Anu Chauhan greeted us here. The excitement same as mine was clearly visible in their eyes too. Right from the first step into the mountains, Bachendri Ma’am enthusiastically started guiding her team. “Ladies keep drinking water. Take small and slow steps. Walk at one pace, do not rush,” were her words. She would frequently share her learning by sharing examples from her past expeditions. Everybody on the trek was a fan of her. We would just pause whenever she would share her experiences.
Whenever there were moments of other ladies complaining about how tired they are or wishing to stop, she would motivate them saying, “Ye mat dekho ki hume kitna aur karna hai, ye dekho ki hum kitna chale hai. Peeche mudke dekho hum bahut aage aaye hai, ek ek step ke saath hum aage badh rahe hai. (Don’t worry about how much more you have to walk. Look back and see how much you have already covered. With each step you are only moving ahead)”
It was quite obvious that she wants the world to be gender balanced. She always encourages women to excel in every field. “The world will be gender balanced only if we make ourselves strong. Never give a chance to anyone to question your strength. I faced a lot of mean comments about being a female in the mountains. Yet, I proved them wrong,” she proudly says.
Despite being celebrities, both of them requested for simple and equal treatment as others. They happily shared a tent without any luxuries. They loved and honored every ounce of food. Let me mention one incident that showed their respect for food. In the leftover plates after breakfast, Premlata Maam saw half a bread being thrown away. She instantly called up the lady whose plate it was and asked her to pick it up. She said, “Never ever throw food. You never know what would happen in the mountains and you might end up hungry. Therefore, eat every bite and never throw eatables or just save them.”
Both of them have strong endurance and were in good physical fitness. Yet, they chose to walk gradually along with the slowest sisters. Amongst which was a pretty vulnerable member, she would cry in pain. She did not want to come up. “You can do it. This is nothing. I remember how much I suffered during load ferry on Everest and pulling heavy loads on a sled in minus temperatures at Antartica. Pain will be there. Expressing your pain will only make you weaker. You have to fight it to reach the summit.” urged Premlata Agarwal.
During the summit day, we could see many ladies already tired and not willing to move up. It is when influential leadership speeches came out. “Do not give up. Now that you are so close to the summit, if you return, you will regret. Everything is in your mind. Make your mind strong and you will achieve it. Keep small targets. Take one step ahead, you will slowly reach the summit.” recited Bachendri Pal. While she was encouraging, on the other hand, she would also scold for delays. She iterated, “Mountain ka apna time hota hai (Mountain has its own time). You have to follow that. You have to at times increase your pace to get to the top and return safely.”
By the time we reached the Nag Tibba, it was already 12 clock. Bachendri Pal then advised everyone to return back as early as possible. “Enjoy your summit. Click photos. But we must return in 15 minutes. It is getting cloudy and in the mountains we must obey the time.” Even today Bachendri Pal and Premlata Agarwal followed these mountaineering disciplines. Not only that they used to be on time, put their litter in own bags, saved water etc. What a great way to teach your believers? While walking through the forest at every step they were appreciating nature. They were grateful that they got the opportunity to trudge between the green trees. I was marveled. Having spent their lives in the mountains, how can they still be delightful?
Until the last minute of the trek, I learned and learned. There were discussions on topics of the family, profession, social system, government, life and what not. I wonder what big have I done to meet the ladies as strong as the mountain. The 2-days knowledge sharing session gave me lessons for life. None of my trips had been so knowledgeable, memorable and remarkable.
Even though I have come towards the end of the article. There is so much more to write about these mountain ladies. All I can say is, I have met Bachendri Pal and Premlata Agarwal. I am still star struck!
Thanks & Best Regards