On a cool scenic morning in Switzerland, somewhere between Lausanne and Zermatt, post-adventure spirits are high as Nungshi and Tashi Malik pick up a phone, fix their reception and tell me about their latest summit in the Alps. “The weather is really beautiful. We’re getting a good view of the landscape around us and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time here. It’s unreal,” Nungshi exclaimed.
Back in August 2021, the ‘Everest Twins’ were invited by Switzerland Tourism to represent India at the 100% Women Peak Challenge to scale one of the forty-eight 13,000 ft peaks of the enamouring Swiss Alps. But spontaneity, vigour, and a quest to come face-front with the iconic ‘Toblerone’ mountain—the Matterhorn—pushed Nungshi and Tashi to conquer three peaks in three days: Mount Breithorn (13,662 ft), Allalinhorn (13,212 ft) and Riffelhorn (9,603 ft).
Having scaled Mount Everest at 21 as the first siblings and twins to do so, they have gone to conquer the Seven Summits, graze high winds of the North and South Poles and bag accolades like Adventurers Grand Slam and Three Poles Challenge. A candid conversation with the twins revealed Switzerland to be a trip of many firsts. In a 30-minute telephonic interview, the two discussed their latest journey and hinted at others to come.
Take us through your Switzerland expedition so far?
From September 27th, we’ve climbed three peaks [Breithorn, Riffelhorn and Allalinhorn] in three days. It has been a transformative experience because scaling the Swiss Alps has always been a dream of ours. Switzerland is a land of firsts for us—we have gone canyon swinging, canyon jumping and paragliding. These are all adventures we have never done before.
Can you recap your last three days scaling the Alps? What were your expectations and the final journey like?
Yesterday was all about Allalinhorn. It was one of the longer expeditions as it took us six hours to the summit. It was cloudy and windy when we went into the glacier but just in an hour, the weather started clearing up and the sun almost followed us to the summit. It was exciting too as glacier terrains are very much our thing. We came across an exposed rock section before the climb which was both daunting and interesting because we’ve never really done rock climbing. But the view from the summit was truly out of the world, we could see some stunning standalone peaks like the Matterhorn. We stayed there only for about 10 minutes as the winds felt strong enough to blow us off the mountain.
On 28th, we did Riffelhorn—a complete rock climbing peak. There’s no snow or ice on the summit or during the climb and it’s a 4A climbing gradient by European standards. We weren’t sure if we would make it past the first pitch but Tashi and I kept saying that we’re going to definitely climb more and more and kept choosing harder routes. We had to do a lot of multi-pitch rock climbing, something we had never done before.
And finally the day before this, we scaled Breithorn, a purely ice-covered snow-climbing peak with a lot of glacial rivers and on the summit, and winds cold enough to make us think we’ll lose our fingers and toes. It’s amazing how quickly the weather changes in the Swiss Alps.
What is it like to be a woman in the world of adventure?
For us starting out in a country that traditionally views mountaineering as a male forte was extremely challenging. We used to assume that the challenges women face in India were very central to our nation, but having travelled across the globe, it’s very clear to us that women in adventure and outdoors lack representation and support. Mentorship is crucial. More than anything, what we need is to lift each other up.
Are there any challenges that recur with every trek?
So as women, of course, there are a lot of things that we do need to look at, right? For instance, menstruation. I think experience teaches you that medical situations may arise, but we’ve learned to mitigate them, and find solutions. The biggest challenge has been just financing a trip, and not directly associated with mental or physical challenges.
Can you name three qualities that are absolutely essential to do what you do?
One, of course, has to be disciplined—being able to wake up whenever, even if it is 2 am. The other one is humility. Just knowing your place on this planet, and having a respect for nature and for mountains. And third would be resilience, being able to face odds, and breathing through them no matter what.
Which other expedition has been your favourite and why?
I would say Antarctica is one of the expeditions we thoroughly enjoyed. Because we also got to witness the Emperor penguins, which we’ve only heard about. Being in a place where there is sunlight 24×7 was a unique experience.
What keeps you coming back to climbing?
It’s the journey. Mountains are neutral, they don’t discriminate amongst people and they speak to you or I like to believe they speak to us. The spiritual aspect to climbing is what makes us want to do it again and again. It’s a form of meditation for us.
Is there something that you would like to say to women who aspire to do unconventional journeys such as yours?
There is no dearth of women trendsetters. Someone who is venturing into an unknown path or doing something extraordinary needs to stay strong and make a commitment. For any path-breaking journeys, you have to take risks. And you have to believe in yourself and your strength, and say no to naysayers.
Are there any peaks that you’re looking to scale in the near future?
I don’t know if we’ll have enough time to train but next year, we plan to scale the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc in France and Mount Eiger (also in Switzerland).
Muskaan Gupta travels with a camera that doesn't fret to capture touristy pictures and believes visiting local markets is the best way to unearth a city's gems and jewels. She is Junior Writer (Native Content) at National Geographic Traveller India.