The Daughter of the Mountains

Features Issue 151 Jun, 2014

Dr. Harshvanti Bisht's passion for the peaks is undying. After being among the first women to summit the Nanda Devi in India, besides being part of an Everest expedition, Bisht has been working to develop the Gangotri area in the Indian state of Uttarkhand for the past twenty-five years. Her life perfectly embodies the saying: "To learn to believe is to make dreams come true"

Scaling mountains is not for everyone. Those torturous climbs and marvelous views are reserved for the lucky, adventurous few. Mountaineering, of course, is a field dominated by men, where (comparatively) few women have been able to make a mark. Dr. Harshwanti Bisht is a big part of the minority.

In 1981, Bisht was among the first three femalesto ascend the Nanda Devi in India, a peak that was traditionally believed to be unlucky for women. She was also part of an Everest expedition in 1984. A professor of economics, a conservationist, and a mountaineer, Bisht has visited Nepal on many occasions. Among her fondest memories of the country are her conversations with Sherpas, which she always found stimulating during expeditions. They would tell me not to exhaust myself, she recalls. They would advise me to take care of myself first because that would be the only way I would be able to reach the summit.

With her achievements in mind, I asked Bisht whether being a woman had ever hindered her goals. Perhaps expectedly, she replied in the negative. I don’t think we are in any way inferior to men. They may think we are physically weaker, but we have the power of endurance, we can achieve anything we set out to do as long as we don›t lose sight of our goal.
Bisht has always been fascinated with mountains. My attraction to them is inexplicable, she explains.There is nothing that makes me feel happier and more alive than being among the peaks. Early on, many could not grasp her passion, but that steadily changed. The people who could not understand me were eventually silenced because my spirit never died.

Bisht, unfortunately, lost her right eye in an accident. She hasn’t been able to climb her beloved mountains ever since, and there’s nothing she misses more. But with the injury also came the realization that she had to do something of great significance. The joy of climbing was exhilarating but she didn’t want to do it just for the rush. That’s when she started the Save Gangotri project, which, since 1989, has been responsible for the planting of thousands of saplings, the organizing of eco-awareness campaigns, the propagating of endangered medicinal herbs, and the introduction of ecotourism standards in Uttarkhand, an Indian state that has been ravaged by climate change and unregulated pilgrimage. In August 2013, she was honored with the Sir Edmund Hillary Mountain Legacy Medal for her philanthropic achievements.

Harshvanti Bisht is a true daughter of the mountains, and her life has been an encouraging one. Her self-belief and dreams remind me of Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” But her accomplishment isn’t just that; it’s our pride inseeing her shine, it’s our urge to climb, to experience adventure and to feel alive. Bisht’s accomplishments will always be a wonderful reminder of what we can achieve if we believe in ourselves.