Childhood & Early Life
Bachendri Pal was born on May 24, 1954, to Shri Kishan Singh Pal, a grocery tradesman, and Hansa Devi. She belongs to a Bhotiya family of Nakuri, Uttarakhand, India, and has four siblings. The family’s grocery store was located at the Indo–Tibet border. The family faced financial issues quite often.
Born only 5 days before the first anniversary of Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary's ascension to Mount Everest, Pal regards them as her source of inspiration.
Pal was excellent in both academics and sports. Her school principal persuaded her parents to send her to college for higher studies.
In college, Pal was an active sportswoman. She won various shot-put, discus, javelin, and sprinting events. She also won a gold medal in rifle shooting. She became the first girl from her village to graduate. She subsequently completed her masters in Sanskrit and then did her B. Ed from the 'D.A.V. Post Graduate College,' Dehradun. She simultaneously learned to stitch and financed her studies with her earnings.
Pal was just 12 when she had her first mountaineering experience during a school picnic. She climbed a 13,123-foot high peak.
To pursue her passion for adventure, she attended the 'Nehru Institute of Mountaineering' with the goal of building a career in the domain.
In spite of knowing that she aspired to become a mountaineer, Pal's parents pressurized her to get married to lessen their financial burden. She, however, asked Brigadier Gyan Singh (director of the ‘National Adventure Foundation’) to generate employment opportunities for underprivileged mountaineers instead of granting her a scholarship.
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While at the 'Nehru Institute of Mountaineering,' she ascended Mt. Gangotri and Mt. Rudragaria, which brought her prominence in the community of passionate mountaineers. Additionally, considering the fact that not many girls pursued the adventure back then, she was viewed as a motivating factor and a symbol of determination for women.
In 1983, Pal became an instructor at the adventure school called the 'National Adventure Foundation' (NAF). The director of the institute, Brigadier Gyan Singh, selected her and six other women for a scholarship and established the all-women organization named the 'Bhagirathi Seven-Sisters Adventure Club,' to help women and young girls pursue their passion for adventure.
The following year, she submitted her candidature for the selection camp of the expedition named ‘Everest '84,’ held on Mana Mountain, the fifth-highest peak in the state of Uttarakhand. Unfortunately, she was down with fever and had to stay back at the base camp.
However, Pal refused to withdraw, and soon after recovery, she joined the training. She managed to make up for the missed training sessions and made a successful ascension of 7,500 m. on Mana. She thus recorded the highest climb of her life till then, at a time when she was just an amateur mountaineer.
After the camp concluded, all the mountaineers rushed down the slope, carrying their luggage. Only Pal maintained a slow pace, a technique that the camp leader, Major Prem Chand, appreciated and told her to apply while she was on the Everest expedition.
A few days later, she joined the elite group of six women and 11 men for India's first mixed-gender expedition to Mount Everest in March 1984.
A few days later, the team began the ‘Everest '84’ expedition to Mount Everest. They flew to Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, which was the starting point of the expedition.
Pal and her teammates were overwhelmed to have the first glimpse of the Everest. For Pal, it was a spiritual experience, too, as being a native of a hill town, she grew up worshipping the mountains.
The actual ascent began in May 1984. Soon, they experienced their first hurdle. On May 16, the camp met with a massive avalanche at the Lhotse glacier, which injured almost half the members of the team. The injured members were forced to quit the expedition, Pal and her remaining teammates moved ahead with utmost determination. She was the only woman remaining in the group.
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On May 22, 1984, the team expanded when Ang Dorjee (the “Sherpa Sirdar”) and a few more climbers joined them for the expedition. The team reached the South Col to set up a camp.
They resumed the journey the following day and reached the summit of Mount Everest by afternoon. It was a historical moment for Pal, and she had recorded it a day before her 30th birthday and six days before the 31st anniversary of Norgay–Hillary's accession to the Everest.
That year, Pal was honored with the 'Gold Medal for Excellence in Mountaineering' by the 'Indian Mountaineering Foundation.' She also received the ‘Padma Shri,' India's fourth-highest civilian award.
In the subsequent years, she received more honors and awards, such as a gold medal from the ‘Department of Education’ of the government of Uttar Pradesh in 1985, the ‘Arjuna Award' in 1986, the 'Calcutta Ladies Study Group Award' in 1986, the 'National Adventure Award' in 1994, the 'Yash Bharti Award' in 1995, and an honorary doctorate from the 'Garhwal University' ( now known as the 'Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University') in 1997. She also entered the 'Guinness Book of World Records' in 1990,
Pal also obtained a degree in the outdoor educators' course from the 'Sir Edmund Hillary Outdoor Pursuit Centre' in New Zealand and then completed leadership development programs from the 'Outward Bound Trust Ullswater Cumbria' in the U.K.
Pal was named the chief of adventure programs at 'Tata Steel' in Jamshedpur and the director of the 'Tata Steel Adventure Foundation' (TSAF), a premier institute offering adventure programs and leadership development courses. Her association with 'Tata' dates back to her early mountaineering days. The corporate giant had financially aided Pal's family and provided her money before her Everest expedition.
Even after the successful ascension to the world's highest peak, Pal continued as a mountaineer, inspiring numerous aspirants in the field of adventure. She led the 'Indo-Nepalese Women's Mount Everest Expedition' in 1993, 'The Great Indian Women's Rafting Voyage' in 1994, and the 'First Indian Women Trans-Himalayan Expedition' in 1997.
Author Indra Gupta named Pal one of India's 50 most illustrious women in 2004. In 2013, during the North India floods, along with Premlata Agarwal (the first Indian woman to scale the “Seven Summits”), a group of ace mountaineers, and a few Everest summiteers, Pal carried out a relief and rescue operation in Uttarkashi and the remotest high-altitude villages of the Himalayas.
Pal became the first person to receive the 'Virangana Lakshmibai Rashtriya Samman' that the ‘Ministry of Culture’ of the government of Madhya Pradesh presented her for her contribution to the field of adventure and for empowering women.
In 2019, Pal received the title of 'Padma Bhushan,' India's third-highest civilian award.
Pal has chronicled her inspiring life-journey in her autobiography, 'Everest – My Journey to the Top.'
In May 2019, Pal and her students were invited to an interactive and inspirational panel discussion session at the 'SNTI Auditorium' in Jamshedpur. It was also an honorary event to celebrate the 35th anniversary of her successful Everest expedition. Two books, one on her achievements and another on her 2018 'Mission Gange,' were released.
Pal was supposed to retire from her services at 'Tata' but received an extension in June 2019. She will continue to lead adventure programs for the company.