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Himalayan Heights: This 23-year-old Udupi woman is mountaineering to challenge herself

This tale of a young woman from Udupi, who is scaling new heights literally as a mountaineer despite a background of modest means, is as interesting as it is inspiring.

Published: 31st October 2021 03:20 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st October 2021 03:20 AM   |  A+A-

The Himalayas

Sumalatha’s parents Babu and Bittu say they felt proud when they saw their daughter waving the Tricolour on the country’s peaks. (File Photo)

Express News Service

UDUPI: The Himalayas form the epicentre of the mountaineering boom, reflecting several emotions – of awe, endurance and glory – for those who want to take on its snowy peaks and rocky faces. While this inhospitable mountain range can throw a challenge or two to those who want to reach its top, the difficulty in scaling the heights of life’s challenges comes with its own needed preparedness and uncertainty.

This tale of a young woman from Udupi, who is scaling new heights literally as a mountaineer despite a background of modest means, is as interesting as it is inspiring.  Sumalatha Bajagoli has always taken life head-on. A daughter of a daily-wage labourer and homemaker, the young woman from Maala, Bajagoli of Karkala taluk in Udupi district has learnt the art of climbing out of financial perils since childhood. Unaffected by the struggles, the 23-year-old chose a rewarding path in life, albeit challenging, precarious, and fraught with mortal danger.  

Driven by resolve and determination, Sumalatha took to mountaineering. “The warden at my college, Suchitra Suvarna, motivated me to take it up and also enabled me to become a part of a mountaineering expedition organised by the General Thimayya National Academy of Adventure,” she says.

Having climbed mountains in parts of the Himalayas during 2017 and 2019, in September this year, she achieved her third mountaineering adventure, scaling a height of 15,407 feet at Pahalgam Mount Sunset Point in Jammu and Kashmir. She was part of a 30-member team, which included 10 women.

Candidly pointing to her family background, from where she has gone ‘as high as the Himalayas’, she says, “A lot of planning, money and support would be required if I had to reach such heights on my own. But helpful people sparked the fire of valour and gallantry in me since my college days. My warden supported me when I was staying at the Social Welfare Department hostel in Udupi. I was pursuing BA in Journalism at the Dr G Shankar Government Women First Grade College in Ajjarakad. She suggested I pursue mountaineering and soon, I convinced my parents. Initially, they had reservations, but eventually realised my interest and my talent. Having been a part of three such mountaineering expeditions since 2017, they now praise my decision,” she says with glee. 

While many brave women have been at the forefront of mountaineering adventures, it is largely looked at as an activity dominated by men, but Sumalatha has a different opinion. “In fact, it is mental ability that determines whether one can or cannot ascend a mountain, pushing aside altitude sickness, frostbite, hypothermia and issues related to acclimatisation, besides threats from rough terrain, avalanches and unpredictable weather. Gender does not decide how fit a person is for this sport. In my case, on several occasions, I was faster than my male counterparts.

Physical strength does not depict one’s mental endurance. Self-belief and practice are equally important,” she explains, adding that summiting Mt Everest is her life’s dream Rajendra Hasabavi, internationally-certified mountaineer and manager at the General Thimayya National Academy of Adventure, Bengaluru, who trained Sumalatha, told The New Sunday Express that the three components of passion, fitness and discipline are needed in a mountaineer. “Sumalatha has all these qualities, which have helped her perform well. During basic mountaineering training, with small-distance expeditions being taken out at the initial stage, she proved her mettle,” he says, adding that in adventure sports, more than physical fitness, mental endurance and ability to embrace calculated risk are a must, and Sumalatha excelled on all fronts.

Proud parents    
Sumalatha’s parents Babu and Bittu say they felt proud when they saw their daughter waving the Tricolour on the country’s peaks. They express confidence that their daughter will continue her mountaineering expedition, despite all its challenges. Sumalatha is known as the ‘Himalayan Girl’ in her tiny village.

UP above the world so high
In 2017, overcoming altitude sickness, Sumalatha ascended Sikadhar Shikar, reaching a height of 14,800 feet for the first time. In 2019, she ascended the Thajiwas tabletop at Sonamarg in Jammu and Kashmir, reaching the height of 11,500 feet. In the third expedition, organised by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation along with the General Thimayya National Academy of Adventure in September this year, Sumalatha touched an altitude of 15,407 feet on Pahalgam Mount Sunset Point, again in the Union Territory.



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