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Howrah woman on top of the world

Calcutta, May 18: A 31-year-old woman from Howrah who has devoted the better part of her life to mountaineering scaled the Everest today.

Chhanda Gayen, a Kona resident who sells dairy products for a living, became the second civilian woman from Bengal to reach the “top of the world”. Kunga Bhutia from Darjeeling was the first civilian lady from the state to have climbed the peak on May 22, 1993.

In 2005, Captain Shipra Mazumdar, another woman mountaineer from Bengal, scaled Mount Everest though as a member of the Indian Army expedition team.

“Chhanda Gayen along with N.G.A. Tashi Sherpa climbed the Everest at 7am (Nepal time, around 7.15am in India),” said Loben Sherpa, the managing director of Loben Expeditions, a mountaineering agency that is organising the expedition.

Last heard, Chhanda was on her way to Mount Lhotse (8,516 metres).

“If she manages to climb Lhotse, she will be the first Indian lady to climb Mount Everest and Mount Lhotse in one attempt. Chhanda started her expedition from Kathmandu on March 29 and reached the Everest base camp on April 6. Chhanda and Tashi started around 8pm last night from the summit camp and reached the top today,” Loben said.

Chhanda’s mother Jaya, who had to mortgage her gold ornaments to fund her daughter’s Everest expedition, was elated at the news. “A week ago, Chhanda called me up. She sounded confident about fulfilling her father’s dream that she would scale the Everest,” Jaya said.

Chhanda’s father Pasupati Gayen, a businessman who died in December 2010, firmly believed that his daughter would scale the Everest.

Earlier, Chhanda had told The Telegraph: “Whenever I went to any expedition, my father accompanied me till the base camp. He used to encourage me before every expedition. It was he who told me to prepare for the Mount Everest expedition.”

Chhanda passed her higher secondary from Howrah Girls’ College and did her BA from Victoria Institution.

She had to desperately seek sponsorships to fund her expedition. The state youth welfare department chipped in with Rs 5 lakh. The rest came from mortgaging ornaments kept for her marriage and LIC schemes, apart from the odd local sponsorship. An expedition to the Everest costs around Rs 18 lakh.

Chhanda started her journey as a mountaineer by scaling the Susunia hill in Purulia in 1996. She has so far scaled Mount Fluted (6,122 metres) in 2007, Mount Jogin I and II (6,465 metres and 6,342 metres, respectively) in 2008 and Mount Gangotri (6,672 metres) in 2009. In 2012, she summited Mount Manirang (6,592 metres) as a team leader.

This year, Chhanda, Tusi Das, Monidipa Dutta, Ujjal Roy and Debdas Nandy — all from Bengal — got a grant of Rs 5 lakh each from the state government to scale the Everest.

Last heard, Tusi was at base camp No. 4 and was scheduled to make her move towards the summit tonight. “It is because of bad weather that Tusi has not yet been able to begin her climb to the top,” Loben said.

Mountaineer Suparna Mitra, who was Tusi’s team leader during her expedition to Thalay Sagar, said: “Tusi is a strong-willed girl. She not only possesses tenacity and patience, but also the credentials to scale Mount Everest. I am hopeful she will definitely make it,” she said.

Tusi, who sells eggs in a Dum Dum bazaar, is the world’s first woman mountaineer to have scaled Mount Thalay Sagar (6,904 metres), one of the steepest peaks in the Indian Himalayas, on July 22, 2012.