Peak of popularity

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  • Published 23.04.13

Jamshedpur’s mountaineer mom Premlata Agarwal (47) made headlines again when she got her Padma Shri from President Pranab Mukherjee in New Delhi on April 20, 2013.

But the backstage story is more interesting.

During award rehearsals a day before at Darbar Hall, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Premlata, the oldest Indian woman to have aced the Everest and only a step away from becoming the first Indian lady to wrest the world’s seven tallest peaks, was lost amid high-wattage celebrities.

Everything changed once she received the award.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi spoke to Premlata personally and congratulated her.

“Soniaji said she was amazed. She also wished me luck for upcoming expeditions,” the Jugsalai homemaker said. “The Prime Minister shook hands with me and offered his heartiest congratulations.”

Bollywood celebrities Nana Patekar, a fellow Padma Shri winner, and Twinkle Khanna, who came with mother Dimple to take the posthumous Padma Bhushan for Rajesh Khanna, personally congratulated the petite lady.

“I was having snacks when Twinkle came up to me and praised my efforts. I was over the moon when Nana Patekar saluted me. I felt very nice. All the disappointment of nobody recognising me during rehearsals vanished in a trice,” she beamed widely.

She added that other celebrities might have started recognising her after through brochures that highlighted her achievements as a mountaineer.

The highly-experienced climber has already wrested Mount Everest (29,029ft), Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341ft), Mt Elbrus (18,510ft), Cartendeze Pyramid (16,024ft), Mt Aconcagua (22,841ft) and Mt Vinson Masiff (16,050ft).

Her next venture is Mt McKinley, or Denali (20,320ft), early in May. “I am confident of annexing Denali. I underwent extensive training in Darjeeling,” Premlata, who missed it last year, told The Telegraph over phone from Siliguri, where she received yet another felicitation.

On June 3, 2012, she was forced to cut short her attempt an hour from the peak to help bring down a fellow climber — an instance when her humanity proved taller than personal ambition.

Tata Steel had sponsored all her seven expeditions, including the one to Denali in 2012. This time, Premlata’s Denali venture is being funded by Chaibasa-based mine baron Nandlal Rungta.

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