MAYA interviewed by The STAR newspaper

Monday July 23, 2012

Nepali scales new heights

KUALA LUMPUR: As a child from Nepal’s hilly, rural district of Sindhupalchok, Maya Gurung has often dreamed of scaling the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.

Her dream would have remained just a dream had not a twist of fate made her run away from home to escape an arranged marriage.

“My home was near the Jugal Himal region. Back then I mistook that area for Everest and often wished to climb it,” the 32-year-old said during an interview at the Nepalese Embassy here on Friday.

Lofty dreams: Maya speaking about her life and love for mountaineering at the Royal Nepalese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Maya was the first woman from her Gurung community and the district to reach the summit in 2008 under the First Inclusive Women’s Sagarmatha Expedition, which brought together 10 Nepali women from different backgrounds.

Her life in Sindhupalchok was difficult, without electricity and food.

“Where I lived with my parents and three siblings, my day started at 5am. I tended to our livestock before taking a one-and-a-half hour trek to school,” she said.

Their staple meal was dsindo, a porridge made of ground buck wheat and millet widely grown in the district. Her life, however, changed when she decided to run away from an arranged marriage a day before the ceremony.

“I just hopped on a bus, not knowing where to go. But police found me two days later.”

Her father then severed all ties with her and she left for Kathmandu, some 100km from the district. Maya later finished school and joined a 45-day basic mountaineering programme before enlisting in the expedition.

“Being close to nature was so overwhelming, it dulled all the hardship I went through during the climb,” she said.

The team is currently on a mission, dubbed Seven Summits, to scale seven mountains in seven continents.

“We’ve scaled Mount Kosciuszko in Australia and Mount Elbrus in Europe. We plan to scale Mount Kilimanjaro next year,” she said, adding the other summits they planned to conquer were Mt Aconcagua in Argentina, Mt Denali in the United States and Mt Vinson in Massif, Antarctica.

Maya’s sweetest moment after the Everest expedition was when her father came to her house to reconcile. She said she still loved her father and was, in fact, grateful for the turn of events.

“If he had not arranged the marriage, I would not have done what I did, or be where I am now,” she added.

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