Santosh Yadav, being born in a society where the birth of a daughter was frowned upon, is the only woman in the world to have scaled Mt. Everest twice. In a society where the birth of a son was considered a blessing, Santosh’s grandmother told a ‘holy man’, who was giving Santosh’s mother his blessing assuming that she wanted a son, that she wanted a granddaughter. Everyone including the ‘holy man’ was surprised. Santosh was the sixth child in a family with five sons. She was the only sister to her five brothers. Santosh was born in the village of Joniyawas of Rewari district in Haryana.
Quite contrary to her name ‘Santosh’, which means contentment, she was not really content with her forced traditional way of life. However, she was a rebel from the very beginning. While other girls wore traditional Indian clothes, she preferred wearing shorts. While retrospecting, she says that from the very beginning she was resolute that if she chose a correct and logical path then others would have to change, not her.
Santosh’s parents were rich enough to afford to send their children to the best schools even in New Delhi but following the prevailing customs and traditions in the family, Santosh was made to go to the local village school. But she didn’t give up. At the age of sixteen, when most of the girls in her village were made to get married, she also faced the same pressure. But she was determined to proceed with her education. She even threatened her parents that she would never marry if she was denied proper education. She left home and enrolled herself in a school in Delhi but her parents refused to pay. She didn’t lose hope but she politely informed them of her plans to work part-time in order to pay her school fees. Eventually, her parents agreed to support her by paying her education fee and her father slowly got used to her urge to study ‘a bit more’.
Santosh passed the high school examinations and went to Jaipur. She joined Maharani College and even got a room in Kasturba Hostel. She remembered watching the villagers from her room, in Kasturba Hostel, going up and down the hill. One day she decided to check it out herself but she found nobody expects a few mountaineers and decided to ask them if she could join them. Once they agreed and motivated her to take to climbing, there was no looking back. She saved some money and got herself enrolled in a course at Uttarkashi’s Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. After her college semester in Jaipur ended in May, she headed straight for the training. She had to write a letter of apology to her father for enrolling herself at Uttarkashi without asking for his permission.
Santosh went on an expedition every year and eventually, her climbing skills matured rapidly. She became resistant to cold and the altitude. With her will, physical endurance and remarkable mental toughness, she proved herself repeatedly. At the age of twenty, Santosh scaled Mt Everest, thereby becoming the youngest woman in the world to achieve the feat.
During the 1992 Everest mission, Santosh provided special care to a fellow climber who lay dying at the South Col. Even though she failed to save him, she managed to save another climber by sharing her oxygen with him.
Within twelve months, she was invited to an Indo-Nepalese Women’s Expedition. She then scaled Mt Everest a second time, setting the record as the only woman to have scaled the Everest twice. The Indian government honored her with the Padmashri for her contribution in securing for herself India a unique place in the field of mountaineering.
Santosh said that when she was at the top of the world, it took her some time to let the overwhelming moment sink in. And when she unfurled the Indian flag on top of the world she felt proud as an Indian. It was a spiritual moment for her. She even collected and brought down 500 kilograms of garbage from the Himalayas.