Chhanda Gayen, 35, came from an ordinary family near Calcutta, India.
She sold her personal belongings to find money for a Mt. Everest expedition. She did not get the money or moral support she needed from corporations or governments. She came from an unknown family in Kona, Howrah — an unknown place in West Bengal. She forged ahead with her lifelong dream, trained at mountaineering institutes, paying fortunes. She took out loans to pay for the high expenses. Then, in May 2013, she was on top of Mount Everest.
Chhanda did not stop there. One year later, she became the first Indian woman to climb Mt. Kanchenjunga — an incredible feat. Mt. Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world. One of the most dangerous climbs, they say.
Next day, on her way to a second Kanchenjuga peak, an avalanche took her life. It took the lives of two Nepali sherpas too.
In these days, when film stars and catwalk models are some ultimate goals for many Indian and Bengali women, Chhanda was a rare, brave exception.
A MOMENT OF SILENCE for Chhanda, a brave, determined, young Bengali woman who showed us that you can make your dream a reality, if you stick to your passion, work hard, and do not give up. And yes, you can find success in professions that are not media-glorified, or do not bring in money.
That is spirituality. That is religion. That is what the soul is all about.
I feel proud for her. In these days of pricey “eco-tourism,” even climbing high Himalayan peaks has become a fad for the affluent. Yet, there are brave adventurers like Chhanda.
I pray for her soul, and also for the two Nepali sherpas who died with her.
Chhanda Gayen will always be a hero in my mind.
Brooklyn, New York
P.S. — I write this piece based on news that broke in Hindustan Times, Deccan Herald, and a couple of other newspapers. Search for the missing mountaineers started very late, and now with media frenzy, both ruling and opposition parties are in a rat race to prove their importance on this tragic event. Experts say they should have began the search much earlier: the wait has been too long. Still, I sincerely hope all the breaking news about their death are proven wrong, and Chhanda and the two poor, young sherpas return unharmed.