Sangeeta Bahl is a professional Mountaineer and Entrepreneur. A former Miss India finalist Sangeeta at the age of 53, became the oldest Indian woman to scale the world’s highest summit of Mt. Everest. She is the founder of Impact Image Consultancy, helping people across the country build themselves as individuals. She is also an author and a Vegan Humanitarian.
She has managed to scale six peaks out of the seven summits of the world. Team Storiyaan had the fantastic opportunity to talk to her about her ventures into various work fields, home, and mountain-climbing. To know more, read the following interview.
Questions and answers
You were a Miss India finalist in 1985. Any reasons you did not venture further into the world of modeling and beauty pageantry?
Fame and modeling is a temporary phenomenon. In the 1980s, Delhi wasn’t a hub for modeling. I chose to educate myself and equip myself with skills, courses, and Ad work experiences. They last longer, and they are a testimony to my 36 years of work experience. I did get film offers, but I was not happy with the entire casting couch scenario, which still exists. It’s a human’s basic right to keep their respect intact. I ventured into part-time modeling for BPL TV, numerous print ads, calendars, and brochures. I was the face on various magazine covers as well. With my business as an image consultant, I stepped back into the world of pageantry with Miss Femina. I train girls for Ms. India. For six years now, I’ve been training girls to handle themselves with poise, posture, and public speaking skills.
From being in sales to being an entrepreneur to a mountaineer, you've worked in various fields. What has it all taught you?
You should never stop learning. There is no substitute for experience. You have to work hard and gain some experience. Also, sharing your knowledge after learning is important.
What was the vision behind Impact Image Consultancy?
I started Impact Image Consultancy when I found a niche in India. This was when people looked for Personality Development. I wanted to hone the ABCs of people’s image and personality – Appearance, Behaviour, and Communication – to bring out the best in them. After kick-starting with this vision, we have added another C for Confidence and S for Self Esteem over the years. We cater to various individuals and help them in branding themselves, help them get recognized globally, train young individuals for the world of pageantry, and the airlines— both of which I have experience in and business coaching for CEOs.
You discovered your passion for mountaineering at the age of 47. How did that happen?
I am more of a self explorer. I want to keep learning. It happened when I said ‘yes’ to my husband, who wanted to tick climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro from his bucket list before he turned 50. And now, here we are. As they say, the rest is history.
When you started to conquer the heights of Mt. Kilimanjaro with your husband, your son was only 8. How did you manage to look after him while fulfilling your dreams?
The majority of Indian families live on their own these days, but luckily we live with my in-laws. So when we were climbing for two years together, Aarnav stayed with them. After my injury in 2014, we decided to climb separately. I missed him a lot all those times. I used to leave my heart here.
When you were climbing Mt. McKinley, you met with an accident and were immediately sent to surgery amidst the climb. How did you recover from that and started all over again?
I am a born fighter. I have a tough mind, and I have an extreme determination along with supreme will power. I was climbing down from 16000 ft, and I suffered from an ACL 3rd-degree tear in my right knee along with my meniscus that tore as well. I was in excruciating pain physically but more so mentally. I thought my climbing would be stalled. I did not let that feeling last over a week. I returned to India with a firm mindset to get me sorted in time for my next climb, which was due in 6 months. My surgeon told me that it would take atleast nine months for my knee to recover. Post-surgery, I indulged in regular physiotherapy, self-care and surrounded myself with positive energy and people. In less than five and a half months, I climbed Mt. Aconcagua, 22,847 ft high, with a knee brace. Self-belief is the only thing that will take you forward, and it did for me.
Can you talk about all the rigorous training you have to go through before going on a summit? How difficult is it to adapt to the training?
Training is a daily, rigorous process that can’t be missed. Climbing each mountain requires different scale routines. I have been training religiously, six days a week, with a few changes in my routine every day. Summiting is never a given because of different variables beyond your control, but you always have to be prepared.
You conquered Mt. Everest on your second attempt. How difficult was it to bounce back after your first attempt?
When you hit rock bottom, the only way is up. Re-training for Everest was exciting because I had scaled 23,500 ft. during my previous attempt. Now I knew what I had to do to complete my summit. Divine intervention has a lot to do when you are climbing Everest. The mountain has to accept a mere mortal to ascend the peak, I believe. It wasn’t difficult. I was even more prepared.
You are a vegan. How hard was that transition, and did your family follow you on the path of being a vegan?
When I set my mind to something, I see it through. I left everything to become a vegan post my Everest summit. A pledge I couldn’t break. Though my husband still consumes fish and eggs, he has given up on Chicken and mutton. My parents gave up everything except milk and curd. My sons keep telling me he’d become a vegan eventually, though he’s still too young to decide.
You are the oldest woman to climb Mt. Everest. You have proved that age is just a number. What difficulties did you face while climbing Everest?
Due to my knee operation, I still feel tightness in my legs. Climbing Everest on ladders, jumping crevasses, sometimes even balancing was tough, but I made it. The weather on the night at the South Summit – which is 2 miles from the actual summit – was crazy. The winds blew at 70 miles per hour. My mind, body, and heart worked; I synced and did not let it phase me and my path towards the top of the world. Also, climbing down from a mountain is more difficult as it puts high pressure on your knees.
You plan on publishing a book on Mt. Everest, how soon can we expect it?
I am writing it now. It will be published before the year ends.
1. Your life mantra: Never give up and keep going.
2. The moment you’d like to relive: Ascend Everest again
3. Favorite vegan food: Smoothies made from fresh mango, banana, kiwi, almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, and almond milk
4. One delicacy of your hometown: Rajma of Jammu
5. Favorite game: Scrabble.