Ahead of ‘World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji’, climber twins Nungshi and Tashi Malik of Team Khukuri Warriors, and host Bear Grylls talk about the value of stepping out of one’s comfort zone
The trailer for Amazon Prime’s World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji is what we would expect of anything associated with Bear Grylls; this show follows international teams on an 11-day expedition across Fiji’s rainforests, mountains, ravines, rivers, swamps and more. With the series franchise in its 24th year, it continues to offer a gruelling amalgam of taxing mental and physical pressures, along with moments of positivity.
Leading Team Khukuri Warriors (named after a type of machete associated with Gurkhas in India and Nepal) are 29-year-old twin sisters Nungshi and Tashi Malik who are excited to be representing India and South Asia for the first time. Their team also comprises mountain climbing expert Brandon Fisher from USA, skiing and rafting expert Praveen Singh Rangar, and the twins’ father Colonel VS Malik, a retired officer of the Indian Army and part of the Team Assist Crew (TAC).
- World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji comprises 330 competitors (who form 66 teams of five, including four racers and an assistant crew member) venturing across 671 kilometres of Fijian terrain across 11 days for 24 hours a day.
The Malik sisters are the first siblings and twins to climb the Seven Summits, to reach the North and South Poles, and complete the Adventurers Grand Slam and Three Poles Challenge. “Honestly, as climbers, we never saw ourselves doing different disciplines and World’s Toughest Race provided us with the opportunity to take us out of our comfort zones,” says Nungshi, “This is the one event in our lives for which we were unprepared.”
Tashi agrees that their presence on World’s Toughest Race could engender a progressive discourse about gender stereotypes in the adventure subculture. “We were the only two sisters taking part in this race, so emotionally, it was not one-against-four but two-against-four, so there was a mental and psychological comfort before going into this challenge,” she starts, “When we climb a mountain, it’s not just for the thrill of it, but for the girls and women being uplifted in our society. This gives us greater strength.”
Nungshi tacks on, “Nature doesn’t discriminate on gender, and neither is excellence determined by it!”
Sibling strength is incomparable in this complex formula of endurance, wit, spirit, and physical stamina. Tashi recalls crying at times when she felt her sister was not helping and vice versa, a far cry from their climbing ventures, but adds, “In these expeditions, you are trying to survive on your own and then tending to others, and this was a new experience for us. So the emotional strength we talked about just now also played as a weakness because there were times we could not take that.”
Nungshi firmly adds, “This was also the first time we were a team in a competitive environment. Though consciously we are trying to survive, there is this element of making sure the team also survives. Each of us in the team had our own skill-sets. No one made any comments on others, which often happens in a team of several leaders, where more trouble emerges. We had to control our temper which was easier with my twin around.”
Naturally, with such testing conditions in this terrifying race, the girls had their moments of mental distress. Nungshi admits to being “greenhorns of racing”, explaining, “There were moments we felt we had to give up. I, particularly, had reached almost the end of my physical and mental endurance; I remember having this conversation with my father. He was aware I was using a lot of persuasive words and that would mark the end of our race, but he would say ‘Girls, there is just no quitting. Remember: boys fall after 72 hours, but girls get stronger,’ and that stuck with me for a long time. When the drive is stronger than the fear of risking your life, it gives your rocket extra fuel. A failure at our end would mean a failure for the 600 million girls back home. Quitting just was not an option.”
Urging the Malik sisters to dish a little bit more about Grylls that we may not know, and Nungshi responds, “We first met Bear in 2017 at a music festival in London. But then meeting him again during the race, we saw he’s such a doting dad and he has such a soft side to him! He’s quite emotional; he had tears in his eyes when he watched us at one of the toughest points of the race because he knew we were absolute rookies. He reiterated that anyone who goes on this kind of adventure is a superhero and he’s a great role model, with a great sense of humour.”
Coming back to a quiet lockdown life in Dehradun brought with it many lessons, the siblings agree. While they tend to their grandmother as well as their many chickens and dogs, and keep up their skills, they reflect on what they’ve learnt. Tashi admits that adventure racing is a means of catharsis; the higher the benchmarks of risk-taking, adversity, and uncertainty, the higher the level of self-belief. She explains that today’s challenges do not intimidate her, and she’s more proactive in following up with them. “We expanded our lives beyond measure,” she affirms, “and we learned not to be a victim of our circumstances but to triumph them.”
Nungshi points out that interacting with a community of adventure enthusiasts was a golden takeaway for her, especially ones driven by bigger missions of life. “These incredible human stories across nations and cultures moved me to a level I adequately cannot describe in words,” she says. “Also working with some of them has been transformational.”
World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji streams on Amazon Prime Video from August 14.