NEW DELHI (AFP) - A 13-year-old poor Indian schoolgirl has become the youngest female to summit Mount Everest, following a difficult and dangerous climb from China's Tibetan side, her expedition organiser said on Monday.
Malavath Poorna, the daughter of a tribal farm labourer, reached the top of the world's highest peak on Sunday after climbing from the Tibetan side of the mountain, said Mohammed Ansari, technical coordinator for her team.
Poorna and 16-year-old friend S. Anand Kumar, a member of India's lowest Dalit caste, previously known as "untouchables", climbed the mountain with ten Nepalese guides, before hoisting the Indian flag, he said.
"Poorna and Kumar ascended Everest from... the Tibetan side early Sunday morning. They have started their descent and will reach north basecamp in Tibet on Tuesday," Ansari said from India.
China's official Xinhua news agency said three foreigners "successfully climbed onto the top of the world" over the weekend, citing Zhang Mingxing, head of Tibet's alpinism administration centre.
Zhang did not confirm whether the Indian teenagers were among the three foreigners and Nepalese officials had no details of the climb.
The climb was made possible after the teenage girl, whose father from an indigenous tribe earns just 35,000 rupees (S$750) a year, was sponsored by a government-run social welfare organisation in southern India.
"She was strong and determined to climb Everest. We are very proud," Ansari said. "She wanted to take the risk. She said that her community will gain recognition if they succeed," he said.
The pair also won applause from India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi, who tweeted: "Was very happy to read this. Congrats to our youngsters. They make us truly proud".
Most climbers attempt the 8,848m peak from the Nepalese side - the easiest and most popular route - but authorities in Kathmandu do not grant climbing licences for Everest to anyone under 16.
Mingma Sherpa, a Nepalese guide who has summited all 14 of the world's peaks over 8,000m, called Poorna's ascent a rare accomplishment.
"It is an achievement for someone so young to scale Everest. It is not easy to achieve such a record," Sherpa told AFP.
In 2010, 13-year-old American Jordan Romero claimed to have set the record for being the youngest climber to summit Everest, also making the ascent from Tibet.
His feat provoked criticism from the mountaineering community, who questioned whether he was mature enough to make the decision to climb.
Prior to Poorna's climb, Nepal's Nima Chemji Sherpa claimed to be the youngest woman to summit the mountain at the age of 16 in 2012.
The climb comes just over a month after an avalanche killed 16 Nepalese guides in the deadliest ever accident on Everest, prompting an effective shutdown of the peak from the Nepalese side.
More than 300 people, mostly local guides, have died on the peak since the first ascent by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.