the-south-asian.com January 2004
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Mt. Everest & the Sherpas
Chomolungma [8,848 meters, 29,035 feet]
50 years ago Everest [60 million years old] was ascended on May 29, 1953 by
Tenzing Norgay of India/Nepal and Edmund Hillary of New Zealand whose first
words on greeting
his compatriot George Lowe were:
"Well George, we’ve knocked the
Hillary would explain
apologetically that this was an idiomatic expression that for him Mount
Everest was the final frontier for human endurance; he uttered the first
thing that came to his mind. "I
was like an excited bowler who gets the wicket of a prized batsman."
Sir Ed Hillary, 83-year old Burrah
Sahib (big/tall man), as he is known, has left his legacy of
humanitarian work for the Sherpas. In 1960, he started the Himalayan Trust,
a philanthropic organization which collects donations for projects in the
Sherpa country of Nepal.
It has built schools, hospitals, an airstrip, helped poor families, and
trained local teachers. It was responsible in the start of Sagarmatha
National Park in the 1970s. Thus with Hillary’s efforts, the Sherpas today
are participating in a planned modernization. Most importantly they have
received education to carve out their own destiny. A 620 kW hydropower plant
serving the villages of the Mount Everest area, with aid from the Austrians,
has played a tremendous role in improving both living conditions and
environmental protection in the valleys in the shadow of the 8000m peaks.
Tiger or Native: The Sherpa Tenzing Norgay [1914-1986]
a Yak–herder, Norgay’s name at birth was Namgyal Wangdi. A holy man
renamed him "Norgay", which means "fortunate". Tenzing means “tiger of the snow”. In 1935 he married
Dawa Phuti, a Sherpa girl living in Darjeeling, before the first expedition
WW-II, Everest expeditions became scarce, but Tenzing continued to climb in
other places. He successfully climbed Nanda Devi, Tirich Mir and Nanga
Parbat [9th highest in the world but considered the most difficult along
with K2]. Dawa Phuti died in 1944; he remarried a year later, to Ang Lahmu,
another Sherpa. In 1948, he guided Tibetologist Guiseppe Tucci on
archaeological investigations in Tibet.
Tenzing was selected, 1935 onwards, in about 7 Everest expeditions, with
success in 1953.
Raymond Lambert of the 1952 Swiss expedition, Tenzing had come within 1,000
feet of the summit. "For
in my heart," he once said, "I needed to go . . . the pull of
Everest was stronger for me than any force on earth."
1955 autobiography, written with the help of James Ullman, Tiger
of the Snow contains his simple first hand accounts of his Everest
simple man, Tenzing said after climbing Everest:
has been a long road...From a mountain coolie, a bearer of loads, to a
wearer of a coat with rows of medals who is carried about in planes and
worries about income tax. ….I had climbed my mountain, but I must still
live my life……….."
assumed a Buddhist attitude on the way he was treated by the British
of what he did at the summit is moving in its simplicity and humility.
Tenzing was no lightweight mountaineer. He was a veritable combination of Mohammed Ali – the boxer, Pele-the soccer king, Jehangir Khan- the unsquashable, and Michael Jordan-the basketball king. The Champion of mountain climbing, but without the slick gift of the Ali gab; in fact very much the opposite. He was a giant of a man having climbed and traveled in Chitral, Kashmir, Garhwal, and Tibet. Therefore his being on top of Everest was not an accident in 1953.
was given the George
Medal, the greatest honor that can be given to a non-citizen of the United
Kingdom. The Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru became his friend.
Hundreds of adoring Hindus thought Tenzing was a living embodiment of Lord
Shiva. Tenzing’s home became a pilgrimage site for Nepalese, Hindus and
1964, Ang Lhamu died and Tenzing married Daku, a Darjeeling girl whose
family came from his home village in Nepal. One of their three sons, Jamling,
was to follow his father's footsteps to the top of Mt. Everest in 1996.
Ramsay Ullman, co-author of Tenzing’s biography –Tiger of Snow wrote at
is a manifestation of godhead: an avatar
of the Lord Siva, a reincarnation of the Buddha. For still other millions,
too sophisticated to confuse man with deity, he is a mortal figure of
supreme significance. Symbolically as well as literally, Tenzing on Everest
was a man against the sky, virtually the first humbly born Asian in all
history to attain world stature and world renown. And for other Asians his
feat was not the mere climbing of a mountain, but a bright portent for
themselves and for the future of their world."
Norgay died suddenly on May 9, 1986 whilst his son Jamling [born in Darjeeling
23, 1965, the fourth of six Norgay children]
was in a US “Northland College”, Wisconsin
which had also honored Tenzing with an honorary degree. Jamling
had 2 brothers and attended St. Paul's, an elite boarding school in India.
Tenzing forbade Jamling to climb the Everest much against the son’s desire
to do so. Tenzing explained “I climbed Everest so that you wouldn't have
to." Jamling, upon graduating from St. Paul's, traveled to the United
States to attend College in Wisconsin. He spent about 10 years in USA but
dreamed on climbing Everest, finally making the famous 1996 IMAX movie on
the making of this film, there was an avalanche and Jamling’s skepticism
about his Buddhist faith also got buried in the avalanche somewhere.
In that spring, nine
people on Everest died in a sudden storm. Selflessly Jamling Norgay and his
climbers risked their own lives to save their fellow climbers. For this
bravery, Jamling Norgay received His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Award, and
the National Citizen's award from the President of India.
followed the actions and dignified the summit in honor of his father by
depositing a small
valuable item of his daughter. He now lives in Darjeeling, India with his
family. Jamling’s brothers and sister work in USA.
the interested reader, there are two books written by the Norgay family.
There is Tenzing’s son Jamling
My Father's Soul: a Sherpa's Journey to the Top of Everest
[based on the IMAX experience]:
father knew before he ever set foot on the mountain that it had to be
approached with respect and with love, the way a child climbs into the lap
of its mother. Anyone who attacks the peak with aggression, like a soldier
doing battle, will lose."
son Tashi is married to an Australian. Tashi’s book Tenzing
Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest
a first hand account of his grandfather’s first Everest ascent.
In addition there is a 1954 autobiography of Ang Tharkay, Mémoires
d'un Sherpa. Ang Tharkay was Tenzing’s landlord in Darjeeling and
also his mentor. He accompanied on
eight expeditions and was also a sirdar [leader] on the 1950 French
expedition to Annapurna,
led by Herzog.
Bill Buxton writes about Tenzing in his extensive Mountain Climbing site
[see this excellent Magnus-opus site: [http://www.billbuxton.com/climbing.html#everestww.billbuxton.com
had been to Everest 6 times before: to the North Side in 1935
with Shipton, 1936 with Ruttledge and 1938
with Tilman; and to the South Side in the spring of 1952 with
Swiss team led by Wyss-Dunant, and back again in the autumn on their second
attempt led by Chevalle… As Ortner
points out, virtually all of our history of Himalayan mountaineering comes
from the westerners, since they were the ones with the skills and means to
write the books. From the earlier period, there are only three
accounts "from the other side," this one by Tenzing, that by Ang
Tharkay, and finally the remarkable Servant
of Sahibs, written in 1923 by Ghulam Rassul Galwan, who had worked for
Younghusband, among others. Due to their scarcity, insights, and
perspective, these books make fascinating reading.
simply says that others have written extensively about it, so there is no
need to cover the details of the expedition, other than to shed light on
things that have been neglected. What he does do, which Hunt (perhaps
understandably) does not, is discuss not only the issues of conflict
between the Sherpa and "Sahibs", but also the repercussions (since
many of these caused much controversy under the spotlight that fell on the
expedition after its success.) He also talks a lot about the impact of
the whole thing on his life, which was significant, given the attention
given to the expedition... Finally, one cannot read this book without being
touched by the love that he had for the mountains, and the bond that he
shared with those of similar spirit (not the least of whom was Lambert, of
the 1952 Swiss team, with whom - despite a language barrier - he clearly had
an outstanding bond.) In this there are strong echoes of Rébuffat's
fellowship of the rope. For me, this spirit extended beyond the
printed page, bonding author to reader.”
the youngest Everest climber is also a Sherpa, fifteen-year old Temba Tsheri
Sherpa, a schoolboy from the Rolwaling valley.
great successes of Sherpas in 2000 mountaineering were: Lhakpa Sherpa and
Pemba Doma as second and third Sherpa woman reach the top of Chomolungma;
Appa Sherpa conquers the mountain for the 11th time.
On the Golden Jubilee of Mt. Everest the great Sherpas established more speed records. In May 2003, the Golden anniversary of the day, when Tenzing and Hillary first climbed Chomolungma, was crowned by several heroic successes of Sherpa mountaineers.
Sherpa became the first woman to reach the summit for a third time (May 22).
She was accompanied by her brother and her 15-year-old sister Mingma Kipa
Sherpa, who thus becomes the youngest ever person on Chomolungma. Appa
Sherpa reached the summit for an unbelievable 13th time (May 26).
Babu Chhiri's speed record is broken twice within only three days: First,
Pemba Dorji Sherpa reaches the summit after 12 hours and 45 minutes (May
23); then, Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa improves this record to 10 hours and 56
minutes (May 26).
July 3, 1953 it was Nanga Parbat [8,125 meters] that was ascended by Hermann
Buhl from Germany. Buhl’s comments on climbing the most difficult
mountain are more evolved --"Mountains
have a way of dealing with overconfidence."
half a century of attempts on the Everest, by names such as the British
climbers Irvine and Mallory [famous for his British understatement "Because
it is there..." -
George Mallory (1886-1924), in an answer to the question 'Why do you want to
climb Mt. Everest?”], have given us a rich insight into mountaineers.
Mallory comments on the activity of mountain climbing are
first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this,
'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest ?' and my answer must at
once be, 'It is no use'.
was Indian by domicile.
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