January  2004




January 2004 


 Men, Women & Lure
 of Mountains


 Nanga Parbat


 Everest & Sherpas

 Women & mountains

 Hunza and Balti

 Ecology on top

 AIDS - a worldview

 Status in South Asia

 Foreign help to fight
 AIDS in India

Wasim Akram - 
 Sultan of Swing

 Natural Medicine
Ashwagandha - the
 wonder herb 

 Real Issues
Education for all - a 
 myth or reality?


Leila Seth

 Rocky Mohan

 Sunny Jain & Jazz

 Short story
Taya Ji

Between Heaven
  And Hell

 A Brush with Life

 Cutting Edge

 The Horse that Flew

 Punjabi Baroque

 Letter from Pakistan



 the craft shop

 Lehngas - a limited collection

 the print gallery


 Between Heaven and Hell

  Silk Road on Wheels

 The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

 Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

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Page  4  of  7


Mt. Everest & the Sherpas

: Chomolungma [8,848 meters, 29,035 feet]

Some 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 bastard off?".  Later, 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."

Today 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.

Snow Tiger or Native: The Sherpa Tenzing Norgay [1914-1986]
Tenzing Norgay
of Nepal was also on the summit with Hillary. He came from the seven or ten thousand [1970] Sherpa tribesmen who had migrated originally from Eastern Tibet into a few valleys in Nepal which were sacred to the Buddhists of Tibet. The word Sherpa in Tibetan means “easterner”. Tenzing moved to Darjeeling in India in his early teens, as word of these Sherpa climbers spread among Nepalese Sherpas who sought work on the Everest expeditions. In the Everest expeditions of 1922 and 1924, General Bruce selected his porter team from among the small Sherpa community in Darjeeling. In a 1954 autobiography of Ang Thrace, Mémoires d'un Sherpa , it says that Ang Tharkay was Tenzing’s landlord in Darjeeling and also his mentor. Ang Tharkay accompanied Shipton on eight expeditions and was also a sirdar [leader] on the 1950 French expedition to Annapurna, led by Herzog

Basically 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 to Everest.

During 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.

Eventually Tenzing was selected, 1935 onwards, in about 7 Everest expeditions, with success in 1953.  With 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."

Tenzing's 1955 autobiography, written with the help of James UllmanTiger of the Snow contains his simple first hand accounts of his Everest ascent.

 "You cannot be a good mountaineer, however great your ability, unless you are cheerful and have the spirit of comradeship. Friends are as important as achievement. Another is that teamwork is the one key to success and that selfishness only makes a man small. Still another is that no man, on a mountain or elsewhere, gets more out of anything than he puts into it." 

A simple man, Tenzing said after climbing Everest:

It 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……….."

Tenzing assumed a Buddhist attitude on the way he was treated by the British expeditions. “…In the English expedition I had to live alone in my tent until the last night when Hillary and I shared night-quarters. He was the only one who did. Well, other people other customs. Nothing more to say about it…”

[See also “Servant of Sahibs: The Rare 19th Century Travel Account as Told by a Native of Ladakh” - by Rassul Galwan, Francis Younghusband ]

Tenzing’s account of what he did at the summit is moving in its simplicity and humility.
II dug a hole in the snow and put down some small sacrifice gifts- symbolic things that I had brought with me that our belief - my wife and I are Buddhists - demands. Preferably I wanted to sacrifice my clothes and equipment, but now that wasn't possible. Instead I left a few biscuits, some chocolate and a blue-pen. The blue-pen had just a little piece left that my youngest daughter Nima had sent with me to sacrifice. It was a greeting from my family. Nima had earnestly asked me to put the pen on the summit of Mount Everest. It was a quite ordinary pen, but one of my daughters dearest things. When I put it down, I notified Hillary about it….and he smiled.”

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.

Tenzing 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 oppressed Tibetans.

In 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.

  Tenzing + Jamling.jpg (11414 bytes)
Tenzing Norgay with his son Jamling in Darjeeling. ~1960


James Ramsay Ullman, co-author of Tenzing’s biography –Tiger of Snow wrote at Tenzing’s death:

 "Tenzing 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."

Tenzing Norgay died suddenly on May 9, 1986 whilst his son Jamling [born in Darjeeling on April 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 Everest. During 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. Jamling 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.

For the interested reader, there are two books written by the Norgay family. There is Tenzing’s son Jamling Norgay, Touching My Father's Soul: a Sherpa's Journey to the Top of Everest [based on the IMAX experience]:

"My 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."

Jamling’s son Tashi is married to an Australian. Tashi’s book Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest by Tashi Tenzing, Judy Tenzing, Edmund Hillary is 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 Shipton  on eight expeditions and was also a sirdar [leader] on the 1950 French expedition to Annapurna, led by Herzog

.As Bill Buxton writes about Tenzing in his extensive Mountain Climbing site [see this excellent Magnus-opus site: [ ]

 “He 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.

“Tenzing 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.”

Incidentally the youngest Everest climber is also a Sherpa, fifteen-year old Temba Tsheri Sherpa, a schoolboy from the Rolwaling valley.


  Sherpa Sprinters of Everest – 2000-2003

The 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.

Lhakpa 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).

Late 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).

On 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."  

Almost 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 interesting:

"The 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'.
There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use.
So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."  
-  George Leigh Mallory.

Tenzing was Indian by domicile.



 Mountains and Men - Introduction & Early Surveyors

Nanga Parbat - the Killer Mountain

K2 - the most difficult mountain to climb

Mt. Everest & the Sherpas

Women on Nanga Parbat, K2, and Mt.Everest

Pakistan's Hunza and Balti climbers

Ecological Nightmare on Big Tops & Conclusion





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