the-south-asian.com July / August 2006
4 of 7
50 years of Climbing –
Everest, K2, & Nanga Parbat
First published January 2004
Mt. Everest & the Sherpas
: Chomolungma [8,848
meters, 29,035 feet]
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
Later, Hillary would
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.
Snow Tiger or Native:
The Sherpa Tenzing Norgay [1914-1986]
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
Eventually Tenzing was
selected, 1935 onwards, in about 7 Everest expeditions, with success in
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."
autobiography, written with the help of James Ullman, Tiger
of the Snow contains his simple first hand accounts of his
A 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
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
Tenzing’s account 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
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.
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
Norgay died suddenly on May 9, 1986 whilst his son Jamling [born in
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,
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.
the actions and dignified the summit in honor of his father by depositing a
valuable item of his daughter. He now lives in Darjeeling, India with his
family. Jamling’s brothers and sister work in USA.
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]:
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
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
on eight expeditions
and was also a sirdar [leader] on the 1950 French expedition to
Annapurna, led by
.As 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 ]
“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.
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.”
youngest Everest climber is also a Sherpa, fifteen-year old Temba Tsheri
Sherpa, a schoolboy from the Rolwaling valley.
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..."
Mallory (1886-1924), in an answer to the question 'Why do you want to climb
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'.
Tenzing was Indian by domicile.
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