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Sikkim and Some Everesters (Part 2)

Sikkim and Some Everesters (Part 2)

Gyalzen Kazi and Karma Paul

The first three British expeditions to scale Mount Everest became possible due to a Sikkimese interpreter named Gyalzen Kazi Sherpa

 When you desire glory, and take up the daunting challenge of climbing Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, you come to India, but then, what language will you use to speak to the almost illiterate Sherpa assistants?

That is where some Sikkimese played a critical role in the first three Everest Expeditions. And the key person was Gyalzen Kazi.

Kazi was a rich landlord but played an important role during the expeditions. Gyalzen Kazi was the interpreter for the 1921, 1922 and 1924 Everest Expeditions.

It is well said that Gyalzen Kazi and Karma Paul, another interpreter from Darjeeling, had a significant role in the Everest Expeditions.

Gyalzen Kazi had gotten down in history more for his role as an interpreter, but my findings are that he was the first ever mountain explorer from Sikkim.

Another interesting finding that came to me was the page of the Aritar Dak Bungalow Visitors’ Book.

It has the names of five mountaineers of the 1922 Mt Everest Expedition. Charles G Bruce, Edward “Teddy” F Norton, Dr Arthur Wakefield, C John Morris and C Geoffrey Bruce had signed the Visitors’ Book during their stay at the Dak Bungalow on July 29 and 30, 1922.

Though I felt a little sad not to find the iconic George Mallory’s name in the book, nevertheless those five names were enough to ignite my excited heart.


Charles G Bruce was the Expedition leader with the rank of a Brigadier, while Morris and Geoffrey Bruce were responsible for translation and organisational tasks.

Norton and Wakefield were mountaineers with medical backgrounds.

None in the British team knew Tibetan, which only Gyalzen and Karma Paul did, just as they were fluent in English. Thus, the bridge between the mountain and the men.

Apart from these people there were eight other expedition members in the 1922 ascent to Mt Everest.

Though it had been mentioned in different accounts that the first three Mt Everest Expedition teams (1921, 1922 and 1924) did stay at Aritar Dak Bungalow but I have not come across the 1921 and 1924 records on the Visitors’ Book.

The page of the Aritar Dak Bungalow Visitors’ Book
The page of the Aritar Dak Bungalow Visitors’ Book

Coming back to Mallory, ever since his dead body with his face down on the snow had been recovered, the speculations on whether the two mountaineers reached their ultimate goal have always been running high.

But it was Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa who took the crown of being the first mountaineers to successfully return back after reaching the summit, 30 years after Mallory’s sudden disappearance.

The Kazi was from an aristocratic family and owned a lot of land, and was well educated in English as well as Tibetan, but he became, to my knowledge, the first interpreter and also the first Sikkimese to go on an expedition to Mount Everest

That was way later on May 29, 1953.

Everest has deep secrets under its calm silence, and in between, there are stories that keep on popping up whether Mallory and his team had reached the top.

Mallory had a photograph of his wife and he had promised to her that he would click the photograph of himself with his wife’s photograph at the summit.

When the search team found the body, they failed to recover the photograph from his pocket.

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Some believe the photograph might have been left at the summit. The camera which the duo had been carrying is still to be recovered and no one knows whether it may be found in the future, and we might witness the lost moments of human heroics.

But the fact remains that Mallory, a retired officer of the British army, had taken part in all the three expeditions, and in the 1922 expedition he had reached the highest ever, at 26,980 feet (Mount Everest peak is at 29,029 feet).

One more interesting fact is that Mallory’s snow goggles were found in the pocket of his trousers. Some experts speculate that may be they were returning after scaling the summit, but it was after sunset, when snow goggles are not needed.

The snow axe of Andrew “Sandy” Irvine, Mallory’s climbing partner, had also been recovered. Interestingly, they had climbed the mountain without supplementary oxygen!

These theories related to George Mallory had made him a legend and we are still awaiting more findings that could end the speculations.

Irrespective of all these, the efforts of George Mallory need to be appreciated. It was his fantasy and ‘only him’ that made the thought of reaching the summit of Mt Everest fascinating and appealing to all.

Mount Everest

But returning to our much loved Sikkimese, Gyalzen Kazi, an aristocrat from Gangtok, the capital of Sikkim, was not only the interpreter for the 1921 British reconnaissance expedition, but worked as both interpreter and sirdar– the highest ranking Sherpa ‑ on the 1924 British expedition.

In any case, Kazi belongs to history because as far as my knowledge goes, no Sikkimese before him had gone on an Everest expedition.


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