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The Smiling Mountaineer – Tenzing Norgay

The Smiling Mountaineer – Tenzing Norgay

Tenzing Norgay

This story is about the man who scaled the highest place on earth and touched the hearts of millions not only by his achievements but also by his smile. East India Story pays tribute to Tenzing Norgay on the eve of his birth anniversary which is on 29th of May.

When we met Dicky Doma Sherpa, she informed us that, she decided to be a mountaineer as a child after reading the story The Dream Comes True. Dicky was a part of the team who were about to start an expedition to the Everest. Just like Dicky, The Dream comes true has inspired many young mountaineers.  This story is a story of dreams, a story of ambition, story of the first ever climb to the highest place on earth, the story of Tenzing Norgay.

The ones who were fortunate to meet Tenzing Norgay, remember him as a man with a charming smile.In fact Eric Shipton, the British mountaineer, in an interview said,“Tenzing is not only a strong Sherpa but also a person who can lift your spirit with his smile”. Norgay was also a man of controversy. Right from his place of birth to his date of birth to his nationality, remains controversial. However what remains constant is his courage, his strength and his zeal which made him scale The Summit.

There are conflicting accounts of Tenzing’s place of birth. In an interview in 1985 he said his parents hailed from Tibet but he was born in Nepal. However in the later years his son Jamling Tenzing Norgay wrote that hisfather was born in Tibet at Tse Chu in the Karma valley. Hence his birthplace remains unclear.What is known for a fact is, his father Ghang La Mingma, a Buddhist yak herder, and his mother Dokmo Kinzom, named the infant Namgyal Wangdi initially.

A few years later, Lama Ngawang Tenzin Norbu,the founder of Rongbuk Monastery, advised his parents to change the name to Tenzing Norgay, which roughly means ‘wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion’. He was sent to Tengboche Monastery to become a monk. But Norgay and religion were not attuned. He ran away and ultimately settled with the Sherpa community in the Tung Sung Basti district of Darjeeling when he was 19.

By the time he was 20, life took a new turn for Tenzing. He got his first opportunity to join Eric Shipton in 1935 for the British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition. It was Ang Tharkay his friend and a Sherpa Sardar who pushed him to this. This was the birth of a new dream, a dream to conquer the Chomolungma (Mount Everest). Since then Norgay took part in various climbs across different parts of the Indian subcontinent.

In the year 1940, Norgay shifted to the princely state of Chitral (now in Pakistan) as a batman to Major Chapman. He finally returned to Darjeeling in 1947 during the partition. Story goes this way that he managed to cross India by train without a ticket and without being challenged, by wearing one of Major Chapman’s old uniforms.

Tenzing Norgay took part in several unsuccessful expeditions after that. Finally in the year 1953, John Hunt organized The British Mount Everest expedition. Tenzing who was experienced in six earlier expeditions was a part of the team. Amongst others in the team was a man called Edmund Hillary. One day during the climb, Edmund had a near-miss following a fall into a crevasse, but it was Norgay’s prompt action, which saved his life. This led Hillary to consider him the climbing partner of choice for any future summit attempts.

Hillary met Norgay for the first time on 5th of March, 1953. Later in 1975 in one of the articles he wrote:

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I was eager to meet Tenzing Norgay. His reputation had been most impressive even before his two great efforts with the Swiss expedition … Tenzing really looked the part – larger than most Sherpas he was very strong and active; his flashing smile was irresistible; and he was incredibly patient with all our questions and requests. His success in the past had given him great physical confidence – I think that even then he expected to be a member of the final assault party … One message came through however in a very positive fashion – Tenzing had substantially greater personal ambition than any Sherpa I had met.

Tenzing with his co-mountaineer Edmund Hillary
Tenzing with his co-mountaineer Edmund Hillary

The Hunt expedition team comprised of 400 people, including 362 porters and 20 Sherpas. On 26th May, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans started the climb from the penultimate camp at South Col, at 25,900 feet. But they had to turn back as Evan’s oxygen system failed. Than on the 28th of May, Norgay and Hillary finally set out and pitched a tent at 27,900 feet with the help of Ang Nyima, Alfred Gregory and Gorge Lowe.

The following morning was a disaster. Edmund Hillary’s shoes had frozen outside the tent. After two hours of hard work of warming them up they attempted the final ascent, wearing 30-pound packs. The last part of the ascent comprised a 40-foot (12 m) rock. From there, the following effort was relatively simple. They reached Everest’s 29,028-foot summit, the highest point on Earth, at 11:30 a.m. They spent only about 15 minutes at the summit and thus history was made.

Tenzing Norgay’s exact date of birth was not known to him. He decided to celebrate his birthday on 29th of May, the day he conquered the Everest with Edmund Hillary. We share this article on the eve of the day humans conquered Everest.

“It takes determination to see a dream come to pass. The question is not will you start, but will you finish.”  –  Joel Osteen

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