Tenzing Norgay: The man who first flew Tricolour on Mt Everest

When Tenzing Norgay reached the peak of Mt. Everest, he had the presence of mind to hold high the flags he had attached to his ice-pick, when his picture was being taken. There were four flags on his ice-pick – the flag of the UN, United Kingdom (because the expedition was sponsored by a British National), Nepal and Bharat. So much presence of mind and gratitude for the World, the sponsor, his Nation of origin and the Country which he was a National of. He also kept a little offering of food for God as per Buddhist tradition. Then he ate his share of Mint Cake.

Success did not come easily to Tenzing Norgay. He was born Namgyal Wangdi to a Sherpa family. Tenzing went to Nepal as a child to work for a Sherpa family in Khumbu. His father was a yak herder. Norgay received his first opportunity to join an Everest expedition when he was employed by Eric Shipton, leader of the 1935 British Mount Everest reconnaissance expedition. As a 20-year-old his chance came when two of the others failed their medical tests. Norgay participated as a high-altitude porter in three official British attempts to climb Everest from the northern Tibetan side in the 1930s. In 1947, Norgay participated in an unsuccessful summit attempt of Everest. Canadian-born Earl Denman, Ange Dawa Sherpa, and Norgay entered Tibet illegally to attempt the mountain; the attempt ended when a strong storm at 22,000 feet (6,700 m) pounded them. Denman admitted defeat, and all three turned around and safely returned.

In 1947, Norgay became a sirdar(guide) of a Swiss expedition for the first time, following a magnificent performance in the rescue of Sirdar Wangdi Norbu who had fallen and been seriously injured. In 1952, he took part in the two Swiss expeditions led by Edouard Wyss-Dunant (spring) and Gabriel Chevalley (autumn), the first serious attempts to climb Everest from the southern (Nepalese) side, after two previous US and British reconnaissance expeditions in 1950 and 1951. Raymond Lambert and Tenzing Norgay were able to reach a height of about 8,595 metres (28,199 ft) on the southeast ridge, setting a new climbing altitude record. The expedition opened up a new route on Everest that was successfully climbed the next year. Norgay and Raymond Lambert reached on 28 May the then-record height of 8,600 metres (28,215 ft), and this expedition, during which Norgay was for the first time in 1952, considered a full expedition member (“the greatest honour that had ever been paid me”), forged a lasting friendship between Norgay and his Swiss friends.

In 1953, Tenzing Norgay took part in John Hunt’s expedition; the latter’s seventh expedition to Everest. A member of the team was Edmund Hillary, who had a near-miss following a fall into a crevasse but was saved from hitting the bottom by Norgay’s prompt action in securing the rope using his ice axe, which led Hillary to consider him the climbing partner of choice for any future summit attempt. On 26 May, Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans attempted the climb, but turned back when Evans’ oxygen system failed. The pair had reached the South Summit, coming within 300 vertical feet (91 m) of the summit. Hunt then directed Norgay and Hillary to go for the summit. They reached the summit but they spent only about 15 minutes at the summit. On 29th May, 1953 Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary reached the peak of Mt. Everest for the 1st time at 11.30 am.

A GALAXY OF AWARDS :

Tenzing Norgay became the first Director of Field Training of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, when it was set up in 1954.

In 1953, King Tribhuvan of Nepal presented him with the Order of the Star of Nepal, 1st Class (Supradipta-Manyabara-Nepal-Tara).

In 1959, the Government of India awarded him the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award of India.

On 1st July, 1953, the Queen of England awarded him the George Medal.

 “ 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.
— Tenzing Norgay

Some lessons to be learnt:

  • Birth is not an indicator of success or position later in life.
  • Take care of health and stay fit. Don’t lose out on opportunities because of ill health.
  • Stay calm in the face of danger. Be alert. Do your best to help your team members.
  • Be friendly and make lifelong friendship with everyone you meet. Be smiling and polite always.
  • Be a Desh-bhakt first. Give respect to your Country, Respect your Flag. Be grateful to the World.
  • Respect Nature. Respect your Religion. Follow ancient traditions of offering before eating yourself. Annadaato Sukhi Bhava.
  • Successes come only after a lot of efforts. Failures to reach the summit should not make you feel sad or lose interest.
  • Give back to society when you have achieved your goals, realized your dreams.
  • Stay humble always.

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