Remembering Tenzing Norgay, the unsung trailblazer of Mount Everest

Remembering Tenzing Norgay, the unsung trailblazer of Mount EverestRemembering Tenzing Norgay, the unsung trailblazer of Mount Everest
via Dirk Pons (CC BY-SA 3.0), Jamling Tenzing Norgay (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Nepalese Indian mountaineer Tenzing Norgay played an equally crucial role in the first successful ascent of Mount Everest. Despite this monumental achievement, his contributions — and the broader legacy of the Sherpa community — have often been understated. 
Key points:
  • Tenzing, alongside Edmund Hillary, was one of the first two people to reach the summit of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953. His deep knowledge of the mountain was fundamental to their success, although he received less recognition compared to his companion.
  • The Sherpas, a Tibetan ethnic group native to Nepal’s most mountainous regions, have been essential to Everest expeditions since the 1920s, often risking their lives under hazardous conditions. Despite their critical role, they face high risks and receive modest financial rewards.
  • Tenzing became a symbol of national pride in Nepal and India, representing a broader, humanistic identity beyond national boundaries. Despite his illiteracy, his story and contributions have inspired many, and he has remained a revered figure in mountaineering history.
  • A biopic titled “Tenzing” is being developed to highlight his life and achievements. With the support of his family, the film, directed by Jennifer Peedom, aims to bring greater awareness to his contributions and the enduring legacy of the Sherpa community.
Edmund Hillary (left) and Tenzing Norgay (right) are photographed after completing the first ascent of Mount Everest at 11:30 a.m. on May 29, 1953. Image via Jamling Tenzing Norgay (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Early life and challenges

Born around 1915 in the Nepalese village of Thami, Tenzing’s early life was filled with hardship and mystery. His family migrated to Darjeeling, India, where he began his journey as a high-altitude porter.
Despite his significant contributions, Tenzing faced discrimination and remained somewhat enigmatic about his origins, likely to avoid further prejudice.
Hillary (left) and Tenzing (right) in 1970s New Zealand. Image via Kete Horowhenua / Horowhenua Historical Society Inc. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Tenzing is of the Sherpas, who have been integral to Everest expeditions. Sherpas face significant risks, with 125 reportedly losing their lives on the mountain as of 2023. The Himalayan Trust and other organizations work to improve the lives of Sherpas, promoting education and safer working conditions.
Sherpas earn between $3,800 to $8,800 a year, a modest sum for the perilous work they undertake, leading to calls for better support and fair treatment.

The historic ascent

On May 29, 1953, Tenzing and Hillary became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest, standing 29,031 feet above sea level.
Tenzing, who had attempted Everest six times prior, played a crucial role in their success due to his intimate knowledge of the mountain. While Hillary received a knighthood, Tenzing was awarded the less prestigious George Medal.
Tenzing (left) and Hillary (right) in an undated photo. Image via Dirk Pons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Tenzing also faced intense media scrutiny upon returning to Kathmandu, with many questioning his nationality and the specifics of the climb. Still, he eventually served as the Chief Instructor at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, India, introducing many young students to mountaineering.
Tenzing later became a tour leader, including trips to Tibet and Antarctica, showcasing his ongoing dedication to mountaineering.

Legacy and recognition

Despite being illiterate, Tenzing’s autobiography “Tiger of the Snows” became a significant part of his legacy, though heavily edited by ghostwriter James Ramsey Ullman. He became a symbol of national pride in Nepal and India, embodying a spirit of humanistic identity beyond strict national boundaries.
A biopic titled “Tenzing” is in the works, directed by Jennifer Peedom and starring Tom Hiddleston as Edmund Hillary. A search is ongoing for the role of Tenzing.
A statue of Tenzing Norgay at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India. Image via Shahnoor Habib Munmun (CC BY 3.0)
The film aims to bring Tenzing’s story to a global audience, highlighting his achievements and the Sherpa community’s legacy. Tenzing’s son, Norbu Tenzing, is involved in the project, ensuring an authentic portrayal of his father’s life and contributions.
“I could not be more thrilled to be bringing Tenzing Norgay’s story to the screen,” Peedom said in a statement. “I’ve been working towards this film my whole career, and I’m incredibly grateful to Tenzing’s family for entrusting me with it.”
Jen is somebody who has earned the respect of our people, understands the community, and is deeply immersed in our culture,” Norbu said of Peedom. She’s a great human being and someone that we trust, and she has had a lifelong interest in the story of my father Tenzing Norgay. I am delighted that she has taken on this project and can’t wait for the world to see who my father was.”
Share this Article
Your leading
Asian American
news source
© 2024 NextShark, Inc. All rights reserved.