May 292013

Everest-First-Ascent-Sir-Edmund-Hillary-Iconic-Photo-Of-Tenzing-Norgay-On-Everest-Summit-May-29-1953           tenzing


Tenzing Norgay and Qomolongma (Mt Everest)

Today we celebrate the birthday of Tenzing Norgay, who with New Zealand beekeeper, Edmund Hillary, reached the summit of Mt Everest (jo mo glang ma; Chomolungma or Qomolangma “Holy Mother”) on this date in 1953. Norgay did not know the date of his birth because there were no records kept at that time. He did not even know the year, but he knew he was born in the Tibetan year of the rabbit, so it seems likely he was born in 1914. Based on what he was told about the crops and the weather when he was born he conjectured it was late May.  After he and Hillary reached the summit of Everest on May 29, he celebrated his birthday on that date thereafter. He’s occasionally referred to as the Buzz Aldrin (2nd man on the moon) of Everest.  Yet the iconic photograph of their conquest of the summit is of Norgay (see picture). Norgay says that Hillary refused to have his picture taken. Some say it was actually because Norgay did not know how to use a camera, but Hillary’s modesty at not wanting a photograph of himself is entirely in keeping with his character (and the idea that an illiterate Nepalese peasant could not press a shutter, or even try, seems a bit racist to me).

There are conflicting reports as to where Norgay was born and raised because his autobiography proved to have inconsistencies in it. He was not born a Sherpa despite his common appellation “Sherpa Tenzing,” but he may have wanted it to appear so because he lived most of his life as a Sherpa.  It is now generally accepted that he was born in Tsa-chu in Nepal, and raised in Thami, a Nepalese village near the Tibetan border and close to Everest. He was originally called “Namgyal Wangdi,” but at some point his name was changed, for reasons that are obscure. Tenzing Norgay translates as “wealthy-fortunate-follower-of-religion.” He ran away from home twice in his teens, first to Kathmandu and later Darjeeling. He was once sent to Tengboche Monastery to be a monk, but he decided that it was not for him, and left. At the age of 19, he eventually settled in the Sherpa community in Too Song Bhusti in Darjeeling, West Bengal, where he settled with Sherpas and married a Sherpa. In that way he became integrated into the Sherpa community. He could speak 7 languages, but could not read and write.

Norgay began his mountaineering experience at the age of 20 as a high altitude porter for three official British attempts on Everest in 1930’s. He was also part of teams of mountaineers in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. He scaled Nanda Devi, which he described as the most difficult climb he ever took. In 1947, he took part in an unsuccessful attempt at Everest by an unofficial expedition consisting of the Canadian born Earl Denman and two Sherpas. Lacking proper support the attempt was risky, but when a massive storm hit them at 22,000 ft (6,700 m), they were forced to abandon the effort. Also in 1947, Norgay took part in a Swiss ascent of Kedarnath in the western Garhwal Himalaya, and was instrumental in the rescue of sirdar (head porter), Wangdi Norbu, who had fallen almost 1,000 ft (300 m) into deep snow, taking another climber with him, crampons first.  Subsequently Norgay was promoted to the position of sirdar.

In 1952 Norgay took part in two Swiss expeditions led by Raymond Lambert, the first serious attempts to climb Everest from the southern Nepalese side. On the first attempt he and Lambert reached the then record height of 28,215 ft (8,599 m). On the second attempt they were less successful, but it was at this time that Norgay was named a full member of the expedition.  Norgay said that this was “the greatest honor that had ever been paid me”

In 1953, he took part in Sir John Hunt’s expedition, Norgay’s seventh expedition to Everest. It was on this attempt that he and Edmund Hillary became the first men to reach the summit. On a previous climb Hillary fell into a deep crevasse and Norgay saved him from hitting the bottom by quick action, securing Hillary’s rope with his ice ax.  Hence Hillary chose him as his partner on Everest.  A first attempt at the summit on 26 May by two other members of the expedition had to turn back within 300 vertical feet (90 m) of the prize when one of the oxygen systems failed.  Hillary and Norgay set out on 28 May, and reached the summit at 11.00 on 29 May. They stayed 15 minutes to take enough pictures to prove they had reached the summit and headed back down. Norgay became an instant celebrity in Nepal and was showered with honors.  He wrote: “It has been a long road … From a mountain slave, 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.” He spent the rest of his life as a mountaineering instructor.

Although Norgay was not born a Sherpa he adopted the culture, and so I have chosen a Sherpa recipe, Lamb and Barley Soup.  Sherpa cooking is heavily influenced by two factors: what they can grow at high altitude and what is most nourishing and warming in a cold climate.  So their dishes feature of lot of hearty soups made with potatoes, barley, and cold weather greens such as spinach. I focused on this one because it reminds me of Scotch Broth, a lamb and barley soup I grew up eating, and still love to make when I have a lamb bone left over from a roast.

Sherpa Style Lamb and Barley Soup


1 cup barley
1 lb (½  kilo) lamb, cubed
4 cups mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped tomatoes
4 oz (120 g) spinach, washed and torn into small pieces
1 cup chopped onions
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon curry powder
4 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper
3 cups lamb broth or water


Heat the butter in a large heavy bottomed pot.

Add the onions and sauté until lightly browned.

Season the lamb with curry powder, salt, and pepper and add to the onion mixture. Brown the meat well.

Add the mushrooms to the lamb mixture and sauté for 5 minutes over low heat. Add the garlic, ginger, and, turmeric and stir to coat the ingredients in the pot.

Add the tomatoes, soy sauce, and broth. Increase the heat and bring the soup to a boil.

Add the barley and stir well.

Lower the heat and simmer for about an hour or until the barley grains and lamb are tender.

When almost ready to serve, add the spinach to the soup and wilt it for one minute.

Serves 4-6 as a main meal



  2 Responses to “Tenzing Norgay and Qomolongma (Mt Everest)”

  1. Sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing. I saw a documentary on Norgay a few years ago. Interesting.
    BTW, the braid resipe looks good.

    • I can’t help feeling that any soup that starts with lamb and barley is a winner. The addition of the spinach at the last minute is an interesting touch I might try in other soups and stews. I use spinach a lot in curries, but I use the Indian method of simmering them for hours.

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