Sunday, 12 September 2010

ANG THARKAY - THE FATHER OF MODERN SHERPA CLIMBERS

Waking up on a frosty morning at first light on Ang Tharkay's farm, south of Kathmandu, in 1975, is a memory that remains vivid in my mind. With a broad smile he poured me tea, made in the Sherpa manner with tea, sugar and milk boiled together. We had a breakfast of chapati and eggs from his farm. He had risen before day break and had milked cows and goats. Ang Tharkay was about 69 and I twenty seven.


Ang Tharkay (right) with Bob McKerrow (left) taken at Ang Tharkay's farm south of Kathmandu. at Simbhanjayang in 1975. Photo: Bob McKerrow

We talked of the great climbers he went on expeditions with: Eric Shipton, Sir Edmund Hillary, Maurice Herzog, Gaston Rebuffat, Lionmel Lachnel, Lionel Terray, Cmdr. Kohli and others. You could see he had a soft spot for Shipton and the French expeditions he had been on.

Born and raised in Khumbu, later migrating to Darjeeling, Ang Tharkay’s first expedition was to Kangchenjunga in 1931. He was on Everest in 1933, 1935, and 1938, when he was cook and sirdar, having been formally made sirdar for the first time on Nanda Devi in 1934. He was exceptional as both climber and sirdar, and his character won high praise from all who knew him.











Photo left: Ang Tharkay at the age of 20 in Darjeeling. Photo. RGSS











Ang Tharkay, who died in Kathmandu on July 28th 1981, belonged to the first generation of elite climbing Sherpas. Born in 1908 in Khunde in the Year of the Monkey (according to the Tibetan calendar) Ang Tharkay went to Darjeeling at the age of twelve in search of work with expeditions

He accompanied Eric Shipton on eight of his pre-war expeditions in the Himalaya, including four on the northern route to Everest. Ang Tharkay had seen the days when high altitude porters were paid six annas compensation for each finger they lost by frost bite. And if the injury was really bad, and a porter could not walk back to Darjeeling, he was entitled by contract to receive a pony and one rupee compensation. Sherpas received blankets for high altitude camps, and sleeping bags were issued only during emergencies.




Mt. Everest and the west ridge, taken from Kallar Pattar 1975. Photo: Bob McKerrow







When Nepal was opened to expeditions, and the first reconnaissance groups traveled up the Dudh Kosi to Solu Khumbu, Ang Tharkay was with them. He had shed his traditional Sherpa pigtail, and dressed in smart woolen breeches, "but had same, shy reticence and quite humour", that Shipton remembered. He joined Eric Shipton, and Edmund Hillary on their 1951 expedition in which they tackled the treacherous Khumbu ice fall, the gateway to the southern route to Everest, and paved the way for the first successful ascent two years later. The expedition then went on to explore the upper reaches of the Imja Valley, the Hongu Basin, and then crossed the Tesi Tapcha into Rolwa Jing. Shipton was impressed by Ang Tharkay, and was moved to remark that he regarded his chief Sherpa as "a man of outstanding character and ability".

Ang Tharkay also took part in another epoch making Himalaya climb, the French Expedition to Annapurna in 1950, lead by Maurice Herzog. He reached the top camp above the "Sickle" on the north face of the first eight-thousander to be climbed.

After this, he was sent for training in technical climbing in Switzerland by the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. Although he was invited by Herzog to bring his wife along to France, it is indication of Ang Tharkey's forthrightness that he refused to take his wife to save his "Bara Sahib" extra expenses










Ama Dablam, taken on the march in to Everest base camp. 1975. Photo: Bob McKerrow











In 1954, Ang Tharkay resigned from the HMI and set up his own business taking trekkers up to Kangchenjunga. In 1962, he became the oldest man to have climbed up to eight thousand meters, when he made it to the South Col with the Indian Everest Expedition. Although he then retired from active mountaineering,

The year I first met him. 1975, Ang Tharkay took a party up to the Annapurna Sanctuary , and sirdared the French Expedition to Dhaulagiri in 1978, at the age of 70.

I remember how active he was virtually running round his farm to do his daily work, always with a smile on his face.As a young mountaineer sitting at the foot of a Guru in every sense of the word, I learnt so much from him. Simplicity, mental toughness, simple diet, hard work, humour, family, friendship, and above all, humility. Here was the man he had introduced the famous Tenzing Norgay to mountainering expeditions: clearly the Father of the modern Sherpa mountain guide as we know him today.
At seventy three years young, Ang was still extremely fit, and many remember the cheerful waves he gave from his bicycle on Durbar Marg. (He never rode in cars if he could help it). Ang Tharkay was looking forward to a quiet retirement in his orchard and farm in Simbhanjayang, when he was suddenly hospitalized and died of cancer.

In Eric Shipton's classice, A Blank On the Map Shipton describes his exploration of the Karakoram's Shaksgam and  N side area of K2 in 1937. This was a very small expedition that consisted only of Shipton, H. W. Tilman, M. A. Spender, J. B. Auden, seven Sherpas (under Sirdar Ang Tharkay), and four Balti porters. This five-month expedition mapped 1,800 square miles of rugged, glaciated, uninhabited country containing many of the world's most spectacular mountains

Ang Tharkay and a young brother. Tilman commented that his stews and curries were masterpieces, but that cooking was only one of his abilities, as he was responsible for porters, gave advice and invariably carried the biggest loads highest. RGS.



In 1954 autobiography of Ang Thrace, Mémoires d'un Sherpa , it says that Ang Tharkay was Tenzing’s landlord in Darjeeling and also his mentor. Ang Tharkay accompanied Shipton on eight expeditions and was also a sirdar [leader] on the 1950 French expedition to Annapurna, led

He went to Annapurna with the French in 1950, to Everest in 1951, to Cho Oyu in 1952, to both Dhaulagiri and Nun in 1953, to Makalu in 1954, and finally to Everest with the Indians in 1962.

In 1955:he joined an  an Indian expedition from the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling makes the second ascent of Kamet on July 6. Major Narendra D. Jayal led the party; Jayal, Ang Tharkay, Da Namgyal, Ang Temba, and Hlakpa Dorje comprised the summit team. Their route followed the ridge linking Abi Gamin and Kamet.





Crossing the Lumding La  (4520 m) with Neema Sherpa. This was a journey I did with Murray Jones and a Sherpani called Domalay in 1975, when we had an unsuccessful attempt on Kwangde. Photo: Bob McKerrow



I was first drawn to Ang Tharkay in my early teens when I saw a photo of diminutive Ang Tharkay, carrying a large, frost bitten French climber, Gaston Rebuffat, on his back down the mountainside from a high camp on Mt. Annapurna.

Having been born in the barren Solo Khumbu, (photo below) the lush green grass and trees of his farm in Simbhanjayang, south of Kathmandu, was an oasis. He was close enough to meet old climbing friends from abroad,  fellow Sherpa's from earlier climbs, yet beuing able to go to his farm when he wanted peace, quiet and self sufficviency.


The first time I visited Ang Tharkay was with his son Pemba who I had met in Kathmandu.
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Later that year before I returned to Switzerland, Ang Tharkay was very distraught. The wife and daughter of his old climbing partner Ed Hillary, had died in a terrible plane crash in Kathmandu. He had made a special and swift visit into Kathmandu to comfort Sir Ed, Peter and Sarah. I remember that tragicday well as I was in Kathmandu and heard the plane crash and got the news an hour later. I joined a group of friends to give what support we could to a grieving Hillary family.

As a young man I had the privilige of meeting the two greatest early-era Sherpas,  Ang Tharkay and Tenzing Norgay. I met Tenzing in 1972 in The Mall in Darjeeling and we sat on a wall talking about his climbing career. Tenzing seemed a much more complex man than Ang Tharkay. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, I felt Tenzing had problems handling fame and status, whereas Ang Tharkay seemed totally unaffected by it, and found simple things like farming, cycling and being with family, more than satisfied his small needs. In my youthful mind, Ang Tharkay was the Father of the modern day climbing Sherpa





Two of my favourite Sherpa guides. Domalay (l) and Neema (r) who accompanied Murray Jones and I on a trip in 1975. They both worked for the Ed Hillary hospital in Kunde. Photo: Bob McKerrow

18 comments:

Linda LeBlanc said...

Before foreigners began climbing Everest, Sherpas had no desire to trespass on the sacred mountains. Their language didn't even have a word for summit. Now they work on expeditions to help sustain themselves, but every time someone steps foot on Everest, the lives of Sherpas are at risk.In 1990, I helped create the first hut system in Nepal--The Sherpa Guide Lodges. Two years later, I began leading treks to the Base Camp.Present during the worst storm in their history, I was appalled at world press coverage of the deaths of foreigners with little mention of the Sherpas who also perished. I returned home to write their story so others would understand their culture and appreciate their contributions to Everest mountaineering.
In Beyond the Summit, details of Sherpa culture and religion are interwoven in a tale of romance and high adventure. The story has something for everyone: a love affair between an American journalist and Sherpa guide, conflict between generations as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, an expedition from the porter’s point of view.

Below are selections from reviews. To read the complete ones and excerpts go to www.beyondthesummit-novel.com

Beyond the Summit, is the rare gem that shows us the triumphs and challenges of a major climb from the porter’s point of view. The love of two people from diverse cultures is the fiery centerpiece of a novel that leads its readers through harshly beautiful and highly dangerous territory to the roof of the world. Malcolm Campbell, book reviewer

A gripping, gut-twisting expedition through the eyes of a porter reveals the heart and soul of Sherpas living in the shadows of Everest. EverestNews.com

LeBlanc is equally adept at describing complex, elusive emotions and the beautiful, terrifying aspect of the Himalayan Mountains. Boulder Daily Camera

This is the book to read before you embark on your pilgrimage to Nepal. The author knows and loves the people and the country, and makes you feel the cold thin air, the hard rocks of the mountains, the tough life of the Sherpa guides, and you learn to love them too. This is a higly literate, but also very readable book. Highly recommended.”
– John (college professor)

Such vividly depicted images of the Everest region and the Sherpa people are the perfect scenario for the romance and adventure feats narrated. It’s a page-turner, so engrossing you end up wanting to visit Nepal! Not just novel, but perfect for those seeking to get acquainted with the culture of this country.
By Claudia Fournier (América, Bs. As., Argentina)

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Linda

I have read extensively about your work and writings, and congratulate you on that. I hope my piece on Ang Tharkay, contributes to the body of literature on Sherpas. You will see at the end of my story a photo of Domalay and Neema. When Murray and I did a trip with the two of them, hospital workers for Ed Hillary's Kunde hospital in 1975, we went as equals. All carried equal loads, all ate the same food, shared the same tents. The problem in the competitive world of high mountains, egos are often stronger than the will to promote equality amongst people.

Thanks for your comments.

Errorprone said...

Nice to know a fellow Nepali was loved and respected this much !

www.caceres-3d.com said...

For my part every person ought to go through it.

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