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Conquering Everest... the view from the summit

Was it Tenzing Norgay who scaled Mt Everest first? Or was it Edmund Hillary? How difficult was it to reach the peak many many years ago? <145,4>ANUJ KUMAR tries to find answers to these oft-asked questions in conversation with M.S. Kohli, the author of "Sherpas: The Himalayan Legends"... .

`WEALTHY FORTUNATE follower of religion'— these five words, though translate into legendary Tenzing Norgay but they epitomise the characteristics of the whole Sherpa community - wealthy in terms of courage and endurance, fortunate to be in the abode of snow and followers of a religion, which is beyond nationalities and whose principle tenet is to help anyone, without expecting glory and credit, who comes to worship their idol, Cholomungama irrespective of what he calls the deity - Everest, Sagarmatha or Qomolangma.

Now, renowned mountaineer, Captain M.S. Kohli has penned 337 pages recalling the spectacular role of Sherpas in taming the pinnacle of this blue planet. The book chronicles the journey of Sherpas from porters to trusted companions, their unique support roles and their sacrifices in saving the lives of their masters or friends in the form of "Sherpas: The Himalayan Legends" published by UBSPD.

Trained by Tenzing himself, Kohli is as prolific with pen as virtuoso he is with the ice axe. He led the first successful Indian Everest Expedition in 1965, 12 years after his Guru and Edmund Hillary scaled history, which put nine men on the summit, a world record India held for 17 years. And through his adventurous career, he managed to ink his myriad experiences in 17 books.

Some of the 1965 Indian Everest team members - Maj. B.P. Singh, C.P. Vohra, Capt. M.S. Kohli, late Capt. A.S. Cheema, G.S. Bhangu - standing in front of Parliament House, New Delhi, 1965.

Talking about the latest subject, Kohli, a recipient of Padma Bhushan and Arjuna Award says, "Last year, I visited Kathmandu to meet Sir Edmund Hillary to discuss with him the plans for the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of the first ascent of Everest. There several friends suggested me to write a book on Phu Dorjee, the first Nepalese to climb Everest and part of 1965 Expedition. But as enough material was not available to write a full-fledged book on him and also I did not want to limit the Sherpa contribution in moulding the history of Himalayan climbs to a couple of personalities, I decided to go for a larger canvas to paint the gradual ascent of these daredevils with a separate chapter on Phu Dorjee, the Anthony Quinn of Nepal."

On the growing commercialisation of the Everest expeditions, Kohli laments that with the mushroom growth of adventure tourism agencies and availability of lightweight equipments, any mountaineer worth who can shell out $65,000, can climb the peak with the support of redoubtable Sherpas.

"In our times, there used to be one or two expeditions per year, but today 1500 people are waiting at the base camp for their turn. This is the major reason behind the massif losing its pristine glory and turning into the highest bin in the world. We are spreading awareness through Himalayan Environment Trust but the situation is grim."

Brushing aside the niggling controversies as Tenzing's nationality and who kissed the glory first - Norgay or Hillary, Kohli says, "See, Tenzing Norgay was born in Nepal but had moved to Darjeeling for obvious reasons. But Sherpas take great pride in being known as Sherpas. They belong to Himalayas and political divisions are of little consequence for them. The concept of citizenship comes to them only when a passport is required for travelling abroad. And on that count Tenzing was Indian. As far as the second controversy is concerned, as is usual in mountaineering, Hillary and Norgay were roped together. They were taking turns at the lead. It is a sheer coincidence, who happens to lead the rope at the time of stepping on to the summit. So the right way of expressing the ascent would be to say that Hillary and Tenzing, roped together, were the first to reach the top of the world. Later on Tenzing Norgay reflecting the trademark Sherpa humility did clarify in his autobiography that Hillary was leading the rope."

As the Golden Jubilee Celebrations are on, it's time world imbibed the spirit of Sherpas to conquer the unscaled `everests'.

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