Friday, May 29, 2020

Story of A Climber Who Once Held World Record As A Youngest Everest Climber : Shambhu Tamang

Shambhu Tamang Photographed in 2017 - Mani Tamang
Today, May 29 is the International Mt. Everest Day, declared by Nepal Government back in 2008. Though it's not popular in international level, Nepal commemorates this day with some events. This year such events are not taking place due to lockdown caused by Corona Virus.  Through this blog post, I would like to share the story of rather unknown Nepali climbing hero Shambhu Tamang.

While I was in school, I was only good at quiz contest that would take place once a year in a special event the school used to organize.  Most students had no other chance to be part of extra curricular activity mainly because there were too many students to provide such facility with scarcely limited resources the school had. In the nationwide final exam of grade 10 we were 120 students from our class, all learned in a same class room. Teachers would not know most of their students' by names as there were just too many of us.

In one occasion, I had access to read a general knowledge book which most probably was lend to me by a senior student who happened to be my distant relative.  There I had read some facts like Mt. Everest was first climbed by Tenzing Norgya Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary.  Further somewhere I read World's tallest peak is climbed by Shambhu Tamang at the age of 18 setting a world record as a youngest climber. A Tamang! He sounded as if he was my own uncle or brother, but, I never shared that feeling to anyone.  I used to hear stories my grandfather used to tell that his father or grandfather was hired by government to carry war logistics for Nepal army while Nepal had war with Tibet in the area currently an official border in the north of Kathmandu.  Later I find that, the war has taken in 1850s.  Tamang, a large Tibeto-Burman origin native people of the Himalaya was never allowed in government services including in Nepal army.  They were used as a porter to carry cars from India border to Kathamndu city while there was no road connection to bring the wheeled vehicle.  They were used as the hard working labors to build buildings and things of the comfort by the ruling class / caste during the Rana regime that lasted till 1950.

Usage of these people as low level work force came to mountain tourism of the country that laid foundation in early 1950s.  The last surviving member of 29 May 1953 Everest Climbing Kanchha Sherpa in an interview, once quoted that, the expedition had used some 1200 porters to carry the supply from Kathmandu. They were gathered in mass at the open field of Kathmandu.  They were all Tamangs. The Tamang porters carried the supply up to Namche Bazaar.  From there on, the Sherpas took over the job.  That trend set by early expedition prevail till date to some level that large number of expedition and trekking porters still come from Tamang community.  In the mid hill cities as well, they are the main work force when it comes laborious tasks like carrying things from here to there.  Just few days ago, during locked down, a photo of a street porter found dead presumably by hunger became quite viral in Nepalis' Facebook walls, he had no family, neither a permanent place to live. Photo showed deceased man holding his sole possession the Namlo (a stripe that goes over forehead while carrying a load) was kept next to his heart. Not to surprise, he turned out to be a Tamang man known by local business owners and people in Kirtipur who hired him when needed. Amidst such an impoverished reality his community had, how this young Tamang fellow had suddenly reached to the summit of the Mt. Everest? Could be an interesting story; worth to perceiver today the 'International Mt Everest Day'.

Shambhu was 17 years 6 months old on the day of May 05, 1973 while he set his foot on the summit of Mt Everest along with 4 other climbers from Nepal- Italian Everest climbing mission.  As the first successful Everest event for Italians this news was spread everywhere possible then.  However, the expedition project seems to be unaware of setting world record of young climber as Shambhu himself says – 'I was there to fulfill my duty, never thought to set a world record or make my own name big'.  As his saying itself, he is very humble, doesn't use any of the social medias as much and he enjoys the retired life with his small family in Kathmandu.  He further said that, it took some time to really know if it was a world record. As the news were published with names and ages of each climbers and concerned people paid attention, his name was also published in general knowledge books like the one I had chance to read. 

Three Members of 1973 Italian Everest Team
Shambhu in the Center, Photo: Online Sources
Shambhu was a member of an average family of middle hills of Sindhupalchok district not very far from Kathamndu. His maternal uncle had some association with country's capital so he had chance to come to Kathamndu for schooling purpose.  With the guidance of senior relatives he had gotten scholarship to learn Italian in Italy itself when he was 14.  Back in Italy, he learned that his main sponsor was due to climb Mt. Everest in the near future. Then he tagged with his team to learn climbing and adventure activities.  Before climbing Everest, Shambhu was employed by a team to scale Mt. Makalu, the 5th tallest mountain of the world in 1971 which let him reach near 8000 meter. He was only 16 then.  The following year, he was employed by failed Everest Climbing of Argentinians that also reached near 8000 meters before turning back.  So he had earned adequate confidence to be part of the more successful Everest Climbing of the 1973.  Continuing his career as a mountain guide he climbed the world's tallest peak for the second time in the odd season of August in 1985.  He was the key member for making successful climbing of the Mt. Everest by Nepal Army in 1988 that happened during tri-national Everest climbing teamed by Nepal, China and Japan which for the first time traversed the mountain from South to North and vice versa on the same occasion. 

Since then he got retired from climbing.  Despite being climbing veteran he has contributed remarkably to the mountaineering section of the country as am exemplary climber, social worker and trainer.  He was one of the members to envision the utter need of Alpine club for a Himalayan country now we know as NMA (Nepal Mountaineering Association).  Shambu Tamang's record was replaced by another young climber Temba Chhiri Sherpa in 2001 who bagged the Everest from North side at the age of only 16. There are few other climbers who have climbed the peak in even younger ages. It's a very normal process to surpass any kind of world records but admiration to the history makers should be kept alive in our minds particularly if we are in same course of profession or interest.