Long, long before my metamorphosis into a travel journalist, which I believe from the core of my heart to be the most thankless job on Planet Earth, I too was a normal guy about town wanting to land up with a cushy corporate job – Microsoft, Wipro, Infosys, Thomas Cook, etc., etc. But who would have known the twist of fate!
Would you for once believe that I would be involved with what goes on at the Everest Base Camp or for that matter the debris that is dumped each year on top of Everest or even the number of death’s that are occurring every year in humanity’s quest for power and glory on top of Everest?
All these and much more... living at least one thousand kilometers away in Kolkata! This weird phenomenon, I believe is occurring courtesy of that unseen, unplanned and absolutely supreme “Hand of God”, where I find my school buddy Ang Tshering Lama’s meteoric presence in the midst of all that is happening at Ground Zero.
My only tryst with things “Sherpa-like” was during my childhood days spent in Assam and India’s North East and I was familiar with Nepalese customs, traditions and their rich folklore. I had numerous Nepalese friends with surnames like Thapa, Lama, Gurung, Chetri and what have you... Yeah, one thing is for sure, I knew they were hard-working, honest and amongst the most trusted friends you would ever have in your lifetime. No wonder, the British are so fond of the dedication of Gorkha Rifels – one of the world’s most elite, trusted and well-knit army brigades!
With the social media space dominating the contemporary societal fabric worldwide, life has become that much more transparent and it indeed is a connected world that we live, breathe and exist in. Dissemination of news, views and anything worth exchangeable is done in a flash – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
My good friend Ang Tshering Lama has been mountaineering for close to three decades and I have been working as a travel journalist for more or less the same time period. However, it is just about five years now, that we are beginning to collaborate on a range of issues that concern both of us – tourism, climate change, environment and sustainability. And, to be brutally frank, each day I am delving deeper and deeper into the quintessential mindset of the Nepali Sherpas, who for centuries together have been providing food, shelter and the route map for alien explorers coming to discover the Himalayas. All these just because of one man – Ang Tshering Lama.
I cannot fathom the depths of trials, tribulations and the arduous risks he has undertaken in his efforts to safeguard the glorious history of the Sherpa community. I shudder to think Ang Tshering Lama as the mountaineer who has summited Mt. Everest thrice, knowing fully well what it takes to summit on top! As his childhood buddy, I would be the last person to encourage him to summit Mt. Everest again. No, not at all.
I would much rather prefer Ang to spend quality time at his Kathmandu house and offer his knowledge, skill sets and significantly his fascinating insights aimed at improving the overall standard of mountaineering in not just Nepal, but the Himalayas perse.
His last great ascent was in the year 2019 when he guided two widows - Nima Doma Sherpa and Furdiki Sherpa to the top of Mt. Everest. It made global headlines for not just being the world’s first widow team to summit Mt. Everest but more significantly for raising awareness about “gender equality” and societal discrimination of widows in Nepal.
With the kind of mindset that Ang has, he is always looking for a good cause – perhaps a campaign like “Say No To Drugs”, rebuilding villages in the aftermath of the 2015 Nepal megaquake or helping Sherpa children with quality school education. As a mountaineer, he comes as a breath of fresh air and his underlying essence on kindness, compassion and benevolence for his community is worth going miles to emulate. More so at a time when just about everyone is hellbent on summiting Everest and using the Everest Summiteer’s Certificate as a passport to fame, name, power, glory and the arrogance that comes with it! Huh!
Nepal as a country doesn’t have an impressive track record when it comes to gender equality and Ang offered his helping hand to the duo - Nima Doma Sherpa and Furdiki Sherpa, first by offering his knowledge and mountaineering skill sets to the duo – training them up, providing them with logistical support as trainees and finally guiding them all the way to glory on top of Mt. Everest.
Nima Doma and Furdiki, both lost their husbands to the vagaries of the Himalayas while they were attempting to take their clients on top of Mt. Everest. Ang was absolutely grieve stricken when he learned about the duo’s misery; yet, he saw a silver lining lurking somewhere and decided to do something that might ignite the spirit of all those Sherpa women who have lost their husbands to the mountains.
In an emotional talk, Ang Tshering Lama said:
I am being a Sherpa myself, I found the misery and discrimination of the widowed women folk difficult to resist and thought the time was ripe to send a strong message of Sherpa women’s emancipation to the world outside. Initially, the very idea of taking the duo on top seemed risky – what if disaster struck? Nonetheless, bearing in mind the high energy levels shown by both Nima and Furdiki, I thought I should give it a shot and the rest was history.
Let us be honest. The bottom line is that in Sherpa culture, women like elsewhere in South Asia are expected to take on the responsibility of running the household. When their husbands are away, guiding and portering clients on some of the world’s highest mountains, these brave women keep the kitchen fires burning. Of course, not to mention their primary responsibility of rearing up children, which they manage to do with a great sense of gusto.
In today’s jet-set contemporary world, the Himalayas have witnessed a rapid surge in the number of Western visitors visiting the sacred mountains and thereby bringing in Western lifestyle and culture to this part of the world and again it is the Sherpa women who take on the mantle of preserving the centuries-old Sherpa culture and traditions.
Being a devotee of Swami Vivekananda, I have come across a popular phrase that monks and devotees of the Ramakrishna Order abide by and that offers by far the best rationalization of the qualities or virtues that a “Guru” should possess and it goes like this:
To succeed, you must have tremendous perseverance, tremendous will. ‘I will drink the ocean’, says the persevering soul, ‘at my will mountains will crumble up. Have that sort of energy, that sort of will, work hard, and you will reach the goal.
That epitomizes Ang Tshering Lama – Nepal’s Mountain Man – A man who as a mountaineer has not just achieved name, fame and recognition for the fast vanishing Sherpa community, but also has been silently at work, trying his best to take the Sherpa community a few notches higher in the echelons of the contemporary global society.
In a country where opportunities for women are few and far between, the revolutionary 2019 Mt. Everest Summit by the two widows of Nepal, I reckon, will go down in the annals of mountaineering as one of the bravest “women’s empowerment” initiative ever undertaken.
Let us be honest. Today we live in a world where summitting Mt. Everest has become a symbol of pride, vanity and arrogance and I am compelled to quote Pablo Figueroa’s no hold’s barred article entitled Vanity, Pollution and Death on Mt. Everest, wherein he quotes ninety percent of contemporary Everest climbers are clients who want to “bag” the top of Everest for selfish purposes. Rather than a noble pursuit, Everest is thought of as something that needs to be done at all costs, another item to check off in a long list of egoistic accomplishments. Figueroa further goes on to add: “Everest has been degraded by its sheer popularity. Let us not degrade it further”.
Well then, isn’t Ang Tshering Lama a “Messiah of the Mountains”? I am sure he is. How many mountaineers go to summit Mt. Everest keeping in mind the cause of humanity? How many? Tell me? Barely a few!
The Himalayan ecosystem is one of the most endangered of life support systems on earth. In the shadow of the Himalayas live millions of inhabitants, who also happen to be amongst the poorest in the world. And, Ang Tshering Lama is an ambassador of the poorest Himalayan folks – the indomitable Sherpas.
I feel, with the successful ascent of the two widows – Nima and Furdiki on top of Mt. Everest, is definitely going to usher in a paradigm change of mindset within the Sherpa community and in years to come, I foresee a surge in the number of Sherpa women following in the footsteps of Nima and Furdiki. The world of mountaineering is still pretty much male-dominated and hopefully, with the duo’s success on top of Mt. Everest, a lot of superstitious ideas too will disappear.
Without a doubt, Ang the mountaineer is traversing bravely into deep Himalayan cultural contours where very few people of his ilk have ever ventured – in terms of social welfare and up-gradation of the standard of life of the average Sherpas.
Is it not time enough to join hands with him, offer him the support – emotionally, financially and logistically in shaping a brighter, more secure and just world for the Sherpas?