Tenzing, After Everest: An Autobiography by Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, as told to Malcolm Barnes. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1977.
Tenzing’s second autobiography is a worthy successor to Tiger of the Snows, his first autobiography, written with James Ramsey Ullman more than 20 years ago. Though Tenzing can neither read nor write in any language, and has no written records, his phenomenal memory produces details that bring out his character clearly and show that though he has lived vastly different lives before and after Everest, he has remained the same basic person. After Everest describes no mountain adventures but delves into the founding in 1952 of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling with the help of Pandit Nehru, Dr. Roy (chief minister of West Bengal) and various Swiss, including Arnold Glatthard, head of the mountain school at Rosenlaui. Under Tenzing as Director of Field Training for 22 years, 4,600 men and women have been taught to climb at this fine institution and there have been no fatalities or serious accidents, a proud record. Many of the most distinguished contemporary Sherpa and Indian climbers have had their schooling there.
After discussing the Institute and its operations, Tenzing tells us about his family and his many travels. Though he has been fêted by famous people throughout the world, he has retained his common sense and his capacity for friendship. Raymond Lambert, Lute Jerstad, Achille Cam- pagnoni and Lord Hunt, for instance, mean a great deal to him, yet he cares little for many aspects of the modern world. “The things that hold me,” he says, “are people and animals, mountains and flowers.”
Tenzing’s honesty and kindness are evident and also his deep concern for the future of the Sherpa people and the changes that tourism has brought. He complains of pollution and of “dreadful destruction of the forests.” “Food wrappings, beer cans, untidy campsites, toilet paper, rubbish … are becoming more numerous. … The tourists who come to Nepal to see the wilderness are actually destroying it.” He adds, “You bring to people a new way of life … you give them schools and hospitals, all of which is good, but at the same time you tear them up from their roots … in Solu Khumbu a special way of life is dying and with it a language and a culture.” How to save the special strengths of Sherpa life he doesn’t know, and he fears that the same destruction of old values will occur also in wild and beautiful Bhutan.
Tenzing’s own life has reached a turning point with his retirement from the Institute. He thinks of the pastures where he used to herd Yaks among the great peaks and he reasons that perhaps he can now return to his native village and there train Sherpa climbers who will be satisfied to stay in their villages as guides for tourists and climbers, and so begin to revitalize the life and culture of the Khumbu. Possibly, but it seems unlikely.
One puts down the book with added respect for Tenzing and an inner sadness at the rapid changes in old Sherpa ways.
Robert H. Bates