Monday, October 25, 2010

Touching My Father's Soul, Jamling Tenzin Norgay

Although more Sherpas have climbed Everest than people of other nationalities, this is only the second book written from a Sherpa's point of view -- a very, very different view than that of others who have climbed Everest. Everyone seems to know that Edmund Hillary was the first man to climb Everest. That is half the truth. Hillary was accompanied, as an equal member of a two-man team, by Tenzing Norgay. Jamling is Tenzing's son and the only other book written by a Sherpa who climbed Everest is Tenzing's autobiography.

Traveling is a magnificent thing. I have some of Everest inside my head. I flew over it four times, I trekked to Thengboche monastery some 20 miles from Everest base camp and spent two days there with Everest and her sisters in view. I could not imagine the effort such a climb would take nor, really, what the point is. But for Jamling the point was, as the title says, touching his father's soul. This is a profoundly personal, very religious book that shows the Sherpa people, as I found them to be, highly professional, gentle, kind, admirable -- also superstitious. Jamling was recruited [partly, one assumes, for publicity purposes] to be a part of the IMAX expedition when they shot the movie shown in IMAX theatres in the late 1990s. The expedition was on the mountain during the tragic 1996 climbing season when record numbers of climbers died - 10 died in the days before the IMAX team climbed and more died later in the season. Many articles and books have been written about the three day of storm when so many died and others were seriously injured, when some people [mostly Sherpas] were magnificently heroic, and when others were callous, others simply beyond their physical capacity to help anyone including themselves. I read a good many of the articles at the time.

Jamling is a remarkable man. The book reads so smoothly it's clear to me he had excellent editorial help. It never becomes sensational, it tells his father's story parallel to his own and it shows us Sherpa family life, morals and religious respect for the mountains which is combined with superstitions as well, an animism blended with Buddhism which is practiced by the lamas as well as the climbing Sherpas.

I have had the book for possibly five years and did not read it fearing it would be awkwardly written and maybe new age-y. It is neither. Jamling is a man I am happy to "know" through his work -- no, more than happy -- grateful to know -- as I was grateful to know the Sherpas on the treks I did -- they thoughtfully sited our tents in the meadow below Thengboche [where we went to watch a two-day festival] so that our first site in the morning was the sun rising on Everest. Jamling shows us how to live mindfully with love for family, respect toward his colleagues and connection to the physical world that is rare and beautiful.

1 comment:


June -- You impress me with your travels and your knowledge of the eastern world. I will note your book and hopefully read it someday. Thanks for the review -- barbara