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In the Lap of the Gods
Jamling Tenzing Norgay Sherpa's photo

Jamling Tenzing Norgay Sherpa

      . . . Climbing Leader for the Everest IMAX Filming Expedition. When he summitted Mount Everest in 1996, Jamling retraced the steps of his famous father, Tenzing Norgay -- in 1953, he and Sir Edmund Hillary were the first men to stand on top of the world. Jamling opens the world of the Tibetan Buddhist Sherpas with his profoundly non-Western perspective on mountaineering in Touching My Father's Soul. He runs Tenzing Norgay Adventures, based in Darjeeling, India, and lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Kathmandu, Nepal.

[This Program was recorded May 22, 2001 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]
Excerpts3:35 secs

      Mt. Everest is an illusion, according to Jamling Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, climbing leader for the IMAX "Everest" film crew in the deadly spring of 1996. Everest, known locally as Chomolungma, appears to be the world's ultimate mountain. But for Jamling, Everest is even more imposing as a great teacher. What is to be learned? R-e-s-p-e-c-t. And humility.

      Western mountain climbers look at Mt. Everest and see a rock to conquer, Jamling has observed. Sherpas -- the indigenous people who make any and all ascents of Everest possible -- see Chomolungma as their mother, into whose lap they want to crawl. Jamling considers these two dramatically different worldviews in his book Touching My Father's Soul. It's only the second mountaineering book from the Sherpa perspective. (The first was Tiger in the Snows, by Jamling's famous father, Tenzing Norgay, who with Sir Edmund Hillary, was the first to "summit" in 1953.)

      Why would one want to risk one's life to climb this mountain? It's the question their Lamas put to Sherpas. Sherpas' answer, "Out of necessity." It is the Sherpa people's principle livelihood. But Jamling says he did not climb Everest because it was work or as a Sherpa, he did it as a member of a team. The IMAX team. They set themselves the formidable task of filming this adventure to offer people who won't take the top bunk a view from the top of the world. Climbing Everest alone is a very big challenge, Jamling reminds us, even without toting a 42 pound camera, huge film canisters and all that's required to make a movie.

      For Jamling, it was also a pilgrimage -- to pay homage to his late parents. What he learned in the process were lessons about right motivation: climb with respect to the culture, the environment, the people and your teammates. Jamling learned it from the mountain and he later realized that this was also what he father was teaching him in the guise of climbing techniques.

      Jamling feels his book brings him full circle. His father and Hillary brought Mt. Everest to the world's attention. Now the IMAX film has allowed Jamling to share the Sherpa's Buddhist perspective with the world, to let the rest of us learn more about Sherpa culture and about mountain climbing.

      Jamling does not downplay how physically demanding climbing the mountain is. He worries that Sherpas are increasingly risking their lives to pull and push rich outsiders to the top, amateurs under the illusion that all it takes is money. He's deeply uncomfortable with the current trend toward competitive, expensive guided tours. If you want to climb Everest, Jamling gently counsels, do it in style, as a true climber -- for passion, not ego. And

Conversation 1

Jamling Tenzing Norgay Sherpa describes the many faces of Mt. Everest/Chomolungma to Paula Gordon and Bill Russell. Jamling compares the Sherpas' perspective to that of Westerners. He remembers how the Everest IMAX team he led successfully worked together. He compares it to other modern climbers.

Conversation 2

Sherpas climb Chomolungma out of necessity -- not ambition -- and risk their lives more than any other members of a climbing team, Jamling explains. He describes their arduous work, then moves on to the spiritual dimension of Sherpas' ascents. He distinguishes his book about the deadly spring of 1996 from all the others. He compares the only two books about climbing written by Sherpas: his own and his father's Tiger of the Snows. Jamling describes how Sherpas climb and his family's deep connections to Chomolungma, over generations. He tells how he learned of his family's prophecy and remembers returning to his Sherpa/Tibetan Buddhist heritage after years in America.

Conversation 3

The Mountain has not changed much since his father's climb, Jamling says, but the attitudes of the people climbing it have. He expands, describing the IMAX team he led. He remembers how dramatically his father's life was altered after his and Hillary's return. Jamling describes the vital role his stepmother played in his father's life. Jamling gives examples of the profound connection Sherpas have to Chomolungma, illustrated by the prayer flags and photos he left on top of the world. He shares the multiple dimensions his climb had for him.

Conversation 4

Jamling relates his Buddhist religious practices to the climb up Everest itself. He talks about how the disasters of May 20, 1996, affected the IMAX team and film. He recalls how the divination from his wife's family Rimpoche reassured him and others Sherpas when trying to decide whether to complete the climb and the film. He calls the IMAX team "true climbers," respectful both of Sherpa ways and of the Mountain. He expands on the multiple significance of lighting butter lamps as an act of prayer to the gods of Chomolungma. He describes the enormous physical challenge of getting the IMAX camera itself all the way to the top.

Conversation 5

Jamling describes the astonishing accomplishments required to shoot the IMAX "Everest" film. He gives vivid examples of the hazards of "climb and film, climb and film." He recalls the world's most spectacular "Take Two." He reconciles the Buddhist perspective on not putting one's life at risk with why Sherpas do. He gives a deadly example of the consequences of even the most experienced climber making one false step. He offers Lessons from the Mountain. He remembers learning "right motivation" from Chomolungma and from his climb.

Conversation 6

Describing his complicated relationship with Chomolungma and with his father, Jamling considers connections between Everest, the world and the Sherpa people. He comments on how his book brings his life full circle. He recites the Buddhist prayer he chanted from on top of the world.


It was our great pleasure to meet Jamling and, with him, to touch both his father's soul and that of Chomolungma. We applaud the lessons they offer us all.

Related Links:
Touching My Father's Soul: A Sherpa's Journey to the Top of Everest is published by HarperSanFrancisco .
Jamling is building a website
Other Mt. Everest "Paula Gordon Shows" include Conversations with IMAX cinematographer David Breashears, survivor Beck Weathers and videographer Matt Dickinson

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