Monday, July 1, 2013

Sherpas: The Himalayan Legends, by M. S. Kohli

M. S. Kohli, leader of the successful 1965 Indian ascent of Everest, writes a history and a series of short biographies in Sherpas: The Himalayan Legends: Including the untold story of Phu Dorje, the first Nepalese to climb Sagarmatha. Kohli writes about the Sherpas who climb, focusing on his proteges at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI), but also writing an extended biography of Phu Dorje and short portraits of many of the more modern Sherpa climbers. He begins with an introduction to Sherpas, their culture, how they came to be associated with Himalayan climbing, and their early expedition experiences. He then follows with portraits of many of the most famous Sherpas, many of whom he knew personally, both from his climbs and his working at HMI. Tenzing Norgay, Ang Tharkay, Nawang Gombu, Pasang Dawa Lama, Ang Tsering, N. D. Sherpa, and several others receive chapter-length biographies. Kohli writes about their upbringing, their climbs, and their careers, while adding his personal connection to each. Phu Dorje receives special attention, as the book was originally intended as a biography of him. Kohli discusses his special connection to Everest, both in his participation in many of the early Everest climbs, and his destiny fulfilled upon its slopes. The book includes chapters that introduce many modern Sherpa climbers, including Ang Rita, Apa, and Temba, as well as a chapter on Sherpani climbers (that tells the tale of Pasang Lhamu, among others). There are also chapters that tell of Kohli's involvement in Himalayan tourism, discuss environmental change in the Himalaya, and predict the fate of the Sherpa people.

Kohli's perspective is a unique one. He happened to know many of the most famous Sherpa climbers over a long period of time, first through his climbing, then his work at HMI, and later as a booster for Himalayan tourism. His perspective distinguishes this work from Tashi Tenzing's Tenzing Norgay and the Sherpas of Everest, both because he focuses on Sherpas he already knew well and because much from his profiles comes from personal experience. The Phu Dorje biography is a much-needed tribute to a great climber and person. Overall, this is a handy book for getting to know the climbers on the other side of Himalayan mountaineering, the great Sherpas who do much of the hard work on expeditionary climbs, and yet often receive little attention in other works.

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