Tenzing was wronged, says British mountaineering legend

April 20th, 2009 - 4:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, April 20 (IANS) Twenty-three years after his death, the controversy over Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, one of the two men to step on Mount Everest for the first time continues, with British climbing legend Chris Bonington saying that the Everest hero was wronged.
On May 29, 1953, Tenzing reached the summit of the 8848m peak along with New Zealander, Edmund Hillary. But while Hillary and British Army officer John Hunt, who had led the first successful Everest expedition, were knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for their achievement, Tenzing received only the George medal.

“I think that’s wrong,” says Bonington, whose own successful Everest ascent came in 1985 after a series of failed attempts. “However, you have to judge things in the context of the time they happened. In 1953, social attitudes were different. The UK was a class-ridden society. People had a different way of looking at professionals and amateurs.”

But Hillary himself had profound respect for Tenzing, says the 74-year-old, who is back in Kathmandu to carry out a reconnaissance of the Annapurna trekking circuit in north Nepal for an adventure trek next organised by his son Joe Bonington to promote the latter’s new trekking agency Bonington Treks.

Though Tenzing spent his early life in Kathmandu’s Thamel area, he did not get his due honour in Nepal for a long time either. He moved to Darjeeling in India and settled down there.

To add to the politics of mountaineering, there were also rumours that Jawaharlal Nehru, then prime minister of a newly independent India, had refused to give permission for Tenzing to be knighted.

“He had become a political symbol, which involved him unwittingly in controversies he did not understand nor care about,” wrote Tenzing’s son Jamling, an Everest hero himself. “He was a simple man who liked and understood life on a simple, straightforward level. He never felt at home in a world where people are accustomed to use each other for their own ends.”

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