Mountaineer Nawang Gombu passes away | india | Hindustan Times
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Mountaineer Nawang Gombu passes away

"Tiger of the Snow" Nawang Gombu, the first man to summit Mount Everest twice, passed away peacefully at his residence in Darjeeling today. He was 79. Amitava Banerjee reports.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2011 17:13 IST
Amitava Banerjee

"Tiger of the Snow" Nawang Gombu, the first man to summit Mount Everest twice passed away peacefully at his residence in Darjeeling on Sunday. He was 79.

"My father died peacefully at 8.45 am, surrounded by his family after a brief illness today. His funeral will be held on April 28," said his son, Kursung Phinjo Gombu.

As per his last wish, his body is being kept in the "Chesum" (family shrine) at his residence.

On Thursday, his body will be taken to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) Darjeeling, from where the funeral procession will start. Gombu had served the HMI for more than 40 years before retiring as Field Director in 1999.

Gombu was the first man to have scaled Mount Everest twice (1963, 1965). In 1963, Gombu scaled Mount Everest with James W Whittaker- the first American team to climb Mt Everest and in 1965, he again climbed with Captain AS Cheema- the first Indian ascent team.

He is one of the most highly decorated mountaineers. He received the Tiger of the Snows Medal (1953), Queen Elizabeth 11 Coronation Medal (1953), Howard Medal of National Geographic Society -USA (1963), Padma Shree (1964), Padma Bhushan (1965) IMF Gold Medal (1966), Arjuna Award (1967), Olympic Gold Medal- Rome (1967), Tenzing Norgay Award (1986), 49th Independence Day Award (1996) and the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award on 29th August 2006.

Born on May 1, 1936, the legendary mountaineer used to say that there is a bit of confusion regarding his birthplace. While some of his relatives claim that he was born in Khumjung in the Khombu area in Nepal, others state that he was born in South Tibet.

Gombu echoing profound simplicity used to state that he always wanted to find out where he was actually born. He remembered the place where he was born simply as Donak, which means "black rock" in Tibetan. He was the son of a former Tibetan monk Nawang Gyaltzen and former nun Lhamu Kipa.

He briefly attended the Rongbuk monastery as a student but then moved to the village of Khumjung Solu Khumbu near Mount Everest in Nepal with his parents and sister Doma, where he spent his childhood. Gombu arrived in Darjeeling from Nepal in 1950 along with a friend. In Darjeeling, Gombu met Uncle Tenzing (Tenzing Norgay was his mother's younger brother) and this was the beginning of the legacy.

He was the youngest Sherpa in Tenzing's team in 1953 and managed to climb up to an altitude of 26,000 feet with heavy load. Tenzing's summit was an inspiration and finally became a point of no return for him and he kept on climbing following his uncle's footsteps. Gombu was part of the first group of Sherpa mountaineers who along with Tenzing Norgay completed a guide course in Switzerland in 1954.

They became the backbone of the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, an idea pushed by the late Indian Prime Minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. After Tenzing Norgay retired from the post of Field Director in 1976, Gombu succeeded him.

The other peaks summitted by Gombu are Saser Kangri II (1955), Frey Peak (1960), Nanda Devi (1964), Mont Blanc - France (1966), Mt. Rainier -USA (1973), Mt. McKinley, Alaska, USA (1978) and Kangchendzonga from Nepal in 1989.

In 2003, both Whittikar and Gombu had re-lived their famous climb by undertaking the journey to the Everest Base Camp at a height of 17,600 ft. Whittaker was accompanied by his two sons whilst Gombu's grandchildren accompanied him.

In the present day of mountaineering with most of the true essence gone and mountaineers fighting it out for money and fame, Gombu's message to all had been, "Mountains cannot be conquered, and mountaineering is like a pilgrimage. We have been paying our respects to the mountains for generations. For mountaineering to sustain as an adventure sport team spirit and love for the sport is the need of the day. Mountaineering can never be commercialized."

However Gombu's last wish of penning down his experiences in the form of a book could not be fulfilled. In an exclusive interview to HT recently, he had stated, "My last wish is to write a book on my experiences in mountaineering. I have been associated with HMI for the past 45 years and trained more than 25,000. I want to put down my experiences in the book" stated Gombu.

Gombu's passions included gardening, collecting orchids, driftwood, religious icons and mementos from his travels around the world. He had traveled to England, Canada, USA, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Australia and Japan and had met renowned personalities including President Kennedy (who had handed him the Howard Medal).

"It is a great loss to Mountaineering and the Sherpa community in particular. His community always looked up to him as he was has done much good work for his community, looking after the old Sherpas in distress. As a human being he was always working hard physically and mentally trying to continuously improve himself and mountaineering" stated Dorjee Lhatoo - a world renowned climber and former Deputy Director (Training) of the HMI.

"His greatest passion was his work as president of the Sherpa Buddhist Association situated in Toong Soon basti, a Darjeeling neighbourhood where he spent his early years and met his wife Sita Lhamu. He asked that any contributions made in his name be given to the Buddhist association that is renovating a temple and helps the needy financially," stated Yangdu, his daughter.

Gombu is survived by his wife Sita, his sister Doma, daughters, Rita Marwah, Yangdu Goba, Ongmu Gombu, Ang Doma, son Kursung Phinjo Gombu and nine grandchildren.