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Sikkim, for centuries a small Buddhist kingdom squeezed between Nepal and Bhutan, is India’s least populous state. It is not like the India you know. In the shadow of the mighty Kanchenjunga, we will meet yaks and their herders and novice monks wrapped up in maroon robes. See the beauty of Sikkim’s placid lakes and towering peaks, remote monasteries with prayer flags fluttering and prayer wheels rumbling round in the breeze.
Sampan’s Goecha La Trail will be running from 17-30 April 2024. So to keep the journey intimate and hands-on we will be capping the number of our group at 10. We will first stay at Kolkata’s most famous residence, the Oberoi Grand, before heading north to Darjeeling and Sikkim. Overnight on the trail we will stay in forest lodge’s and set up our own camps at secluded spots. Bookings are now open. Please contact us for more information and to secure your spot.
This journey is topped-and-tailed by Kolkata. With an expert local guide we will dive into the history and culture of what was the first capital of the British Raj and the centre for revolutionary agitation. In Darjeeling we will spend time at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and take tea at the Tenzing family residence, hearing stories about Jamling’s father and the heritage of Sherpas and the Himalayas. We will travel onto the historic town of Yuksom before starting upon the Goecha La Trail.
Jamling Tenzing Norgay is an Indian-Nepali Sherpa Everest climber, a mountain guide and author. In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary and his father Tenzing Norgay became the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
Retracing his father’s footsteps, Norgay summited Mount Everest in 1996, and was the star of the awe-inspiring IMAX documentary Everest. In Everest, Jamling helped to portray not only the physical challenges of the mountain, but also the mental and spiritual challenges faced by the climbers. The film depicts the selflessness exhibited by Norgay and his companions in risking their own lives to save fellow climbers.
Today Jamling leads people on treks and climbs over the peaks of Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal. He also continues his involvement with the Tenzing Norgay Climbing Club that he started in 1997, to help motivate children away from the streets.
Tenzing Norgay was born in Tibet and grew up tending to yaks looking up at the east face of Everest. Norgay ran away from home at 18 to work as a professional mountaineer with the sherpas on Everest. Due to his broad smile, he was first chosen to join a British expedition in 1935.
Years later Norgay was selected to take part in the 1953 British Everest Expedition. In the early 1950s the world was still a little punch-drunk from World War II. Everything was changing as great old powers were falling and virile new ones were rising. The British Empire was in terminal decline when it made its return to Everest, under the leadership of Colonel John Hunt, “the truest of true English gentlemen”. Norgay partnered with the New Zealander Edmund Hillary whose life he had saved on a previous Everest expedition.
Hillary said of Norgay:
“He really looked the part – larger than most Sherpas he was very strong and active; his flashing smile was irresistible. … One message came through however in very positive fashion – Tenzing had substantially greater personal ambition than any Sherpa I had met.”
The writer Jan Morris, who accompanied the 1953 expedition, described the pair as straightforward men:
“They were not […] heroes of the old epic kind, dedicated to colossal purposes, tight of jaw and stiff of upper lip. That was George Mallory, who said most famously in 1924 that he was climbing Mount Everest “because it is there.” But if he ever reached the summit, he never lived to tell the tale. Hillary and Tenzing were two cheerful and courageous fellows doing what they liked doing, and did, best, and they made an oddly assorted pair. Hillary was tall, lanky, big-boned and long-faced, and he moved with an incongruous grace, rather like a giraffe. He habitually wore on his head a homemade cap with a cotton flap behind, as seen in old movies of the French Foreign Legion. Tenzing was by comparison a Himalayan fashion model: small, neat, rather delicate, brown as a berry, with the confident movements of a cat. Hillary grinned; Tenzing smiled. Hillary guffawed; Tenzing chuckled. Neither of them seemed particularly perturbed by anything; on the other hand, neither went in for unnecessary bravado.”
The expedition passed with very little drama and no injuries. Norgay and Hillary reached Everest’s 29,028-foot summit at 11:30 AM on 29 May 1953. As Hillary put it, “A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top.” It was true to the temper of their journey that Hillary’s first words when he returned from the summit, to his fellow New Zealander George Lowe, were “Well, George, we’ve knocked the bastard off!”
Norgay and Hillary were showered with worldly honours and both became the most celebrated citizens of their respective countries. Hillary ended up spending years in Nepal supervising the building of airfields, schools and hospitals and making the Sherpas’ existence better known to the world. As for Norgay, he became the charismatic champion and a living model of Sherpa potential. And more broadly, an inspiration to a generation of climbers.
Jan Morris concludes:
“I liked these men very much when I first met them on the mountain nearly a half-century ago, but I came to admire them far more in the years that followed. I thought their brand of heroism – the heroism of example, the heroism of debts repaid and causes sustained – far more inspiring than the gung-ho kind. Did it really mean much to the human race when Everest was conquered for the first time? Only because there became attached to the memory of the exploit, in the years that followed, a reputation for decency, kindness and stylish simplicity. Hillary and Tenzing fixed it when they knocked the bastard off.”
In the heart of Kolkata, this is an escape from the city … and a love-letter to it.