National Geographic: Return To Everest


Return to Everest

In the Himalayan foothills,

Kathmandu long has been a crossroads

its streets and holy places

filled with travelers enroute

to a thousand destinations

many may never reach.

Watched by the gods,

some go to market to sell or buy,

some seek to earn a higher form

in their next reincarnation,

some climb the steep

steps to Nirvana,

hoping to escape the tumult

of daily life.

Sometimes the destinations are

only disguised beginnings.

For sir Edmund Hillary,

first conqueror of Mount Everest,

his greatest journey would

only begin at the summit.

It would traverse not only

the great landforms of Earth,

but a less visible geography

the private landscapes of one man's

passage through the years.

At last among the long isolated

Sherpas of the Khumbu region

south of Everest,

it would bring a new challenge,

a new adventure,

hardly 20 miles from

where his journey began.

Today Hillary is a folk hero

in the Khumbu.

With ceremonial scarves or katas,

the Sherpa children honor not

the great sahib

who climbs mountains

but the friendly giant

who has brought them

their first glimpses of a world

they never knew.

It has been a trade of sorts.

In changing their lives,

Hillary has changed his own.

In the Khumbu highlands of

Nepal each dawn is a discovery.

Again the peaks emerge

Ama Dablam, Kantega,

Thamserku, Everest

silent sentinels of Earth's

highest mountains, the Himalayas.

In the Sherpa villages

of Kunde and Khumjung,

less habit yaks and goats are sent to stony pas

and the juniper smoke from

a hundred scattered fires

carries morning prayers to the gods.

At 13,000 feet the gods

are never far away.

Formed forty million years ago

by the collision

of the Indian landmass

and the Eurasian continent,

Nepal is a country set on edge.

Here, near Everest,

Tibetan Sherpas long ago

found sanctuary.

Here for centuries they lived

in rigorous isolation,

an island in time.

One man has become

a major instrument of change,

bringing both blessings and danger.

With his son, Peter,

Sir Edmund Hillary has returned

this way many times,

but this year holds

a special meaning

it is the 30th anniversary

of the first conquest of Everest.

"I get quite a thrill every time

I come back to

these two main Sherpa villages.

There's so much here

that's pleasantly familiar.

There's also the thought of soon

being reunited with

so many old friends."

Again they walk the village lanes,

welcomed by the greeting

of clasped hands

and murmured "Namaste!"

Already fields are being prepared

and planted with grains or potatoes

for the short upland growing season.

Across a wall bounds

an old and irrepressible friend,

Phudorje, Hillary's companion

on many a climb.

Everywhere young life

explores a world made new.

It is spring.

At last father and son

enter the house

that long ago became a second home.

"Oh, Ang Dooli! Namaste!"


"Very good to see you."

"Yes, same. Namaste!"

"In this house I can always

be sure of a warm welcome

and a cup of Tibetan tea.

Over the years my family and

I have spent much time here

with Mingma Tsering and

his wife Ang Dooli.

And they're still

my closest Sherpa friends."

In daily tasks, Ang Dooli endures.

Having lost eight of eleven children

she eagerly welcomed

the Hillary family as her own.

Upon the wall hang snapshots,

fragments of life captured long ago...

Hillary's daughters Belinda

and Sarah...

his wife, Louise, and the children...

young Peter with protective god...

playful Belinda the youngest child.

"Ah, thank you, Ang Dooli!"

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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