While I was growing up in Darjeeling, my father directed the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, India's foremost mountaineering school, which provided training for the citizens and armed forces of several South Asian countries, and for Sherpas and Tibetans. In 1983, during my last year of high school, I heard that an Indian expedition was planning to attempt Everest. I desperately wanted to join them and knew that getting selected for the team at my young age would require my father's influence. I wanted to be the youngest person to climb Everest.
I cut classes one day to meet him at our family home and found him in the sitting room with his secretary, Mr. Dewan. He dispatched Mr. Dewan so we could speak. I put on my most assertive, adult face, secure in the knowledge that, for Sherpa families in Darjeeling, it was understood that and expected that children would follow in their father's footsteps. For me this was no problem, because I loved climbing. And I felt a duty to make my father proud by upholding his reputation. By my trepidation was clearly showing.
"You aren't ready," he answered abruptly--too abruptly, I felt.
Had he thought about it? Might he want some time to consider?
"I can't help you with it," he continued. "I'd like for you to finish school and go to college."
I groped for a response, for words that would casually deflect his reply, but his fatherly conviction told me he had made a decision.
"I climbed Everest so that you wouldn't have to," he said as I stood near the doorway. "You can't see the entire world from the top of Everest, Jamling. The view from there only reminds you how big the world is and how much more there is to see and learn."
Instead of returning to school, I walked up the street to the house of my uncle, Tenzing Lotay, to ask him what I should do. Uncle Tenzing was equally abrupt. "You have no experience, Jamling, and you need it to join the team. Those guys are very proficient climbers."
"But it's not a matter of experience," I countered. "It's a matter of desire and motivation and strength." I was Jamling, derived from Jambuling Nyandrak, the full name given to me by a high Buddhist lama. It means "world renowned."
My logical mind, trying vainly to speak over the din of my emotions, told me that my father and uncle were right. I would need age and experience.
It wasn't until 1995 that I came close, for the second time, to getting a shot at the mountain. An American had invited me to join his team if I could raise $20,000, my share of the costs. I was working in New Jersey at the time, and America was a more likely place to find sponsors than India, so I stayed there to work and raise funds.
I sent out hundreds of requests and got nothing. No money, no sponsors. As consolation, the leader invited me to trek to Base Camp with them anyway. He even asked me to guide part of the expedition: the group of volunteers who had signed on to clean up litter along the approach route. It was a ticket to Everest, and I took it, though I was disappointed--humiliated, in fact--to be a simple trekker on an expedition to Everest and a garbage collector, Asia's lowliest occupation. I bore no ill will toward the American team, but it was then that I vowed to redeem my family's name and my father's legacy.