Tenzing Norgay

Tenzing Norgay

One of the first two men, along with New Zealander Edmund Hillary, to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1953


Artwork by Angela Ho


Quick Facts

Profession: Mountaineer

Famous for: Conquering Mount Everest

Born: May, 1914, Khumbu, Nepal

Died: May 9, 1986, Darjeeling, India

Married: Dawa Phuti, Ang Lahmu and Dakku


From modest beginnings

Find words that mean: trip, something nobody is certain of, self-governing, moved to another place, the very top

Tenzing's childhood is a mystery. We do know he was the 11th of 13 children, and most of his brothers and sisters died when he was young. One theory is that he was sold as a kind of servant to a family in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. But some people say he ran away from the Sherpa family who adopted him in Khumbu.

In his autobiography, Tenzing said he was born to a Sherpa family in Khumbu. But a writer who recently researched his life for National Geographic found out he was actually Tibetan. The writer says he was born in an area that now is part of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

By the time Tenzing was 19, he had relocated to Darjeeling - a mountain valley famous for its tea in northeast India.

When Tenzing made it to the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, he carried two flags with him - Nepal's and India's. But India embraced Tenzing more than Nepal did.

Tenzing was a hero - a man from the mountain tribes who climbed to the roof of the world as an equal of India's former colonial masters who paid for the expedition.

"It has been a long road... From a mountain coolie, a bearer of loads, to a wearer of a coat with rows of medals who is carried about in planes and worries about income tax."

Conquering Everest

Find words that mean the opposite: team, rose out of, denied, descending

The 1953 expedition that took Tenzing and Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, to Everest is called the John Hunt Expedition.

There were 400 people involved, including 20 Sherpa guides. Tenzing was one of them. It was his seventh attempt at climbing the mountain.

One of the reasons Hillary chose Tenzing as a climbing partner was that Tenzing once saved Hillary's life. When Hillary slipped on ice and plunged into a crevasse, Tenzing caught his ice axe and stuck it into the ice. This stopped Hillary's fall.

The pair set off from the main group on May 28. The final ascent to the top was a rock face 12 metres high. Hillary had to wedge himself into a crack in the rock face and wriggle up. Tenzing followed. They reached the summit at 11.30am.

The only photographs that prove they made it to the summit are of Tenzing. For a long time, Tenzing and Hillary did not talk about who got there first. They said it was a team effort. Later, Tenzing admitted that Hillary was first.

Hillary said the reason there were only photographs of Tenzing was because Tenzing did not know how to use a camera and 'the top of Everest was no place to start teaching him how to use... [one].'

People of the mountains

Choose the right option

Tenzing is usually referred to as a Sherpa. The Sherpa people of Nepal probably there from Tibet 300 to 400 years ago.

Sherpas' traditional clothes are very similar to Tibetans' and so is their religion, Buddhism. Their language too can be understood by anyone who speaks the language of central Tibet.

The Sherpas used to be of high mountain places. Their priests told them that lived there. Tenzing was one of the few mountain guides who was not afraid.

When other Sherpas him to let them go back down the mountain in 1953, he shouted at them.

If Everest was , he said, the Himalayas would be famous all over the world. They would never have to worry about jobs.

True or false?

To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1 Tenzing was an only child.
2 As a young man, Tenzing went to Darjeeling in India
3 Tenzing was the first man to set foot on the summit of Everest
4 Tenzing was the only person to appear in the photographs from the 1953 ascent of the mountain.



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