Nov 6, 2015- Born in the remote village of Ne Khembalung, Tendi Sherpa was six years old when he became a monk and 13, when he worked as a porter for the first time carrying 43 kg on his back on a 24-day expedition. A year later, he summated Mera Peak and at 20, he reached the top of Mount Everest for the first time—he has climbed Everest ten times since. Like hundreds of Sherpas who work in the mountains, Tendi’s story is a story of a man who dreams, breathes and lives mountains.
You started working as a porter when you were just 13. What prompted you to take up such a laborious task at such a young age?
My father used to work as a porter in trekking expeditions and whenever he returned home he would bring back gifts and photos given by the foreigners. It had always fascinated me so much, so, when I was 13, I came to Kathmandu with a hope to get a job as a porter. A friend of my father who worked as a guide agreed to hire me as a porter on a 24 day Thorong La expedition but when I met his boss, he said I was too young to work. I wanted the job so badly that on the day of the departure, I hid under the bus’s seat so that the boss wouldn’t see me. I came out only after he had left. When the bus finally departed, I felt so happy that I was finally realising my childhood dream. There were two porters, me and an elder guy, for the expedition and once we reached Besishahar, the guide gave us 43 kg each to carry. Carrying that load for eight to twelve hours a day was physically tough; I even crossed the Thorong La pass (5,416 m) on slippers and sometimes barefoot, for a salary of Rs 150 a day. I wish that no child has to go through such hardships. Regardless, it was an experience that I’ll never forget. When I think about it today, I feel lucky that I didn’t suffer from frostbite!
You were 14 when you first summated a mountain; did that play a role in you taking up mountaineering?
My father had asked me whether or not I’d want to go as a porter with him on a Mera Peak (6,476m) expedition, of course, I said yes. After trekking for a week, we finally reached the base camp. When I saw the summit, I begged my father to take me along to the top—he was a bit hesitant at first but he agreed. As I was climbing, I just kept on thinking about reaching the summit and looking forward to tell my friends back in the village. When we reached, the weather was so beautiful. Standing on the top of a mountain for the first time, that too with my father, was an out-of-the-world feeling and that was when I knew that my life is for mountaineering.
You’ve summated Mount Everest ten times. How did you feel when you got there the first time?
I was 20 when I was hired as a climbing Sherpa on an Everest expedition from the Tibetan side. In the middle of the expedition, a senior guide fell sick and had to return to the base camp—everything from choosing camp sites and setting up camps to leading a client to the summit fell on my shoulders. After spending nearly one and half months on the mountain, I finally led a client to the summit. We climbed for the whole night and finally reached the peak in the morning. For the first few minutes, I couldn’t believe that I was standing on top of the world, my happiness knew no bounds. That day, I became the first person in my family and my village to set foot on top of Everest. It was when I reached home and saw my whole family eagerly waiting for me, that it really started sinking in. Seeing all of them so happy made me realise that summiting Everest is a big thing but an even bigger thing is being able to come back home alive to my loved ones.
What keeps you occupied when you are not conquering summits?
At the mere age of 13 I had to choose the tough profession of a porter in difficult terrains. But today, I am in a position to make sure that the children in my village are not forced to walk the same difficult path I did two decades ago. So, for the past few years, in collaboration with a Swiss organisation, we have been providing scholarships to 23 children from my village every year. Apart from this, I’ve been involved in various projects to uplift the life of people in my village because in the last three decades, very little development has reached my remote village.
So, any words of advice?
You can do anything you want to do. All you need to be is be honest, be sincere, be respectful and be dedicated with what you do.
1983: Born in the village of Ne Khembaling in Sankhuwasabha district
1996: Joined a Thorong La expedition as a porter
1997: Summated Mera Peak
2004: Summated Mount Everest
2005: Started social work in his village
2007: Summated Mount Everest twice in a week
2011: Became a certified International Federation of Mountain Guide Association (IFMGA) Guide
2012: Got married
2013: Became a father
Featured on Kathmandu Post-M&S, Friday Supplement. 11/6/2015