An anthology of full-color travel narratives with dynamic content
and video by writer and photographer David A. Glen..
OF SHERPAS, SAHIBS,
AND JOLLY GOOD TEA
A Brief History of Darjeeling and
the Early Himalayan Expeditions
Darjeeling’s history is inextricably intertwined with the introduction of tea to western civilizations. The British brought tea from China, and developed plantations in Darjeeling, in the foothills of the Himalaya, and within clear sight of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain. And today, Darjeeling tea is still considered to be one the finest on the market.
With Nepal off limits at the time, Darjeeling became the base for many of the early expeditions to the Himalaya, up until 1950. While Everest was the ultimate dream, other 8,000-metre summits too were on most wish-lists. There was a need for porters to carry the rations for these expeditions and, given their hardy background, the Sherpas were picked for the job.
Originally from Tibet, the Sherpas moved to northeastern Nepal during the 1600s, and settled down in the Solukhumbu region — home to Mount Everest. Many Sherpa families migrated to Darjeeling, which had developed as a retreat for the British in colonial India, and took to lugging loads and palkis (palanquins) in the hill-town.
On an expedition to Sikkim in 1998, we had the good fortune to have, as our local guide, Jamling, the younger son of Tenzing Norgay, that most memorable of Sherpas who, for the first time in history, stepped onto the summit of the world’s highest mountain, Mt. Everest, with Edmund Hillary on May 29, 1953. Jamling also introduced us to some of Darjeeling’s most renowned Sherpas, including Dorje Lhatoo, and Ang Tsering Sherpa, both of whom we interviewed.
Ang Tsering, pictured above, was then the only surviving member of George Mallory’s fated attempt on Everest in 1924, and whose legacy as a climbing Sherpa also included rescue attempts on the tragic German expedition to Nanga Parbat in 1936 when so many climbers and Sherpas lost their lives..
TO MUSTANG AND
DINNER WITH THE KING
An Unforgettable Journey into a Remote
Kingdom to Witness an Ancient
Culture that is Slowly Dying.
Mustang was once an independent kingdom, closely tied by language and culture to Tibet. From the 15th century to the 17th century, its strategic location granted Mustang control over the trade between the Himalayas and India. At the end of the 18th century, the kingdom was annexed by Nepal and became a dependency of the Kingdom of Nepal from 1795.
Though still recognized by many Mustang residents, the monarchy ceased to exist on October 7, 2008, by order of the Government of Nepal. The last official and later unofficial king (raja or gyelpo) was Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista (1930–2016), who traced his lineage directly back to Ame Pal, the warrior who founded this Buddhist kingdom in 1380. Ame Pal oversaw the founding and building of much of the Lo and Mustang capital of Lo Manthang, a walled city that has changed little in appearance since that time period.
In 1999, I was able to obtain a special permit to enter the restricted Kingdom of Mustang. My good friend and geographical photographer, Vassi Koutsaftis, and I, together with a small group of Sherpas and a rather tepid Liaison Officer from the Nepalese Government, set off on one of the most grueling treks we had ever undertaken. Vassi had previously met the King and his son when they had visited California, and so we were honored to receive an invitation to dinner with the last of Mustang’s kings.
Our progress through Mustang towards the historic capital of Lo Mantang was slow-going due to my having contracted severe bronchitis, which was not helped by the extreme temperatures between daytime and nighttime, the high winds and dust, and an average elevation of 14,000 feet. And our return ten days later was again constrained when Vassi contracted serious heat exhaustion.
Nevertheless, it was an extraordinary, unforgettable journey that provided a glimpse into an ancient and vibrant culture that, sadly, is slowly dying.
SOME TALK OF TILMAN:
WITH CHARLES HOUSTON
An Interview with the Inimitable
Charles Houston, MD.
One of the most enriching friendships I ever developed was with Charles Houston, whom his friends affectionately just called “Charlie”. I had heard much of this extraordinary mountaineer and doctor, and of his renowned contributions to the the understanding of how high altitude affects the human metabolism.
I then had the good fortune to spend three exhilarating days with Charlie at his home, in Burlington, Vermont, chatting about his life in general, and specifically about his two expeditions with Bill Tilman, one to Nanda Devi in 1936, and one to Everest in 1950. And I came away with four hours of precious video from those conversations, with an occasional guest appearance by Charlie’s young, excitable red setter, Pooh Bear.
Those videos and their transcripts are published here on Creative Storytellers, and clearly demonstrate the forthrightness and good humor for which Charlie will always be fondly remembered.
Some years later, Charlie stayed with us at our home in Laguna, to attend a function we put on in memory of Bill Tilman, Also staying with us, and our guest of honor at the function, was Pam Davis, Tilman’s niece and heir (then in her 80s), and Roger Robinson and Bob Comlay, both of whom had sailed with Tilman to extreme latitudes. Also present was the celebrated climber Tom Hornbein with his wife, Kathryn. Tom, also a close friend of Charlie Houston, was, with Willy Unsoeld, the first to make a complete transverse of Mt. Everest, in 1963.
A JOURNEY TO THE SACRED
MOUNTAIN, KHAWA KARPO
And the Three Great Rivers of Asia
Khawa Karpo, in China’s Yunnan region, is one of the most sacred mountains for Tibetan Buddhism and the spiritual home of a warrior god of the same name. It is visited by 20,000 pilgrims each year from throughout the Tibetan world. Many pilgrims circumambulate the peak, an arduous 240 km (150 mi) trek as part of their religious tradition. Although it is important throughout Tibetan Buddhism, it is the local Tibetans that are the day-to-day guardians and stewards of Khawa Karpo, of both its deity and the mountain itself.
The ancestral religion of the Khawa Karpo area, as in much of Tibet, was Bon, a shamanistic tradition based on the concept of a world pervaded by good and evil spirits. Bon encompassed numerous deities and spirits which are still recognized today, and are often connected with specific geographical localities and natural features. The major mountain peaks in this Hengduan range are thus all identified with specific deities. Khawa Karpo is one of these. Since its introduction, Tibetan Buddhism has been the dominant religion of the Khawa Karpo area, with followers of the Gelugpa doctrine being the most common. Tibetans believe the warrior god will leave them if humans set foot on the peak of Khawa Karpo, making the ground unholy, and that disasters would follow as they lose the God’s protection.
Our expedition to Khawa Karpo was a rigorous one, and we were among the few Westerners to have visited the region since the botanist, Joseph Rock, first arrived in 1922. The Yunnan region is one of the world’s most biodiverse areas, and is where the three great rivers of Asia, the Mekong, Yangtze, and Salween, flow roughly in parallel for 300 km before branching off to their respective deltas south of Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam, Shanghai in China, and Moulmien, in Burma