In 1935, a well-known British mountaineer, Eric Shipton, arrived here (Darjeeling) and wanted to recruit 20-25 Sherpas for an Everest expedition from Tibet. He found most of them very strong and experienced men with good reference letters. I was young and had no references. I was there just for fun and had no expectation of being recruited. I was 18 or 19 … but the British recruiter selected me. In those days Nepal was not open for foreigners, especially white men. We had to travel via Sikkim to reach Everest.
I got hired for Everest expeditions continuously for three consecutive years in 1935, 1936 and 1937.
In 1937, we reached the highest point of 27,108 ft. We did not have good oxygen, clothing or boots but made it there somehow. Earlier (in 1924) two English climbers, Irvine and Mallory, climbed Everest but got lost and never came down. So, our English team members were quite pleased that we reached quite high, and managed to come down. During the World War, mountaineering activity stopped. I went to Chitral (now in Pakistan) helping train local Muslim soldiers. After the war mountaineers began to return slowly.
In 1952, King Tribhuvan opened Nepal to foreigners including mountaineers. The Swiss received permission to climb Mt. Everest that year and I joined them. This expedition was quite tough but food supplies were very inexpensive along the trail compared to now.
Kathmandu did not have many motor vehicles and airplanes. It looked very rural. Our achievement in that year was quite remarkable. We reached an elevation of 28,215 ft without oxygen. We only had one set of clothing and a small tent. The Swiss French climber Raymond Lambert and I shared a tent. It was extremely cold. We tried to keep each other warm by rubbing hands and bodies. He was so big and fat that my hands hardly covered anything. He spoke no English and I had no French. So, we used gestures of the hands, eyes, and mouth to communicate, and managed.
He said let’s go down in French. So, we descended. I felt really bad for my friend because he would not get another chance. I was not worried about myself so much because I was booked to return the following year with the British. I was sad for him (Raymond) because we worked so hard.
In comparison, I faced no difficulty with the 1953 British expedition the following year. I knew the route, the people and food and drink were plentiful along the way.