Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling
Dec 4, 2009
|The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute was founded in 1954 in Darjeeling, India.
Although we probably think of sherpa Tensing Norgay - who first climbed Everest with Edmund Hillary in 1953 - as Tibetan, he lived in Nepal and then made Darjeeling, India, his home. It was from Darjeeling that many of the original Everest expeditions set out.
Tensing's success on Everest made him a national hero in India. Prime Minister Nehru seized the opportunity to found a world class mountaineering instiuitute in India, and Darjeeling was the natural choice. Tensing become the first director of field training for HMI and with the help of his Swiss mountainering friends began training his first set of instructors.
Since 1954 the HMI has trained more than 25,000 students and put some of its top climbers on the summit of Everest and a whole host of other major peaks.
My father had a copy of Sir John Hunt's classic book "The Ascent of Everest", and I can still remember reading it as a small boy and seeing the photograph of Tensing on the summit of Everest. I still remember being amazed by the deep blue sky, and the victorious pose that Tensing struck, his ice axe in the air with various flags fluttering from it. It is probably the most famous climbing photograph.
So when I planned my Himalaya trip, Darjeeling was one of the places that I wanted to visit, so that I could see the HMI. It contains an Everest museum, and the final resting place of Tensing - he was cremated here, and his ashes lie in a crematorium at the innstitute.
The HMI is not a big place. There's a climbing wall, a couple of museums, souvenir shop, admin and housing areas and Tensing's resting place. As you would expect, most of the real training is done out in the mountains. But the small size contains a huge presence. As you browse through the Everest Museum you see photographs of all of the climbing greats - from Mallory and Irvine through the Swiss mountaineer Lambert - with whom Tensing almost conquered Everest in 1952 - through Hillary and Tensing, Reinhold Messner, and on to Tensing's son (Tensing ) and grandson (Tashi) who have also summited Everest.
There are some wonderful photographs of a 1973 get together, with Chris Bonington and Messner amongst the attendees.
I don't have many photos - you can't take photos inside the museums, so I didn't. More than the physical element of the museum is the aura that pervades the place - the power of the achievements of the people who risked their lives - and quite frequently died - climbing the world's highest mountains.