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EverestHistory.com: Sonam Gyatso


Sky is the limit was the motto of his life and he lived and died for this, he was a man of courage and conviction and always preferred to lead a life of hardship and challenges that stood before him with smiles. The man endowed with a towering personality and athlete built was late Soman Gyatso, Sikkim's first Everest Hero.

Born in Kewzing, a small hamlet in south district of Sikkim in 1923 late Sonam Gyatso started his career as a school teacher away from his home at Lachung in North Sikkim in 1946. For a man like Gyatso the teaching job was not his cup of tea. Predictably he later joined the Indian Air Force at Bangalore to quench his thirst for exciting and adventurous life. Unfortunately, he had to relinquish the service of his choice due to domestic problems.

Since childhood he was very fond of trekking and adventure. Being a good footballer and athlete of his time, he got himself recruited as a head constable in the Frontier Constabulary Force in 1949. At this stage Sonam Gyatso's life took a turn when he was sponsored to undergo mountaineering course at Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, (HMI) at Darjeeling.

The distinguished mountaineering career of late Gyatso started in the years 1954 with the participation in the First Basic Course conducted by the HMI, Darjeeling. Four years later in 1957, he was selected for the advance course to Nanda Devi with late Major Jayal as leader. He successfully climbed the 26,750 ft. high CHO OYU in 1958 followed by MT. ANNAPURNA III (24, 858 ft.) in 1961. In the same year in October, he led the expedition to KANCHENJUNGA in Sikkim Himalaya (22,503 ft.) and successfully climbed the peak along with other members. He was a member of the Indian Everest teams in 1960 and 1962 and earned the distinction of reaching the highest points on both the occasions. In May/June 1963, he led another successful expedition to Hathi Parbat (22,070 ft.) a formidable virgin peak in Garhwal and was able to put seven members on the summit. Another expedition in Sikkim Himalayas was led by him in the middle of 1964 and the team climbed Langpo Chung Peak (21,850ft.) on Nepal border immediately after his triumphant return from the expedition he was called upon to participate in the pre-Everest expedition to the hitherto unclimbed 21911 ft. Rathong peak in North West Sikkim. Keeping up with the tradition he took six members to the top. His selection in the third successful Indian expedition to Everest was an automatic choice which he proved amply by his wonderful performance during the expedition. He was the oldest mountaineer (then 42 years) ever to climb Mt. Everest and stayed for longest time (50 minutes) at the peak [at the time]. He had the reputation of being an extremely tough mountaineer who could eat anything and sleep any time in any height. He was deeply religions and believed that his success was due to blessings given by H.H. the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa of Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre and H. E. Lachung Rinpoche who conducted special prayers when he was approaching the summit.

For this outstanding feat and achievement Sonam Gyatso was decorated with Padma Shree Padma Bhusan IMF Gold Medal, Arjuna Award and Sikkim's highest award Pema Dorjee.

Unfortunately in April 1968 barely there years after fulfillment of his most cherished dream to scale Mt. Everest, he passed away in Delhi, leaving his wife Mrs. Kunzang Choden and five children. His untimely death was both shocking and irreparable loss to both India and Sikkim at that time. Condoling on the sad demise of the Everest Hero, the then Prime Minister of India, late Mrs. Indira Gandhi said, "Sonam Gyatso's name will ever remain a source of inspiration the youth of the country".

He was the 18th person to Summit Everest!

1965: Third Indian Expedition, with Commander M.S Kohli as leader. On May 20, 1965 they succeed when A.S. Cheema and Sherpa Nawang Gombu ascend the SE Ridge. Gombu becomes the first person to summit Everest twice (the 11th and 17th summit). Out of the first seventeen summits of Everest, Nawang had two of them! Additional summits were achieved by Sonam Gyatso, Sonam Wangyal, C.P. Vohra, Ang Kami Sherpa, H.P.S. Ahluwalia, H.C.S. Rawat, and Phu Dorje Sherpa.

Part courtesy of sikkiminfo.

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