Updated on March 11, 2012
We’ve spent the last several days pouring over photos of Gombu at his home here in Darjeeling. There are pictures of him with Queen Elizabeth, President Kennedy, the Ghandi family, but the one at the top of this post is my favorite.
The photo is him holding his only son Phinjo in 1964. He was born in June of 1963. Gombu summited Everest with the American expedition in May of 1963. Afterwards there was a whirlwind of receptions and foreign travel. He was so impressed with President Kennedy, he kept the photo below on his desk at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (H.M.I.). His daughter Ongmu says he even kept the pants he was wearing that day. He would put them on from time to time when company dropped in and would tell his guests about his famous trousers that went to the White House.
He didn’t get to see much of Phinjo that year. Despite that, his kids tell me he was always thinking of them. They of course were always thinking of him and trying to track his whereabouts, which leads us to Hitler’s telescope.
It’s an odd item to find at the Mountaineering Museum here. Surrounded by oxygen masks, crampons, photos and maps of beautiful and dangerous peaks, is a telescope that was donated by Adolph Hitler. The Germans wanted to be the first on top of Everest, but it never happened. Furthermore, a deadly attempt on Nanga Parbat in Pakistan revealed their ignorance and Aryan arrogance. The German team was convinced they were fit and didn’t need to stop to acclimate. The sherpas hired to help them tried to tell them they needed to go slow, rest at different heights to let their bodies adjust to the altitude. They refused to listen and several of them didn’t make it along with some sherpas who died trying to rescue them. To honor their sacrifice, Hitler sent H.M.I. the telescope.
Gombu’s middle daughter, Yangdu, says the telescope used to sit in a building not far from their home. She says when her dad was gone on expeditions, she and her sister Rita used to peer through the telescope at the mountains, convinced that they would be able to see their dad and make sure he was safe. The telescope is in fact legendary to most of the adults in Darjeeling who remember the fun they had with Hitler’s telescope.
Below are Ongmu and Yangdu standing outside a prayer room Gombu designed and with help from others, completed before his death last April.