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Jimmy Roberts: The Father of Trekking in Nepal

Lt. Col. Jimmy - father of Trekking in Nepal

๐—๐—ถ๐—บ๐—บ๐˜† ๐—ฅ๐—ผ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜๐˜€: ๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—™๐—ฎ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐—ผ๐—ณ ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ๐—ธ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด in Nepal

By: Dinesh Gurung (Original text in Nepali for Himal Khabar Patrika)

[English translation by Devendra Basnet]

Lt. Col. Roberts founded Mountain Travel in 1965, the first trekking business not only in Nepal but also in Asia. During this time, he discovered many routes for trekking. Thus Jimmy Roberts, a life long bachelor, gave birth to the ‘Trekking Tourism in Nepal’. Tourism entrepreneur Dinesh Gurung, who worked with him in the seventies, remembers him.

When it comes to mountain tourism, the most memorable name is Lieutenant Colonel James Owen Merion Roberts or Jimmy Roberts. He was born on 21 September 1916 in Gujarat, British India. His father was the headmaster of a school.

In 1936, Roberts became a commissioned officer in the British Army. His regiment was the Gurkha Rifles. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) in 1942 for his bravery in World War II in Burma. In 1954, Roberts was assigned to Malaya (Malaysia).

While working there, he received the OBE (Order of the British Empire). Roberts, who arrived at the British Embassy in Kathmandu in 1958 as a military attachรฉ, was also awarded the Member of Victorian Order (MVO) in 1961. A year later, he retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Jimmy Roberts had been interested in mountaineering since his youth. That is why in 1938 he climbed the 7,890m high Masherbrum in the Karakoram range. He also joined Bill Tillman’s Annapurna expedition in 1950.

Although he wanted to join the successful 1953 British Everest expedition led by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa as a climbing member, he was instead given the task of transporting oxygen to the base camp. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he became the first man to climb the 6,476m high Mere Peak. In 1954, he climbed the 7246m Putha Hiunchuli peak.

‘๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—™๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ต๐˜๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—น ๐— ๐˜†๐˜€๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜†’

Jimmy Roberts went climbing Fishtail, locally known as Machhapuchhre (6,993 m), with Wilfrid Noyce in 1957. However, although his team reached near the top and could have summitted, they returned from 50 meters below. It is said that they did not climb to the actual summit as the local Gurung community worships Machhapuchhre as the abode of Gods. Since then, the Nepal government has not given permission and no one has climbed the holy peak.

Roberts was the leader of the Annapurna II (7,937 m) expedition in 1960 and the Dhaulagiri IV (7,660 m) in 1962. Later, in 1965, he went to Dhaulagiri for the fourth ascent. He was also a member of the International Everest Expedition to climb Mt. Everest in 1971. Another teammate was Norman Dyhrenfurth.

Dr. Harka Gurung who was the Nepalese member of the expedition climbed to Camp I. The Sardar of the climbing support team was Sonam Girmi and the second Sardar was Lakpa Sherpa. During the ascent, Indian climber Harsh Bahuguna died in an accident due to bad weather and the expedition was unsuccessful.

Roberts believed that mountaineering expeditions should be as small and agile as possible (alpine style). He didn’t like large expeditions laying seize on Everest. He thought that even if lower in altitude, other unclimbed peaks should be climbed first.

His other hobby was hunting. He also collected birds for the British Museum in Nepal during the 1950 expedition. Later, when he started living in Nepal, he opened a bird farm in Pokhara and raised kalij pheasants, quails, and ducks there. For that, he imported quail eggs from America. He sold the first quail eggs to Nepal’s famous hotelier Boris Lissanevitch.

His aim was to produce kalij pheasants in the farm and release them in the wild to attract hunters to Nepal. He also sent Jhalak Thapa and Bobby Gurung, from Pokhara, to the UK for training on bird farm maintenance. However, the farm was not successful in this endeavor.

He also had a passion for photography. He started making postcards with pictures of Everest, Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, and other mountain peaks. As there was no good printing press for printing colour postcards in Kathmandu, he printed them in Japan. The first customer to buy the postcards in bulk from him was Ram Shankar Shrestha, the owner of Hotel Shankar. He took the photos for the brochure of the Soaltee Hotel.

๐— ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ป๐˜๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—น (๐Ÿญ๐Ÿต๐Ÿฒ๐Ÿฑ) – the first trekking company in Nepal

Roberts first started commercial trekking in Nepal by taking three American women on a trek to the Everest base camp. The leader of that trek was Ang Temba Sherpa.

After he started a company called Mountain Travel in 1965, trekking or hiking developed into a business. Initially working for the company were British national Mike Cheney, Dawa Norbu Sherpa, Jhalak Thapa, and others. I also had the opportunity to work for that company from 1971-74. Except for one or two people like Deepak Lama, all of us working there were former British Gurkhas.

๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐— ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ป๐˜๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—น ๐—ก๐—ฒ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—น (1970s) Back row- Maj Tej Lama, Col Jimmy Roberts, Antonia Deacock (Ausventure), AL Read, Front row- Pertemba Sherpa, Ang Phu and Lakpa Tshering.
๐—ง๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—บ ๐— ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ป๐˜๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ป ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฎ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—น ๐—ก๐—ฒ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—น (1970s) Back row- Maj Tej Lama, Col Jimmy Roberts, Antonia Deacock (Ausventure), AL Read, Front row- Pertemba Sherpa, Ang Phu and Lakpa Tshering.

Mike Cheney is another name that should not be forgotten when talking about Nepal’s trekking business. Cheney himself was a retired captain. Cheney and Roberts discovered hiking trails in many parts of Nepal and made them popular among foreign tourists. Most of the hiking trails in eastern and central Nepal were identified by Cheney, while Roberts is credited with recceing the trails in western Nepal. That is why he is called the ‘Father of Trekking in Nepal’.

Stephen Bezruchka, who wrote a guidebook, Trekking in Nepal, for tourists, used to visit Roberts’ Mountain Travel office to get details on the trekking routes.

At that time camping was mandatory while trekking. Lodges and hotels were not as widespread as they are today. The trekking routes went through remote places. So, we had to carry everything from food to tents for camping. For a group of ten foreign tourists, there were 6-7 sherpa support staff and about 30 porters. The farmers of the villages worked as porters.

Since the trekking season did not fall during the farming season, portering for trekking tourists was a source of extra income for them. The vegetables, eggs, chickens, and firewood needed by the trekking groups were bought in the farmers and the villagers also received rent for the camping sites. Thus, about 30 percent of the income from trekking groups went to the villages along the trails.

Nowadays, the trek routes have become shorter as airports have been built in many places and motor vehicles have reached almost everywhere. Due to this, the employment opportunities of the villagers have also narrowed. It was difficult to exchange large sums of money in the village during the trek. The sardar was paid Rs. 15 a day, the cook Rs. 12, and the other support workers only Rs. 11. The exchange rate was Rs. 10 per US dollar.

๐—ง๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ข๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ‘๐—›๐—ถ๐—น๐—น๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜†’

The development of mountain tourism led to the economic progress of the Khumbu Valley and the overall living standard of the Sherpas. The credit for this goes first to Edmund Hillary and second to Jimmy Roberts. At that time, the Himalayan Society was the organization that operated the mountain expedition. The first privately owned company that organized mountaineering expeditions was Robertsโ€Œ’ Mountain Travel.

Whether hiking or mountaineering, Sherpas have played a big role in both. As the trekking business expanded, so did their contributions. Later, people from the Tamang and Rai communities also became involved as porters and other ancillary workers. Jimmy Roberts made trekking one of the main attractions of Nepal’s tourism. He should also be remembered for creating employment among the villagers through mountain tourism.

At that time, it was said that if a foreign tourist who came to Nepal did not eat at Boris’s restaurant, did not board a mountain flight, did not go Tiger Tops and did not trek with Mountain Travel, his/her visit to Nepal would be incomplete!

Lt. Col. Jimmy - father of Trekking in Nepal
Jimmy Roberts in Pokhara with his favorite pet dog. He was never seen without his dog s, usually a springer spaniel.

Despite being a British officer, Colonel Roberts did not have any airs. His lifestyle was very simple, almost austere. He slept in a sleeping bag. His dining, living room, and office room were all the same. While jumping from a parachute, he had injured his hip, so he walked with a slight limp. He had a peculiar habit of often turning his back while talking to people.

Roberts made Nepal his home. He started the then-novel business of trekking there, he nurtured and expanded it. It seemed that he had neither family nor relatives. He adopted Bobby Gurung from Pokhara as his son. Jimmy Roberts died in Pokhara on November 1, 1997.

The medals he received during his military service have already been discussed above. In recognition of his significant contributions to the establishment and development of mountain tourism in Nepal, he was honored by the Government of Nepal with the Gorkha Dakshin Bahu (Third).

Colonel Jimmy Roberts is one among only a few foreigners, who not only made Nepal their home but also made important contributions to the country. Forgetting him is akin to being dishonorable to him and his contributions.

๐—ฆ๐—ผ๐—บ๐—ฒ ๐—ผ๐—ณ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ท๐—ผ๐—ฟ ๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ๐—ธ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜๐—ฒ๐˜€ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฎ๐˜ ๐—๐—ถ๐—บ๐—บ๐˜† ๐—ฅ๐—ผ๐—ฏ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐˜๐˜€ ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐— ๐—ถ๐—ธ๐—ฒ ๐—–๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ป๐—ฒ๐˜† ๐—ถ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ผ๐—ฑ๐˜‚๐—ฐ๐—ฒ๐—ฑ ๐˜„๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ:

๐—˜๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜ ๐—•๐—ฎ๐˜€๐—ฒ ๐—–๐—ฎ๐—บ๐—ฝ ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ:

The trek from Lamusanghu to Jiri, then to Namche and on to Everest BC, lasted 35 to 40 days. This was the only way to reach Everest Base Camp from Kathmandu before Lukla Airport was built.

๐—Ÿ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ด๐˜๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ:

It took 15 days to complete the trek from Trishuli to Langtang via Gosainkunda and back to Trishuli or Sundarijal.

๐—”๐—ป๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—ฝ๐˜‚๐—ฟ๐—ป๐—ฎ ๐—ฆ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฐ๐˜๐˜‚๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐˜† ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ:

Trekking from Pokhara through several Gurung villages. Duration 15 days.

๐—ฅ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐—”๐—ป๐—ป๐—ฎ๐—ฝ๐˜‚๐—ฟ๐—ป๐—ฎ ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ:

Starting from Pokhara and ending at Dumre via Jomsom and Manang, it took 30-32 days to complete the trek.

๐—ž๐—ฎ๐—น๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐—ฎ๐—ธ๐—ถ ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ:

It took 21 days to complete the trek starting from Pokhara and ending in Pokhara through Ghorepani.

๐—ฅ๐—ผ๐—น๐˜„๐—ฎ๐—น๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ:

It took 25 days to complete the trek from Barhabise to Lamusanghu via Jiri.

๐—๐˜‚๐—บ๐—น๐—ฎ ๐—ง๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—ธ:

It took 35 days to complete the trek from Pokhara to Baglung, Dhorpatan, Jaljala Pass and end in Pokhara.

๐—ก๐—ผ๐˜๐—ฒ ๐—ฎ๐—ฏ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜ ๐˜๐—ต๐—ฒ ๐—ฎ๐˜‚๐˜๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ฟ:

Dinesh Gurung, Trekking in the Langtang area in the 70's
Dinesh Gurung, Trekking in the Langtang area in the 70’s

Dinesh Gurung, has been associated professionally in the trekking sector since the 70’s. He worked at Mountain Travel Nepal with retired British Army officers Jimmy Roberts and Mike Cheney from 1971 to 1974. After leaving Mountain Travels Nepal he established Himalayan Rover Treks. Later, in 1988, Mike Cheney and Dawa Sherpa joined him to form Rover Treks and Expeditions. Later still, in 1990, he established Crystal Mountain Treks, which his son now operates. He is retired and lives in Kathmandu.

Source article:

https://www.himalkhabar.com/news/125695

(Translated from Nepali by Devendra Basnet, 2021)

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