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Archive for April, 2014

Nepal’s Selfless Souls –  The Sherpas

 

Instagram @ NatGeo

Instagram @ NatGeo

Mt Everest’s recent (April 2014) single worst accident due to a deadly avalanche brought back vivid memories of a trip I did to the Himalayas less than a decade ago.  Our group consisted of 6 hikers, 1 guide and 3 Sherpas. Although we  backpacked to base camp (not Everest, but Annapurna which is not as high, but technically more challenging), we hardly carried any real weight, thanks to the Sherpas.

Annapurna Base Camp

Annapurna Base Camp

Krishna (our guide) was responsible for our safety and therefore carried only his own stuff to be able to help us struggling westerners. In a kind but firm manner, typical of his people, he managed us with strict instructions regarding safety and altitude. Unfortunately the 1.5kg bottle of scotch had to wait for the way back from base camp. Maybe that contributed to the speedy descent – 8 days up, 5 days down. “Alcohol and altitude too much of a dangerous combination”.

A down was always to be followed by an up

A down was always to be followed by an up

Each Sherpa carried two backpacks plus his own for the two weeks we spent on the trail. Each bag weighed ±15 kg, but still seemed not to cause them even the smallest of difficulty. I ascribed this to a tenacity visible in the faces of the children in the villages we passed on the way.

Children in the fields

Children in the fields

They completed every day’s grueling distance in record time and were always in good spirits to get to the next Teahouse before the constant stream of other tired hikers arrived. Without exception they would be waiting for us, keen for our approval of the secured places they had to wrestle for. ‘Places’ in the Himalayas meant a bed, a bucket of hot water (equivalent of R50 per bucket) and a cooked meal.

Teahouse before base camp Annapurna, Fishmountain

Teahouse before base camp Annapurna, Fishmountain

The highlight of the day was dinner. People from all walks of life gathered around a communal table, and shared experiences while the Teahouse family prepared a feast. The welcome smells from the kitchen mixed with bodily odours, smoke and wet clothes blended into an unusual smog quite unlike anything from home.  Soaked hiking boots and frozen toes sought resting spots on the fringes of the fire pit. This was under the table and was kept going for as long as our aching bodies and exhausted spirits could maintain conversation. I learned that this was also the sleeping area for the sherpas – warm and protected.

Chicken run

Chicken run

The Sherpa’s tasks were many. The most familiar and demanding of which was the preparation of the track for climbers to summit. The other tasks were easily overlooked as they were mostly supportive and not glamorous. Sometimes the only evacuation method was in the usual woven basket on their backs. In case of an emergency they would alternate the load between three of them, stopping only briefly for that exchange.

Live chickens, tins of cold drinks, bottled water - in the baskets

Live chickens, tins of cold drinks, bottled water – in the baskets

The constant influx of hikers and climbers needed sustenance and the only way water, cold drinks, snacks and dinner could get to the remote areas of the Teahouses, was in the way it’s been done through the ages , in a woven basket on the back of a Sherpa. The waste of tin and plastic containers of these supplies went down the mountain the same way.

 

Annapurna Base Camp

Annapurna Base Camp

On our trek, even though we each carried a pack with only the essentials for the day, we still struggled against the altitude and the slow torture successive steps became. I swallowed the pain; climbed the ups and stumbled the downs. I inhaled the poverty with every gasp of oxygen through rural settlements. I tried to follow the rhythm of my heart drumming in my ears while I gazed at the icy stillness. I touched the ragged prayer flags and allowed their faded colour messages to stir my soul. There will be brighter and more flags now, but with an intense sense of loss and a sad awareness of mortality.

 

Dhan’yavãda.

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