Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Everest Region: Load Bearers of the Khumbu

Every year during spring and autumn more than forty thousand trekkers and climbers descend on the Khumbu region in Nepal. The majority of them come to trek to the Base Camp of Everest and to climb Kala Pattar, the black  rock above the Base Camp with it’s splendid 360 degree view of the Khumbu Himal. Others  attempt “trekking peaks” like Island Peak and Lobuche East and the most intrepid and determined attempt Everest itself.  To keep the lodges running en route and to provide food and shelter to this enormous influx of visitors, porters and yaks are used right throughout the season to ferry loads from the airstrip of Lukla to the base camp. Without this back up team no trek or expedition can be successful. This is an essay on the load bearers of the Khumbu who I admire enormously for carrying huge loads sometimes upto 60 kg,  day in  and day out  for a wage of not more than US 15$ per day.
The flights land at Lukla and then the yaks take over carrying expeditions loads to Base Camp 

Holding his stomach in pain a young  boy carries rice and atta on the long walk uphill

This porter is carrying a trekkers load and protecting it from the heavy downpour. It wont do to have the "sahibs'" gear wet when he reaches camp!  
Mobile phones have come to the Khumbu and these two young lads check their messages during a rest stop

This porter has to go down the Namche steps to Jorsale backwards as the huge load will not allow him to  balance down the steps 

The last bridge below Namche Bazar sees large yak caravans crossing every day

A rest stop for the porters near Devoche

It doesnt get any bigger than this!

Oblivious to the "mane wall" next to her, a young girl climbs to Dingboche carrying supplies for a lodge owner
Snow is no deterrent for this porter near the village of Pangboche. The kerosene jerrycan now empty goes on top

Half bent under the crushing loads, two porters start the punishing climb from Dugla to the memorials with Taboche and Cholatse in the background

A sudden snow storm has changed spring into winter as this party of yaks and porters cross the bridge below Dugla

Almost at journey's end, these yaks are rested at Gorak Shep before the final push to Everest Base Camp


  1. Hi Sujoy,
    Not sure if you know but as of this season (spring 2011) the porter unions are preventing any 'tourist' group porter from carrying more than 30kg and the vast majority of trekking companies are following this rule. As far as I can tell all the porters you have photographed are local porters carrying food and supplies for lodges, etc with one possible exception who looks like he has kit bags and I'd be surprised if they weighed more than 30kg. This clear evidence that the only sustainable and fair way to trek in the Everest region is to camp and not use teahouse services. Of course, that makes trekking here more expensive and deprives local families from direct incomes from tourism. But when you consider the enormous wealth generated from teahouses you realise that the locals should also adhere to the 30kg rule and give the porters a fair pay. This is something the International Porter Protection Group, Porters Progress and a bunch of NGOs have been trying to achieve for many years.
    Robin Boustead

  2. I fully agree with you Robin. I took up a group to Kala Pattar this spring and our porters did not carry much more than 25 to 30 kg. The local lodge owners need to get the food and supplies from Lukla and hence the porters are often overloaded. I feel this is not happening with guided treks even if these trekkers use tea houses to stay and eat. I am aware of IPPP and their good work. Lets all hope that the 30 kg load limit can be enforced.

  3. Thank you for this pictures and for raising awareness of the situation of this -very often- "invisible" part of Everest.


  4. Really moving pictures. Especially the in which the young boy is holding his stomach in pain. Over and above weight limit, there should also be an age limit below which no one should have to undertake such a job. I know that this is much easier said than done and even in Kolkata such rules are routinely flouted, but then again ....

  5. Sujoy

    These oft-neglected heroes of trekking who to our mortification also include child labourers at times are paid a pittance for the back breaking loads they carry. I congratulate you for your brilliant photo essay to highlight the problem.

  6. Very praiseworthy visual endeavour Sujoy da. And I really admire the composition of the last photograph.



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