The sherpas of the Khumbu region continue to carry the weight of expectations of thousands of climbers
In the northeast corner of Nepal, bordering Tibet, lie four of the five highest mountains in the world — Everest, Makalu, Lhotse and Kangchendzonga. In the high valleys, below these mountains, lie the two districts of Solu and Khumbu, the home of the sherpas.
Ever since Nepal opened it doors to climbers in 1949, the sherpas have been the backbone of any climbing expedition, carrying huge loads, sometimes up to 50kg each, for a wage of not more than $15 per day. Many of the expedition sherpas, who are now Everest summiteers, started their lives as porters ferrying loads. Even today, most of these porters hail from the Solu-Khumbu district. Since 1949, the popularity of the region with its star-studded galaxy of high peaks, emerald lakes, icy glaciers and fast-flowing rivers has drawn tourists in droves. This influx also provided a means of employment for the villagers.
Every spring and autumn, more than 50,000 trekkers and climbers descend on the Khumbu region. A majority of them come to trek to the base camp (south) of Everest and to climb Kala Patthar, the black rock above the base camp with its splendid 360-degree view of the Khumbu Himal. Others attempt ‘trekking peaks’ like Island Peak, Lobuche East, and the most intrepid and determined attempt the Everest. There are guided climbs to Everest where a client can pay $50,000 for a place on the summit! 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 through the season to ferry loads from the airstrip of Lukla to the base camp. Without this back-up team, no expedition can be successful.
Back to the grind: Two porters, bent over and oblivious to the stunning back the Cholatse peak, start the climb up to the Dugla memorials en route to Lobuche
The high fliers: Flights land at Lukla airstrip from Kathmandu, and the yaks take over. Expedition barrels are carried from the airstrip at 2,800m to the Everest base camp at 5,600m
By the way: A porter rests awhile near a prayer wheel of the Benkar village
Weighty matter: Surely it doesn’t get any bigger than this! A porter carries a huge suitcase for a lodge owner on the trail between Khumjung and Thyanboche monastery
Breathing easy: Exhausted, this young lad takes a short nap before resuming a punishing climb to Mong la pass.
Load shedding: Playing carrom in the Lukla sunshine on a rare afternoon off