The Everest Region: Then and now

As I ready to fly out of Lukla back to Kathmandu I remember an old adage “be careful flying in the clouds in Nepal. There are rocks in them!” The little airport that allows people to shorten their trip to the Khumbu by as much as two weeks looks newer.

The airport is paved now and no longer is a horn blown to shoo the cows off the runway. Sir Edmund Hillary lamented building it before he died because of the environmental and cultural impact it had on the Sherpa people.

They’ve done a nice job with Namche Bazaar. Not too much over growth. Mainly locally owned. Water and waste systems finally addressed. But the Sherpa people continue to be the richest in Nepal. Snagging tourist dollars as they venture to visit the worlds highest mountain.

The teahouses are better. The food? Well you’ll eat just about anything after schlepping your pack up a mountain all day.

Years ago the majority of people were solo or paired trekkers. Carrying their own pack. Winging it a bit. Seeing a guide was rare as, well, there is only one trail going up. Kinda hard to get lost. This is a Destination now so people don’t pick up a guide book. They book from the US and show up expecting a local guide to get them up high for their pictures. Gokyo at 15000 feet looks like a Mediterranean resort!

50,000 people a year means major impact. The trees are all gone in the upper Khumbu and have been for years. Teahouse kitchens where we eat are warmed by collecting and burning yak dung wth kerosene. Same as before but in some cases SUPER warm. Propane is carted up on yaks and mules for cooking at big villages. Still the incredible porters trek goods between villages with backbreaking loads.

Whereas it’s fine to have someone carry your pack if that is the only way up for you, at least be reasonable what you bring. The number of strapping young college students having a 5 foot 2, 120 pound Sherpa porter lug their multiple outfits and pairs of boots and large cameras up the mountain seems a tad absurd.

The people seem less into the spirituality of the place and more about climbing and hiking. I mean it might be in page 1 of the guide book that your circle ALL religious monuments (prayer wheels, temples, stupas, mani walls) clockwise.

It’s easy. It’s important to the people here. It’s seems 20 years of education STILL has people just buying plastic bottled water the whole trek. Wtf? They burn that shit! Yes I have a coke once in awhile. But I purify my water with a steripen.

Older crowd for sure. Humility in bunches. Other than being humbled by the assortment of high passes and viewpoints, there is the odd Octogenarian dragging her own pack to Everest Base Camp. True story.

The scenery is still incredible.

The kids are still adorable.

The place is still magical. But some of it is unfortunately lost on some people in their goal oriented approach to the mountain. The focus is more about tourism “bagged the peak. Bought the t shirt” than the rich cultural history here you can tap into if you just hang around a bit after the crowds scamper to their next destination. And you just sit and ask questions. And listen.

You still fall in love with the 50, 60, 70, and 80 year old men and women as their fingers slowly glide over their mala, chanting Om maní padme hum while doing their daily work. Always a smile or a laugh.

The first time I came here I spent a total of two days in Kathmandu during the first 8 weeks of trekking and rafting. You get a certain amount of satisfaction coming back here and feeling like you connected with that part of Nepal. Like you belong now. And I will relish that feeling for the next few days.

Something hits you AFTER you leave the mountains. You realize you can’t ft into the surreal lives of people there. The romanticism of it increases daily, as does the respect for the agrarian lifestyle most don’t choose to live, but live with abundance and what seems like happiness. The simplicity of their lifestyle is what brings me back, knowing full well I don’t see the backbreaking work, long days and constant stress to meet basic needs. But after a lifetime in the US and many visits here, I am still not sure which life is more desirable. You can’t have both. And it is hard to go back to a life like that (or for the first time) once you’ve experienced our creature comforts. But I’m damn certain our culture provides our own set of hardships that the people from here would likely not trade for if they really knew.

It’s taken a bit longer this time, but the strong feeling of not really wanting to say goodbye yet is here. One is almost always arms length here. Even when I taught. Maybe it’s the constant drum of impermanence reinforced once again? I wish I could say I wasn’t in my head a lot as I was counting my 50 steps up Gokyo Ri before each break. Constantly rolling life choices and options and hopes around my brain. I wish I was always in the moment as Pandora has helped me remember is the best spot. I wasn’t. But at certain times, when I was, it was magic.

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