Most people who have gone to Nepal have come back home with a few strips of those five-coloured flags, perhaps best known as prayer flags, which we then put in a place we think that they look nice or maybe they remain in a drawer. But have we ever wondered about their origin and meaning? I must admit, no.

A few days ago, during a blessing ceremony and the subsequent placement of these flags on a ridge, I had the opportunity to discover the origin and meaning of such symbolic elements. I must admit, it was one of the most interesting experiences I have had so far, in this project. That is why I want to share it with everyone who follows my blog.

These flags, called lungpar in the Sherpa language, are made up of a series of small square or rectangular flags, joined by a string or thread, with printed prayers or mantras, and with the simple idea that wind and water will be charged to widespread them to all beings in the universe, and not, as is often mistakenly believed, to bring them to the gods.

They place them mainly on ridges, cliffs or mountain passes, but also on the roofs of houses. The flags, blue, white, red, green and yellow, are placed in this order, either from top to bottom or from left to right. These colours mean the sky, clouds, stone, water and earth, or the five elements: air, water, fire, earth and space.

Sherpas believe that once these banners are blessed by a lama and placed in one of the mentioned places, they will bring luck, happiness, health and longevity to their families. That is why, to coincide with the beginning of the Tibetan year, they bless the flags and place them, on the days marked as auspicious within the first 20 days of the first month of the year. The number of flags in the set hanging by each family must be greater than the sum of the ages of the people who make it up.

They are usually renewed once a year. The placement must be done without touching the existing ones and the remains of the old ones cannot be thrown away. They must be burned or left in one of the many sacred caves near the monasteries.

Last Sunday, March the 1st, which was the 7th day of the first month of the year 2147 in the Tibetan calendar, with my friend Pasang we had gone to the village of Thame and he wanted to take the opportunity to go to the Buddhist monastery above the village to bless the flags he brought from his home in Namche.

Early in the morning we went up to the monastery to go to the house of one of the lamas living there. An 88-year-old man who has lived in this monastery all his life, received us with great kindness. There, in the small room where he lives, we put the four rolls of flags on a tray and he started reciting mantras in Tibetan for a good while. While chanting these mantras and burning incense, he would play small instruments and scatter large rice grains over the flags and across the room. The ritual, and the atmosphere of the small room where it took place, had a captivating effect on me, despite not fully understanding the meaning.

After the blessing ceremony, we headed up the hill above the monastery, to the place my friend had chosen to hang the flags. Then he, with great care, lit a small bonfire with juniper twigs and for a few moments passed the flags over the juniper smoke. He then climbed further up and spliced ​​and extended them out until they had formed a large and colourful arch with the flags flying, then he tied them carefully so that they did not touch the ones already in the same place.

When it was done, he returned to the bonfire to pray and throw a handful of rice mixed with cereal seeds, which the lama had prepared during the blessing ceremony.

Once all this was done, and after having covered with some stones what was left of the little bonfire just to avoid the bonfire remains spread with the wind, we only had to undo the way down to the monastery. We made it light and silent. A silence, that of my friend, which I still interpreted as spiritual gathering, lasted until we arrived again at the monastery.

Once there, we set off on our way home to Namche, very happy. He for having fulfilled a ritual in which he believes, and I for having learned what these flags mean by the Sherpas. And the truth is that I couldn’t find a more sublime way to symbolise the desires of luck, happiness, health and long life for all of us.


Nepal is a country that depends quite of tourism and especially some mountainous areas where the economy depends almost solely for tourism.

In the municipality of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality (KPLRM), the two areas of Lukla on top, Pharak and Khumbu, are those that benefit from tourism. Instead the Shorong zone (or Solu) between Lukla and Kharikhola reality is completely different. For this reason, last December, I wanted to take the downhill trip from Namche to Kathmandu, to make a good part of what is usually done by plane and know what life is like in where tourism has almost no presence.

Map of Namche to Phakding and Kharikhola


With this aim, my friend and guide Pasang and I went down walking from Namche to the village of Kharikhola so I could know first hand the only area where I had never been. In the village of Phakding we left the path that goes straight to Lukla, to cross the Dudh Koshi River by an old Hung bridge and we followed the old path used by both the local people and the first expeditionary groups and the treks, before the small airport of Lukla was built in the year 1964. A very recommendable romantic tour.

This road brought us first to the villages of Nyerse, Sengma and Rongdingma, where I could see the difference with the tourist towns. Here people live in an agriculture that is not very varied and quite rudimentary, with little cattle, basically for self-consumption and for doing the field work. There is no trade or services. Until 10 years ago, Rongdingma had a small school, but now it’s closed. Therefore, the inhabitants of these villages, for anything must go to Chaurikharka or Lukla by crossing the deep valley of the Dudh Koshi River.

We did the same and a Arrived to Chaurikharka we continued our way down, following the Course of the river, but with enough climbs and descents. For 3 days we went through By the peoples of Surke, Paiya, Burpa and finally we arrived in Kharikhola, Which is the village located below (2,100 m) and further south of the Territory (the KPLRM) Where I develop my project.

Unlike the first three villages, these four are located on the path that is currently used to move to the upper areas of the Khumbu. These villages, initially agricultural, during the years 1950 and the first half of the 60 benefited from the passage of the first expeditions and Trekkings, built lodges and camping sites, and began offering services. All this represented a significant improvement in the life and economy of this area.

It was thus until the year 1964 when it was built the Lukla airport and tourism ceased to go through these villages with the consequent loss of income of its inhabitants. It is true that the hosting infrastructure that had been created was maintained, but reoriented to local customers and therefore adapted to lower demands and economic possibilities.

Given that the orography of this area is smoother and allows for good use of the land by organizing it on terraces and many varieties of fruit, vegetables and cereals can be cultivated, we might think that agriculture and livestock would have been able to become the economic engine, although smaller than tourism in this area. But this has not been the case. The main reason is the change that has taken place in the market for agricultural and livestock farming products in the last decades. The construction of roads, nor that they were of land, that increasingly arrived closer to this area, facilitated that they arrived products from other places with what their natural market broke.

The result is that today Local primary sector has no market and only small family farms For self-consumption and a local trade. Many farms were abandoned And their owners migrated to Kathmandu or abroad.

In spite of this situation there is a significant positive aspect to point out. It is a commitment to education, which I already explained that existed in the areas above, which has remained here. On our tour we found two small schools, one at Surke and the other at the top of Kharikhola, two more stockings in Paiya and Burpa and a large one with all levels of primary and secondary in Kharikhola. All this for a population that does not reach 2,000 people, but dispersed in a very large area.

In contrast, the infrastructure Can not say the same as it is almost nonexistent. The only Infrastructure, the Kharikhola hospital disappeared with the Earthquake of 2015 and the construction works of a new hospital long ago are stops. There is a small provisional hospital where there is not always a doctor. Therefore the people here, if they have a health problem a bit important, have From going to Kathmandu that the road now reaches to Kharikhola “Only” to 17 hours in Jeep by roads largely of land And those who are asphalted are in a deplorable state.

So far the reality of a life I’ve been able to observe on my way down from Namche to Kharikhola.


Some will remember that in the post No. 7 He spoke of building a road from Kharikhola up to Chaurikharka. They are well working. I could see great machines Unresolved through an impossible terrain, very steep, with a lot of rock but Also with parts prone to landslides. The forecasts are that it is For the unpaved moment, the next month of July. I do not think it is So few days ago I could see how far they had advanced in two months and I doubt that in July you can finish. But if it’s not July it will be a little Forward.

The tourism sector, by Chaurikharka upwards, is happy with this road, as it will greatly facilitate the access of tourists who now depend on the small Lukla airport severely punished for the climate of the area.

But Chaurikharka is down, Although they recognise that having a road is an improvement and unquestionable for their daily life, people in general are not very Negative impact that they believe will have on the Minso business of the Tourism. The people with whom I spoke coincided in that the few people That now stops in the places of food and sleep, with the new road will go Up to Chaurikharka in a single day, no need to stop or To stay anywhere. In other words, after the negative impact Had Lukla airport, the road will surely have a negative effect Even bigger.

As you have seen, the areas with And those that do not have them, coexist next to each other but are Two completely different worlds and my conclusion is that in these areas, Everybody looks at tourism as the most accessible outlet for a better future.

And as the Xerpes, however, are People with a great ability to adapt to changes, as they have already demonstrated Times, those in this area will have to reinvent themselves, as is now called, Seeking proposals for alternative tourism to the expeditions and long- Height trekkings. And I’m sure they will leave.

Festivals of the Sherpa community, spirituality and social life 

Many cultures around the world celebrate community festivals and the Sherpa one is no exception. These celebrations are especially important for communities that live in remote places, as there are occasions for families and friends to meet each other.

Most of the people’s jobs in these valleys are hard, often dangerous, jobs that leave them little time to meet each other and socialise That’s why festivals and annual celebrations, in monasteries and villages, are the occasions they have for spiritual life, fun, social life and rest.

Many Sherpa festivals are religious, such as Mani Rindup, Dumchi, Nyungne, or Chirim Lhabsang, but all have also lay components. Others are lay such as Losar, Yarchang or Phagnyi.

Almost all these festivals have organizers-sponsors, who change every year and take care of the organization and take charge of the expenses.

Since there are many festivals that celebrate during the year, I thought it would be good to describe what I’ve seen so far. And next year, at the end of my stay here, I will talk about the others.


Twice a year, in many monasteries, the Nyungne is organized, which is a retreat for spiritual development, through the practice of renunciation of fasting, prayer and silence. It lasts for 3 days, during which the participants live in the monastery. It is organised by the monasteries and sponsored by the participants.           

The first day, Lhabsang, they pray, cook and eat normally. The second day, khungsang, participants fast and maintain silence. They pray and recite mantras in silence circumambulating monasteries. The last day, chowa, the fasting ends and eating and drinking begins.           

The first days of August, I could attend this retreat in the monastery of Namche. They organised two shifts of 3 days each, with about 25 people, all wearing traditional Sherpa dresses. During the two nights of retreat they sleep in the porches of the monastery courtyard.


At the beginning of August, most villages celebrate the Phagnyi party, which in Sherpa means the day of the pig. It is a totally lay party with a group that takes care of organizing it and the participants pay the costs.       

Namche’s party lasts 3 days, but in this case everyone goes to sleep at home. It’s a party to have fun. They are 3 days during which they have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the premises where the party is held, sing and dance and, above all, play. They spend the 3 days playing cards. In every room where the party is held, there are tables, with stacks of money, with groups of men or women playing cards. This is because it is the only occasion of the year when it is allowed to play with money, in public places. And they really take benefit of it!                    

In the evening, it’s time to dance. Some dance with modern Nepalese music and others dance their traditional dances and sing their songs. In the case of Namche, which is where I participated, accompanied by a man with a dramnyang, a traditional 3 strings instrument.           

Formerly this festival was to celebrate that the toughest season of agricultural work had already ended. Nowadays they celebrate also that the spring tourist season has also ended, and people have time to rest and to make fun.


It is a lay festival that is celebrated on the full moon of November, to celebrate the harvests of the year, although it is currently also held in places that are not agricultural, such as Namche.

During the whole day and until late at the evening, groups of men and women, who in the afternoon are joined by children when they leave school, sing traditional songs, door to door for all the houses of the village. Houses give them money, food and drink. There are houses that offer a kata (long silk scarf for wanting luck) and often their inhabitants join the group to sing and dance. The money they collect, which are many, goes to the maintenance of the monastery and the community of the village.                    

Everyone is dressed in the traditional Sherpa style that is very elegant and both men and women wear the best jewels. In Namche, the largest group this year was formed by members of the Women’s Group and the Youth Club.       

Days later, all the groups meet one the afternoon in the courtyard of the monastery and celebrate a party with traditional music, songs and dances, theatre performances and a community dinner.


It is a religious ceremony to invoke the protector deities seeking protection of land, crops, herds and people. It is sponsored by the community of each village, which every year designates two organizers (lawa) who organise and sponsor the ceremony. It is usually celebrated at the end of spring, but in Thame they do it at the end of November.            

In those days I was staying at this year’s organizer’s house and I had the opportunity, and luckily, to see how the day before two monks from the monastery of Thame prepared the torma, which are figures of various forms, very worked, modelled with a dough made with boiled rice.

The next morning, torma and all the other elements necessary for the ceremony are moved to the place that the village already have for these occasions. In Thame it is a small construction, which they call a shrine, located on top of an immense boulder that is in the middle of a field, where people stay during the celebration.          

The ceremony lasts about three hours, during which two or three monks recite mantras and play horns and drums. Meanwhile, the people who attend it, which are almost all the families of the village, speak among themselves and drink tea or chang, which is the alcoholic beverage they make from rice. Once the ceremony is over, they have a small party in the same place, with dances and songs, and then they go back home.

Some villagers told me that, after this ceremony, they return home more confident and optimistic about their future.          

Women’s Groups and Youth Clubs, the two key pillars of the Sherpa society

Visiting all the villages of these valleys, I found almost in every village a Women’s Group and a Youth Club. From the beginning I realised that these two organizations are the only in the Sherpa society in each town. That’s why I think it’s important to dedicate a post.


In the Sherpa society, women have always had an equal treatment with men and have had a preponderant role in family life. Most decisions in the family have been taken since always by women, and now are still taken. The inheritances, properties, money and livestock are distributed equally between men and women.

Perhaps it is now anecdotal, but historically there has been a singular fact in the Sherpa society that I find interesting to explain. It is polyandry, the fact that a woman has more than one husband, which has been until a few years ago a very extended and prestigious practice. In contrast, polygamy, a man who has more than one wife, despite being accepted, was a very rare practice. Both practices are currently non-existent.

As far as I have seen during this time, the situation of men’s and women’s equality, although in theory exists, there are aspects that due to the impact of tourism or the evolution of forms of entertainment or communication, they have represented a step back in some aspects, at least from the point of view of Western culture.

The new jobs created from the tourism, porters and guides mainly but also drivers of caravans of transport by animals, are the cause that many men spend long periods away from home, working for treks and expeditions.      

This, little by little, supposed that the agricultural and livestock work fell on women, who added them to those that traditionally already did, to take care of the house and the family. Thus, nowadays women are the ones that you see by digging potatoes, cutting grass, milking naks (yak nut) or leading the herds. The most descriptive image of this situation is picture of a woman working in the garden with the crib on the back.               

To all this, it must be added that, since many families have opened lodges, the management of the lodges, when the man is outside, is also assumed by women.

There is a fact that has slightly eased this situation in the last 10 years. The arrival of the mobile phone in these mountain areas. Thanks to this, now it is not necessary for men to spend weeks or months in Kathmandu, as before, to find a job. They can do it from home or even during the treks.

Leisure is another part of the Sherpa women’s life, where the new forms of entertainment and social relationships that previously did not exist (bars, basic dancing clubs, snooker clubs) have led to inequality. Girls do less activities outside than guys, and for example, once they are engaged or married, they do not leave in the evenings because they are badly seen.


Given this situation, the Women’s Groups, in each town, have taken a fundamental role in the empowerment of women, in the defence of the environment and also in the preservation of the Sherpa culture. These groups may have, in the larger towns, between 50 and 60 members, aged 25 to 60.

With their actions, in the last 10 years, they have promoted a very important advance in the empowerment of women. The members have to commit themselves to spending time with the Women’s Group and leave home for a while. They learn to be independent of husbands. They begin to want to remain in the villages because, with the training and help of the group, they have more opportunities to get on their way professionally.

The key to empowerment has undoubtedly been the incorporation of training into its activities. They train on leadership, administrative management, awareness and prevention of women’s health (breast cancer, uterus, etc.), English, dances and Sherpa songs.         

In addition to the training activities, in many villages they manage the collection of garbage, usually carried door by door, in collaboration with the SPCC (Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee), through hired workers. Several times a year, they organize a general cleaning of the village and its surroundings, usually in conjunction with the Youth Clubs. And they also do supportive tasks for poor or troubled families.

Each town develops very diverse projects for the community that can go from volunteering to the organization of the arrival of the Everest Marathon, in Namche, through the construction of the hospital heliport or the way to go to the Hillary Memorial, in Khunde, to make skillets and other kitchen utensils with drinks cans, in Monjo.


The life of the youth has undergone a great transformation in the last decades, thanks to the training but also as a result of the impact of the tourism. The transformations have been generally positive (training, job opportunities, improvement of the economic level) but there are also negatives (appearance of drugs or alcohol consumption). The awareness of the young people about these transformations led to the creation of Young Clubs in many villages during the 1990s.

They are groups that can reach 80 or 90 members in the larger villages, with more boys than girls (another signal of inequality) between 25 and 45 years. Its activities include training, especially in matters that are useful to create or manage businesses and jobs beyond mountain guides.

They do community work such as helping people in need; carrying patients, walking, to health posts and hospitals; awareness campaigns on drug and alcohol consumption; or, depending on which villages, collecting of garbage.      

They organize sports activities and competitions, and work for the defence of Sherpa culture through theatre, songs, dances or language.

Unlike what happened 15 or 20 years ago, to the question of whether young people make the choice to live here or prefer to go to Kathmandu or abroad, the answer is: stay here. Especially the guys. The girls see more professional and personal opportunities in Kathmandu or abroad.

In some of the meetings with these groups I asked for the religious practice of the youth and they explained to me that most are Buddhist practitioners after they are 30. Earlier, younger people don’t like because they want to be independent and different from their parents, but later, when they understand the reasons and the meaning of religious practices, they get there.

As for traditional festivals, which have many, they explained to me that they are defending them because they are the occasion that people have to meet and make community life. When there were no mobiles or social networks, they were the only moments to be together and to meet each other. Now, although young people all have WhatsApp and Viber groups, and they are always in contact, they also participate in festivals where meet young people and adults, men and women, make offerings and do prayers (since most parties have a religious base ), they dress up traditional dresses, sing and dance, play cards, laugh a lot and spend a lot of time talking. Things that, except talking, at least for now cannot be done by phone.                         

From healers to X-rays – half a century of will to create health services

One of the important changes I learned during my project is about infrastructure and health related services, in the area of ​​Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality (KPLRM).

Compared to other remote areas of Nepal, this area currently has a good level of health facilities. However, it is still a very basic level if we take into account that about 10,000 people live there and 60,000 more visit it every year.

Until the early 1960s, there was no place for medical care. The people here relied only on traditional medicine based on medicinal herbs or spiritualist or religious practices to cure diseases.

It was not until 1966 that Edmund Hillary built the first hospital in the village of Khunde. Thanks mainly to the various foundations working in the area, half a century later they already have 2 small private hospitals, in Khunde and Lukla; 3 basic precarious public care centers in Namche (4), Pangboche (5) and Chheplung (6); 4 private, slightly better equipped, in Thame (1), Phortse (2), Monk (3) and Namche (7); and 3 more also private, specialized in mountain medicine, in Pheriche (8), Machermo (9) and Gokyo (10).

Map of health services in Khumbu and Pharak 

To put health services in context in this area, three factors must be taken into account: the large area of the territory (1,539 km2), the lack of communication routes and the imbalance between the inhabitants (10,000) and the visitors (60,000). ).


In 1966, the Khunde Hospital, at 3,900 m, was opened, and it was not until 39 years later, in 2005, that the second one was opened in the village of Lukla, at 2,800 m, right next to the small airport. Both hospitals are private and were built and funded by two non-profit foundations.         

According to recent reports, construction work is about to begin for the first public hospital, in the village of Chheplung, a half-hour walk from Lukla, which will be the largest in the area. It is expected to open in 2020.

The two existing hospitals are small, with 15 beds in Khunde and 25 in Lukla, but enough for the type of activity they do. In fact, according to the hospitals themselves, they are rarely filled. In Khunde they are basically used by the women who go there for children delivery, and in Lukla they are only full of during the tourist season.  

Another common feature is that the professionals who work currently there are locals.

There are three aspects I want to highlight about both hospitals. One is that, due to the size and number of patients they care for, they only perform surgery of very little complexity and complex cases are sent to Kathmandu.

A second aspect to highlight is the radical change it represented for women during the gestation process and especially during childbirth. Care during pregnancy and the possibility of waiting for the time of delivery in the same hospital, especially for women who live many hours on foot from the nearest hospital. This has increased the success of childbirth and helped greatly to reduce infant mortality.

The last aspect I want to highlight are the public health services and programs, family planning, vaccination, health education (prevention), prenatal and childbirth, offered by hospitals in a territory where half a century ago they had no health infrastructure or services.


Today there are 7 small health posts, 3 public (Namche, Pangboche and Chheplung) and 4 private (Thame, Phortse, Namche and Monjo), scattered throughout the territory, so that all permanently inhabited villages have one in the same village or in the next one. It’s like a small safety net for the locals, although some are very precarious.          

Medical care is provided by doctors in 4 centers and by paramedics in the other 3. They all have a stock of medicines to supply directly to users, as there is only one pharmacy in Namche.

In the case of public health centres, there are two recurring problems. One is the difficulty of finding professionals who want to go to work there, especially the most remote ones. And the other is the limitation of available drugs.

A paradigmatic example is that of the village of Pangboche. It is run by a single doctor, who was sent there by the government 5 years ago, with 4 other professionals who never arrived there or left shortly afterwards. This forces him to be available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. And he does, but how long will it last?             


They are centers that, due to their function, are located in places not permanently inhabitedi, very remote and at a high altitude. They are located in Pheriche (4,371 m), Machermo (4,410 m) and Gokyo (4,750 m).

The common characteristics of these centers are that they specialize in health problems related to altitude sickness, only the tourist seasons are open, they are managed by non-profit organizations, the staff who work there are volunteers (mostly foreigners) , and are paid for by tourists and almost free for locals.            

In addition to general and specialized medical care, they hold a free informative and preventive sessions every day on altitude-related health problems. Every year between 800 and 1,000 people attend each center.


1966 – Khunde Hospital (private). Built by Edmund Hillary, and currently funded by the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation (

1970 – 1999 – Thame, Phortse and Monjo Basic Health Posts (Clinics). They are private and depend on Khunde Hospital.

1970 – Namche Health Post. It’s public.

1973 – Pheriche Mountain Medical Center (aid post). Built and managed by the Himalayan Rescue Association (

Late 1990s – Pangboche and Chheplung health posts. They are public.

1991 – Namche Dental Clinic, in Namche (private). Built by the American Himalayan Foundation (

2003 – Machermo and Gokyo High Rescue Centers (private). Built and managed by Community Action Nepal (

2005 – Hospital of Lukla (private). Built and funded by the Nicole Niquille Foundation ( and the Pasang Lhamu Foundation (

2017 – Mountain Medical Institute in Namche (private). Built by the Um Hong Gil Human Foundation

LAMA SERU – A life devoted to improving the Everest trails

If one day you trek from Namche up to Gokyo or the Everest base camp, you will meet a man, sitting in a chair next to a donation box and two big blackboards, where he explains what he does and why he asks for money.    

He is Pasang Sherpa, known as Lama Seru. He is 81 years old and still works with passion for the improvement of the trails that, from Namche upwards, reach the foot of the Sagarmatha (Everest). Hi has been done it on a voluntary basis during the last 35 years and he still continues to do it in spite of his age and that he cannot see or hear well.

He has earned a good reputation for his dedication to improving Khumbu‘s trails. He has done it with his own work and with the donations of the visitors. He started repairing and improving a 14-kilometer long trail from Dingboche to Phungi Thenka, passing through the Tengboche monastery, and a 5-kilometer-long trail from Pheriche to Everest base camp.

Just some days ago he has finished the construction (or repair) of the trail from Phungui Thenka to Namche, which is about 6-kilometer long. During these years he has also built 16 resting areas along these trails and even a chorten (stupa, in Nepali).          

I met him for the first time in 2002 much far away than now but I didn’t realise really what he was doing. 12 years later, in 2014, I met him again at the beginning of the flattest section of the trail before arriving to Namche, with the same blackboards than now. And the last days he was sitting close to Namche. As it was his hope, before the winter arrival, he has ended the reconstruction of this long trail.

The story of this man begins when he was 18 years old and for the first time, he joined a trek to the Everest region. Then he already realized the bad condition of the trails and how dangerous were, for tourists and locals as well. A few years later he left the trekking jobs to dedicate his life to improving the trails that go to Everest. He first lived in a tent until he later married Lakpa Yangji, from Khumjung, and since then they live in a rented house at the outskirts of this town.            

At first, he was the one who did the work but later, due to his age, he started to hire workers. Although he is very old, he says he feels strong enough to continue this task, as he says, until at the end of his days.

Two years ago, he was distinguished with the Nagarik Nayak (Nagarik Heroes) 2017 Award, which is given annually by the Nepalese newspaper My Republic, for its three decades of efforts to improve Khumbu’s trails, what has saved lives of people and cattle that walk there.

His main concern, however, is whether the administration will take over of his job to maintain these trails once he is no longer.

When I was writing this post, I learned that when the repairing of this last section of the trail was finished, he fell seriously ill and he was evacuated by helicopter to the village of Salleri, located in the lower part of this region, where he was born and still have a home. This is where he is currently recovering from the disease and we all hope to see him again sitting on the edge of some trail, continuing this job that is so enthusiastic.

The CARRY ME BACK, a great success that should be also our commitment 


In the post Keep the Khumbu Clean, posted on August 15th, I told about the Sagarmatha Next project, which includes a very original initiative to transfer to Kathmandu, free of charge, the non-organic waste of Khumbu.

A few days ago, the pilot test of this initiative has finished, and it seemed interesting to me to write a review on it. 

The initiative CARRY ME BACK

The Sagarmatha National Park receives approximately 60,000 visitors each year which, together with their guides and porters and the approximately 10,000 inhabitants of the area, are estimated to generate every year some 250 tonnes of waste. 150 tons of these waste are non-organic and here there is not any treatment system.

If most of the visitors, guides and inhabitants of Khumbu who go down to Lukla and Kathmandu would carry between ½ kg and 1 kg of these waste, it means that almost 50% could be carried to Kathmandu without any cost. This is the challenge of CARRY ME BACK.

The pilot test

From October 15th until November 30th, Sagarmatha Next ( in collaboration with the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee ( have developed a pilot test of this initiative.

Just at the exit of Namche, they set up a small station of packing and picking up of bags filled by pressed metallic and plastic waste, that people going down to Lukla could take away. A team of people and very understandable banners informed everybody on this initiative.

The answer, according to the organisers, the test exceeded their expectations from the beginning. They had prepared 1,000 bags, hermetic and easy to hang in the backpacks, thinking that they would be enough for the Namche – Lukla – Namche rotation as people were carrying them down. Soon, however, they realised that were not enough and this forced them to increase the frequency of the return trips of the bags from Lukla to Namche.

During the days the test lasted, more than 2,500 people trekked from Namche to Lukla and more than 5,000 bags of waste were taken, which means an average of just over two bags per person. The record is hold by a person who took 14! 

According to the manager of the Sagarmatha Next project, this confirms the good welcome of the CARRY ME BACK proposal and for the next season, in the spring  2020, they envisage definitive implementation, extending transportation to Kathmandu.

This initiative takes an important step in the direction of not increasing the ecological footprint of our tourist activity. A good example of how to make people aware of not leaving any waste where there is no treatment or recycling system.

SHERPA HOTEL – Goodbye to the first lodge in Namche

As the title says, in this post I wanted to tell only of this small “discovery” that I made here in Namche that is between romanticism and history. But, when I began to write, I immediately realised that for those who follow my blog and have never been in Namche, it could be interesting to put it in context and to explain the origin and evolution of this town, that in my opinion, it is a very unique fact not only here in Khumbu but also in all the mountain areas of Nepal. And for those who already know or are in a hurry (Oh, this hurry of Westerners!), may go directly to the last section where they will find the information of this little discovery.


Namche, called Nauje in the Sherpa language, is a town that was created less than 150 years ago in an area that, according to the oral tradition, was full of trees, especially juniper and fir trees. That is why at the beginning was known as Nagchhe, which means “the great forest”, and that later led to Nauje. The first settlers cut large quantities of trees so today the natural amphitheatre where is the village of Namche, now is a zone with no trees. However, in recent years they are reforesting the surrounding area with native trees under the initiative of neighbours and the Sagarmatha National Park.                

Trade and the weekly market

Namche has never been an agricultural town and from the beginning its inhabitants, many of whom arrived from the surrounding villages, were engaged in trade between Nepal and Tibet. The main goods Khumbu’s Sherpas traders exchanged were salt and wool from Tibet by rice and cereals from India and Nepal. This help them prosper rapidly thanks to the Nepali government in the mid-nineteenth century granted to the Sherpas of Khumbu the commercial monopoly with Tibet through the Nangpa La pass, which is the pass through where the first Tibetan Sherpa came in more of 500 years. Nowadays the Namche Sherpa community is considered one of the wealthiest in Nepal.

In the first years, Namche was primarily a place where merchants stored goods until the beginning of the 1900s, and due to this it became the main trade centre in the area. This was so until China in 1959 took over Tibet and the Chinese government closed the Nangpa La pass, which communicates Khumbu and Tibet, and that is how trade between the two countries stopped. After a few years China authorized the Tibetans to go to the Namche market but not to Sherpa to enter to Tibet. Finally, in 2012, they totally banned it because there were too many Tibetans who did not return, whether to stay in Namche or other places as refugees or to go to meet the Dalai Lama in India.

Until 1964 the weekly market of Namche did not exist since the weekly markets are usual in Nepal, but they are not a Sherpa custom. Until then the goods were stored in the houses and the merchants sold them on demand. It was a military officer of the first detachment that the Nepalese government established in Namche, who launched the market to meet the needs of soldiers who were broader and more diverse than those of the Sherpas. From the beginning it was a Saturday market until a couple of years ago it was extended to Friday all day and Saturday at noon.                  

The growth of Namche

The early years Namche was a very small town. It is known that by the year 1855 there were 55 households and is not until 1990 we know data that speak of 115 households and 530 inhabitants. And since then, there is no reliable data on the growth of Namche since the census provide data for aggregations of villages. Thera are estimates, that speak of about 270 households and 900 inhabitants in 2001 and 320 households and just over 1,000 inhabitants in 2011.

On the other hand, there is data on the evolution of tourism and accommodation in Namche. In 1964 only came 20 tourists, but in the year 2000 they were 25,291 and 2018 reached 56,303. This already gives an idea of ​​the magnitude of the impact of tourism in this town.

As for the lodging of the tourists, until the beginning of the 1970s they camped in tents or they lodged in private houses of their guides. It was not until 1971 that the first lodge was opened. 2 years later there were already 3 and in 1990, there were 30 with a capacity of 600 beds. In 2012 there were 51 lodgings between lodges and hotels and there are currently 60.

As a good village of traders they are, the first store opened in 1967, that is, 4 years before the first lodge. In 1990 there were already 15 tea shops and 25 shops. And it was in 2000 that the first bakeries, which offered pastas and cappuccinos, appeared. There are currently 14.

The large number of tourists and the infrastructure that has been created in the last 50 years has made Namche an atypical people among the Khumbu people. During the seasons of spring and autumn it looks more like a small western tourist city than a rural village in any valley that you must walk for two days to get there. It is the paradigm of the transforming capacity of tourism here in Khumbu.

The first lodge

The first lodge, which was named Sherpa Hotel, was opened in 1971 in an existing building, a traditional Sherpa building, which consisted of two floors. The lower part, with entrance from the rear field, was used for warehouses and cattle stables as was usual in Sherpa houses. The high floor was where tourists were accommodated and had an independent entrance from the trail that is now one of Namche’s main streets. The Sherpa Hotel name can still be read on the access door.    

It consisted of a lobby, a large kitchen, a dining room and a large shared bedroom for guests. The “menu” in those years was based on potatoes, rice and more potatoes.        

The building where the Sherpa Hotel was located still exists although in very bad condition, as can be seen in the pictures. Today it serves as a storage room, but its life is coming to an end because at the beginning of next year it is planned to demolish it to build a new building for commercial and offices use. That’s why I wanted to leave this modest testimony of what was the beginning of the accommodation services that, in less than 50 years, have radically transformed the town of Namche.

KANCHHA SHERPA – The last of the first

A few days ago, walking around Namche I met an old man, who was walking slowly, dressed elegantly in the traditional way of Sherpas and who was praying while reciting the mantras he was counting with the balls of the threng-nga, a kind of rosary used by Buddhists.

1953 Everest Expedition Team – Kanchha in the Red Circle 

His face was familiar to me and after a few seconds of doubt (I am a very bad physiognomist) I remembered some photos of him that I had seen, and realized that he was Kanchha Sherpa, the last living member of the team of 103 Sherpas and 13 mountaineers who took part of the expedition that reached the summit of Everest for the first time, on May 29, 1953.

We greeted each other and exchanged a few words of introduction, took a few photos, and agreed to meet one day at his house to talk quietly. And each of us followed our own way on that so sunny autumn morning.      

That’s how I met who the Nepali Times named The Last of the First, I allowed myself to use to headline this post.

Kanchha Sherpa is now 86 years old but was just 19 when he met Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who led the team of Sherpas who made it possible for Tenzing himself and Edmund Hillary to step on the highest peak on earth for the first time, the Everest (8,848 m).

The story of the Kanchha is a curious story that when he tells about his eyes shine infrequently on a person of his age. It made me excited.

In 1952, when a Swiss expedition passed through Namche on its way to Everest, Kancha Sherpa was impressed with the material and “glamour,” he says, of the mountaineers. So strong was his impression that, at the age of 19, he and three of his friends left home on foot for Darjeeling, India. There, a woman from Thame introduced them to Tenzing Norgay, who turned out to know his father, and was preparing the John Hunt and Edmund Hillary expedition to Everest, in 1953. Both things were decisive for him to be hired.

He had hitherto worked as a porter carrying loads of salt, corn or rice up and down the trail leading to Tibet through the Nangpa La Pass (5,800 m). He had no experience climbing mountains, but he learned quickly and gained the admiration and respect of the members of the expedition. Thus, after a few days, it was already transporting oxygen cylinders and other loads from the base camp to the high-altitude camps that were being set up, and so it reached the South Col (8,000 m).

Speaking of how high he had come, he told me “I was not particularly interested in reaching the top, but I could not have done so because we were not all authorized by the government of the country, to reach the top.”

For 20 years he continued to work as a porter for various expeditions until, in 1973, an avalanche killed 11 Sherpas, including his brother Jangbu. It was then when, at the insistence of his wife, he left the job. He continued for a few years as a guide for trekking groups and a few years later he opened the Nirvana Home lodge, in Namche, taking advantage of the increase in mountain tourism that erupted in the 1980s.

Thanks to it their children, two girls and two boys, were able to study and settled in Kathmandu and Denmark. Today, is his youngest son Tshering who, after living in the United States for 12 years, runs the lodge that Kanchha opened with his wife, and enjoys a very good reputation.

Kanchha currently spends half a year, summer and winter, in Kathmandu with his eldest daughter Dawa and in spring and autumn, which is when the weather is best, he lives in Namche, at the family lodge.

It is where we met a few days ago in his ascetic room, sitting in an armchair. When I walked in, he was spinning a mani lhakor (one of those little prayer wheels with engraved mantras). This fact inspired me the first question I asked him about how Buddhism had influenced his life. He told me “it has been and is my lifestyle because I am convinced that in this life at all times, we have to do the best, respect people and animals, and help people in need. This pleases the gods and is the right path for a future life (after reincarnation) in fullness.

We talked about Tenzing and Hillary. He told me that they were very close and that they trusted each other without limits and that they had said to each other, “If we live, we both live and if we die, we both die.” And they both lived. He also told me that they had both reached the top together at the same time. This makes no sense about the controversy that has so often arisen over who first stepped on the summit.

About Hillary he explains that the Sherpa people are very grateful to him for how he helped them for the rest of his life by creating the Himalayan Trust ( ) to build schools and hospitals..

Perhaps it was this example that, 3 years ago, made him decide, with the help and commitment of his family, to create the Kanchha Sherpa Foundation ( ) to help with education. of boys and girls. With some major donations and especially with the small donations they receive, they can help Namche and Thame schools and a school near Kathmandu, where they distribute backpacks for students, give annual awards to the best students and also distribute school supplies.

We ended our meeting by talking about whether, for the Sherpa people of these valleys, tourism has been positive or negative. His response was, “Tourism has been good for Sherpas,” but he immediately added, “but it’s bad for the gods.” And as if to illustrate, he said, “When I was a child, in the winter season the mountains were very white with snow. Now the peaks are black. That’s not good! “A wise summary of what climate change affects the Khumbu … and everywhere.    


Description of the region

The Sherpas came to these valleys just over 500 years ago from eastern Tibet, in several migratory waves between the 16th and 18th centuries, and settled in what is now known as the Solukhumbu district, formed, from north to south, by the areas of Khumbu, Pharak and Shorong (Solu in Nepali).

The last Constitution of Nepal approved in 2015 established a new administrative organization with provinces, districts and municipalities. As a result, the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality (KPLRM) was created, comprising the Khumbu, Pharak and northern Shorong areas, from the village of Kharikhola to below Lukla. This territory is where I develop my project.

The name of this municipality honors Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Sherpa and Nepalese woman to climb the Everest. It was April 22, 1993, and as she descended, she and her husband died when they were just on the southern summit of the Everest due to bad weather that suddenly got worse.        

Map of KPLRM areas and their location in Solukhumbu district and Nepal 

The evolution of the Sherpa population

According to the American anthropologist Sherry Ortner, the first Sherpas arrived to Khumbu in 1533 and twenty years later, in 1553, they extended to the Shorong area further south and at a lower altitude than Khumbu. They lived in complete independence and peace for almost two centuries until in 1717 they were subjugated by a Hindu dynasty and in 1772 by the Gorkha kingdom, to which they had to begin paying taxes. Apart from this issue, no less important of course, they continued to enjoy a high level of autonomy as no one approached such remote and hard-to-reach areas.

This was the case until the 1960s when, due to political tensions between the two neighboring states, China and India, the Nepalese government began to open government offices and to establish police and army detachments there. This, and the declaration of a national park in 1976 initially managed by non-Sherpas officials, meant the loss of the ability to manage their own interests.

Despite the few data available, it is known that in the Khumbu area alone, in 1836, there were 169 households and in 1957 there were already 596. Already with data from modern censuses, we know that in 1991 households were they had increased to 830 and according to the last available census (2011) 1,031 were counted.

According to the latest census in all three areas of the KPLRM, in 2011 there were a total of 2,433 households, which indicates that almost half of the households in this territory were located in the Khumbu area. , that is, in Namche and the villages above.

In terms of population, in the KPLRM as a whole, 8,243 people lived there in 2001 and in 2011, 8,969, of which only 5,212 (58%) were of the Sherpa ethnic group. These figures show the change in the composition of society in this territory, which in just over 60 years has gone from being 100% Sherpa to 58% on average. If we look at it by areas, we see that the proportion of Sherpa population increases from south to north and with the height of the areas, 40% in the Shorong (Solu) area, 52% in Pharak and the highest in the Khumbu, 74%.

This is due to two factors. One is the arrival of people of other ethnicities, some destined for the area by the country’s government (officials, police and army) and most attracted by the job opportunities offered by tourism.

The other factor is the emigration of Sherpas to Kathmandu or abroad which, in just 10 years (2001-2011), has reduced the Sherpa population by 500 people (10%). This trend is on the rise for two reasons. The first is that as the economic level of families improves, they decide to settle in Kathmandu or abroad, or send their children to study there from an early age. The second cause is that the increase in the number of schools and students and the conviction of parents that the education of their children is the best guarantee that they can have a better life than their own. It makes that every time there is more girls and boys studying in Kathmandu. In both cases there is a complete lack of return to the place of origin. This fact may seem a contradiction, or perhaps it is, since the increase and improvement of education in these valleys, undoubtedly a positive fact, at the same time causes the better prepared youth settle outside the territory that saw them to born.