When we travel, we visit places (villages and cities, monuments, museums, mountains and valleys…) that attract our attention for some reason. We observe them, take notes, make drawings, take pictures or make videos, sometimes we talk to people, we taste the local food and drinks, we buy objects that we like and were made in the places we visited. And after all, we go back home with lots of experiences and memories that we keep in different intensity and permanency levels depending on the intensity and the impact of what we lived during our journey.
However, if we stop and think of how much we know about the history, culture, values, lifestyle and living conditions, social structure and human relationships of the inhabitants of the places we visited, we will realise that our vision is, in the best-case scenario, very superficial, because the amount of time we spent there, even if we showed interest, wasn’t enough to go in depth.
The two great changes in the life of the Sherpa community in Khumbu
I was lucky enough to visit Nepal 5 times in the last 18 years, three of them trekking in the Khumbu Valley, a region mostly inhabited by the Sherpa community. In the course of time between the first and the last trekking, I have been able to confirm the deep changes that have affected the region in different incidence levels, depending on the village or the valley we were visiting.
The number of expeditions, treks and tourists in the Khumbu Valley has progressively increased since the first climb up Mount Everest back on the 29th of May 1953, and this increase has been much more intense over the last 30 years.
This fact has meant, with no doubt, a substantial improvement in the economy of these valleys and its people, who have seen how the tourist activity complemented, and in most of cases, substituted a precarious economy based on agriculture, farming and trade. At the same time, as in any other part of the world, the arrival of large amounts of people from all over the globe has affected its inhabitants’ way of life, and not always in a positive way.
Information and communications technology (ICT)
The other fact that is causing a great impact on the historically uncommunicated valleys of Nepal is the generalised access to mobile telephony, Internet and social media. The Khumbu Valley has had mobile phone coverage and 3G services for 3 or 4 years, depending on the area.
In this regard, we can confirm that communications technology has produced, in a short amount of time, a positive change in the life of the Sherpa who live in those valleys.
Back in 2014, the image that affected me the most was the one of men and women transporting heavy loads containing the material needed for expeditions and treks or any other goods that had to be brought up or down (mostly up) hanging from forehead with a ribbon (a konam in Sherpa language or naamlo in Nepali) and talking on the phone at the same time.
The completely natural coexistence of an ancestral means of transport and last generation telecommunications is a big contradiction. It is a picture that makes us think.
This valleys’ orography and the country’s economy make it impossible for roads to be built, what makes us think that, nowadays, they are forever “condemned” to transport goods using animals (yaks and mules) and people. It is well known that transport by helicopter is only available for some privileged people. However, who knows how will it change with the existence of drones. Let time take its course!
Right now, the reality is that, while they are on their way along the trails, they can talk to each other, with their relatives at home, with a supplier or with a costumer. The Internet and its nets has enabled them to stay connected among themselves and with the rest of the world. It is difficult for us to measure this impact because we have experienced all these changes step by step, from the invention of the telephone to the recent arrival of the Internet. They, however, have gone from a complete isolation to a permanent connection, and only in 3 or 4 years.
We need to say, however, that while this is happening in the busiest valleys, it is not the case of those remote and less visited ones.
Getting to know in depth how this two facts, tourism and technology, have an impact on all the aspects (social, cultural, economic or religious) of the life of the Sherpa community is the common thread of this project.
- Observing, getting to know, understanding and disseminating what the life of the Sherpa community in the Khumbu Valley, in Nepal, is like on the 21st century.
- Analysing the economic, social and cultural impact of treks, expeditions and touristic activities in the Valley during the last 75 years.
- Analysing the impact of the arrival of communications technologies in the life of the Khumbu inhabitants.
- ACTIONS OF THE PROJECT
In order to achieve the objectives of this project the following actions have been planned:
- Study of the existing graphic and written documentation before the beginning of the stay, in order to acquire a range of knowledge about the Sherpa community as wide as possible.
- Direct contact with the people that live in these valleys, with four visits to different villages in each valley, coinciding with the four climatic seasons in order to getting to know first-hand what their life is like and the existing differences depending on the valley they are located in and the different seasons.
- Gathering verbal and graphic information (photo and video) to document the results of the project.
- Tracking and observation of the most important festivals (their festivities) that take place during the whole year, as well as ceremonies and social rituals (births, weddings, funerals, community assemblies…) that may occur throughout the year.
- Meetings with relevant people from the different aspects of life in the valleys, like lamas responsible for monasteries, people responsible for the new Village Development Committees, people in charge of Sagarmatha National Park, Sherpa who work for expeditions and treks, accommodation and restaurant business providers, NGOs working in the area, school teachers, hospital doctors, etc.
- Visits and study of the material in Sherwy Khangba Centre (Sherpa Culture Museum) in Namche Bazaar and its documentation centre and the museum and library of the Cultural Centre of the Tengboche Monastery
The project will take place during a continuing stay of one year in Namche Bazaar in order to live from first-hand what the Sherpa community’s life is like during a one-year complete cycle, as the climate conditions and the influx of tourists and mountaineers have influence from one season to another.
The planned dates go from the beginning of March 2019 to the end of February 2020.
The beginning of the stay will coincide with the celebration of Ghyalpo Lhosar (Sherpa New Year), that starts one day after the third new moon after winter solstice, which in 2019 will be on Thursday 7th of March (23nd of Falgun 2075 according to the Nepali calendar, and 1st of Chu 2146 according to the Tibetan calendar).
The project will end with the beginning of the celebration of Ghyalpo Lhosar 2020, which will take place on the 24th of February.
A previous stay in Namche Bazaar is planned in November 2018, to prepare logistics and organize the first visits and contacts, in order to ensure the development of the project from the beginning.
- GEOGRAPHICAL AREA AND POPULATION
The project focuses on the different valleys of Khumbu, from Lukla up to the North.
This territory is located in the Province No. 1 of Nepal, Solokhumbu District, Gaunpalika (rural municipality) of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu, with 8,989 inhabitants (2011 census).
It includes, among others, the old VDCs: Chaurikharka (3,709 inhabitants, 1,912 of which are Sherpa), Namche (1,540 inhabitants, 1,038 of which are Sherpa) and Khumjung (1,912 inhabitants, 1,534 of which are Sherpa).
- VISITS TO THE VALLEYS
The essential core of the project is getting to know the life of the Sherpa community directly from the direct contact with its inhabitants during the visits to several inhabited areas in the Khumbu Valley.
The duration of these stays will be adjusted depending on the number of areas to be visited, people who will be interviewed and the experience of previous visits.
The visits will be grouped into valleys as follows:
From Lukla to Namche Bazaar:
Lukla, Chheplung, Ghat, Phakding, Monjo and Jorsale
Namche Bazaar and surroundings:
Namche Bazaar, Khumjung and Khunde
From Namche Bazaar to Thame:
Thamo, Thame, Thengpokharka, Marulung and Langden
From Namche Bazaar to Gokyo:
Gyele, Macchermo, Gokyo and Phortse
From Namche Bazaar to Gorak Shep:
Tengboche Monastery, Pangboche, Pheriche, Lobuche, Gorak Shep, Dingboche and Chhuckung
- SUPPORT FROM LOCAL PEOPLE
Even though there is a great number of people who speak European languages, mostly English, the collaboration of one or more Sherpa people, who will ensure a good communication with the inhabitants of the Valley, and who speak both English and Nepali in order to guarantee the reliability of the project’s results, is considered essential.
These person or people, that must have a deep knowledge of the history of the Sherpa community and its living system, will also have to explain the project to locals, prepare the visits to the valleys and the meetings with people considered to be interesting, as well as accompanying, when necessary, during the journeys within the territory.
The project itself would make no sense if its results were not broadly and diversified disseminated.
In order to share the experience and broaden its dissemination, the following actions have been planned:
Publishing a blog, in Catalan, Spanish and English, about the development of the project and containing the generated documentation (texts, photographs, videos, interviews, interesting links, etc.)
Opening a specific Instagram account for the project, working as a quick and immediate way of following the project.
Installing a permanent webcam in Namche Bazaar that complements the following of the project.
Writing texts or recording periodic audio-visual material (fortnightly or monthly) for the interested media, about topics of interest for its audience.
Taking photos andrecording videos to complement and illustrate the information that will also be offered, as long as its of their interest, to the Sherpa Culture Museum (Sherwi Khangba Centre) in Namche Bazaar and other Nepali organisations that may be interested.
After the stay in Namche Bazaar, and with all the generated material, an exhibition, that pretends to be itinerant, where all the photographs and audio-visual material will be displayedis planned. The exhibition could be complemented with a talk-debate presentation.
Even though it is not initially planned, the elaboration of a publication (in paper and/or digital format) is not rejected. The publication would explain the experience and work as a disseminator, especially in the western world, of the life of the Sherpa community.