The Role of Sherpas in Nature Conservation as Guardians of the Himalayas

On the way from Phakding (2,610 m) to Namche Bazar (3,440m).
Walking duration is 5 to 6 hours to cross the 830 meters elevation
through deep blue sky, snow-covered peaks, mystical landscape,
breathing in fresh air, pine forests and ancient Buddhist sites.
Credit: Valentina Gasbarri

By Valentina Gasbarri
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jan 31 2020 (IPS)

Since I was a kid, I grew up with adventures and stories of
famous characters of the books of Jack London: White Fang, Make a
Fire… and the incredible ode to perseverance of Martin

I was absolutely fascinated by the fact that human beings could
establish a deep link with the environment, even in the remote,
high-altitude, coldest and hardest places of our Planet.
This was the first contact I had with the theoretical concept of

But when theory meets curiosity, the result is clear: always
looking for stories to be told to document successful models of
living where Human-Nature result in creating a perfect balance.

Majestic landscape of mountains, deep valleys and glaciers are
dominated by Mt. Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepalese, which means
“forehead in the sky” and Chomolungma in Tibetan, meaning
“goddess mother of mountains”) at 8,848m above the sea

This mountain of many names has always attracted pilgrims,
whether Tibetans honoring a peak they believe is abode of a deity,
or climbers or trekkers fascinated by the highest point on

Since the first successful ascent on 29 May 1953 by Sherpa
Tenzing Norgay and Sir. Edmund Hillary, a New Zealand mountaineer,
explorer and philantropist, a pivotal change is taking place but
local mountain Sherpas show resilience and are committed to protect
high mountain ecosystem, plants and wildlife from the valley to the
icy summits, where they have lived for more than 400 years.

“It is our hope that the people who are coming to the
Sagarmatha Park and the Khumbu valley will agree that the Sherpa
people and landscapes in our land have exhibited an overall
stability and resiliency which can provide important insights and
lessons-learned for mountain people around the globe” said Sherpa
Paisang during our jouney to the Everest Base Camp (8.364m).

The term Sherpa or sherwa derives from the Sherpa language words
Shyar (“East”) and Pa (“People”), which refer to their
geographical origin of Eastern Nepal.

“It’s hard to become a Sherpa guide, there’s a 1 year
course to attend and an exam to pass on subject related to mountain
and case-studies to be solved. Majority of Sherpas are porters.
They can usually carry on their shoulders max 130kg from Lukla
airport to Namche Bazar or up to the other villages. They get
around $8 per kg. They got a little salary for a huge effort”
said Paisang, a young guide with a long experience in trekking in
the Himalays.

The 2011 Nepal census recorded 312,946 Sherpas within its

Changes in the Sherpa livelihoods from tradition across
the Himalaya to Global Tourism

As a population, the Sherpas have historically responded and
adapted to changes brought by the outside world. In the mid-1800s,
the King of Nepal granted the Sherpas a trade monopoly by
prohibiting anyone but a Khumbu Sherpa from crossing the Nangpa La,
the high-altitude pass to Tibet.

Many Sherpa families benefited to some degree from the bartering
that took place in either Tibet or border towns of India.

Namche Bazar, 3,450m above the sea level, is the starting point
for expeditions to Mt. Everest and other Himalayan peaks in the
area. It has been the main trading centre since 1905. Prior to
that, it was simply a place where traders from Khumjung stored
their trading goods between the seasons when they could travel to
the lowlands. The trade to Tibet was drastically reduced after it
was taken over by the People’s Republic of China in the late

At present only a few Tibetan and Sherpa traders crossed the
pass in both directions. They could be seen at the weekly market
with lowland in Nepal traders. The weekly market is not a Sherpa
tradition, it was started in the mid-1960s by an army officer
stationed in Namche to meet the needs of the growing population of
Nepali civil servants.

Since the Nepali government first allowed Westerners to visit
the Kingdom in 1950s, tourism has grown to be now the main source
of livelihood for the Sherpas. Until the beginning of the 21st
Century, the number of explorers coming to the SNP annually grown
from 1,400 ( ‘70s) to over 25,000. According to the last figures
more than 40,000 people per year make the trek from Lukla airport
to the Everest Base Camp.

The growing prosperity brought also opportunities for new
lifestyles. The Sherpas have constantly balanced outside influences
with their own culture, which has valuable spiritual and cultural
aspects to share with the world.

Before Western explorers, adventurers and climbers, Sherpas’
economy was based primarly on agriculture (potato and buckwheat
farms) yak herding, and trade of salt, wool, rice, yaks and cows
from Nepal to Tibet and viceversa. But in the valleys of Khumbu,
the summer monsoon lasts from June to September. During the quiet
but productive season people carry out their chores of hearding and
farming. But… farming is not easy.

Most fields for cultivating food crops are at relatively lower
elevtions of about 3,300 meters near the main Sherpa villages.
During the cold winter, herds of yak or nak ( female) are grazed on
nearby hillsides; when the summer comes, the yaks or nak are taken
up to high valleys wher the rains changed the dry mountinsides to
rich, green pastures.

Periche, Lobouche and Dingboche were established as their summer
huts and hay fields. The shaggy bovines provide dairy products (
yak milk, butter and meat), wool and transportation.

But, nowadays we are witnessing a crucial shift for Sherpa
culture, and in particular for the sub-culture of Sherpa guide,
climbing and porters community. When the interest for adventurous
explorations grew gradually over the decades, Sherpas were firstly
hired away from their farms to carry loads, as porters, to become
guides and climbers.

In some ways, Sherpas have benefited from this commercialization
fo the Mt. Everest more that any ethnic group, earning money from
trekkers or climbers. The job of “sherpa” has been
progressively formalized and now they own hotels, trekking
companies, airlines.

Paradoxically, Khumbu Sherpas are nowadays among the wealthies
of Nepal’s dozens of ethnic groups.

Celebrating the people and landscapes of Mt. Everest and
the Khumbu valley

***This story is a first of a series based on my experience on
the Mt. Everest Base Camp Trekking Route with the aim to discover
and understand more the spirit of the mountaneers and communities
in a close relationship with the surrounding Nature

The post
The Role of Sherpas in Nature Conservation as Guardians of the
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
The Role of Sherpas in Nature Conservation as Guardians of the Himalayas