Unsung Heroes of the Himalayas: The Struggle and Resilience of Sagarmatha’s Porters

Unsung Heroes of the Himalayas The Struggle and Resilience of Sagarmatha's Porters

Himalayas: With a head strap supporting a heavy load and a sturdy wooden club in hand, they made their way up towards the Sagarmatha Base Camp.

Despite the invigorating mountain breeze, the March sun left their bodies soaked in sweat. As they ascended, the altitude posed an additional challenge to their journey. Amidst these conditions, they recognized the need for a brief respite. Nawaraj BK, Mingar Tamang, Jeevan Kulung, Darinji Sherpa, and Nawaraj Basnet paused momentarily to catch their breath.

While tourists flocked from all corners of the globe to fulfill their dreams in this coveted destination, for this team, the dream was simply to earn income to support their families. The Sagarmatha region stood as a top-tier destination for adventurous tourism enthusiasts, yet for this squad, their journey extended further into the Khumbu region.

This labor-intensive job served as a primary source of income, providing a mere Rs 2,000 per day. Nawaraj BK, a married man in his early 40s from Bung of Mahakulung rural municipality-1 in Solukhumbu, had dedicated the past fifteen years to this occupation, relying solely on it to sustain his family. However, the job’s availability was seasonal, restricted to climbing seasons from September-October to November-December and February-March to April-May.

Once the climbing season commenced, individuals like Nawaraj would leave home to seek employment in the Khumbu region. They would meet tourists in Lukla, negotiate deals, shoulder their luggage, and guide them to their destinations, repeating this routine throughout the season. Meanwhile, back home, Nawaraj BK would busy himself with farm work.

“Working in the freezing temperatures of Sagarmatha, risking our lives, is barely enough to cover the expenses for our families,” he lamented. The journey from Lukla, situated at 2,860 meters, to the Sagarmatha Base Camp at 5,364 meters took six to seven days, with an additional two to three days for the return trip. Despite the toil, they barely earned Rs 18,000-20,000 per trip, from which lodging and food expenses needed to be deducted.

“The Khumbu region is costly, and the circumstances are challenging for us. Affording quality accommodation is unimaginable; we must seek out budget inns,” Mingmar remarked, taking a moment’s respite alongside Nawaraj BK.

In addition to their burdensome backpacks, they had to carry provisions like roasted maize grains, rotis, and potatoes for sustenance. Yet, with the meager earnings, dining at hotels meant no savings to take home. Finding lodging amidst crowds proved equally challenging, particularly in the higher reaches of Khumbu, where porters were charged Rs 500 to Rs 700 per meal.

“No amount of compensation truly reflects the hardships we endure. Occasionally, we find solace in the tips we receive,” Mingmar added.

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Despite playing a vital role in the tourism industry of the Sagarmatha region, porters often lacked the respect they deserved. They were indispensable companions for mountaineers and trekkers, facilitating exploration in the Khumbu area and often saving lives with their expertise in the region’s harsh climate. Nevertheless, their demanding job and pivotal contributions were frequently overlooked.

“We carry loads up the mountains, yet struggle for accommodation when darkness falls. Even if we manage to find a room, it’s beyond our means. We’re left to seek makeshift shelters,” Darinji Sherpa lamented.

Recognizing the plight of porters, the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality had initiated the concept of a ‘Porter House’, aiming to provide adequate facilities. Mingma Chhiri Sherpa, the rural municipality chairperson, outlined plans for constructing Porter Houses across the Sagarmatha region, ensuring porters access to affordable food and lodging.

While porters faced minimal issues in Namche and Lukla, higher areas like Thame, Dingboche, Dibuche, Thukla, and Goraksep posed challenges. The forthcoming Porter Houses aimed to alleviate these concerns, promising a resolution to the food and accommodation woes plaguing porters in these remote regions.

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