More than just Kathmandu—Know Nepal Part IV

Gateway to Everest, Namche Bazar. Image: flickr/Peter

Yes, Kathmandu is Kathmandu. It has plenty of interesting things for tourists to savor. These include the various durbar squares with their numerous temples. What’s so special about these places, you could ask. Well, the long and short of it is that you’ll find here plentiful evidence of a refined and ancient culture that continues to flourish even today. It’s the beautiful art and architecture of the palaces and the temples in the world heritage monument zones (as the three durbar squares of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan have been designated by UNESCO), that will leave you fascinated. The Newars, the original inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley, they are the ones to be credited with most of the art and architecture you see around the valley. Oh yes, the Newars are born artists and artisans. However, that is not to say that other ethnic groups are not as capable, only, their capability might be in a different field altogether. Take the Sherpas, for example.

Sherpa people performing a ritual. Image © Denis Poulet

Now, they are probably better known around the world than most other communities of Nepal. World famous as skilled climbers, many of them hold world records in various feats to do with climbing mountains, especially the mighty ice capped peaks of the great Himalayan range. Tenzing Sherpa is, of course, the most famous of them all, he being the first to conquer Everest along with Hillary way back in 1953, May 29, to be exact. A host of other Sherpas have followed suit, some climbing in world record times, some climbing two score and more times, and recently, on May 12 and 19, 2012, Chhurim Sherpa, 29, became the first woman to climb Everest twice within a single season. This year, Mingmar and Chhang Dawa Sherpa became the first two brothers in the world to successfully complete ascent of all the world’s 14 peaks above 8,000 meters. This included Everest, of course.

Indeed, Sherpas are a breed apart. Originally from Tibet, they inhabit the Solu Khumbu region at the southern approaches to Everest, and before the advent of mountaineering, they were traders and porters who traded and carried goods from Tibet and beyond. Came a time when climbing mountains became a big thing and what do you know? The load carrying ability of the sturdy Sherpas became much in demand by Westerners bent on conquering the mighty Himalayan peaks. And, it is the Khumbu region that has provided most of the fearless porters and guides to countless number of expeditions. So, what say we delve a bit into Sherpa land?

Sherpa Land, Solukhumbu

Consisting of the sub regions Solu and Khumbu, Solukhumbu District is in Sagarmatha Zone where, in addition to the worlds’ tallest mountain, Everest, is also located the world’s highest natural park, Sagarmatha National Park, which by the way, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the ‘natural’ category. There’s enough said about the former, as for the latter, it might interest you to know that Sagarmatha National Park occupies 1,148 sq km of land rich in exotic flora and fauna. You’ll find animals such as musk deer, red panda, snow leopard, and Himalayan house hare in this park. You’ll also find some 118 bird species including the Impeyan pheasant, Nepal’s national bird, locally known as danfe.

Tengboche Monastery. Photo: Didrik Johnck.

Khumbu is actually a glacier, and Namche Bazaar ((3,446 m), the gateway to Mount Everest, is one of the largest towns here. In fact, for most Sherpas, it could well be their capital city. Other smaller towns in the Khumbu region are Pangboche, Pheriche, Kunde, Thame, and Khumjung. Khumbu is also famous for one of the country’s most revered monasteries, Tengboche Monastery. The region is a very challenging area for trekkers, with some routes climbing up to altitudes as high as 5,400 meters. Average temperatures in Khumbu range from -1.8 0C to 11.5 0C. Because of the height and the associated weather, trekking is not an activity that can be done all-year-round; rather, trekking is best done here in October-November and March-May only. On the other hand, trekkers can go about their business throughout the year in the Solu region, which is at a lower altitude. One thing that should be known, however, is that although Solukhumbu is home to lots and lots of Sherpas, the majority of the population consists of Rais who live in the lower hills. Now, Rais, that’s another ethnic group that has carved out its reputation as among the world’s best soldiers, literally carved their reputation with their khukuris. Yes, the very same weapon of the valiant Gorkhas that so terrified the Japanese and the Germans during the two great wars. But, then, the Rais and their exploits, that’s another story altogether.

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