The Himalaya. Everest. Everyone has heard of this grand mountain range and its most revered mountain, situated in the Khumbu Valley of Nepal, some 100 km to the North East of Kathmandu. Whilst the area is known for its stunning vistas such as the one below (refer to Image), there is an undertone of fragility to the outdoor adventures frequented each year by thousands of tourists. Without the tireless work of the Sherpa who often guide tourists and carry their packs, as well as provide accommodation, food and hospitality, there would be far fewer travellers in the region. To complicate matters, despite mountains being sacred deities for the locals, they need tourism to sustain their livelihoods, as the sector accounts for 10.4 % of global GDP .
View of Ama Dablum from the Chola Pass
Starting from Kathmandu, there are two routes to get to the Khumbu Valley: the first involves taking a bumpy flight to the most dangerous airport in the world, with a sheer cliff drop and a rock facing either end of the perilously short runway; the other is a 4 day hike from Jiri to reach the same location . At this point, nothing seems particularly out of the ordinary and one could imagine that the status quo of amenities and modern sensibilities will carry on for a while yet, but within a day of hiking the remoteness of the region shows how harsh it is. On the trail, groups of yak carry tanks of gasoline in order to heat houses, and run of the river hydro power plants provide electricity to the region. However, these infrastructural luxuries only last as far as the renowned Namche Bazaar, found on the second day of trekking. After this we would not see grid connected technology for another 12 days throughout our trip. However, there was a dark side to the reliance on renewables which reared its ugly head again and made our travel all the more eye opening.
Moving up through the mountains, it became apparent that during the day you did not need power as a traveller, and the locals themselves only used gas to cook. When night came round, there were three primary needs: hot water for cleaning, electricity for light and a heat source. These were all met by sustainable or renewable methods, and it was fascinating to see off-grid technology in action at such a large scale. On the way to Phakding, the main stop before the arduous 800 m ascent to Namche, 10 large solar thermal units were being installed to provide hot water to a new settlement and a hospital. n Dingboche, we stayed with a baker who had escaped Tibet in his teens and, upon hearing my involvement in renewable energy, was keen to show me his electricity setup: a 2 kW solar panel and a 100 Ah battery. By the sacred lakes of Gokyo, we stayed next to a farm which had the exclusive purpose of drying out yak excrement (which was handpicked) to produce a fuel source from waste which could be used in the heaters in every dining room. The dark side of these advancements? Someone had to pay for all of it, which meant that the customers, who would pay $2 for a room and $4 for a meal, got preferential access to all the heat, hot water and electricity for their rooms. If the batteries were to run out or there were no heat in the dining rooms, it would reflect poorly upon the hospitality of the hotel and tea house keepers. This meant that whilst the services were there, in many cases we saw that people who lived there in harmony with the mountains had no guaranteed access.
There is, however, some good news to this story. The hospital being built outside Phakding is half funded by German investors. In Gorakshep, the last stop before Everest base camp, a relatively large solar installation is underway, partially funded by a small tax placed upon those who climb the mountain. Although there are some charitable investments and positive benefits associated with the tourism in the region, there are still many political problems that need to be smoothed out: ask any tea house owner and they will tell you they never saw any of the $60 that all trekkers must pay to make the trek or the $50,000 that someone must pay to climb the mountain. Speaking to Buranami Sherpa, Director of the Mother Earth Hotel in Lobuche and an active member of the local council, we were told the reason that accommodation in the town was $7 rather than the customary $2 was that the extra money was fed directly back into the town: children’s first few years of education was funded and they were given light to study. In a country where there are a million children out of school, this is a truly honourable endeavour .
To quote the great Apa Sherpa, who has started the Sherpa clothing brand which donates part of its profits to fund children’s education in the Himalayas after summiting Everest 21 times:
“I wouldn’t wish this for anyone”
If you ever have the privilege of visiting this region keep in mind that it is all made possible by the locals, who give everything for visitors.
The CommUnity Post
W. T. &. T. Council, "Economic Impact 2018 Nepal," WTTC, London, 2018.
"The Himalayan Times," One million kids still out of school: Report, p. 1, 07 October 2016.
A. Kannampilly, "Inside the world's most dangerous airport," 16 December 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-advice/health-safety/inside-the-worlds-most-dangerous-airport/news-story/21519b748e67fe5b14dca1c00d14372c. [Accessed 28 October 2018].