Living as an Honorary Sherpa in the Solukhumbu Region
Twenty years ago, my father made one last great trip before becoming a stay-at-home dad. I was then four years old and I don’t recall his absence. This final adventure was a hike to Gokyo Ri in the Everest region. Despite his determination, he got caught in a snow storm. He refused to leave Solukhumbu, so he decided to seek shelter in a lodge in Kyangjuma. For ten days, he helped Tashi Sherpa while her husband Lhakpa Dorje, an eminent climber, was on an expedition. At the time, she was running a small guesthouse while raising her young boys.
It is in this same place that I went to spend a few weeks in October 2016. I also stayed and helped in everyday tasks. I became the only Western waitress in the region. Despite meeting countless foreigners within two decades, Tashi remembered my father very clearly, and fondly. He used to walk back and forth to Khumjung to take the children to school and carry water to the lodge. The water was not yet running there.
Every morning I got up at around six. I loved being woken up by the smell of burning juniper, along with Tashi’s voice reciting her daily prayers. The days were punctuated by the flow of trekkers. There were the ones who were progressing slowly, breathing at each step and carefully drinking ginger tea and garlic soup. There were also young sportsmen in a hurry to accomplish their feat. We would not see most of them on their way back as they made an express return by helicopter (of the emergency kind!) We also met those for whom it was their first time in the mountains, and the ones for whom returning each year had become a vital need. These herds, dressed in the big brands of adventure, arrived in waves.
Once our breakfast guests left, we had time to eat before the arrival of the first batch from Namche Bazaar. Breakfast consisted of noodle soup, porridge or tsampa (barley flour), the most prominent food in the Himalayan regions. We were then busy serving tea, lunch and some delicious pastries under a blazing sun until mid-afternoon.
From the lodge terrace, the panorama flirted with the surreal. From left to right: Lhotse, Kantera, Khantserko and Amadablam, all wrapped in their mantle of eternal snow. This breathtaking landscape attracted numerous visitors. From there, it was impossible to take a bad photo. Groups of trekkers from all corners of the world, mingled with the yaks who have only ever known Solukhumbu. We could hear their heavy bells approaching from afar.
Fridays were special, as it was market day in Namche. Fridays and Saturdays were the only days when lodges from all over the region could stock up on vegetables, fruit and other consumables. The farthest and the wealthiest would send porters back and forth in one day, while others walked the distance in person. The first time I came it took me about two and a half hours with my 12kg backpack. I could now make the return trip in less than two hours, while carrying about the same weight. I was amused by the astonished glances of tourists and guides as I escorted my Sherpa friends, who carried triple the weight I was. I was slowly turning into a porter.
The most magical moment of the day was at dusk. In the lower realm we were plunged into darkness, while the mythical peaks had the luxury of getting the last sunrays. We were surrounded by a grey mist while they were adorned with gold. It was as if they were celebrating another day of their supremacy over the elements. They seemed so close a few hours ago, and were now inaccessible. More proof, if we needed it, that we belonged to two distinct worlds.
Spending time in the Himalayas instead of going from point A to EBC is the best way to become acquainted with the mountains. They share their secrets to those who are patient. I am forever grateful for the welcome I have received from Tashi and her family. I am proud to count them as friends still today.
Sadly, the Amadablam Lodge burnt down this year. Tashi’s family is slowly rebuilding years of sweat and tears. They went through a lot to build the lodge, with Lhakpa Dorje climbing mountain after mountain and Tashi trying to keep everything together herself. They are active members of the Sherpa community and all Solukhumbu knows them and respects them for their goodwill.
Article by Ava Adler.
Top image: Paul/Flickr