Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sherpas n' Yaks n' Yetis

We're on the last leg of our extended trek in the Khumbu region of Nepal. The Khumbu is home to some of the highest mountains on earth, including Everest (number 1!), Lhotse (4), Makalu (5), Cho Oyu (6) and Manaslu (8) - of which more in another post. The local people are Sherpas, world famous for their physical ability in the mountains and an essential part of every trekking and mountaineering expedition. Just like the Gurung people we met in Annapurna, the Sherpas are an industrious and fun-loving lot who run great 'teahouse' lodges under very difficult conditions - everything here must be transported on foot by Sherpa porters or by Yak.

Yaks are the other famous inhabitants of the Khumbu and also a big part of mountain expeditions. Mary and I found an abandoned little yak calf one afternoon, only a day or two old and with no sign of its mother. Wondering what to do, we eventually decided to carry the little chap to the nearest village hopeful that yak calves were sufficiently valuable to elicit help from the locals rather than laughter at the sentimental, impractical westerners. Feeling a little like Billy Crystal in City Slickers, we eventually came across a Yak herd and shepherdess. On seeing the calf, the yaks started calling to it and fixed me with a menacing stare. The calf called back to the big, shaggy beasts, which only seemed to agitate them further. Feeling like an accused yak-napper, I attempted to reunite the calf with its kind, but the other yaks were less than happy to accommodate the little chap. Eventually the shepherdess carried the calf herself. I couldn't help think about the little guy as I lay in my sleeping bag that night, listening to the wind outside, wondering if he was OK.

Yaks can carry more than Sherpas - but only just. Sherpas smell worse than Yaks - but only just. Actually, that's an injustice to Yaks and most Sherpas. It is specifically Sherpa porter's feet that smell worse than anything dead or alive and can strip the paint from the interior of a teahouse in the time it takes to remove a pair of fake Teva sandals and warm your feet by the stove.

Fortunately, we didn't meet any Yetis.

All aboard - the yak train. In the background is the Lhotse-Nuptse ridge and our first view of the Everest summit, peeking over the top.

This little sherpani was the center of attention at our lodge in Dingboche.

Sherpa porters carry building materials on the trail to Gokyo. Spare a thought for these guys next time you're loading up at Ikea or Home Depot.

Tengboche Monastery, the largest in Nepal.

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