What Life is Like for a Female Nepalese Sherpa at Mount Everest
We were going to the base of Mount Everest. I am a flatlander living in California. Everest Base Camp…was I even ready for this?? I invested in some new hiking boots and started climbing up any hill I could find. I felt like I was in pretty good shape as I boarded the plane for Nepal months later.
My trip started in Kathmandu. When I exited the airport a wave of heat enveloped me as I was greeted by an unfamiliar mixture of sights, sounds and smells. I was ushered into a cab soon to be barreling through traffic-jammed streets towards my hotel. The hair-raising car trip was intoxicating. There were enough sights that I could be kept busy for weeks, but this was just a stepping stone on my way to the Khumbu Valley and Everest Base Camp. I had a flight to Lukla, the tiny town where all the Everest hopefuls arrive, the next day.
Courage is the power to let go of the familiar – Raymond Lindquist
Lukla is home to one of the most dangerous airports in the world. The short, uphill runway is surrounded by high peaks, and during the final approach the twin-propeller planes are often buffeted by strong winds. The day I landed in Lukla, the skies were clear, but it was a bumpy ride. Behind a wire fence to one side of the runway I saw people of all ages wearing jeans, thin jumpers and scuffed shoes. Many of these people were porters waiting to carry the bags of the trekkers arriving in the valley. The minute we got off the plane we were greeted by our guide Tshering Tendi Sherpa.
A fine-boned woman amongst the men along the fence caught my eye. She was at least a foot shorter than the men. She almost looked frail. Her face was weathered, her hands were worn, yet she stood there with such a sense of confidence that I had to smile. She immediately smiled back at me, her face lighting up as she walked up to me and shook my hand. She was one of our porters.
Her name was Basan.
A 42-year-old Nepalese Sherpa woman, Basan is one of the few female porters that have the will and endurance to trek through the Khumbu Valley to Everest Base Camp. I could see that Basan took great pride in her mountaineering heritage.
Each porter is limited to carrying 30 kilograms (66 lbs), which equaled, in our case, two bright yellow duffle bags. The bags were tied together by Basan, who was always smiling. With a little help lifting them to her back, she secured them with a strap across the top of her head. It looked impossibly uncomfortable, but the grin and enthusiasm in Basan’s expression each day did not indicate discomfort. When I tried carrying the packs myself, I found that I could only make it 30 steps, while Basan was managing a 7-hour trek to the next teahouse! Her Sherpa heritage had given Basan a natural advantage trekking at high altitudes, and her personal strength enabled her to carry our bags all the way to the Base of Everest.
When Basan was 22 she met Tshering Tendi Sherpa. She started working exclusively for him so that she could send her son to Monastery school in Kathmandu when he got older. Basan wanted her son to have the education she did not receive growing up. She did not want him to have to work as a porter. Her dedication to her son shows that her love is like that of any mother, anywhere in the world. Basan continues to work in the high season so she can support her son’s training as a monk.
“She is so strong and a tough woman,” says Tshering. “She never complains. Some porters will complain…not Basan, she never complains and always has a smile.”
Basan has been with Tshering’s family for more than 20 years. She continues to help support trekkers like myself make the challenging trip from Lukla to the Base of Mount Everest.
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