Sir Edmund Hillary had not founded the school,
we would still be just following behind our yaks’.
by a Sherpa on the 40th anniversary of the Khumjung School.
means ‘easterner’. The Sherpas originated from eastern Tibet.
They started to settle in the Khumbu area about 600 years ago. However,
not all Sherpas live in Khumbu, but are also found through out Nepal and
in India, Bhutan and Tibet. These days many Sherpas live in Kathmandu.
Traditionally they live in sparsely populated areas of the high Himalayas
and share many cultural links with Tibet including their language,
religion, dress, architecture and agricultural practices. Kathmandu was,
until recently, a difficult long journey and to a place where the culture
and climate are very different. In fact, Sherpas make up only about 1% of
the predominantly Hindu population of Nepal. It is estimated that there
are about 250,000 people who call themselves Sherpas, around 3000 live in
Khumbu and many more live in the villages in the southern part of the
district known as Solo.
has one of the most diversified environments in the world, ranging from
the hot dusty Indian plains to the tops of the Himalayas. Khumbu is over
11,000 sq. kilometers and covers altitudes from 2800 metres to some of the
highest mountains in the world. More than 95 % of this region is above
4000m. Powerful forces have created Khumbu and the awesome mountain range
that surrounds it. For over 50 million years, the Indian continental plate
ground up against southern Asia, and then finally slipped beneath it. The
resulting uplift of the Asian plate is what created the Himalayas,
including Mount Everest. This continental collision continues today, and
India is pushing 18mm towards Tibet each year resulting in the Himalayas
rising upwards by 5mm annually. Periodic earthquakes and landslides are a
result of the incredible changes being wrought in the Himalayas.
Wind and Weather.
The climate varies from
temperate to arctic depending on altitude and aspect. Khumbu is somewhat
protected from the worst extremes by a surrounding wall of mountainous
ridges. This gives it its hidden valley quality and creates partial rain
shadow conditions that keep out the worst of the torrential monsoon rains
coming up from India and the icy winds that blow across the Tibetan
plateau from the north. The climate also reflects its relatively low
latitude; it is further south than Cairo, still in the winter temperatures
drop well below freezing. Thus, Khumbu has a relatively low snowfall
though avalanches are still a hazard and people and livestock are
sometimes lost to storms. The climate varies considerably. In monsoon, it
rains heavily and temperatures rise up to 20 degree Celsius. In winter,
the climate can be extremely hard, dropping below minus 20 degrees and
snowfall is frequent.
Most of Khumbu is high
alpine country, an area of ice, alpine tundra and lichen. The snow line is
at 6000m on southern slopes and 5800m on northern aspects. Only 2 % of
Khumbu is forested. The lower valleys are conifer country; higher up are
fir, pine, birch, rhododendron and juniper, but the trees thin out and
growth rate slows down. In thirty years, a juniper will only grow 15 cm,
only half a centimetre a year. For this reason the cutting of juniper by
lodges for tourist related activities is unsustainable. Above 4000m come
the highly scented dwarf rhododendrons, alpine shrubs, herbs and grasses.
It is in the clean pristine alpine meadows that most of the herbs used in
Tibetan medicine grow.
The Sagarmatha National
Park was created in 1976 and a few years later it was listed as the World
Heritage List because of its ‘Exceptional
beauty’ and as a place where ‘natural and cultural elements are found
in exceptional combinations’. In the east is the more recently created
Makaklu-Barun Conservation area and to the north, the huge Qomolangma
Reserve in Tibet. Within this vast area are some rare and protected
animals which the Parks are trying to preserve. Sadly, however, poaching
is still a threat and some illegal cutting of forest resources continues.