Friday, September 21, 2018

Wind of change at base camp

“Sherpa” is an interesting and tragic documentary about the so-called 2014 Mount Everest ice avalanche and its aftermath. In April 2014, an ice avalanche at the notorious Khumbu Icefall killed 16 Nepalese mountain guides, all of whom were Sherpas. The Sherpa are a Tibetan Buddhist minority people in Nepal, world famous for their work as mountain guides. The Sherpa Tenzing Norgay was one of the first persons to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1953 as part of a British-led expedition.

This documentary reveals that the life of a Sherpa is hardly a romantic one, the guides essentially being forced to help Westerners climb the mountain due to lack of employment opportunities in their local villages. It also reveals that Sherpas are no longer willing to be the silent, invisible but loyal help mates to Western climbers. In 2013, a huge fight broke out on the mountain after a Western “client” had insulted a native guide. After the 2014 disaster, Sherpas organized protest meetings at the base camp, demanding economic compensation and the cancellation of all climbing that season. They even managed to get a government minister to address their rally. In the documentary, one of the Western organizers claims that Sherpas in his employ were willing to climb the summit, but decided not to for fear of being violently attacked by their militant compatriots. Most of the “clients” don't get it, being angry at the locals for stopping the climb of their lifetimes, one American even calling them “terrorists” and comparing the whole thing to 9/11!

Nepal used to be an authoritarian monarchy, but it seems the introduction of democracy have brought some real changes, including assertive locals who no longer want to be pushed around by uncomprehending foreigners. Recommended.

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