Batsa stands in the foyer watching his father pack. He can see himself in the gold-framed looking-glass on the wall beyond, the crisp school uniform and shined shoes looking out of place on his sturdy frame. As always he admires his father’s precise movements as he stows the complex array of mountaineering equipment into the various rucksacks and bivy bags––crampons, tri-cams, chocks and leaders.
Da Jangbu Sherpa looks up at his son, sees the boy’s expression of disquiet, or perhaps of longing. He smiles, the deep crow’s feet puckering around his eyes. “Don’t worry, Batsa,” he says. “This will make thirty-three ascents, and I grow more cautious every year. This expedition has no first-timers, either.”
“It’s not that, father. I just wish I could go with you.”
“Sixty-eight days is far too much school to miss,” he says, inspecting his chest harness. “Besides, you know I only do this so you won’t have to.”
Nepal has eight of the 10 highest mountains in the world. Mountaineering, a form of extreme tourism, has grown to the point where the Sherpas – the ethnic group who mostly live in the unfertile mountains and became load carriers for foreign mountaineers – now run their own businesses, contracting much of the heavy work to other Nepali ethnic groups. Sherpas are said to earn between seven and 10 times the average Nepalese wage. Many are able to send their children to the best schools. They aspire to become doctors, engineers or airline pilots.
But development has come at a huge price. The air pollution and traffic jams of Kathmandu are among the worst in the world, the cities are chaotic, unemployment is massive, and the predominantly rural population remains mostly locked in subsistence farming. In addition, Nepal is on the frontline of climate change and is highly vulnerable to flash floods, landslides and droughts. As elsewhere in the Himalayas, the most vulnerable people are affected the most.
The title, थोरै मान्छेले मात्र तिम्रो दुःख बुझ्छन्, बाँकी सबैले त कहानी सुन्न मनपराउछन् is a Nepali proverb that says “People pretend to care about your troubles, but they really just like listening to a story.”