Himalayan culture expedition: New Delhi to Phortse Village.

Exactly one week ago I arrived in Katmandu, fresh off of a month travel alone through India. I had traversed the continent from Mumbai to Calcutta and seen bodies burning on the banks of the Ganges, and experienced the hectic chaos that envelops the country for the Hindu holiday of Holi. After the madness that was traveling India on a budget, a warm welcome from friends and family in Katmandu was nice to say the least. My father is here in the Khumbu as part of an expedition to climb the West Ridge of Mount Everest, and my mother has accompanied him here to trek into base-camp for the beginning of the trip. I have traveled to the Khumbu region of Nepal for National Geographic, to document the changing cultural and social landscape of the Sherpa people who inhabit the high Himalaya, since the arrival of western culture and influence with the first climbers and trekkers over 50 years ago.

A friend and I escape the warzone of Holi (the festival of color) via bicycle rickshaw in the town of Mathura India, supposed birthplace of Krishna.

With my one day in Kathmandu I was able to visit Bhaktapur, the old part of Katmandu where you still seldom see cars, and in the morning and evening devout Buddhists and Hindus walk laps of prayer around the grand temples and shrines to the vast array of Deities. After wondering the smokey streets for the day, we retired for an evening of indigenous Nepali food and dance at a local restaurant.

Old man sits in the growing sunlight on the streets of Bhaktapur.
Photo: Max Lowe. Old man sits in the growing sunlight on the streets of Bhaktapur.

After an early morning puddle jumper flight from Kathmandu into the tiny town of Lukla, the contrasting change of landscape from the dirt and chaos of Katmandu to crisp clean mountain air and the ghostly shapes of 17,000 ft. peaks looming above was awing. A two day hike brought us up the Khumbu valley to the main Sherpa town of Namche Bazar. A vibrant and bustling community of lodges, gear shops, coffee houses and even pizza parlors, you can hardly tell you are in the heart of the highest mountain range in the world at 12,000 ft.

A plane prepares for take off on the small airstrip above Namche with Kwangde peak in the background.

I am now on my third day of acclimatization here in Phortse Village, a 4 hour hike up valley from Namche. I was here almost 10 years ago for the first year of the sherpa climbing school that my mother and stepfather started, the Khumbu Climbing Center. Revisiting Phortse, it’s so good to see friends from long past and to make more daily. I began my study into the changing landscape of the Sherpa culture and society over the last 50 years and more with several interviews with town elders.

Karma Tsering Sherpa, now 80 years old has lived his entire life in Phortse village and seen the arrival of the first westerners to the region as well as the first cell phones.

Early morning departure to Pangboche tomorrow, where the expedition team will visit the local head Lama to receive a Puja or blessing for luck and health on the mountain. From Pangboche it will be another two day trek into Everest Basecamp.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Max Lowe is an adventure photographer and writer from Bozeman, Montana, who works as a freelance journalist. He recently received a Young Explorer grant from the National Geographic Society to study the cultural and social change occurring in the Khumbu region of the Himalaya in Nepal. Learn more about Max.