Rising From The RubbleInspiration
How the Everest region is thriving two years after deadly earthquake
In a colourful Buddhist monastery perched at 12,787ft, Nima Sherpa sits cross-legged on a brocade pillow, calmly chanting mantras in a monotone at 5am.
It’s a daily ritual the monk wrapped in a burgundy robe has been practising at the Tengboche Monastery in Nepal’s remote Khumbu region for the last 15 years and one that makes his mind and body feel purified whenever he’s done.
‘It [the mantra] has a special type of power that helps to remove the bad things of my previous life and present life,’ Nima says. ‘We are trying to remove bad things from our body and from nature.’
Purifying the mind and body is a common practice along the challenging 65km trek from Lukla to Everest Base Camp. The famous Tengboche Monastery sits halfway in between, attracting hikers and Everest expeditioners to light candles and seek blessings for good health in the weeks to come.
It’s also where the scenery transforms from dwarf birch, blue pine and rhododendron forests along the sparkling Dudh Kosi river into a magical world of boulder-dotted alpine meadows and summer yak pastures surrounded by dramatic snow-capped peaks, Everest and Ama Dablam the most spectacular among them.
I arrived in this stunning landscape two years after the deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed approximately 9,000 people across the country, including 22 people at Everest Base Camp and three others in the surrounding region.
The disaster still weighed heavily on my mind when a few friends and I signed up for a 12-day hike to Everest Base Camp. It was hard to forget the images of people sifting through the rubble of crumpled buildings, desperately searching for loved ones, but the country had been calling my name for years and I knew they needed tourists more than ever.
Following a nerve-wracking flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, where one end of the runway is 60m higher than the other, I spent the first few days passing through sleepy Sherpa villages of fragile-looking stone homes, fields of crops, guest houses, and the odd shop selling water, snacks and hiking gear.
A strong walker, pre-acclimatised to the altitude, could cover the distance in two or three days, but most bodies – including mine – need time to adapt to the increasingly thin air.
I spin large Buddhist prayer wheels to purify my soul, walk clockwise past other shrines and mani stones carved with Buddhist inscriptions, and cross bouncy suspension bridges draped with colourful prayer flags flapping in the breeze. The locals hope the prayers will reach their protective gods.
In early May, the dusty and smelly trail is packed with a steady stream of international hikers, porters carrying giant loads, caravans of mules and yaks with jingling bells around their necks, and locals going about their daily routine as helicopters buzz overhead. It’s a welcome sight for a region 90 per cent dependent on tourism.
The Khumbu culture has transformed over the years thanks to tourism dollars and grants from international relief organisations to fund schools and medical clinics, build footbridges and bring hydroelectric power to some villages. But the natural disaster of April 25, 2015 left about 45 per cent of the region badly damaged and 25 per cent with minor damage.
According to my guide Pasang Sherpa, rebuilding the Everest region was a priority – the Everest Base Camp trek is one of the most popular in Nepal. Within five months, tours were once again operating in the area, but the tourists weren’t there.
Two years later there are more tourists than ever, but signs of the earthquake still haunt many villages where new homes have been built beside damaged ones and construction continues to take place.
‘Some places remind me of it, like certain points and some of the houses on the trail,’ said Pasang, who was guiding a tour near Namche Bazaar when the earthquake struck. “They [the damaged buildings] give us a reminder, but most of the people want to forget about the earthquake. It was very devastating.”
Caught up in the simple joy of walking through an exotic country, my sense of adventure kicks into overdrive the further we venture into the remote, high-altitude areas that push me more and more out of my comfort zone. The chilly nights spent shivering in my unheated rooms – and the never-ending string of illnesses plaguing my travelling companions – are hard to take at times, but it’s nothing compared to what the Nepali people have had to endure.
After eight days of slow and steady hiking to an altitude of 5,300m (17,388ft), often leaving me light-headed and breathless, I’m filled with tremendous excitement and relief heading into Everest Base Camp with the parade of hikers on the rocky trail along the 12km-long Khumbu Glacier – the highest glacier in the world.
The sprawling labyrinth of tents along the debris-covered glacier is home to more than 1,200 seasonal climbers, guides, Sherpas, cooks, porters, and doctors treating a variety of health problems associated with the dangers of mountaineering. People here are a different breed.
For hikers, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for; the moment we can cry, hug, give high-fives, and wave our country’s flag while bursting with overwhelming pride.
‘Today you have done something that most people only dream about doing,’ Pasang says as our group of hikers grin like fools, snapping photos in front of a small hill coated with prayer flags.
‘This is not something that everyone can do. You should be very proud.’
Back in the hot, dusty streets of Kathmandu, I walk past wooden beams supporting several old, bulging buildings that look like they’ll crumble with another violent shake. Some buildings near the historic Durbar Square still lie in piles of rubble. The hardships of rising from a natural disaster are etched upon the locals’ faces.
Coming to Nepal and trekking to Everest Base Camp isn’t just a hike through the highest mountains in the world; it’s a spiritual journey through another culture that defines resilience.
‘The real human condition is just as beautiful as the most beautiful postcard moment you can think of,’ says Calgary hiker Joji Kawaguchi, back in Kathmandu, as he reflects on the trek. ‘To see Base Camp, that was just a destination. The destination wasn’t a place; it was a state of mind. I didn’t know what that destination was until I returned from it.’