Observations from the Himalaya, part 2: Bonus Observation

My last post completely omitted one of the more staggering aspects; a little fact of life on the trail that flitters in and out of your awareness, continually taking you by surprise when you suddenly realise the implications behind something you're looking at.

Almost everything, with very few exceptions, has been carried in on someone's back.  Nearly every object you eat, sit on, sleep under, or interact with in any way was carried up by porters.  There are plenty of cattle trains on the trail as well, both the more common zopiok and yaks up higher, but they only carry about 60kg each which remember many porters carry.  Exceptions are few and far between, and get even rarer as the altitude increases:
  • Some building materials.  This doesn't include wood (it's a national park, and illegal to fell trees), but stone is quarried locally (albeit then transported around on, you guessed it, someone's back) and a few places we stayed in had sod floors.
  • A few vegetables, although past about 4000m altitude only some root vegetables will grow, and much higher than that almost nothing.
Making this even more remarkable is the extra distance involved; we flew in to Lukla to start our trek, but this is of course too expensive (not to mention, the planes are tiny and wouldn't carry much cargo), so the porters' trek begins 6 days earlier in Jiri.  Consider a random selection of items:
  • The lodges ("tea houses") you stay in are basically plywood shacks.  I only really considered this late in the piece, and sure enough on our descent we did pass several people carrying multiple sheets each up.  Imagine that for a second; it would turn you into a human sail (yes, it can get quite windy).
  • Every dining room has a large metal dung heater.
  • A few bars in the lower towns like Phakding and Namche Bazaar had, wait for it, pool tables.
  • Fuel: gas cylinders are neither small nor light.
The list goes on; it's a fun little exercise to look at what's around you, then imagine carrying it.  (This also explains why I was vegetarian, in case you were wondering!)
Mark Hepburn 20 November 2010
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