NEPAL – in praise of Sherpas

If the buddhists are right and I get another life, I want to come back as a Sherpa. Not that I want to do their work; I just want their strength and endurance for my next hiking trip.

Sherpa porters are expected to be able to carry twice their body weight. I feel comfortable with about 20kg – sadly less than a quarter of my own bulk.

Sherpa Gopal is a head shorter than me, and half my weight. I’m carrying two litres of water, a rain jacket and a camera in my day pack. He’s carrying two folding tables, sandwiching six folding chairs. All are made of steel. Gopal tells me he’s forty years old.

I’m wearing the best leather, Vibram-soled, Goretex-lined hiking boots I could find in Sydney. Gopal is wearing cheap canvas shoes.

My backpack has padded straps and breathable hip-band to prevent chafing. Gopal’s load is tied up with string, and attached to a strip of plastic which goes across the top of his head.

I walk upright, but slouch when I sit at the computer to type. Gopal spends his day bent double under his burden, but when he walks without it, his back is ramrod straight.

Gopal carrying tables

While Gopal takes a breather, putting his load beside him on one of the stone ledges which run along Nepal’s hiking trails, I have to try lifting his tables. Using all my strength, I can just raise them an inch or two off the platform before letting them clank down. Gopal has been walking with them all day, climbing several hundred metres at a time. It’s his job to get to our night’s camp before I do, so that he can set up the tables and chairs and spread a tablecloth over them, ready for our dinner.

This basket contains four 20litre fuel bottles, plus a few bits and pieces.

Each of our porters is carrying two of our kits bags (each about 15kg) together with a tent (another 10-15kg, depending on whether is it wet, as it usually is). In addition they carry their own gear, plus water. Others carry a large dining tent, and the kitchen staff carry the utensils, stoves, fuel and food. They still arrive at camp with energy over for a game of football with us, then for music, chatting and dancing into the night. Then they’re up at dawn, preparing to do it all again.

Trekking porters have more fun, I’m told. If they weren’t hiking with us, they’d be lugging bags of cement and loads of wood to building sites, being paid by the kilogram, and expected to find their own food and accommodation.

The writer was the guest of World Expeditions, who pay and treat their porters properly, feed them well and offer them a retainer in the non-trekking season.

So they should. The porters are worth double their weight in any substance you ask them to carry.

Need a hand with that?

9 Comments

Filed under Hiking, Himalayas

9 responses to “NEPAL – in praise of Sherpas

  1. O my, Richard,
    What an example to mankind, these sherpa’s are! I have nothing but admiration for them.
    It seems like you are enjoying your trip. It must be absolute thrilling. I would have loved to join you in that helicopter ride. What an inspiration that must have been.
    Enjoy! Enjoy!
    -Mina

  2. Yes, Mina, arguably the best hiking in the world is in Nepal, though it gets very busy in the height of the trekking season (spring and autumn) and is more of an ordeal during the winter and the monsoons, they say.

  3. iain

    Hello Richard, Glad you enjoyed the heli trip. Even after a few thousand hours at the sharp end always loved the take off. Would have loved to have done it in the Himalayas even more but the older birds would struggle in the thin air.Don’t wear out your boots, the canvas shoes are probably too small !

  4. bagnidilucca

    These men are amazing. It sounds like a pretty tough life.

    • Yes, BdL, it’s a very tough life, particularly when the weather is cold and wet. However, their health and longevity is remarkable and despite the lack of dental care, most have perfect teeth and big smiles!

  5. Dear Mr. Tulloch,

    we’d like to use one of your fotos for an archaeological exhibition concerning mobility (“Steinzeit Mobil”):

    http://richardtulloch.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/jemma-and-porter.jpg?w=237&h=300

    It’s the one with the Sherpa and a lady in front of a blue house.

    The Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen/Germany is a non-profit-organization, thus the foto won’t be used for commercial purposes.

    We’d be glad to get your permission to use the foto cited above.

    Best regards

    Peter Walter, Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen

  6. Pingback: Woven Backpacks – Design Rooted in History and Tradition « 74 FOOTWEAR DESIGN CONSULTING

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