Great Himalaya Trail Exclusive

Features Issue 127 Jul, 2012
Text by Dawa Steven Sherpa & Anil Chitrakar / Photo: ECS Media

ECS NEPAL brings you exclusive recollections and reflections on the Great Himalaya Trail - Climate Smart Celebrity Trek by Dawa Steven Sherpa and Anil Chitrakar.

Life’s a journey
Text By Dawa Steven Sherpa
As I sit here now in Everest Base Camp, soaking up the first rays of the sun and look out of my tent at the colourful prayer flags fluttering gently in the breeze, I reflect on how life has been such an amazing journey this past year. Speaking to the all the members of our team who walked on the Great Himalayan Trail, I feel that we have all ended the journey as different people than when we started.

Apa Sherpa, or Apa Dai is we all call him, is of course the most elderly of us and remains the only one whose character has remained largely the same: calm, modest, humble and wise. He is a man of few word but his actions speak volumes. Not having had the opportunity to go to school beyond the 2nd grade, he realises and greatly values the need for children to get a proper education. We could visibly see Apa Dai’s spirit drain when he would see children carrying big loads on their backs. It reminded him of his own difficult childhood and the reality that many of these young souls would not be as lucky as him and were trapped for life.

I have known Apa Dai for more than a decade and we have spent many months together on expeditions and treks. I know that deep inside, his proudest achievement is not that he scaled Mount Everest 21 times, but that he has managed to give his children the education that he never had. In recent years, he has taken his mission further and raised funds and resources for the school in his native village of Thame. Having walked the length of Nepal, the only thing that has changed in Apa Dai’s character is that he is even more determined to do something about educating Nepali children. On the trek, Apa Dai’s favourite moments were when he would chat with young pupils on their way to school. His message was always the same; “Study hard and you can be a great person. You can help develop our country.”

Saurav Dhakal is the second member of our 4-man team. He is an accomplished journalist in one of Nepal’s top television broadcasting companies and a “British Council Climate Champion”. It was in his capacity as the latter that he became a member of our epic trek. I only got to know Saurav a few weeks before we left Kathmandu. Having planned the trek in minute detail for two years, my sole focus was to put together a strong team who would be able to operate in the toughest conditions. Simply put, Saurav was not a trekker and I feared that he might test the safety of the whole team and jeopardise the objectives of the trek. How wrong I was!

Saurav turned out to be the strongest in character. For the first month, he was always at the back and many times arrived into camp after dark. He had blisters and bruises from his new boots and his muscles would often painfully cramp in his sleep. It must have been a hellish experience for him but through it all he never complained. He grit his teeth and walked through the pain. By the end of the expedition, he was one of the fittest and fastest in the team. As for the fact that he was a “stranger” to the team, it turns out the saying “strangers are just friends you haven’t met” is very true. Saurav has an open mind and an innate ability to listen. He doesn’t make judgements but simply asks the right questions to make yourself come to the right conclusions and the right course of action.

A few weeks before coming on the trek Saurav’s wife became a mother to a beautiful baby boy. They named him Arambha - beginning. On the trek, we talked about what it is to be a man and many times discussed our own relationships with our fathers. One day near the end of the journey in the far west of Nepal, I found Saurav staring at a young mother playing with her little baby. I asked what the matter was and he said, “I am missing the most important months of my son’s life.” Saurav had become a father!

Then there is Samir Jung Thapa, our eccentric photographer with a passion for life. A tall, thin man with a huge heart, Samir was the spark in our group. Samir is a free spirit that pursues his object of desire to the end. While we would be satisfied with capturing any pretty image, he would often walk hundreds of meters off the trail, get down flat on the ground and get the perfect angle. This is what makes him an outstanding photographer.

Samir’s technical prowess in his field is undeniable but I sometimes felt his carefree nature kept him disconnected from his subjects. Over the three months that we walked, it seemed to me that Samir started to understand the power behind his lens. Recently, when the Seti River flooded, Samir was immediately on the phone with me and said, “We were there and we talked to the people there that this sort of thing could happen. We have to do something.” Samir got on a bus the very next day and trekked up to the disaster zone with his camera. He now plans to do an exhibition of his photographs to raise funds for the victims. Samir is no longer a silent observer but an impassioned activist.

As for myself, the trek has been an incredible journey of learning. I have an opinion on pretty much everything and I admit that I can be arrogant and impatient with people, especially strangers. On this journey of a thousand miles, we met thousands of people from different backgrounds, beliefs and motivations and I greatly value the opportunity I had to interact with them.

On the trek my teammates have been my biggest teachers. Apa dai taught me to be humble no matter who I speak to. Saurav has taught me to listen with an open mind and Samir has taught me to enjoy the little details in life. As I sit here this morning, a month after finishing the GHT, listening to the crackling voices of my climbing team on the radio reporting that they have reached the summit of Mt Everest, I now realise more than ever that the journey truly is more important than the destination.

End of the Beginning
Text By Anil Chitrakar
The successful completion of the climate smart celebrity trek across the Great Himalayan Trail (GHT) marks the end of the beginning. The fact that a team led by Appa Sherpa took on the challenge and completed it in 99 days, sends a message of leadership and inspiration at a time when Nepalis are seeking positive change and yearning for some positive news to energize everyone, especially the young. The trek also helped highlight the need to work as a team, to emphasize sound management and to set goals higher than one self.

Moving forward, the information, images, stories, consultation outcomes etc. gathered by the trekkers will now be compiled into outputs that will not just make it easy to share with the public but will also form the basis for a short, medium and long term investment plan for the Great Himalayan Trail. The clear pillars or major areas of investment will be

  • To help establish and sustain climate smart communities along the GHT
  • To ensure investments for infrastructure, economic activities, social services and general connectivity from east to west Nepal, and
  • To enable “zero carbon” tourism and related activities that will generate revenue for the long term management and conservation of natural and man- made assets along the GHT. This will include both the tangible and intangible.

The Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) thanks everyone who has contributed to this unique endeavor that is sure to have lasting impact on the people and natural resources that are extremely vulnerable to climate change. We are also aware that the price of inaction will have far reaching negative impacts far away from the GHT. ?

Twenty one times Everest summiteer Dawa Steven Sherpa was co-leader of the 99 day-long Great Himalaya Trail - Climate Smart Celebrity Trek.
Anil Chitrakar is Chairperson of the Himalayan Climate Initiative (HCI) which organized the trek.