The conquest of Everest, the mountain that changed the lives of the inhabitants of the region

Since 70 years ago the climbers Edmund Hillary and his sherpa (guide) Tenzing Norgay climbed Everest for the first time, thousands of people have tried to imitate their steps and reach the highest peak on the planet.

The eight-day trek to reach Everest Base Camp is one of the busiest in Nepal. Tens of thousands of tourists walk up this path every year.

When Hillary and Norgay completed their expedition in 1953, there were still farming villages in that area of ​​the Himalayas.

Since then, those villages on the outskirts of Everest have been replaced by large hotel complexes, restaurants, and shops for tea and climbing equipment, some activities that generate more income than agriculture or yakc livestock, a common bovine in Tibet.

An experienced guide can earn during the three months that a climbing season lasts until $10,000a figure several times higher than the average annual income of a Nepali.

“Before there were only a few expeditions,” recalls experienced Sherpa Phurba Tashi, who was born in the village of Khumjung and grew up with the image of his father and uncles accompanying climbers on the mountain.

This guide, who climbed up to 21 times on top of Everestwas testimony to the spectacular increase in the number of visitors.

“This served to improve our living conditions,” says Tashi.

Nepali climbers, most of them members of the Sherpa ethnic group, have accompanied expeditions to Everest since the first ascent attempts in 1920.

For this reason, the term sherpa became synonymous with mountaineering guides in the Himalayas and the role of these companions gained relevance and prestige over the decades.

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“There has been a real evolution,” highlighted the Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner in an interview with AFP in 2021, who highlighted the benefits of this for the country’s economy, in which more than 10% of the population works in the tourism sector.

– ‘Gift from the mountains’ –

The Khumbu region (east), where the route to climb Everest begins, welcomes about 50,000 foreign climbers every year.

“It is a gift from the mountains and we should thank the highest peak that has opened our region to tourism” and to the world, said Mingma Chhiri, mayor of Khumbu Pasanglhamu village.

To help the community he worked with, New Zealand mountaineer Edmund Hillary funded the first school in the region and even transported firewood to help in its construction.

Ang Tsering Sherpa, one of the first students of that school, became the owner of an agency specializing in excursions in the Himalayas.

“Thanks to mountaineering, young Sherpas have a better level of education,” says Tsering.

“A Sherpa can now aspire to become a doctor, an engineer or a businessman. Anything he wants,” explains glaciologist Tenzing Chogyal, whose grandfather was part of the 1953 expedition.

In addition to benefiting the local economy, mountaineering has positive effects for the country as a whole.

Licenses to climb Everest, which cost about $11,000 to foreign mountaineers, contribute every year more than 5 million dollars to the coffers of the Nepalese state.

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