Edmund Hillary was on my mind last fortnight when I trekked to the Everest Base Camp.
These days one can fly till Lukla (2886 metres) and walk for nearly a week to reach EBC on the Nepal side. But Hillary’s expedition in 1953 had to walk all the way from Kathmandu to Lukla and beyond.
Imagine, 350 porters carrying 20 tons of equipment and food through a region which lacks motorable roads till date. A lot has changed since then making expeditions to Everest less dangerous. But the lives of the Sherpa people in the region still remain tough with everything reaching here on backs of porters, yaks or horses.
Hillary noticed sufferings of these hardy people. And instead of basking in his Everest glory he dedicated his remaining years to make their lives better.
He collected thousands of dollars from donors across the globe and built over two dozen schools, several hospitals, water-pipelines, bridges and airstrips and also helped rebuild monasteries in the region.
It’s been 57 years since Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Everest, but interest in the peak has not subsided and thousands of climbers and trekkers arrive here every year.
To cater to their demands, lodges, guest houses soon sprung up in villages and hamlets dotting the route leading to the Everest base camp. Money from tourists altered the economy of the region for the better.
Most lodge owners have property in Kathmandu and have sent their students to respected public schools far away. Almost unheard of few decades ago, the region now produces doctors, engineers and pilots.
No wonder Hillary is revered like a god in Solukhumbu. “Imagine what this region would have been like if Hillary had not done what he did to improve basic facilities in the region,” says Kim Rana, a trekking guide.
These days internet access, ISD calls, pizzas, apple pies, croissants, hot showers, comfortable rooms, DTH television and even a Swedish or Ayurvedic massage to relax the sprained muscles are easily available in the area.
But inaccessibility by roads ensures that everything comes for a heavy price and it goes on increasing the higher one reaches from the sea level. A hot shower or an hour’s internet access can cost you Rs 200.
It helps if one can speak Nepali as rates for foreigners are higher. And if you have meals outside the lodge you are staying in, be prepared to pay double of room rent as “fine”.