Thursday, January 11, 2007
Nepal Research Project - Namche Bazaar and Beyond
I had yak steak for dinner tonight. It was lean and a bit on the tough and stringy side, but not gamey. We are staying at the Panorama Lodge in Namche Bazaar and I was hoping to have a room with electricity to recharge my camera and computer batteries. Unfortunately, the deluxe rooms that have that are currently unavailable for some reason. I do have a light bulb, but no outlet. So instead, I am charging everything in the restaurant, where there is one plug. My camcorder battery is fully charged now, and my computer is about half charged. My one dead camera battery is currently plugged into the outlet charging.
I went to an Internet café in Namche Bazaar today. It was relatively fast, though a bit pricey at about US$11 an hour. The 30 minutes I was there I was able to upload my blog to blogger.com and reply to emails to my wife and daughter. Kevin and I then walked around the main streets of Namche and stopped in at a supposedly German bakery. Amazingly, I found some yarn today. There were two skeins hidden next to scarves made by the same yarn. Many stalls in Namche sell these scarves, but none of the others had the yarn -- at least of those that I looked at.
Namche has many new buildings, the biggest of which are modern lodges that are four to five stories tall. There are also a lot of souvenir shops selling scarves, gloves, hats and jewelry. But there are not many tourists at this time of the year. We met a guy from Australia with his two children at a large rest area coming up Namche Hill. And there is a group of 11 Germans staying at the Panorama Lodge this evening.
FYI - You can find photos from my trip to Nepal at: http://flickr.com/photos/alew
We interviewed one of the Germans who we had met around the wood stove in the middle of the restaurant. This was her first time in Nepal and she had been in the Khumbu for the past 10 days -- leaving for Lukla tomorrow. Thought she was a perfect candidate to test our mythology on a tourist, since she was also quite talkative. It actually went quite well with her, though we did tend to avoid questions of changes in the Khumbu over a certain time period.
We only had one other interview today, with Lila Bishop, who first came to the Khumbu in 1960 on a trip with her husband, the late Barry Bishop, the second American to summit Everest and the first to traverse Everest from one side to the other, and Sir Edmund Hillary. She has been here at least 30 times since then.
So today we talked to two tourists -- one who was a first-time novice in the Khumbu, and the other who is among a small group of the most informed of all visitors to the region. Based mostly on the interview with the German lady, we will want to modify our survey when we use it for visitors. We will not ask them about how things have changed, if it is their first visit. We will also add a question on what they knew or heard about the Khumbu before their visit, and whether their expectations were met. And possibly questions about first impressions and likelihood of a return visit.
I had also suggested that we interview one of our porters who is also a climber and speaks good English. He is no longer around this evening, so we will try and get him again later, if possible. However, we are splitting up tomorrow. Lila is staying in Namche, Carl is going to Phortse, and Kevin and I will go to Khumjung tomorrow, then Phortse after that.
Plastic water bottles and glass beer bottles are major environmental waste problems in the Khumbu. To limit plastic, we use tap water that we purify with iodine tablets. I have two bottles, one that I drink from and one that I purify new water in. In addition to the iodine tablets, I have tablets that remove the iodine taste and color.
It was interesting to learn of the close relationship between Sherpas and Tibetans. Sherpas originally came from Tibet, they use the same written script, and their spoken language is almost identical. The large prayer stones that we pass on the left are covered with Tibetan script. Sherpas also practice the same religion as Tibetans, and photos of the Dalai Lama are in most every establishment in the Khumbu.
8 January 2006
I guess 9pm is bedtime here in Namche Bazaar. I was the last person in the restaurant where I was reviewing my photos and charging my batteries, when the owner told me that that it was bedtime.
I came back this morning to try and fully charge my batteries. The German group was having their breakfast, as they wanted to leave by 8am for their hike to Lukla. We learned that they were had come through the German tour company, Hauser, which specializes in trekking and ecotours. For most of then this was their first visit to Nepal.
I am in Khumjung now, waiting for lunch. According to one sign I saw, Khumjung is at 12,475 feet (3790 meters). To get here we basically took a trail that went straight up the hillside behind Namche. The trail took us past the Namche airport (which has a very short grass runway) and the Everest View Lodge, which was, until recently, the highest lodge in the world.
A new, higher one is on a ridgeline high across the valley from Namche. That, and many other large, new lodges and resorts are owned by Sonam Sherpa, the owner of Yeti Airlines and whose wife was the first Sherpa woman to climb Everest. She later died on Everest, as have so many of the people who have made climbing it an important part of their lives. That is one of the things that seems to a recurring theme in the casual conversations that arise now and then.
The view from the top of the hill we climbed was amazing. Everest and it surrounding peaks were all visible to the north, with the Tengboche monastery well below where we stood. Several other dramatic peaks loomed above us in other direction, including Amadablam. I took 360 photo panoramas with both my camcorder and camera.
It was a relatively short jaunt down the backside of the hillside to Khumjung. I was amazed at how fast our two porters were moving coming down hill. Even walking straight on flat land is a bit challenging for me at this elevation. I never really noticed the thin air in Flagstaff (at 7000 ft), but here at 12,475 ft, it definitely takes your breadth away.
For lunch I had Rice Covered With (Ngak) Cheese. A ngak is a female yak. Kevin had boiled potatoes. Almost all the many terraced and rock wall enclosed fields here are used for potatoes, and the area is known for good ones.
Khumjung is a very clean and orderly town spread across a small valley. Most of the buildings are off-white and look relatively new -- and all of the roofs have the same color green tin. Khumjung is the site of a regional High School, which distant students attend as a dormitory school.
In fact, most of Khumjung is empty at this time of year. The first guest house that we went to was closed for the season. Those with money move to Katmandu in the winter to escape the cold. And it is cold. Although we had clear skies through early afternoon, suddenly some clouds rolled in blocking the sun and so I bundled up, putting both of jackets on. Hopefully the clouds will keep the overnight temperatures higher.
Lila and Carl stayed in Namche this morning with two porters, we took two porters with us, and two other porters took teaching supplies up to Phortse for the Khumbu Climbing School that Kevin is teaching in after I leave. Those last two porters just came by to get their final payments from us before they head back to Lukla.
So far we have had only two interviews today. One was with a 82 year old Sherpa who was on many of the earliest Everest expeditions in the 1950s. We did not even try to do the photo categories with him. Instead we just gave him the photos to look at and then asked him questions about how they have changed and his opinion of them. It was interesting, but I think he might have a bit too old for what we wanted to do.
The second interview was with his 26 year old granddaughter, who mostly just takes care of her grandparents. That interview went normal and well. We had gone to the high school to interview one of the teachers earlier, but he was only available for a short time, so we made an appointment to come back tomorrow morning. This is actually the winter holiday for the students, so there are not many teachers around.
I am now taking half a Diamox tablet twice a day, as I have been quite sensitive to the tingly sensation that it causes in my toes, finger and face. Even with half a tablet I still feel that odd sensation now and then. My cold has settled into my chest and even though I occasionally cough up phlegm, it is not really too bad. I think Kevin is more congested than me today.
I took a second look at the summary of the NSF proposal evaluation (the one that was rejected) this evening. Here is what it said...
POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE PROPOSAL AND PROPOSED RESEARCH: The proposal employs innovative humanistic and qualitative methods to explore an important and timely topic: the perception of regional environmental and social change in a long-time eco- and adventure tourism hub, and contrasts in those perceptions by local Nepalis and visitors.
SHORTCOMINGS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE PROPOSAL AND PROPOSED RESEARCH: The researchers have not defined their terms well, have not identified clear hypotheses, and do not seem to exhibit adequate grounding in the relevant local or theoretical literature. Their methods seem rather convoluted and they have not really clarified how they will use their results to answer their questions.
POSITIVE ASPECTS OF THE PROPOSAL AND PROPOSED RESEARCH: The proposal aims to empower Khumbu residents to better manage their future, and could propagate awareness of tourism-induced changes in Nepal and their impact on local residents and visitors.
SHORTCOMINGS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE PROPOSAL AND PROPOSED RESEARCH: The proposal does not seek to involve local residents except as informants. For example, it employs only one Nepali graduate student in a research effort that is culturally-sensitive and might well employ local students.
SYNTHESIS COMMENTS: This is an interesting proposal but needs further clarification regarding how the methods to be used and the results that are obtained bear on the research questions. Development of research hypotheses could be very helpful in this regard.
These are all valid comments, in my opinion. I think, though, that we can address them in the proposal, now that we have tested our mythology, and now that I have come to know the Khumbu, and Kevin’s relationship to it, better. It is too bad Gyan Nyaupane, our other collaborator on this project, could not be here. I think he will also be an invaluable resource in dealing with more official channels in the government.
9 January 2007
We are in a restaurant at 13117 feet (3975 meter) at the Mong La Pass. We ran into Lila here. She had left Namche Bazaar a little after 9:00am and was teaching her porter (maybe 40-ish and always smiling) how to write his name.
We did two interviews this morning before leaving Khumjung, so I guess we left there about 10:00 am. Unfortunately, the first part of the trek was downhill (which was bothering my right knee), which meant that the rest of the walk was uphill. The scenery was dramatic, as we walked a narrow trail of mostly rocks and steps, and slopes going almost straight above us and down below us. Behind us the Khumbu Valley stretched into the haze back to Lukla where started. In front of us stood Amadablam, said to be the most beautiful mountain in Nepal, With the Tengboche monastery on a ridgeline below.
We are now in our lodge in Phortse. The wood burning stoves give off a ton more heat than the electric stove last night in Khumjung. From Mong La we dropped almost straight down a couple thousand feet to the river, and then up about a thousand feet to Phortse. The walk down was actually a lot harder than the walk up because I developed a pain in my right knee that I only feel when stepping down rock-like steps.
Phortse is where the Khumbu Climbing School takes, which is the main reason that Kevin, Lila and Carl are here. There appears to a climbing culture, based largely in Bozeman, Montana where about half of the climbing school teachers are coming from. Kevin is connected to that world through his mountain guiding experience. And many of the Sherpas are connected to it through guiding expeditions in Nepal. The big names (and often big egos, from what I hear) in that circle are all people who have had their photos on the cover of Outside magazine. Outdoor gear companies like North Face are also a big part of this culture. There is a lot of name dropping when people in this subculture meet, which seems to be a way of establishing common social. I guess that is a common model in most small social structures.
We interviewed one person this evening here in Phortse -- a mountain climbing expedition guide the owner of a lodge that Kevin stayed in last year for the climbing school. He had a lot to say, thought I did learn something about administering the photos that I had not thought of before. Some people have several photos that they are unable to place group with any others. We allow this and treat each card as a separate pile for discussion. In the past, I had saved these single category photos for last. This time, however, I saved his 'climbing' pile for last because he talked a lot about climbing changes before we were able to get him to do the card categories. That was a mistake because after doing all the single photos, he then discussed each of the photos in the 'climbing' category, rather than the whole group together. This extended the interview beyond what would have been enough.
That whole interview took 1 hour and 15 minutes -- not our longest by any means. The length of the interviews is a bit of concern. Most people do not seem to mind the length, though we did have a time problem with the WWF person, and there was the older Sherpa who suddenly cut us off. Another interviewee (who I shall not identify) was surprised that we were able to find people who were willing to do such a long interview process. But out of 18 interviews those were the only times that length was an issue.
My cold has evolved in the 'Khumbu Cough’ -- which is a deep raspy cough that a lot of visitors get here. We decided to put off our last interview until the morning, as we are pretty tired this evening. To me, the fact that we have been hiking for several hours every day has been a problem, as it has cut into the number of interviews that we have been able to do. This is partly due to the one lost day we had at the Katmandu Airport, partly to Kevin's need to get to Phortse for the climbing school, and perhaps partly to acclimatization and physical shape slowing me down. I am hoping to interview the porter who will be carrying my bag back to Lukla -- he seems like a very nice person, though probably with little English.
I have a very nice view of Phortse from my room, overlooking dormant potato fields, stone fences and two stupas in the distance. I could see the neighbors burying their potatoes for winter storage. When I went to the outside toilet (the inside toilet is closed during the daytime) I saw three baby yaks scurrying down the path in front of me, followed by a small boy (4 years old?) and then his mom. It was one of the cutest things I have seen.
10 January 2007
It took just under two hours to walk down from Phortse and back up to the Mong La Pass. The climb up was pretty much as bad as I had guessed it would be, although Passang Lhamu was surprised at how fast I was going. The climb up was even hard for her as the air got thinner. I was using Kevin's walking sticks to help push myself up the hill, and I think that helped.
From there is has been almost entirely downhill, which is really starting to take a toll on my knees. My right knee was hurting yesterday, but since I have been using my left knee more, now that is starting to hurt. It took another hour to get to the restaurant at Kyangjuma (11,500 ft / 3600 meters) where I am having Sherpa Stew for lunch. This Sherpa stew is a lot like the chicken noodle soup that I had at the Katmandu Airport, except fewer noodles and only a few slices of potato. The one I had yesterday had dumplings instead of noodles and lots of potato chunks along with the mixed vegetables in a thick white soup.
We got to Namche Bazaar at 2:30 -- only 4.5 hours from when we started. To get to Lukla the next day would require leaving Namche no later than 8am for a long day of walking. So instead, I decided to make a 10min stop at the internet café and then keep on going down the Namche Hill to Jorsalle -- another 1.5 hours of mostly painful downhill walking.
I said goodbye to my guide, Passang Lhamu, and paid her with a generous tip from Kevin and I. And I bought a walking stick, since I gave Kevin's two sticks to Passang Lhamu to bring back to him.
One thing that had made today's walk less comfortable was the wind. It was stronger that before and very cold at the higher elevations. It was noticeably warmer once we hit the river at the bottom of Namche Hill.
By now it was just me and my porter. We chatted some and I thought his English was quite good. So after we got to the Everest Guest House in Jorsalle I asked him if I could interview him with the photos. Unfortunately, he said no.
So now I am sitting around the wood stove at the guest house in Jorsalle (it is spelled with 2 Ls on the sign up the trail) waiting for a plate of Dhal Bat Vegetable Curry. Dhal Bat is what all of the Sherpas we travel with eat, but I have yet to see a westerner eat it. So I am going to give it a try...
one quick question. did they charge you money for charging your batteries at the dining room's power outlet in panorama lodge in namche?
one quick question.
did they charge you money for charging your batteries at the restaurant's power outlet in panorama lodge?