In the shadow of Everest
- A new book of photographs on the Solukhumbu region in Nepal brings to life the culture of the Sherpa community
- It also brings the grandeur of one of the most amazing mountain vistas on Earth
The entire Everest experience has changed in the past 10 years or so," says Sujoy Das on the phone from his Kolkata home. “On the one hand, there are these huge luxury lodges, with prices from $200 (around ₹14,000) a day, down to basic rooms with attached showers at $20 a day. Then you add Wi-Fi, money changers, ATMs in. Everest is no longer a wilderness." As a photographer, writer and trek leader who has been visiting the Solukhumbu region in Nepal since the mid-1990s, Das, 58, should know. His new book of photographs, Everest: Reflections On The Solukhumbu, is a result of this long association.
The book is divided into seven sections, with the first focusing on the spectacular mountains of the region, which, of course, include Everest, but also famed peaks like Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Pumori and Thamserku. These may make for the most spectacular set of images in the book, but the rest of the photographs are arguably more important. In these, Das paints an intimate portrait of the Sherpas, probably the most famous, yet easily stereotyped, Himalayan community. They are best known for their role in helping hundreds of thrill seekers climb the Everest every year, and this tends to obscure the cultural richness of the community.
Das’ images help create a more empathetic and detailed picture of the community. The images of the little-known tantric monastic Dumji festival in the Khumjung monastery speak of a level of access not easily granted to tourists. Das insists he has been able to take intimate images of the community’s cultural life because they don’t consider him an outsider.
“I was in Khumjung in June for 10 days, documenting the festival. Many of those evenings, we would all sit together, drink tea and talk," he says. “And I could get many of the cultural photographs because of the relationships I have built up here over the years. So, to me, it was like photographing friends and family members."
Das’ images are supplemented by short essays by Lisa Choegyal, a British-born writer and New Zealand’s honorary consul in Nepal. Everest also celebrates the transformative impact that the late Sir Edmund Hillary and his Himalayan Trust have had on the region since the 1960s.
It makes sense then that the book has been published to coincide with Hillary’s birth centenary. Das says Hillary’s work has helped make Khumbu one of the most developed areas in rural Nepal. But the future of the region is threatened by the barrage of tourists every year. “You now have traffic jams on the summit of Everest but you also have traffic jams on the trail between Lukla and Phakding and the Namche bridge!" exclaims Das. “Last October, there were nearly 16,000 people in Khumbu. There were about 700 people landing at the Lukla airport every day!"