When Appa Sherpa reached Jumla, a remote district of the Karnali region, early this month after 82 days of amazing explorations of exquisite natural beauties and lives of people along Great Himalaya Trail (GHT), everyone was all ears for the legendary Mount Everest climber.
Appa, who has climbed Everest 21 times so far – more than any one else – is not particularly a good storyteller. Yet the way he narrated his stories tinged with happiness and hardship fascinated everyone.
Appa, who is all set to complete the 1,700km GHT by this weekend, along with two-time Everest summiteer Dawa Steven Sherpa, told an enthusiastic audience about how the GHT trekkers lost their way and were forced to spend a night in the dark jungle of Dhorpatan.
PHOTO: MILAN GC
Appa narrated how they had to wade through several icy rivers. He also shared the sufferings of local people they met along the trail.
“I’m disheartened to see children leaving schools for collecting yarchagumba,” said Appa. “I would request all people to send their children to school instead of sending them after yarsagumba.”
Walking through the GHT, Appa has witnessed several things that show how climate change is impacting people. One of the most striking evidences of climate change witnessed by Appa is a recently formed ice lake in Sikles of Kaski, just 2,500 meters above sea level.
“The locals of Sikles told us that there was no ice lake until a few years ago. They used to go for cattle grazing higher than where there is now an ice lake,” said he. “They now can’t go up beyond the lake.”
The GHT trekkers have learnt that some places are getting colder while others are becoming hotter by the year, owing to climate change.
“Crops are being damaged by frost in cold places and pests in hot places,” says Dawa. “Even collecting yarsagumba isn’t as easy as it used to be until a few years back. People are moving up every year in search of yarsagumba. In some places, villages are even clashing with each other for occupying areas where yarsagumba can be found.”
He added, “When we reached Lawang Village of Kaski, the locals said they now no longer see snow on Machhapuchhre peak. They are saddened to see the head of Machhapuchhre without snow in their own lifetime.”
Dawa says the stories they have heard across have not been linked with climate change just for the sake of showing its impacts. “Villagers don’t know what climate change is,” says Dawa. “They just share their personal experiences which, when we analyze, seem like the results of climate change. However, we aren’t for authentically asserting how climate change has impacted the livelihoods of Himalayan people.”
In Jumla, Appa also asked the people of Karnali to keep their villages clean so that more tourists turn up. “The first thing tourists seek when they reach a new place is toilets,” says Appa. “If you build toilets, more tourists will come to your villages. When tourism becomes a reliable enterprise, you’ll be able to feed and educate your kids.”
Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative to Nepal, also trekked along with Appa to Mugu from Jumla to express solidarity with the GHT.
“We partnered with the GHT because climate change has an immense impact on children,” said Singer. “Climate change has altered rainfall patterns which are causing crop failures. With livelihood of people affected by climate change, children are vulnerable to malnutrition.”
“If the GHT opens up new tourism destinations in Karnali, more tourists will come here. It’ll add to the income of the local people and they will be able to adequately feed their children,” she added.
Malnourishment has affected Karnali worse than any other region in Nepal. Here, the percentages of malnourished children are higher than elsewhere. According to the National Demographic Health Survey (NDHS) 2011 report, 41% of children under five years of age are stunted. In the mid-western hills, which include Karnali, the percentage of stunted children is 52% – higher by 11% than the national average. “This situation can be improved through tourism,” Singer echoed what Appa said. “People will just have to offer clean toilets and hygienic food.”
Dawa says that a lot of new tourism destinations have been explored along the trail. “The Jaljala Pass which lies between Beni and Dhorpatan is one such place,” he says. “You can reach there in just two days from Kathmandu. You can see two beautiful mountains from there. I never thought that such a breathtaking place could be found so near to us.”
Appa is also a victim of climate change. His village was badly affected when an ice lake burst back in 1985. “I know how terrible climate change can be,” says Appa. However, Appa believes that those who are more responsible for causing climate change are not really aware of its impacts faced by Nepali people living in the foothills of the Himalaya.
“When they also come as tourists to walk on the GHT, they’ll understand how a problem largely created by them has affected the Himalayan people. I think they should realize the problem equally.”