Ilam, Nov 12: Odangi Sherpa, a 15-year-old from Rimbik in Darjeeling, India, spends his day with a herd of horses. Making them carry the load of tourists, he travels with the herd to Sandakpur, Manebhanjyang, Chintapu and Jaubari. Sherpa, who has been doing this for the past five years, says, “I couldn’t study as much as I wanted to. I have the responsibility of supporting my family financially, on my shoulders.”
Travelling with the herd, he earns Rs 200 to Rs 400 per Diem. But still, his income is insufficient to take care of his family. “Although what I earn is not enough, I have still stuck to this occupation because of the lack of other income options. Sometimes, even I have to carry the loads,” he says.
Currently, Sandakpur is full of tourists. The tourists who have come from India are accompanied by dozens of other children like Sherpa. While some children carry the rucksacks of the tourists on their own backs, others use horses for this purpose. These children are directly converse with the tourists and find work while some children do so with the help of third-party interpreters.
14-year-old Sanjeev Rai, who also came to Sandakpur carrying the load of the tourists says, “Usually, we search for tourists who require help with carrying their rucksacks, on our own. But sometimes, travel agencies also assign us with work.”
Following their forefathers´ footsteps, young children from Darjeeling support their families financially by carrying loads.(Bhim Chapagain)
About 100 children like Sherpa and Rai spend their days travelling with the load of tourists. Amongst them, some have finished their primary level education while others have only studied till the first or the second grade. Bhim Bahadur Subba, a 13-year-old resident of Gurdum in India, who has been involved in this occupation for quite some time, questions, “Of course I want to study. But what do I do? I have to fend for my family’s finances and without any earning, how can I do that?”
Half of the children don’t have animals and carry the load themselves on their backs. They share that travelling with the tourists is a learning opportunity. Subba shares, “Once we start working with one group of tourists, we most usually return home only in a week or 10 day’s time. Sometimes, the trips last longer than that.”
According to these children, they are engaged in this occupation only for about six months every year, during the tourist season. The rest of the year, they take up the work of transporting potatoes, milk, churpi and ghee to the markets, either with the help of horses or on their own. The local farmers and merchants give them work of delivering the produces.
Most of these children come from families who have worked as porters from generations. They share that the main reason they are doing this work is because their parents and grandparents have all been making a living by travelling with tourists, carrying their loads. Subba says, “Children learn what their parents teach them.
Perhaps if we could afford to get good education, we could’ve been successful people in the future but it looks like we will be living all our lives, carrying the load of others.”