A Lonely Death on Thorung La

On 10 April, 1986, I was leading a trekker´s party in central Nepal from Manang over the Thorang La (5330 metres) and down lo Muktinath. We had just crossed the pass when a little to the side of the trail we noticed a black and blue sleeping bag spread out on the snow. A closer look showed that the lightweight sleeping bag was but a death shroud for a young porter. Scattered around were the contents of his doko: onions, potatoes, trekking food and utensils, It seemed that he had fallen victim to frostbite and altitude sickness and died a lonely death, far from the lowland hills where he obviously belonged.
My investigations showed that the dead man was from the village of Khanchok, on the Pokhara-Dumre road. He had been hired by a trekking party of an American couple, led by a sardur from a prominent trekking agency in Kathmandu.
As a mountain guide, I am concerned with the poor treaimem often meted out lo hill porters by some parties. While most tourists and trek organisers are quite decent,   a few take  advantage  of
the extreme poverty of our mountain peasants to take them to the limits of their endurance and capacity with little or no equipment, poor diet, and no support when they need help.
To retain and develop further the trekking trade, which forms an increasingly important part of our national economy, we must regulate and monitor it so that our image is not tarnished, neither in the eyes of foreigners nor in those of our rural compatriots.
I remember a 1984 article in the Rising
Nepal in which a Bavarian climber
was quoted saying that in his trip, "We
didn´t suffer any losses, just one porter
was killed." The titie of that article
was, "No Losses: Just the Death of a
Porter". It seems as if nothing has
Photo: P.S. Ghaley
Padam Singh Ghaley has been climbing and leading treks in Nepal for more than a decade.

When Mike Cheney died early in the new year, a few months short of his 60th birthday, the hi!! people lost a true friend. He had come from afar and stayed, not for the money or the glamour, but because of his attachment to the people of the mountains. . After leaving the British Army in 1957, Mike managed  tea  estates in   Darjeeling
and later helped to found the tea industry of Nepal. In 1967, he joined the trekking trade and stayed on as a thoughtfuI keeper of conscience. The best tribute is to recall some of his words, excerpted here from the book Bikas-Binas.
"At present, cases of death or injuries of porters, on treks especially, arc ´hushed up´ and kept quiet. Complaints and reports are largely ignored. No enquiries are held as to why people died and how such deaths could be prevented in the future. Everybody just wants to forget ~ publicity would be bad for tourism. We in Nepal must work very hard at improving ´man skills´. There is one very good, if unorthodox way of doing this. This is by shaming those reponsible for bad management resulting in maiming or death of those in their care. Just by making public the names or individuals and organisations responsible, without any other action, will quickly lead to big
improvements."      (Himalaya Conference, Munich, 1983)
"Every winter there are reports of porters carrying goods for trekkers dying because they did not have good, warm clothing. Porters increasingly tend to wear western-style clothes — thin nylon shirts, cotton shorts or thin cotton trousers, and fancy but thin nylon jackeis from Hong Kong. Daura and suruwal, your own type of clothing, is the best and warmest dress for working in the winter. So do not give it up because people in the towns who work in offices do not wear it — be proud to be Tatnang, or Gurung or Rai, dressed in your own way. There are many things we need to learn from foreigners and for which we need help from foreigners. But to learn these things we don´t have to change ourselves. In The villages of Nepal, we do things differently, and better." (Radio Nepal Tourism Programme,   1984)
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Himal Southasian