Everest is more than just a mountain, more than the highest point on earth, and more than Nepal’s most majestic icon. Everest, or Sagarmatha or Jomolungma to Nepalis and Tibetans, is the tallest of a pantheon of peaks worshipped by billions as the abode of the gods, the “brow of the sky” and “mother goddess of the world”. A vital source of spiritual wellbeing, many millions depend on water from the Himalaya’s life-giving glaciers and rivers. Everest ignites our collective imagination, its lofty heights etched into our hearts and embedded in our dreams.
The crowning glory of the regal ramparts of the Himalaya, Mount Everest is the centrepiece of a crystal tiara of peaks that curve 2,400 kilometres from Pakistan to Myanmar. The world’s highest mountains, averaging 6,000 metres in height, rise dramatically from the subtropical Tarai and Gangetic lowlands only 100 metres above sea level. Across Nepal’s 200-kilometre width the swell builds through the gentle folds of the Siwalik (Churia) ranges, ever upwards through the waves and troughs of the fertile pahar mid hills, before the massive up-thrust sweeps relentlessly to the icy snow-clad summit crests. Of only 14 mountains that tower above 8,000 metres in the world, eight are found within or bordering Nepal, and four of them in Solukhumbu.
On the centenary of Sir Edmund Hillary’s birth, this book is a personal reflection on the sacred landscape of Solukhumbu and the Sherpa people who live there in the shadow of Mount Everest and its flanking attendant giants. Sujoy Das, a veteran trek leader, photographer and blogger, has regularly visited Nepal since 1978. The startling purity of his images reveal the intricacy of mountain moods and cast a fresh light on the pervasive spirituality of the Sherpas, capturing the intimate essence of contemporary life beneath their magnificent scenic backdrop.
Everest at 8,848 metres (29,028 feet) is so high and its environment so extreme that winds whip the snow from its southern slopes, leaving a black pyramid and trailing plume. From Nepal, Everest is set back, appearing dwarfed by its looming neighbours of Lhotse (8,516m) and Nuptse (7,861m). For trekkers, Ama Dablam (6,812m), Thamserku (6,623m), and even the sacred peak of Khumbila (5,761m) present more impressive profiles. They dominate the walking trails that wind through Khumbu’s villages, fields and woodlands, past gnarled rhododendrons, fluttering prayer flags, squat lichened walls and ancient carved mani stones.
This is the heartland of the Sherpas, the hardy high country people originating from east Tibet who have made north-eastern Nepal their home for centuries – the name derives from Tibetan, “dweller in an eastern country”. The origins of the Sherpa people are lost in the mists of time, but according to legend the steep valleys of the upper Dudh Kosi river and its tributary Solu Khola are a beyul or holy refuge, set aside by Guru Padmasambhava as a secret sanctuary to be discovered by their ancestors.
Excerpted with permission from Everest: Reflections on the Solukhumbu, photographs by Sujoy Das, text by Lisa Choegyal, Vajra Books.