Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Manaslu Part 17

By Foot

When I read about the early years of high altitude Himalayan mountaineering I always marvel at the number of human porters required to carry the expedition’s gear to the foot of the mountain. In our modern age of half mile long cargo ships and sky crane helicopters I couldn’t imagine ever witnessing a train of human porters winding their way up a Himalayan valley laden with boxes and duffels. On this I was wrong. While mistakenly washing my face in the giardia infested Buri Ghandaki River I caught a glimpse of a bright object moving quickly through the forest above the far shore. I squinted into the rising sun and saw another flash, then another. After a moment I realized I was watching local men and women sprinting down a network of hillside trails in order to arrive at our camp early enough to get a four dollar a day job carrying a seventy pound load.

Three days earlier while drinking beer in the garden of the Kathmandu Guest House Tashi had estimated that we would need approximately one hundred porters for the trek. We laughed. In the end Tashi was indeed conservative - we only needed eighty-seven. Counting our full-time staff we six Americans required nearly one hundred people to support our vacation.

Ethnically our porters were Garung, and most worked the terraced farms that have, over generations, been dug into the hillsides above the lower Buri Ghandaki Valley. All loads were carried using a namlo, or a tumpline, which is a loop of coarsely braided rope that extends around the load and over the porter’s forehead. Later when we were on the mountain I noticed that when a sherpa climber had an unusually heavy load he would produce a namlo, and carry his backpack in this fashion. The porters quickly and easily fashioned ingenious schemes for attaching our barrels, boxes and even an aluminum extension ladder to their namlos. Many porters chose to place awkward loads such as kerosene drums and cooking pots into large, loosely woven wicker baskets.

The world of the Garung is one in which food and shelter comes from sweat and muscle, and therefore the men, women and even the children are extremely hard. I respect a strong back and felt very much at ease with these tough and durable people.

I admired the strong, weather-beaten Garung men, but it was to the women that I was truly drawn. Despite their diminutive size and fine feminine features the female porters carried loads that grossly overburden the vast majority of American men. Unlike the Western concept of extraverted and artificial female beauty, the Garung women possessed poise, serenity and inner strength that simply made you happy to be in their presence, in other words: true beauty.

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