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Sherpa Culture in Namche Bazar

By: Elen Turner March 21, 2016

Sherpa culture NepalOn the path leading away from the town of Namche Bazar, deeper into the mountains towards Everest, is Khangba Ngingba: ‘the oldest Sherpa house in the heart of Namche’. The two-story stone house is over 150 years old, and has been painted white, with dark wooden window-frames and the obligatory prayer flags. You could almost walk past it without a third glance, although you’d probably still take a second because it is so different from the other buildings in the town, which are overwhelmingly new and more often than not guesthouses for trekkers. People pass through Namche Bazar—two days’ walk from Lukla—on the way to Everest Base Camp or while on other major treks in the Khumbhu region. They come for the mountains views, which are indeed spectacular, and don’t expect to encounter such ‘cultural’ attractions. But Khangba Ngingba is a real gem, and worth a short visit while in Namche.

Namche Bazar

Namche Bazar by Mohan Duwal

Although it looks like a museum, the house is still lived in by Meena Sherpa, a woman probably in her fifties. She was excited to show our group around, because although there are little leaflets available around town promoting the place, she says that she doesn’t get very many visitors. She wants to encourage the government to provide funds for the house, to preserve it as a heritage site, because she is dismayed that when people come to Namche, all they see are new tin-roofed guesthouses. They don’t realise the cultural importance of Namche. She suggested that she would like to put information about the house on boarding passes for flights to Lukla. Almost everyone flying to Lukla would eventually pass through Namche, I think. It seems like a good idea, and she didn’t want to promote her house just to make money for herself (admission is Rs 200, about $2) but because the place is culturally significant.

Inside the main living area were a large collection of shiny copper pots and utensils. I thought a lot of Western lifestyle-and-foodie-types would be envious of the polished simplicity of them. Tibetan-style carpets and cushions added dashes of colour. But the main attraction was the jaw-dropping temple, which was a large room inside the house. All of the walls were covered in detailed, colourful Buddhist paintings. We were told that many wealthy people have private temples such as this.

Sherpa culture Nepal

Inside Khangba Ngingba, ‘the oldest Sherpa house in the heart of Namche. Photo by Mohan Duwal

Not much further up the hill from Khangba Ngingba is the Nauche Gonda Visitor Centre. Nauche is the Sherpa name for Namche, and ‘gonda’ means temple. The temple is beautifully painted in bright colours, inside and out, in a way that I would have thought was entirely Tibetan until I went to the heartland of Sherpa culture and realised just how much crossover there is between certain Tibet and Nepal-based communities. The Visitor Centre provides some interesting history of Namche and the Sherpa people, who are synonymous with mountaineering, even though they are an entire ethnic group with a long history. Sherpa people originally came to the Khumbhu region about 500 years ago, from over the mountains in Tibet. Namche and other nearby towns became commercial hubs. In the 1800s, Sherpas began to travel further east for work and trade, especially to Darjeerling, in India. In 1907, the first Sherpas were hired for mountaineering expeditions in the Indian Himalayas. When the first foreigners visited Nepal’s Khumbhu region in the 1950s, to explore a route to Everest, the Sherpa people realised that they could make a better living from tourism than from trade. And, well, they’ve never really looked back. The Khumbhu is one of the wealthiest regions of Nepal, and this has helped them bounce back better from the earthquake than some other regions.

It’s necessary for almost everyone to stop in Namche Bazar to acclimatise before heading higher into the mountains, and these beautiful places are worth an hour’s diversion from the trekking path.

This article was written by Elen Turner during AdventureWeek – Rebound Nepal on the Great Himalaya Trails. You can read the article in its entirety on Elen’s blog.

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