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Trek to school, via the Everest

Kathmandu, May 29: Fame and money — that’s what an Everest climb means to most summiteers. To Ming Kipa Sherpa, it means going back to school — possibly.

Not that she ever planned it that way. In fact, she didn’t even plan the Everest climb that has suddenly thrown the simple village girl under the arc lights for being the youngest ever human on top of the world.

At 15, Ming was like any other girl in Sankhuwa in the Solo Khumbu’s high, rugged mountains, tending yaks, collecting firewood and helping her sister with domestic chores. Until she decided to follow her sister, Lakpa, and brother Mingma, when they decided to try the Everest once more. Because of her, the family expedition, funded by some Romanian climber-benefactors, had to take the Chinese side.

Nepal doesn’t allow climbs by people less than 16 years old. The rest, the world now tells Ming, is history.

The girl clearly hasn’t quite understood it all.

She stands absolutely silent, not even smiling, as her sister tries to answer questions from journalists on her behalf. That’s because Ming speaks no language — not even Nepali — other than the Sherpa dialect of her own.

“She stopped going to school after Class IV. She was needed for family work. But now she would go back to school,” Lakpa says in broken English. But Ming has learnt to write her name in English. And, thereby hangs a tale of social, economic and cultural transformation that the Everest has wrought on Sherpa life.

One hears bits of the story from Gyalzen Sherpa, the oldest surviving member of the first Everest ascent of 1953. Apa Sherpa, the man who set a new record this week with his 13th climb, and countless other Sherpas who have made it. “We were paid four rupees for coolies and six rupees for guides,” he says, sitting at a five-star hotel in Kathmandu, which he is now visiting after nine years.

“Our family is still very poor. We haven’t made any money from the Everest,” says Lakpa, who now holds the record for the highest number of Everest climbs by a woman with her three ascents. It’s pretty much the same story for Apa Sherpa who just manages a poor living here.

Lakpa, however, learnt a lesson that escaped the elders from her community. Everest is fine, but English is finer when it comes to making money from climbing. She can’t hope to emulate a Jamling or a Tashi Norgay, who had their education in America, thanks to Tenzing Norgay’s fateful presence with Edmund Hillary atop Everest such a May morning exactly 50 years ago. Few of the Sherpas who make it to the Everest are as fortunate.

None knew better than Hillary the conditions which forced Sherpas to choose climbing for a living.

The Hillary Foundation’s schools and hospitals in Solo Khumbu are a testimony to his mission to change Sherpa life. But such missionary zeal may never be enough for the Sherpa country to graduate from primitive climbing to modern development.

The 50th anniversary celebrations here have also lifted the curtain on this old Himalayan debate.

Will there ever be another better life for the majority of the Sherpas' Or, will they remain condemned forever to climbing and facing death to make a living'

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