Her name was Basan. She is a 42 year old Nepalese Sherpa woman. She was one of the few female porters that had the will and endurance to trek through the Khumbu Valley to Everest Base Camp.
We were going to the Base of Everest. I am a flatlander living in CA. Everest??? The base camp??? I invested in some new hiking boots and started climbing up any hill I could find. I felt like I was in pretty good shape as I boarded the plane for Nepal months later.
My trip started in Kathmandu. When I exited the airport a wave of heat enveloped me as I was greeted by a mixture of sights, sounds and smells. I was ushered into a cab soon to be barreling through traffic-jammed streets towards my hotel. The hair-raising car trip was intoxicating. There were enough sights that I could be kept busy for weeks - but this was just a stepping stone on my way to the Khumbu Valley and Everest Base Camp. I had a flight to Lukla the next day.
Lukla is home to one of the most dangerous airports in the world. The short, uphill runway is surrounded by high peaks, and during the final approach the twin-propeller planes are often buffeted by strong winds. The day I landed in Lukla, the skies were clear, but it was a bumpy ride. Behind a wire fence to one side of the runway I saw people of all ages wearing jeans, thin jumpers and scuffed shoes; many of these people were porters waiting to carry the bags of the trekkers arriving in the valley. The minute we got off the plane we were greeted by our guide Tshering Tendi Sherpa.
A fine boned woman amongst the men along the fence caught my eye. She was at least a foot shorter than the men. She almost looked frail. Her face was weathered, her hands were worn, yet she stood there with such a sense of confidence that I had to smile. She immediately smiled back at me, her face lighting up as she walked up to me and shook my hand. She was one of our porters.
Her name was Basan. She is a 42 year old Nepalese Sherpa woman. She was one of the few female porters that had the will and endurance to trek through the Khumbu Valley to Everest Base Camp. I could see that Basan took great pride in her mountaineering heritage.
I knew that each porter is limited to carrying 30 kilograms (approximately 66 lbs), which equaled, in our case, two bright yellow duffle bags. I looked at Basan and just could not imagine her carrying 2 duffel bags, one of which was mine. The duffel bags looked bigger than she was!
The bags were tied together by Basan, who was always smiling; lifted to her back, sometimes by her fellow porter; and secured by a strap across the top of her head. The sight looked impossibly uncomfortable, but the grin and enthusiasm in Basan’s expression each day did not indicate discomfort. I tried carrying the packs myself, and found that, if I remained at a 45° angle, the weight was more manageable, but only for 30 steps not a 7 hour trek to the next teahouse! Her Sherpa heritage had given Basan a natural advantage trekking at high altitudes, and her personal strength enabled her to carry our bags all the way to the Base of Everest.
The soles of Basan´s shoes are worn to the point that her feet were making contact with the ground. The additional items she carried (beyond the trekkers 30 kilos) were hers, and they took the form of a small bag for an 11 day trek. To Basan’s amazement we offered her a new pair of tennis shoes. She gleamed as she tried on the hot pink women’s Nike shoes, and then gave us a thumbs up sign indicating that they fit.
Basan came from a poor family, a lower caste. Nepalese are known by castes amongst themselves essentially for their identity. This affects their family life, food, dress, occupations and culture. When Basan was in her 20’s she chose a profession that most women would not do. Not only because of the harshness of it, but also the loneliness of being a minority in a mans world. She was making the journey to Base Camp from Lukla three, sometimes four times a season. This is about two months on the trail, just to make ends meet and take care of her son.
When Basan was 22 she met Tshering Tendi Sherpa. She started working exclusively for him so that she could send her son to Monastery school in Kathmandu when he got older. Basan wanted her son to have the education she did not receive growing up. She did not want him to have to work as a porter. Her dedication to her son shows that her love is like that of any other Mom, no matter what cast or what country. Basan continues to work in the high season so she can support her son’s training as a monk.
“She is so strong and a tough woman,” says Teshring. ”She never complains. Some porters will complain…not Basan, she never complains and always has a smile”.
Basan is one of the few woman porters left working in the Khumbu Valley. Majority of the porters have to find their own lodging and food. This is very difficult as a woman traveling amongst men. Without the support of Sherpas like Teshring, Basan would not be safe working as a porter.
Tshering takes care of his porters during the treks. They have three meals a day and a clean, comfortable place to sleep.. “We are like family”, Tshering said.
During the off-season, or in-between treks, Basan lives with Tshering and his wife in their home near Lukla, Nepal, where they farm all their own food, only walking to Lukla for sugar, salt, and other items they cannot produce themselves.
Basan has been with Tshering’s family for more than 20 years. And will continue to help support trekkers like myself from Lukla to the Base of Everest.