Notes from interviews with Norbu Sherpa
Norbu Sherpa was born in Beding. In 1971, he got a job with a trekking agency in Lukla, and continued to work in tourist services for 15 years. He has five children: two daughters, who are working in Kathmandu and one son who is studying in Kathmandu; two young children. At the time of our interviews (Oct-Nov 1999), Norbu Sherpa had already served three years of his five-year term as chairperson of the Gauri Shankar Community Development Committee (CDC), one of the wards of the Dolakha Village Development Committee (VDC). His own political affiliation was with the United Marxist-Leninist Party (UML). Norbu told us that he had this job because no one else wanted it; we were not able to identify any of the other members of the CDC.
Norbu Sherpa, October 2000
Some time ago there were two chairmen, one appointed by HMG and the other chosen locally. Nowadays there is only one.
The villagers are obliged to perform a certain amount of labor for the village.
The chairmann is supposed to help with development and deal with all kinds of problems. Norbu has the responsiblity of investing and disbursing whatever funds come in from His Majesty's Government (HMG), Oeko Himal (the Austrian development agency), and other sources. His main interests are education and infrastructure development. Norbu has been cooperating with Oeko Himal in repairing trails and replacing small bridges. [Wooden bridges cost around 12,000 NR -- $170; steel bridges cost in the neighborhood of 2 million NR ($65,000).] Improving the water supply is a long-neglected item on the to-do list. Theoretically, Oeko Himal would pay for materials needed for projects approved by the CDC; the local people would be responsible for transporting the material to the work site and for performing necessary installation and other labor. There are occasional meetings in Beding, sometimes attended by EcoHimal officers. Very occasionally people from Rolwaling attend training workshops, usually in Singati. Oeko Himal has also offered 4000 NR ($55) to private individuals who construct a charpi (outhouse) according to the approved design; as far as we could tell, only one had been constructed in Beding as of Oct. 2000. Oeko Himal has been very successful in establish drinking water pipes and taps in the Tamba Valley, but the only pipeline functioning in Beding at the time of our visit was inside the gompa (monastery).
In 1968 [check] the Himalayan Trust (a.k.a.the Hillary Foundation) built a one-room schoolhouse at the eastern (upstream) end of Beding. Subjects taught include math, social studies, and Nepali. At the time of our interviews, Norbu said there were 42 students, divided into two groups; he also said that there were six grades, and that children begin when they are 5, generally finishing at the age of 15. [This seemed very confusing to us... it was hard to visualize how such a system could function in that one meager shack.] Books are provided by the government.
At the time of our interviews, the schoolhouse was badly in need of repairs: new windows, doors, chairs and tables were urgently required. As of 2000, we heard that the British engineer John Reynolds, then in charge of the Tsho Rolpa project, had donated $10,000 for repairs. This seems like a lot: Norbu had estimated that a new school would cost only 80,000 NR ($1,100).
Problems with the teacher started in 1995. It seems that the teacher sent by HMG has abandoned the village in cold weather; he and the ministry of education (according to Norbu) file a false report that students are not attending. The teacher gets half pay (while not teaching) and the functionaries pocket the rest. [We have heard of this scam being perpetrated at other remote villages.] Norbu himself has been teaching without compensation for the past year, paying for supplies out of his own pocket.
Apart from the possibility of a cataclysmic outbreak flood from Tsho Rolpa, the most serious natural hazard is the flooding that occurs with the monsoon rains each year. Many houses are very close to the river. In 1994, a flood seriously damaged Beding's stupa, which was located right at the level of the river. Of course, an outbreak flood from Tsho Rolpa would cause total devastation, but Norbu's concern is primarily with the summer high waters. The townspeople have been building walls in the river, hoping to channel the flow away from the north bank. [According to later information from Norbu, these walls functioned successfully in the summer of 2000.]
Avalanches occur frequently -- all outside of town, but "close enough."
Frostbite is a common problem during the winter.
Wildlife found in Rolwaling includes: wild goat, musk deer, danphe pheasant, snow leopard, red leopard, wild sheep, wolf (now rare), and yeti (also rare). About the yeti, Norbu informs us that there are two kinds, large and small. The most recent sighting in Beding was in 1997. A yeti killed a yak and captured a woman. She was released but died seven days later. Seeing a yeti brings bad luck.
Most of the people work at least part-time for trekking agencies in Kathmandu or Lukla.
The Tsho Rolpa project has given a significant boost to the economy. Local yaks are hired for transport, and some local people have been hired.
Many food items (including rice, wheat, and millet) as well as other goods must be brought in from below Rolwaling Valley, some from as far away as Dolakha.
The main crop is potato, although some radish is also cultivated. Potato cropping is staggered in Rolwaling valley due to differences in elevation. During the second week of March, planting starts in Lower Beding; planting begins in Beding during the first week of May; one month later, potatoes are planted in Na. Crops are harvested at Lower Beding in July, in August at Beding, and in September at Na.
Human, goat, yak and sheep excrement is used, together with forest litter, as fertilizer.
When the potato plants are 1 meter high, they are staked for support.
There are four types of potatos:
- white (lingkya karpu)
- yellow (lingkya serpo)
- red eye (mingmare)
- red (matangtsi)
Most of the potatoes are consumed locally. A small quantity is sold to trekkers, and some is sold or to lowland people or traded for millet, rice or wheat. Red potatoes are considered not to have a good taste. One third of the crop must be kept for seed.
Sheep and goats are raised for wool and milk. Goats are sometimes sold to trekking groups for meat. Cattle are raised for milk and as beasts of burden.
Livestock, current numbers and market value of one individual:
- Yak: 6-7 [10,000 NR ($150)]
- Dzopkio (male yak/cow hybrid): 16 [8-10,000 NR ($110-150)]
- Dzum: 6 [20,000 NR ($2800) -- but depends on level of milk production]
- Cows: 10-20 NR [6,000 NR ($85)]
- Goats:200 [300-5,000 ($4 - $75) -- depending on age]
There are some chickens, but not many. Sherpas don't like eggs. [Elsewhere we heard that chickens are not kept because they are too quickly exterminated by weasels.]
Yaks graze untended higher in the hills. From March to September (potato season) yaks are sent to graze around Tsho Rolpa, so that they don't damage the crops. Yaks are rented to trekking groups for carrying equipment.
Dzum (female cross between yak and cow) give better milk than cows. Cows cannot graze in the uplands, and have to be kept inside during the winter.
There are not enough people in Rolwaling to care properly for the livestock. Nonetheless, livestock holdings are increasing due to the influence of trekking -- both as a market, and a source of revenue to invest in livestock.
From March to September, people cut grass, dry it, and store it inside the houses to feed the livestock during the snowy months.
The snow leopard is a threat to goats.
Bears kill cows and goats.
According to Norbu, Buddhist tradiont forbids Rolwaling Sherpas to kill animals for food. The only meat consumed in the valley comes from animals that die by accident, or that is imported from outside the valley. However, Norbu says that more and more people from Beding are adopting Hindu customs, eating and even killing animals. [We were aware of the slaughter of a yak at Drongkang in 1999.]
Coinciding with the end of the 10-day Hindu festival of Dasain, when millions of animals are slaughtered througout Nepal and India, the Sherpas perform three-days of ceremonies on behalf of those animals' souls: they offer water and guidance to the wandering spirits. During this period the consumption of meat is particularly taboo.
The primary deity residing in Rolwaling is Tseringma ("Lady Long Life").
Tshopa is a festival to propitiate the gods. To days are spent in worship of Tseringma("Lady Long Life"), the goddess associated with the mountain peaks known by Hindus as "Gauri Shankar." Other festivals include Jumghi (also celebrated in Khumbu), and Laksa (when prayer flags are hung).
When people fall sick, the first recourse is usually traditional medicine (Tibetan herbal remedies); if no improvement is detected, a lama is consulted; the last recourse is to visit a doctor in Dolakha.
Land is inherited from the ancestors.
According to Norbu, very few parents have any schooling. Norbu believes that there are no problems of hygiene in Beding.
Sometimes there are fights between villagers. Occasionally Norbu has to intervene. Generally everything is forgotten by the next day. There is a very good relationship among families. [We ourselves saw signs of more durable rancor.]
Young people 18 and over choose their spouses and marry based on love; however, the union must still be approved by the parents. There are three formal meetings between the parents before the marriage can occur. After the wedding ceremony, the couple stays for three days at the groom's house, then three days at the bride's, and finally they move to their own house.
Daughters are counted as belonging to the husband's family.
Tourism and the future
In Norbu's opinion, Rolwaling needs tourists. Without them, there are food problems -- the tourists bring in the extra income that allows people to buy meat and rice.
Norbu would like to see a store opened in Beding... not only for trekkers, but for locals also. He cited these as necessary wares: rice, flour, kerosene, onions, ginger, milk, dahl, batteries, trekking supplies.
Norbu doesn't see any problems with tourism as it has developed in Khumbu. He would like to see the same process occur in Rolwaling.
Norbu says that he and the other residents of Rolwaling do not want a national park. He prefers a local conservation area. He says that a Community Forest Development Area is being designed and developed; we haven't been able to verify that.
Norbu attributes the restricted status of Rolwaling to the fact that people were climbing sacred peaks without authorization. Two years ago, everyone from Simigaon to Beding signed a petition in which the government was asked to open Rolwaling to independent trekkers. So far there has been no answer. [see box below]
Interview with Oeko Himal (Oct. 1999)
We were informed by Max Petrik, Oeko Himal's field manager, that the petition is "filed" in his desk, where he will keep it until the time is right to hand it over. Oeko Himal has a seven-year program; during those years, they are planning to train Rolwaling people in tourism management skills and other subjects at their training loged in Simigaon; to build a chain of community-owned lodges along the Bhote Khosi and Tamba Khosi valleys; to set up functioning Community Development Committees (CDCs) in all villages... and when everything is ready, Oeko Himal will "force" the government to open the valley to independent trekkers.
At present only 600-800 tourists are counted each year at the Simigaon police post. Once the valley is open to independent trekkers, Oeko Himal will write a guidebook including the lodges in Rolwaling that meet their standards. They will also make a movie for Austrian television. Thus they will create a market for Rolwaling ecotourism.