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Phortse Revisited

Kathmandu, 8th June – recalling Phortse (3850 MASL), 1st June.

It seems incredible that it was only a week ago that we were in Phortse – I know that to be the case, but so much has been packed into this trip that it seems just so long, long, ago.  I am writing this from the comfort of Kathmandu, having now given myself a little space to process the events of that day, so that I could write a little more clearly than I think I would have been able to at the time.

The day started, as did most on the trek, somewhere around 4:30 am, with Ama Dablam and her sister mountains rubbing the sleep out of their eyes as the sun just peeped up over the horizon. 

A couple of short hours later we well and truly on the track again, us the semi-laden humans heading up, up, to be greeted by a mostly unladen group of Yak-beasts trundling down, down, no doubt getting ready to start their day’s work.  Beautiful creatures.

Phortse is not an easy village to get to.  There’s a steady uphill traverse from last night’s stopover at Kyung Juma (3550m) to the highpoint of Mong La (just short of 4,000m), then down to the valley floor at Phortse Tenga (approx. 3700m), and then back up to Phortse itself (3850m).  Another around, up, down, up day.

Mong La - the high point before descending into the Dudh Koshi valley.

Phortse village, centre left, under Ama Dablam. The only way up to it is to go down into the valley first.

Looking down onto the Dudh Koshi after climbing back up out of the valley, shortly before entering the Phortse village gate.

These altitudes are important to record because for the last 7 years – 7 years – the women of Phortse have had to make the trek down from the village to get water from the river, and then back up to village carrying 15 litre (or is it 20??) water containers on their backs; an upwards kilometre or so climbing a couple of hundred metres.  Every day.  Multiple trips.  Sometimes in the dark so that their houses and lodges are stocked for the following day.  I’m not aiming to be melodramatic here – simply trying to paint a picture of what was a daily, inescapable routine from 2015 until 2022, and to put into perspective how the day at Phortse unfolded.

I’ll now jump back in time a bit.  A few years ago, four of our number, Russ and Deb Brown, Mike Dillon and Robyn Leeder, along with others from across the world, undertook a fundraising campaign to create the Phortse water project.  The 2015 earthquake had left the village without any water supply, and that had had a material impact on the lives of people in the village.  Russ, Deb, Mike and Robyn had played a significant role in assisting with the creation of the project.  The project itself was managed by the unstoppable Lakpa Thering Sherpa of Action for Nepal (more of him in my next post).

So it was within this context that we huffed and puffed through the Phortse village gate at around 12:30pm.  And from there things got really interesting.  Lakpa was there, of course, along with Tashi Lhamu Sherpa, who we had met briefly previously, a most impressive 40-ish woman who is the Deputy Mayor (“Vice Chairperson” is the official title) of the Khumbu pasanglhamu Rural Municipality.  Whilst we were all there representing the AHF in some way, most of us were simply “hangers-on” to the coattails of the four honoured guests.  But nevertheless we were all welcomed with khatas by Lakpa, Tashi and members of the village Council, and escorted up to our lodge.

At the village gates. Lakpa, far right, Tashi bottom left, kneeling.

Wending our way through the village up to the lodge.

Mike being welcomed at the lodge.

At the lodge a ceremony and feast had been prepared.  The four key guests were especially honoured (Deb Brown told me later that she had received 13 khatas that day), but all of us were included.  The depth of gratitude from the community cannot be conveyed by words and photos – some photos follow, but they cannot effectively describe the solemnity and emotion of the day.  I was moved to tears on more than one occasion.

Some of the village Council at the ceremony, several in traditional dress. As an aside, these men gad climbed Everest an average of around 10 times - the highest was 16.

Welcome speech by Lakpa. Mike and Robyn in the background.

Part of the welcome ceremony

Acknowledgement by Deputy Mayor Tashi Sherpa

Acknowledgement by head of village Council

The welcoming close up. The song, in Sherpa/Tibetan language, essentially wishes a long and happy life on the recipient (which I've had).

Just a little about the water project itself:

  • Clean, uncontaminated water is streamed from a river/soak high in the mountains about 4 klms up and behind the village

  • Special anti-freeze “rural poly” pipes were dug into the ground by the villagers all the way from the source

  • Up behind the village the inputs go through a series of physical filtration systems (rocks, sand) and is then stored in a series of holding tanks (about 35,000 litres) above the village

  • These filtration systems are cleaned every 6 weeks to remove and debris and disinfect them

  • Every home and building in the village is connected to the holding tanks, so there is a constant fresh water supply

  • Throughout the village there are series of ancillary water supply fountains, which also include drinking wells for the yaks

  • Also throughout the village are a series of fire hydrants and hoses

Plaque showing project donor details

Lakpa Sherpa, village water project chair Phutashi Sherpa and Deputy Mayor Tashi Sherpa.

One of the communal fountains.

One of the village fire hydrants.

Apart from the obvious health benefits, and the removal of the gruelling round trip down and back and down and back to the river to collect daily water needs, there are ancillary benefits which I would never have even thought about.  The provision of regular bathing water meant that the teenage girls of the village were now about to attend school full-time.  How come, you ask?  Not for the reasons you might think.  Previously, a lack of bathing water meant that during their menstrual cycles the girls had to stay home because the school did not have the necessary washing facilities.  Not something that within Australia we would even think about, let alone accept as remotely reasonable.  Water = more complete education.

It was this day, more than any other on the trip, including the grandeur of the Hillary/Tenzing/70 events at Khumjung a few days earlier, which showed me the power that a few folk can have in improving the lives of people on the other side of the world.  It is for this reason that I will continue to support the work of the Australia Himalaya Foundation as long as they stay on course.

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