The name Sherpa has become synonymous all over the world with mountaineering guides, but here in the villages below Mt Everest Pasang Lama Sherpa is better known as someone who has dedicated his life not for fixing ropes on Mt Everest, but for maintaining the walking trails.
The 78-year-old Khumjung native is no engineer, but his lifelong work has made the Everest trail safer for thousands of trekkers and villagers below the world’s highest mountain.
Pasang Lama is a familiar face as he sits by the trail every day with a blue box for donations from trekkers, and a register to note down names and amounts. It is like a voluntary toll booth, and the money goes to the trail’s upkeep.
People here affectionately call him Lama Seru, and the man with the wizened face and glasses, began his career in the trekking industry at age 18. He was appalled by the dismal condition of the trails, and was determined to make them less dangerous for porters like himself.
He quit portering and in the 1960s started maintaining trails with his wife Lakpa Yangji around Dingboche village which is situated at an altitude of 4,410m. Eventually, he rallied a team to widen other paths along the steep slopes to connect villages in Upper Khumbu for the benefit of locals.
As trekking and mountaineering took off, footfalls on the trails grew, and with it the need to maintain the and repair the dangerous sections. For Pasang Lama and his wife, the only reward is a sense of personal fulfillment that comes from providing a public service.
“I have revived trails in two wards here,” says Pasang Lama with pride. “Everyone is happy to walk along these paths because we have cleared all the bushes and thorns.”
After the Sagarmatha National Park was established in 1976, Pasang Lama worked with it to streamline the paths. Finally in 2012, the Himalayan Trust set up by Edmund Hillary, recognised the couple for their years of service to the community.
The trail from Namche to Tengboche is now a wide two-way path easily navigable for trekkers and yak trains, despite dangerous cliff drops. During the pandemic lockdown, locals also laid down steps and railings along the steeper sections.