‘Everest in Smoke’ Returns, pt. 1

by Milosz Pierwola

—– Lukla Airport, May 1, 2017 —–

The premise of Everest in Smoke is to convey what Nepal is like from the perspective of someone who starts from knowing essentially nothing; a 101 crash course that translates why the Himalayan Stove Project is so meaningful.

The Himalayan Stove Project (HSP) has made such an impact in the country that George Basch, its founder, received the prestigious 2017 Citation of Merit from the world’s most elite organization of explorers, The Explorers Club, headquartered in New York. This honor cannot be understated, and to understand why HSP has been so distinguished, a familiarity with the culture is essential. That’s why we start at the beginning

To accomplish our goal, in April and May of 2017 I flew to Nepal and spent over a month recording using simple 360/VR video and photo technology to “put you in my shoes,” so you can use your computer as well as special headsets to experience what it’s like to be there.

—– Kathmandu Temples & Monasteries —–

Our trip starts in Kathmandu where Jai Rajbandari and his wife Swosti explain the history, culture, and traditions of Nepal.

Swosti, a distinguished academic, works at the Nepal Art Council and lectures on heritage studies to visiting international tourist groups that visit Kathmandu. Jai is a life long humanitarian who has managed incredible projects that have benefited Nepal including orphanages, schools, and international programs. He is now HSP’s key individual in the region.

Jai and Swosti bring me through the history of Nepal, then lead me through some of the most iconic locations in and around Kathmandu. I learn that throughout its history, Nepal has served as a destination for peoples escaping persecution, and the peaceful culture that evolved is one of the most complex, dense, and interesting in the world.

The most beautiful discovery is that most of the residents continue to celebrate their traditions openly, and invite you to celebrate with them.

Once I have a better understanding of Nepal’s people and their culture, we travel to locations where HSP stoves have been distributed.

These destinations are often in the most needy locations where villagers live off the land and have limited access to modern luxuries such as running water, medical access, and paved roads. Despite their humble life, these smiling folk openly welcome me with freshly prepared food on HSP’s donated clean-burning, fuel-efficient Envirofit cook stoves.

—– Stove Distribution Visits —–

During these visits I learn much more about the day to day lives of a Nepali.

We visit schools where entire classrooms recite English sayings to welcome me, reconstruction efforts to rebuild after the devastation of the earthquake, and places of worship where villagers build important community bonds. We even had a chance to witness a celebration where a rooster was sacrificed ceremoniously, a rare and special occasion complete with dancing and singing.

—– A Well Used, Properly Ventilated Stove —–

—– Mt. Everest Base Camp —–

This introduction marks only the first two weeks of my stay in Nepal and serves as preparation for the second part, the trek to Everest Base Camp in the Khumbu Region.

This was the real deal. While it is possible to reach HSP distribution locations in Kathmandu with vehicles, the Khumbu is inaccessible to any form of motorized ground transportation. This was where HSP revealed its powerful impact and we visited some of the most remote destinations. And we walked there.

These were places that, aside from heli, the only way to deliver any supplies was on foot. All supplies need to be carried up steep rocky trails, at an elevation where the air was so deplete of oxygen that any non-acclimated visitor was out of breath after just a few steps. These locations were where the people of Nepal truly celebrated the gift of a clean cookstove from HSP.

This was where I would meet one of the most incredible mountain men, Pasang Temba Sherpa, and he would take me to the footsteps of the tallest mountain on earth.

Continued next time.
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