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Authors: Linda Leblanc

Beyond the Summit

BOOK: Beyond the Summit
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Beyond the Summit
Linda Leblanc
Ama Dablam, Inc. (2006)

An American journalist in Nepal meets a young Sherpa porter and discovers beauty, love, danger, and tragedy in a cross cultural, mountain climbing drama. Beth and Dorje's worlds come together in a tender love story and high adventure as he follows his dream to reach the summit of Everest. 

The novel has something for everyone: Sherpa culture, Buddhist rituals, mountaineering,avalanches and storms, conflict between generations and among friends as the modern world challenges centuries of tradition, the Chinese takeover of Tibet, an Everest expedition from the porter's point of view.

About the Author

Born in Denver, Colorado at the foot of the Rockies, Linda's love affair with mountains began as a young child. An adventure traveler to 35 countries on six continents, she first discovered the wonderful Nepalese people in 1986. Working with a group of Sherpas, she was a founder of the first hut-to-hut system in Nepal and helped establish 18 lodges in the Solo-Khumbu region. She began organizing and leading treks to the Everest Base Camp two years later. With a BA in literature and a Masters in Library Science, she combined her love of books, other cultures, and research skills to pen the first fiction written about Sherpas. High in the Himalayas during the worst storm in memory, she was appalled by world press coverage of the many foreigners who died but no mention of the Sherpas who also perished. She returned home to write their story.


After a treaty in 1816 that left the government distrustful of foreigners, Nepal closed its borders to all outsiders and lived in isolation from the modern world. During that period, the Shahs ruled as if it were their private domain. Ninety-five percent of the population, mostly peasants, were no more than slaves serving the needs of the regime. They had no concept that a different way of life existed. No newspapers were published in Nepal and none were imported. Radios were banned until 1946. There was no public education nor were there any public libraries. All expressions of the arts or literature were discouraged.


In 1951, the king regained his throne and re-opened the doors. Unfortunately, Nepal now had to catch up on hundreds of years of development. The country needed telephones, radios, aviation, education, health care and hospitals, money and a banking system, sanitation, business, and manufacturing. To achieve this all at once was a monumental task. Although foreign aid flowed in from around the world, there was no coordination of programs. Everyone wanted immediate economic returns from business and industry such as the brick works created with Chinese aid and the cigarette factory built by the Russians. Less glamorous amenities such as transportation and sanitation were pushed aside.


In 1968, this tiny kingdom the size of Iowa contained a population of just over 10.5 million. Composed of 21 distinct tribes speaking as many languages with numerous sub dialects, they could not understand each other. Ninety-two percent of the population was Hindu and only 8% Buddhist, primarily hill tribes such as the Sherpas who migrated from Tibet 500 years earlier bringing Tibetan Buddhism with them.


Nepal contains eight of the world’s ten highest mountains. Everest, the tallest, sits astride the border with Tibet. Until 1951, climbers approached the peak unsuccessfully from the north. Then in 1953, Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa made an ascent from Nepal and were the first to reach the 29,035-foot summit. During the next 12 years, many expeditions followed until the government placed a ban on all mountaineering from 1965-1969 because of tension during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.


Sherpas had a higher standard of living than most due to a flourishing trade industry between Tibet, southern Nepal, and India. Those in Namche served as middlemen with a virtual monopoly since the government allowed no traders to travel further north or south than the Khumbu village. But suddenly the livelihood that had sustained them for generations came to an abrupt halt in 1959 when the Chinese closed the Tibetan border.


Fortunately the Sherpas had also gained fame as high-altitude porters. They came into demand for all Himalayan expeditions when even larger numbers of climbers poured into the country. Having never been interested in scaling peaks, they were now exposed to unknown risks, and subsequently many perished. When Hillary asked what he could do for the Sherpas who had helped him climb Everest, they replied that their children had eyes but could not see. Hillary then built a school in Khumjung in 1961 and a hospital in Khunde in 1966. Anticipating the need to bring in medical supplies, he constructed an airstrip at Lukla in 1964 that reduced the travel time from Kathmandu from two weeks of arduous trekking to a forty-five minute flight. This single event opened the floodgates of tourism as hundreds then thousands of hikers came from all over the world to walk in the Himalayas and see Mt Everest.


No longer confined to the dangers of working for expeditions, the Sherpas now found employment leading trekkers through their hills and villages. After 134 years of cultural and technological isolation, the influx of tourism thrust them from the Middle Ages in the modern world and dramatically altered their lives forever.


Aalu: Potato


Baabu: Father


Baja: Grandmother


Bardo: A transitional after-death state


Bidi: Cigarette made of a pinch of tobacco and rolled in a leaf


Bistarai: Slowly


Chaane: Protective mixture of blessed grains of rice and sand from a mandala


Chang: Locally brewed beer made from fermented barley, rice, millet, or maize


Chapati: Flat, round, unleavened bread cooked over an open fire


Charpi: Asian toilet—a hole in the ground


Chorten: Buddhist structure, conical in shape, made of plastered rocks


Chomolungma: Tibetan word for Everest, Mother Goddess of the world


Damaru: Hourglass shaped drum made from human half skulls


Dem-chang:Beer typing ceremony that confirms a proposal.


Dhal bhaat: Rice with lentil broth. A staple food


Dhyangro: A two-headed drum


Doko: Basket used by porters, supported by a tumpline over the head


Dumje: Major Buddhist festival held at the village for the benefit of all


Dung-chen: Long telescoping horn


Gompa: Tibetan Buddhist monastery


Kani: Covered gateway decorated with scenes of local deities and Buddha


Kata: White ceremonial scarf presented to guests or lamas on special occasions


Lawa: Host for the Dumje celebration


Lungta: Wind horse—prayer flag


Madal: Small, cylindrical drum with skin on either end, played with both hands


Mandala: Sacred diagram in geometric shape representing the world, created in sand


Mani: Tibetan Buddhist prayer inscribed in rock


Mikaru: “White eyes” term used to describe foreigners


Mendan: Long wall composed of mani stones


Momo: Pasta stuffed with meat or vegetables, similar to pot stickers


Naamlo: Hemp tumpline of a doko


Nak: Female yak


Nagi: River spirit


Namaste: Traditional Nepalese greeting. “I salute the divine qualities in you.”


Om mani padme hum: Mantra often used during meditation and prayer.


Pak: Dough ball of tsampa, sugar, and nuts


Patni: Wife


Pem: Witch


Puja: Religious offering or prayer


Rai: A Nepalese tribes that lives south of the Khumbu


Rigi kur: Crispy potato pancakes served with a big lump of yak butter


Sarangi: Small, four-stringed instrument played with a horsehair bow


Sem: Spirit of a dead person


Serac: Iisolated block of ice that’sis formed where the glacier surface is fractured


Sirdar: Sherpa in charge of organizing and managing a trekking or climbing group


Sherpani: Female Sherpa


Shrindi: Malignant ghost that wanders restlessly, often causing human suffering


Sodene: Marriage proposal made by the father of the groom to the girl’s parents


Sönam: Merit one accumulates over a lifetime to determine the next level of reincarnation


Sutra: A discourse of the Buddha


Sungdi: Thin braided string of red nylon blessed by a lama, protects the wearer


Thanka: Religious scroll painting usually of mandalas or deities


Thukpa: Sherpa stew


Toi ye: Damn


Topi: Nepal’s national, brimless cap made of multi-colored cloth


Torma: Conical flour cake decorated with colored butter to depict gods and demons


Tsampa: Roasted barley flour, staple food for Sherpas


Years: Temporary settlement used to pasture animals during the summer


Yeti: Nepal’s abominable snowman


Zhum: Female crossbreed of yak and cow, used for milking


Zopkio: Male crossbreed of yak and cow, used for transport


Zendi: Final wedding ceremony






Everest. Drawn to the mountain since Hillary made the first ascent when she was eight, Beth had finally arrived in Nepal on a writing assignment. And now leaving Kathmandu for the home of the Sherpas living in the shadows of the highest point on earth, the Twin Otter soared through a thin mist revealing the jagged outline of distant snow-capped peaks and clouds hanging above the mountains like brush strokes of deep red, purple, and pink framed in lapis blue. Glued to the window, Beth watched the land unfold beneath her in deep green terraces with rock retaining walls that looked like dark wrinkles contouring the hillsides. And all around, white-capped rivers carved deep, meandering gorges through the Himalayas.


Half an hour into the forty-minute flight, a fierce gust lifted the plane and dropped it hard almost bouncing her out of the seat. Shaking wildly on the final approach through a valley hemmed in by steep-sided mountains, the Otter rose again and then suddenly plummeted.


White-knuckled, Beth grabbed Eric’s arm. “What did the pilot say about that blood smeared all over the nose of the plane?”


 He smiled and squeezed her hand. “We’ll be fine. It’s an offering to the goddess Durga to protect the plane . . . and us.”


Her stomach crawled to the roof of her mouth as the plane rolled, bumped, and tossed toward a runway perched on a high shelf. At 9,200 feet in the heart of the Himalayas, the gravel airstrip at Lukla was the most terrifying she’d ever seen. Appearing far too short to land on, it sloped dramatically uphill about ten degrees with a six-hundred-foot sheer rock face looming straight ahead. She gulped, staring at the far mountain at the end of the landing strip and a steep-angled cliff on the approach. As they neared, she glimpsed a downed plane at the bottom of the cliff and imagined crashing and plunging into flames to join it.

BOOK: Beyond the Summit
6.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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