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Everest 2012: Max Lowe on Namche Bazar’s Modern Advances … and What May Be Lost

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Nepal's Khumbu region; Photograph by Max Lowe

Max Lowe received a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant to document social change in Nepal’s Khumbu region alongside our 2012 Everest Expedition. The expedition is being covered live on the National Geographic magazine May edition iPad app. Read Max’s previous Everest dispatches.

I delved right into my project in Namche with a visit to Kancha Sherpa’s lodge. At almost 85 years old, Kancha has seen Namche turn from a small village with two teahouses to the bustling tourist town it is today. With more than 40 guest lodges, bars, coffee houses, and even a certified Mountain Hardwear outlet, it has come a long ways from being the farm town it once was. After chatting for a while about the changes in Namche over the years for better or worse, Kancha pulled out a photo of him with Barry Bishop, his wife Lila and their then young son Brent. Kancha had been one of the climbing Sherpa on the 1963 first American expedition to climb Everest, as well as on the 1953 expedition with Hillary and Tenzing.  The past is riddled among the people here, and I am so exited to delve further into that story.

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Kancha Sherpa with Barry Bishop in 1963; Photograph by Max Lowe

Recently I was able to visit the Saturday market with Lhakpa to see how shopping for produce in the Khumbu was done correctly. Traders come from the lowlands (Solukhumbu and Kathmandu), as well as from even as far as Tibet with Chinese-made textiles. I personally got into haggling with vendors for some vegetables and chickens with which I was to prepare American dinner for my adoptive family at Panorama. Roasted chicken, garlic mashed potatoes with gravy, and vegetable tempura was to be the spread.

This last week I have spoken with many people who have seen sizeable change in the region just in their lives. The dentist Nawang Doka has opened the first dental clinic in the Khumbu, and headmaster of the Hillary School has seen the school go from a tiny establishment with only several students per class, to almost every person under the age of 40 in the Khumbu Valley knowing English and being able to read and write.

Most people know that Western influence in the region has swept up their lifestyles, and most accept the better style of life, but the question remains of what if anything is being lost in the process.