Nepali Times
Nepali Society
Celebrating the porter


This week-long exhibition of photographs shows that portering is a profession that deserves respect as well as sympathy from those who employ them.

Although portering is the only way of moving goods in much of the Nepali mountains, porters generally are not the subject of much attention. Whether it be the village sahuji or the western trekker, people who carry loads for others might as well be mules or donkeys for the way they are treated. But as the week-long exhibition of photographs entitled Celebrating the Mountain Porter shows, it is a profession that deserves respect as well as sympathy from those who employ them.

The 44 pictures on display provide a glimpse of the hardship and the struggle of these heroes and heroines of the trail. The photographs show traditional, trekking and mountaineering porters at work and rest, with contributions from well-known mountaineering photographers like Jeff Hersch, Tim McCartney-Snape, Chris Bonington, and Doug Scott. Two Nepali photographers, Arthur Pazo and Min Bajracharya, are represented as well.

The exhibition is organised by the International Porter Protection Group (IPPG). Set up 1997 at the initiative of Dr Jim Duff while he was volunteering at the Himalayan Rescue Association health post in Manang on the Annapurna circuit trekking route, the IPPG seeks to help trekking porters by raising awareness about their vulnerability at high altitudes. In fact, the motivation for Dr Duff, an Anglo-Australian who has been part of mountaineering expeditions in the Himalaya since 1974, was the death of a porter from acute mountain sickness just a short distance from where he was. He could easily have been saved, says Dr Duff.

Some trekking agencies treat their injured or ill porters really bad, says Dr Rachel Bishop, who is associated with the IPPG. Dr Bishop has just completed a two-year stint at Khunde Hospital, above Namche Bazaar, where she had to deal with many cases of porter maltreatment.

The photo exhibition is its third programme since the IPPG was established. The earlier two were conferences where IPPG tried to sensitise representatives of trekking companies, trek leaders and guides and the press on looking after the porters properly. Rather than focus on the negative aspect, this time we want to disseminate a positive image of the porters through these photographs. We want people to look at them and appreciate the tremendous effort that is required of porters in their work, says Dr Duff.

Dr Duff himself has contributed some of the images and among them is a series he took of Balti porters during an expedition to K2. Different faces, but they share the same struggle and hardship. The good thing is that the Pakistani government has been taking the issue of mountain workers seriously, and have been doing so for more than 20 years now, a process that has not even started in Nepal, says Dr Duff.

Trekking is a great exper-ience and great source of cash income for porters. But then we want to encourage trekkers to take good care of their porters. We hope an exhibition like this will help them understand their porters prior to their treks, he says. The exhibition, which was inaugurated by Pema Doma Sherpa, the first Nepali woman to summit Everest from the north, is on at the Yak and Yeti Hotel till 5 October. It will then move to Thamel before travelling to Canada and the UK. The entire roster of pictures will later be on permanent display on the IPPG website

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)