Apa Sherpa and his team have just completed the first month of their epic 1,700 km journey on foot across Nepal's Great Himalayan Trail to draw attention to the threats of global climate change and the opportunities of eco-tourism. This week, Nepali Times spoke to Apa Sherpa as he sat besides Tso Rolpa lake in Rolwaling, the glacial lake that is dangerously swollen by global warming. Apa's team has just traversed the Tesi Laptsa Pass, and will now be heading towards Langtang.
PICS: SAMEER JUNG THAPA
In 1985, when the Dig Tso glacial lake burst because it was swollen with melted ice, the flash flood of muddy water and boulders washed away my potato farm and homestead near Thame. Most of my property and belongings were destroyed, and I could no longer remain a farmer. I was forced to become an expedition porter in the Everest region, carrying loads to higher camps. I climbed to the top of Chomolungma for the first time in 1990.
I have never looked back since. I just kept climbing the world's highest mountain over and over again. With god's grace I was successful in climbing the mountain 21 times in 21 years. I never intended it, but I became a world record holder.
I was happy and content. But it was only in recent years that I started to ask myself why I was doing this, putting my life on the line in one of the most dangerous places on earth. In 2008, I met Prashant Singh of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) who was a friend of Dawa Steven Sherpa, my long time associate, and someone I love like my younger brother.
Prashant pointed out something that I had not noticed. He said: "Apa Dai, you are famous for climbing Everest multiple times, but you lost everything to climate change and you earned everything back because of mountain tourism." I had never thought of it like that. Prashant was right.
After thinking about it for a bit, I found my goal in life. I decided to dedicate myself to saving the fragile mountains of my motherland from the impact of global warming by building awareness about it in my community and the world. Dawa promised he would help in any way he could.
That is when Prashant, Dawa and I planned to do the Great Himalayan Trail. On my 19th climb on Chomolungma I had unfurled the WWF banner with the message 'Stop Climate Change. Let the Himalaya Live'. It had brought world attention on the effects of climate change on the Himalaya. I picked some rocks from the summit and handed it over to our prime minister, President Barack Obama and several other world leaders.
We are just one month into our four-month journey on foot. We are talking to people along the way, sheperds, traders and farmers and hearing local experiences about erratic rains, unseasonal blizzards, receding glaciers and flashfloods. We have in our team photographers, journalists and bloggers who are spreading the word around the world.
If villagers and communities can promote eco-tourism by linking to the Great Himalayan Trail this will bring the trekkers who will provide employment and help raise living standards. To fight climate change we have to help lift the quality of life so Himalayan communities can cope. Climate change may damage us, but tourism will heal us. Just like it did with me.
On the trip across eastern Nepal I have been greeted by large numbers of local people who have wished us well on our journey. I know I have the blessings of my fellow Nepalis, and I will do my best to return their kindness.
Climate Smart Trek is being organised by Himalayan Climate Initiative with active support of the Government of Nepal and its development partners.
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or Twitter @ twitter.com/Climatesmartterk
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