Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal

Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal

Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal

Sherpas: Reflections on Change in Himalayan Nepal

Synopsis

James Fisher combines the strengths of technical anthropology, literary memoir, and striking photography in this telling study of rapid social change in Himalayan Nepal. The author first visited the Sherpas of Nepal when he accompanied Sir Edmund Hilary on the Himalayan Schoolhouse Expedition of 1964. Returning to the Everest region several times during the 1970s and 1980s, he discovered that the construction of the schools had far less impact than one of the by-products of their building: a short-take-off-and-landing airstrip. By reducing the time it took to travel between Kathmandu and the Everest region from a hike of several days to a 45-minute flight, the airstrip made a rapid increase in tourism possible. Beginning with his impressions of Sherpa society in pre-tourist days, Fisher traces the trajectory of contemporary Sherpa society reeling under the impact of modern education and mass tourism, and assesses the Sherpa's concerns for their future and how they believe these problems should be and eventually will be resolved.

Excerpt

This book is neither an anthropological monograph in the technical sense, nor a memoir with literary pretensions, nor a picture book in the coffee-table tradition. I have tried instead to devise a multivocal format that incorporates elements of all these genres, one that will interest anthropologists, mountaineers, and trekkers to the Mt. Everest region of Nepal and development planners and others interested in the phenomenon of sudden change in this once remote, still stunningly beautiful area. Neither a traditional ethnography nor a history of the Sherpas nor a psychological portrait of them, this book traces the impact on contemporary Sherpa society of modern education and mass tourism and assesses the Sherpas’ views of their collective future. It is a story of many things happening in a very short time.

The account covers three periods when I lived in Solu-Khumbu, the first in 1964 when, as a member of the Himalayan Schoolhouse Expedition, I participated in building many of the facilities and institutions whose impact I returned to observe in 1974 and 1978. Final research and writing were done in Kathmandu in 1985–86, with a brief trip to fill in some photographic gaps in 1988. The total time I spent in SoluKhumbu was a little more than a year.

I suspect I have always been an anthropologist at heart, even before I understood what the word meant. But I began studying anthropology as a graduate student at the University of Chicago (having majored in philosophy as an undergraduate) only after my return to the United States in 1965 at the conclusion of the Schoolhouse Expedition. There . . .

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