Newsletter #39 September 2013
Another day of acclimatisation. Mornings are usually clear and sunny with a few clouds forming down the valley followed by long hours of drizzle and short showers of rain. In the background, the Manaslu peaks seem like two majestic horns covered in snow under the deep blue sky. Despite the heavy monsoon this year, glaciers around the valley are dirty and black. The snow has fallen at high altitude, leaving the lower slopes washed by downpours. Russell is noticing that in some parts rocks are now visible where they were previously covered by snow. The view is daunting.
Samagon is a small village amid a green deep valley where Sherpa and Tibetan communities mingle. A short walking distance from the camp, a small Buddhist monastery boasts majestic golden statues surrounded by colourful ornaments, offerings and butter lamps that gently light ancient paintings of fearful gods, demons and deities. The Lama has opened the doors of his monastery today. It is a dark and colorful wooden room with statues of Rimpoches staring at us, offering bowls filled with water and large ceremony drums. We take our caps off as we step in for a few photos before the monk closes the doors behind us.
Situated in the Eastern part of Nepal and the Northern area of the Gurka District at the border with Tibet, Samagon is a changing village that benefits from the trekking and climbing expeditions new interest of the valley. Due to remoteness, the village has long survived on agriculture and local trade with its neighbouring country, China. Due to the expansion of trekking activities and better education, the local community has slowly engaged into lodges, tea houses and small shops offering a better living and more income. But the recent changes does not only affect Samagon, it also has a greater impact on the local communities of the down valley villages that come to work in 'Sama' and sometimes settle there with their family. Along with developing infrastructure, better education and slow awareness of the benefits of the expeditions, Samagon has structured itself around a strong community that carefully redistributes the generated incomes to the whole village and allows everyone to benefit from the tourism activities. Today, countless new lodges are coming up from the ground and the village is now expanding far beyond the original Tibetan settlement that still lies by the river. The economic development of the valley has structured itself around a mix of the former traditions of gear carrying and trade with the opportunities that brings the modern activities. And it has not only transformed the way of life, it has also changed the mentalities. Porters are now paid Nrs 2000 a day (approx. 16£ /25$) compare to the old days where Nrs 100 was the standard. The cultural identity and the desire to preserve the traditions are also very deeply rooted. People are strongly attached to the preservation of local traditions that should coexist with the influence of other countries' life style. Local communities and Western activities have to benefit from each others’ influence.' Says one member of the Community.
In 2008, due to the closure of Tibet and the route to Cho Oyu, Himalayan Experience transferred its activities to the Manaslu region to allow climbers to set foot on a 8000m peak before challenging themselves on Everest. Many other trekking and western expeditions companies have followed the trend and contribute to the increasing development of the valley. This season, as part of its contribution to the local projects, Himalayan Experience has given 1 Lak Rupees, the equivalent of 800$ US to the local community to help financing the reconstruction of the main Samagon Chorten. For the last 5 years Himalayan Experience has donated 1 Lak Ruppes per year for the development of the path from Samagon to Base Camp. ‘But now, we see that yaks and horses can comfortably carry loads, so upon consultation with the local community we now feel that this project no longer requires funding and any small repairs can be carried out by the locals.’ says Russell. Phurbu Tsewang, the headmaster of the Guari Shanker primary school and influent member of the Samagon community that I am interviewing about the recent changes points out that 'It is a valuable complement to the initial government contribution that gives to long lasting projects a secured financing plan. Every company whether Nepali or Western that come in the valley should contribute and help our people in the many projects we have for the years to come. The old Tibetan Chorten needs to be renovated, more community camping areas should be created to prevent trekking companies from camping near the Monastery where the monks have their activities, a cultural center is also to be developed ...and not only banks can help us, donations and contributions are a major part of the money we collect for Sama development.'
Caroline from Manaslu BC