“I don’t have high hopes for the fall season,” Ang Dorjee Sherpa tells me. “I think only a few trekking tourists will show up. But they are welcome, no problem.” The 51-year-old owns the “AD Friendship Lodge” in Namche Bazaar, the main village of the Khumbu, the region around Mount Everest. “Five days ago, I met a foreign family who was stuck in Lukla for three months because of the corona lockdown,” says the Sherpa. In the days before the lockdown, there had been some flights back to Kathmandu from Lukla. Not all stranded tourists had apparently been given seats.
There are still no signals from the government in Kathmandu as to when the lockdown might end, the lodge owner says. “We are not doing business, we have nothing to do. But that’s what’s happening to people all over the world right now.” Many Namche residents were worried about their livelihood, says Ang Dorjee. Another problem is the lack of education: “The schools, colleges, universities, everything is still off.”
Teaching staff in quarantine
According to Dr. Mingma Kancchi Sherpa, the authorities of the Khumbu region have meanwhile called the teachers back to their schools. However, they would have to have their health checked and remain in quarantine at home for another three weeks. The Sherpani works as a doctor at the hospital in Kunde, a village in the neighbouring valley of Namche Bazaar. The small clinic with 15 beds at 3,840 meters above sea level was built in 1966 by the Himalayan Trust, the aid organisation of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first ascender of Mount Everest.
“Only the tourists are missing”
“So far, in the Khumbu we haven’t encountered any symptomatic patients suggestive of Covid-19,” writes Mingma Kancchi to me, but points out that “we don’t have any facility for laboratory testing (PCR). Also the seasonal flu has decreased compared to previous years.” According to the statistics of the Nepalese Ministry of Health, two cases have been registered in the Solokhumbu region since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, but none is currently on record.
“Life in Khumbu is as usual as in the pre lockdown period. The only difference is there are no tourists,” the Sherpani answers my question about how the people of the region are coping mentally with the corona crisis. “We haven’t encountered any new people with recent mental disorder. Only the Khumbu people who are stuck in Kathmandu are having problems.”