Nepal stories: the monk, the witch and the mountain guide

Those of you who like Nepal might be interested in an unusual film project that will be taking place in the Everest foothills next autumn, if all goes to plan and enough euros are raised via their crowdfunding page.

Pemba Returns to Goli is the story of a Sherpani (or female Sherpa) who fled Nepal with her husband a decade ago and has been living in the village of Taradell in Catalonia for the last nine years. Every year she returns to her home village of Goli in the Everest region to visit her family.

The project was conceived by Spanish film producer Josep Pérez, a climber and trekker who had the idea of describing Himalayan life through the eyes of a number of people in Pemba’s village. Most films about Sherpas focus on climbing, and in particular Everest, but Josep wants to get away from this by presenting some of the other aspects of the Sherpa way of life.

Himalayan peaks rise above the village of Goli (Photo: Josep Pérez)
Himalayan peaks rise above the village of Goli (Photo: Josep Pérez)

He and Pemba have assembled a memorable cast of characters who all play different roles in the community. There is Ang Maya the farmer, who explains the intricacies of terraced farming at high altitude; Ngawang Jigme the Buddhist monk who officiates at weddings, births and funerals that bring people together from all over the region; Chhiring Dolma the schoolmistress; Pasang the high-altitude mountain guide who climbs with western mountaineering expeditions; and Kaljang the Sherpa historian, who wants to be a politician. There is even a sorceror called Chhiri, who conducts rituals to heal the sick and revive the crops.

Josep’s aim is to present Pemba as an inspiration and example of the thousands of rural Nepalis who leave their villages to look for a better future. He would also like to document the old way of life in a remote Himalayan village during a time of unstoppable change, contrasting the traditional roles with the new ones that are taking over.

Goli is three days’ walk away from the trekking route between Jiri to Lukla. There are no teahouses, no electricity and no sewage treatment. It was once a place of pilgrimage for people, but this changed last year, when its principal monastery was destroyed in the Nepal earthquake. The film will also explore the earthquake’s impact on the community.

I was introduced to Josep by a former boss of mine, Chris, who once hired me to help build the website of an international law firm. With my habit of taking time off between contracts to write and climb mountains, I often find myself working for people who enjoy travelling. I don’t know whether this is because people who don’t travel think I will make a worse employee, or those who do travel think I’ll make a better one, or if it’s just coincidence, but Chris was no exception. He trekked in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains with Josep fifteen years ago, and they climbed Jebel Toubkal. Later they travelled the length of Patagonia, hiking among the granite spires of the Torres del Paine and gazing upon the glaciers of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap.

Josep was introduced to Pemba by a Catalan anthropologist who, by another twist of fate, lived in Goli for two years. He found in her a mixture of peacefulness and determination, as well as a confidence in front of camera that made her an ideal subject for his film. This is the link in the chain that brought me to Pemba’s story too, and it would not surprise me at all if Josep ends up filming a porter in her village who once carried my own bag on the trail to Mera Peak. All of our lives send ripples across the ocean, and as much as some of us believe we can close ourselves off from the world beyond our borders, we are all interconnected in some way.

Josep first travelled to the Khumbu region of Nepal in 2007 during a two-month trek. His longer trip gave him an opportunity to discover some of the more remote trails away from the main trekking routes. It gave him a taste of what he calls the “pure and authentic Sherpa people”, very different from the ones most of us know from our treks and climbs. He found them tough but friendly, accustomed to working hard and not expecting much from life.

If enough money is raised from the crowdfunding page Josep intends to visit Nepal with Pemba in the autumn and document some of the stories. He gave me an example of the sort of incident he hopes to capture.

One day on a mountain trail I saw a man carrying a basket on his back, inside of which there was an elderly woman who was screaming and complaining. She was so angry that the man had tied her to the basket. I asked what was going on and was told that this very old woman was sick and her son was taking her to the hospital in Kathmandu. But she didn’t want to go because she didn’t trust the modern medicine and hated the big city.

He doesn’t need very much to be able to complete his project, just €5,750, but there are only a couple of weeks left, so if you are interested in supporting this project please head over to the crowdfunding page soon.

The film will be in Spanish, with English subtitles. It will be co-produced by Catalan TV station TV3, and the money raised from the crowdfunding will be used to fund the travel expenses of Pemba, the cameraman and director.

Here’s a little teaser.

La Pemba torna a Goli (Pemba returns to Goli). Teaser from JOSEP PEREZ on Vimeo.

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One thought on “Nepal stories: the monk, the witch and the mountain guide

  • June 29, 2016 at 6:33 pm

    Sounds like a really good project. Lets hope enough money is raised so that it can go ahead. I for one will look out for it in the Autumn.

    Mount Everest Facts

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