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Beyul Khumbu: The Sherpa and Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park and Buffer Zone, Nepal



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Values of Protected Landscapes and Seascapes
Values of Protected Landscapes and Seascapes
Protected Landscapes
and Cultural amb Spiritual Values
A series published by
the Protected Landscapes Task Force of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas
Edited by
Josep-Maria Mallarach
Volume produced in partnership between the WCPA Protected Landscapes Task Force and the Task Force on
Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas.
Volume Editorial Advisory Team: Jessica Brown, Thymio Papayannis, Fausto Sarmiento and Rob Wild
Series Editorial Team: Thora Amend, Jessica Brown, Ashish Kothari, Adrian Phillips and Sue Stolton
ISBN 978-3-925064-60-9
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Josep-Maria Mallarach (ed.) 2008. Protected Landscapes and Cultural
and Spiritual Values. Volume 2 in the series Values of Protected Lands-
capes and Seascapes, IUCN, GTZ and Obra Social de Caixa Catalunya.
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by Thora Amend, Jessica Brown, Ashish Kothari, Adrian Philips and Sue Stolton
Protected landscapes and cultural and spiritual values: an overview
by Josep-Maria Mallarach
Around the sacred mountain: the St Katherine Protectorate in South Sinai,
by John Grainger and Francis Gilbert
Telling stories: managing cultural values at Yuraygir National Park,
by Steve Brown
Characteristic Mt. Athos landscapes: the case of the Holy Simonopetra
Monastery, Greece
by Thymio Papayannis
Protecting Seascapes:Vitoria Island, Ilhabela State Park, Brazil
by Marilia Britto de Moraes, Mariana Almeida Pirró, Roberto Costa and Alain Briatte
Beyul Khumbu: the Sherpa and Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park
and Buffer Zone, Nepal
by Jeremy Spoon and Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa
The monastic landscape of Poblet: a place where spirituality, culture and
nature join hands, Spain
by Lluc M. Torcal and Josep-Maria Mallarach
Integrating traditional values and management regimes into Madagascar’s
expandedprotected area system: the case of Ankodida
by Charlie Gardner, Barry Ferguson, Flavien Rebara and Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana
Dancing the Ramayana in Angkor, Cambodia
by Liza Higgins-Zogib
Sacred Imbakucha: intangibles in the conservation of cultural landscapes of
by Fausto O. Sarmiento, César Cotacachi and Lee Ellen Carter
meanings of Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda
by Mark Infield, Eunice Mahoro Duli, Mugisha R Arthur and Patrick Rubagyema
The monastic area of Vanatori-Neamt Natural Park, Romania
by Sebastian Catanoiu and Benedict Sauciuc
The Dzibilchaltún Cultural Park, México
by María de Jesús Ordóñez, Mercedes Otegui Acha, Celia López and Paloma
Demojong: a sacred site within a Sikkimese Himalayan landscape, India
by Palayanoor Sivaswamy Ramakrishnan
Caring for the ‘Heart of the World’, Colombia
by Danilo Villfañe
Jabal La’lam, a sacred mountain in northern Morocco
by Zakia Zouanat
Landscape, aesthetics and changing cultural values in the British National
by Sue Stolton, Shelagh Hourahane, Charlie Falzon and Nigel Dudley, with boxes by
Adrian Phillips and Graham Lee
Beyul Khumbu: the Sherpa and Sagarmatha (Mount Everest)
National Park and Buffer Zone, Nepal
Jeremy Spoon and Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa
Map 1. Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone courtesy of
the Integrated Center for International Mountain Development
This case study focuses on the cultural and spiritual values
of the indigenous Sherpa that live within the Buffer Zone of
Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park and how they
have been influenced by the declaration of the protected
area (1976), more than fifty years of tourism, increased
wealth, and western-style education. The Sherpa consider
the landscape a beyul – a sacred hidden valley set aside
by the progenitor of Tibetan Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche, as
a refuge for peoples in times of need. Inside a beyul, peo-
ple must refrain from negative actions that are inconsistent
with Buddhist philosophy, including the harming or killing
of any living things, from humans to animals to plants. Un-
der the beyul umbrella, there are numerous place-based
spiritual perspectives and taboos that reflect environmen-
tally sustainable practices. These embody protector dei-
ties and spirits that are associated with natural features
such as mountains, trees, rocks, and water sources. Since
the Park’s inception, tourism has been steadily increasing,
with more than 27,000 visitors in 2006/07. Tourism has af-
forded certain benefits to the local Sherpa population, in-
cluding increasing economic capacity and development
of local infrastructure. It also caused numerous changes
in Sherpa cultural and spiritual values related to place,
especially among younger generations. This paper con-
cludes with recommendations for reinforcing cultural and
spiritual values and highlights some of the proposed poli-
cies enshrined in the new Management Plan.
Sagarmatha National Park
and Buffer Zone
The landscape of Sagarmatha National Park
and Buffer Zone
Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone (SNPBZ),
which includes the Khumbu and Pharak regions is a
spectacular landscape containing some of the highest
mountains on Earth. Located along the border between
Nepal and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China in the
Solukhumbu District of Nepal, the 1,389 km2SNPBZ con-
tains numerous mountain peaks over 6,000 m a.s.l. (Map
1). Among these giants are three of the 10 highest peaks
in the world, including Mount Everest (8,850 m), which is
known as Jomolangma1 to the local Sherpa people and
their Tibetan neighbors to the north. At the southern slope
of this mountain lies SNPBZ, encompassing a dramatic el-
evation range from 2,800 to 8,850 meters.
The vegetation of SNPBZ can be roughly divided into three
zones determined by altitude, aspect, and to lesser ex-
tent, edaphic factors. The lowest area is found between
2,800 and 3,200 m and contains forests and shrubland of
temperate species dominated by mixed broad-leaf, hem-
lock, and pine forests. Between 3,200 and 4,000 m lies the
subalpine zone supporting forests of fir, juniper, birch, and
rhododendron. Vegetation in the highest zones from 4,000
to 6,000 m and beyond consists mainly of slow-growing
juniper and rhododendron species and a variety of herbs,
forbs, sedges and grasses (Brower 1991). Importantly, the
distribution patterns of vegetation in SNPBZ are heavily
influenced by centuries of human activities including graz-
ing, harvesting and burning (Sherpa 1999). The fauna of
the area includes a diverse spectrum of forest birds, ro-
dents, lagomorphs goat-antelopes and other ungulates,
and predators such as snow leopards and wolves. The
1 The mountain is officially known as Sagarmatha by the Nepalese
Jomolangma or Mount Everest at sunset. October 2004. Photo: Jeremy Spoon.
larger mammals of the area live within a variety of eleva-
tion ranges. These include Himalayan tahr, musk deer, se-
row, black bear and red panda. The vividly flowering flora
provides for many pollinator insects such as butterflies
and bees. Additionally, many local residents believe that
the yeti or abominable snowman, an embodiment of both
physical and supernatural abilities, lives in these moun-
tains (Brower 1991).
Park and Buffer Zone establishment,
designation and administration
Sagarmatha National Park (SNP) was declared by the
Nepalese government in 1976 with boundaries that en-
compass the entire 1,114 km2 Khumbu area and follow the
ridges of the surrounding mountains. UNESCO inscribed
the park as a World Heritage Site in 1979 under its natural
heritage category, highlighting the area’s globally signifi-
cant natural features that include the world’s tallest moun-
tains, glaciers, vegetation and wildlife. Within this bound-
ary there were many settlements inhabited by local Sherpa
people that practiced farming and herding. As the interna-
tionally accepted definition of a national park at that time
was that of relatively natural areas not materially altered
by human activity, the settlements within the park were le-
gally excluded from the protected area. However, special
access and traditional resource rights were conceded to
local people and therefore the settlement and subsistence
practices of the Sherpa people continued to influence the
park’s landscape. Although designated as an IUCN (1994)
Category II National Park, SNP became one of the first
national parks in Nepal in which indigenous settlements
and resource use were recognized. Consequently, local
landowners along the main tourist trails developed their
properties as tourism enterprises. Park policy, outlined
in the first Management Plan (1981), did not contain any
mention of Sherpa cultural or spiritual values and how they
potentially affect local subsistence activities; neither did it
have any particular policy on tourism management (Gar-
ratt 1981).
Initially settlements within SNP were regarded as enclaves
and people living within these village areas were given tra-
ditional resource use and access rights in the Park (albeit
regulated). In 2002 these settlement along with an addi-
tional 275 km2 in the Pharak area located south of the Park
boundary along the Dudh Kosi river gorge, were declared
as the park buffer zones. These areas best fall under the
IUCN Category VI Managed Resource Protected Areas,
defined as an “area containing predominantly unmodified
natural systems, managed to ensure long term protection
and maintenance of biological diversity, while providing at
the same time a sustainable flow of natural products and
services to meet community needs” (IUCN 1994). The Na-
tional Park and Wildlife Conservation Act of Nepal defines
a buffer zone as a “peripheral area of a national park or a
reserve which may include village settlements and areas
of forests and rangelands” (DNPWC 2007). Buffer zones
are therefore contiguous to a park and influence the lands
within it. The goal of the Sagarmatha National Park Buf-
fer Zone is “to ensure sustained production and flow of
resources through improved management of forests, wild-
lands, and agricultural areas, and ensure equitable shar-
ing of Park revenue with the local communities” (DNPWC
The aim of this buffer zone program is to engender stron-
ger local support for park conservation goals. The buffer
zone concept allows people inside and at the boundary
of parks to organize themselves into different Buffer Zone
User Committees, a governance model based on the suc-
cessful community forestry movement initiated in Nepal in
the 1970s. The goal is to empower and involve the local
people to govern their own resources. Through the buffer
zone regulations, local user groups are eligible to receive
30 to 50 % of National Park revenue for local development
and conservation. To clarify, the entire landscape, called
Khumbu and Pharak by the Sherpa, includes both the park
and buffer zone, with the local settlements categorized as
the buffer zone (IUCN Category VI) and the remainder of
the area as the park (IUCN Category II). The village en-
claves within the park now fall under the jurisdiction of the
Namche and Khumjung Buffer Zone Committees, where-
as the newly integrated Pharak area falls under the Chau-
rikharka Zone Committee.
Buffer-zone governance has three levels: on the bottom tier
are the 28 Buffer Zone User Groups (BZUG). Nine to ten
BZUG jointly form the Buffer Zone User Committee (BZUC)
and three BZUG jointly form the Buffer Zone Management
Committee (BZMC), which includes the Chairpersons from
the three BZUCs, the Park Chief Warden as the Executive
Secretary, and a member from the District Development
Committee (DDC) representing the Nepal Government.
Beyul Khumbu
Origin and migration
The origin and migration of the Sherpa2 to Khumbu and
Pharak (SNPBZ) has been fairly well established and dated
at around 1533 (Ortner 1989). Although a shortage of reli-
able data prevents a definitive chronology of events (L.N.
Sherpa 1999), local oral history suggests that the Sherpa
homeland was a region in eastern Tibetan in the province
of Kham, 2,090 km away from their present home. Oral his-
tory states that the Khumbu region was known as a vacant
land without human settlement prior to the arrival of the
Sherpa people. Initially, it was used by hermits as a place
for meditative retreats (Ortner 1989). There are currently
about 6,000 people living inside SNPBZ, with around 90%
of the population being Sherpa. Most settlers spend be-
tween nine and twelve months in the area each year, with
Kathmandu serving as a retreat during the winters for more
affluent households. In addition to the local Sherpa pop-
ulation, the area receives more than 25,000 tourists per
year, as well as thousands of migrant workers who work in
the tourism industry as porters and guides.
Importantly, many believe that Guru Rinpoche or Pad-
masambhava, the progenitor of Tibetan Buddhism, proph-
esied in the eighth century the finding of the hidden valleys
in the Himalayas. These areas were envisioned as beyul,
or sacred hidden valleys, set aside by Guru Rinpoche for
people in times of hardship as places of refuge. Many
Sherpa people consider Khumbu and its adjacent valleys
of Khenpalung, Rowaling, Helambu, Langtang and Nubri
to be beyul (L.N. Sherpa 2005). Aspects of the geography
of both places are generally described in various texts that
chronicle the life and teachings of Guru Rinpoche.
Nyingma Buddhism
The Sherpa are Tibetan Buddhists who follow the ancient
Nyingma tradition. As Buddhists, they assume the basic
Buddhist principle of sin and merit, and of the reincarna-
tion of various states of being, both positive and negative,
depending on the amounts of sin or merit accumulated in
a course of a lifetime. Ample good deeds and the accumu-
lation of merit is considered to improve one’s chances of
better rebirth, the ultimate aim being ceasing to lead a cy-
clic existence of a series of lives, deaths, and rebirths. The
2 Solu, Pharak and Khumbu Sherpa have the same migration history into
Nepal. Solu and Pharak are areas south of Khumbu and include settlers of
both Sherpa and non-Sherpa decent. Khumbu is almost entirely populated
by Sherpa, with the exception of a few families of Tibetan refugees and
other non-Sherpa Nepali ethnic groups. Both Pharak and Khumbu areas
come under the jurisdiction of the National Park; however, management
differs, as Khumbu includes both Park and Buffer Zone and Pharak only
has Buffer Zone. The following discussion of cultural and spiritual values
principally concerns the Khumbu Sherpa and some Pharak Sherpa and
less so the other ethnic groups living in these areas.
Phortse Gunsa with a patchwork of potato and buckwheat fields.
October 2004. Photo: Jeremy Spoon.
In a beyul, the believers refrain from negative actions that
are inconsistent with Buddhist philosophy. These rules in-
clude not harming or killing any living things (from humans
to animals to plants), refraining from violence in any way,
not stealing or cheating another person, and generally
pleasing the local gods and spirits. Since many mountain
deities are assigned the responsibility of making sure that
Buddhism is protected within a beyul, human actions that
are inconsistent with Buddhist principles may upset the
deities and lead to unforeseen negative consequences for
human communities. All beyul lands are the same; howev-
er, it is the observation of these codes of conduct by beyul
residents that make them both sacred and powerful. Beyul
have qualities in them that make them ideal places for eco-
system level conservation. Indeed, their large size, natural
boundaries, relatively pristine conditions, low population
density, and altitudinal and topographic variations promote
biological diversity (L.N. Sherpa 2005). The beyul spiritual
perspective affords environmentally sustainable attitudes
towards flora and fauna, as it generally places taboos on
hunting and the harvest of live wood from the temperate,
subalpine, and alpine ecosystems. It does not extend to
the collection of non-timber forest products (NTFP) from
the forest or scrubland understorey or to grazing.
The concepts of kindness and compassion to all living
things are an important feature of Sherpa spirituality. They
are separated here to focus specifically on the taboo re-
lated to the hunting and killing of living things, which often
includes vegetation. The strongest taboo seems to exist in
relation to the hunting and killing of mammals, birds and,
to a lesser extent, livestock (Spoon 2008). Some Khumbu
Sherpa also believe that the felling and pruning of live trees
is another way of losing merit. This may explain the Sherpa
practice of collecting mostly dead wood for fuel. In some
cases, such as home and bridge construction, the cutting
of live trees is unavoidable. To atone for this action, the
Sherpa perform special rituals to beg forgiveness.
Khumbu Yu-Lha mask being danced at the annual Dumji ceremo-
ny in Khumjung Gompa. June 200 5. Photo: Jeremy Spoon.
Sherpa also believe in various gods and spirits who must
not be offended if things are to go well during their lifetime.
Nyingmapa place a great deal of emphasis on rituals that
exorcize demons, a characteristic absent from the more
recent reformed branches of Tibetan Buddhism (Ortner
1989). Furthermore, the Sherpa consider Guru Rinpoche
or Padmasambhava as the founder of their faith and sec-
ond to the Buddha.
The nature of Sherpa Buddhist practice views the world
as a place occupied not only by humans, but also by a
diversity of supernatural beings such as deities, spirits,
and ghosts. These supernatural beings can be catego-
rized into two groups. The first group are the enlightened
Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that can help an individual
achieve nirvana. The second group are considered to be
the lords of the land, residing in mountains, water sources,
and trees, whereas the other group assists with life after
death. Under the appropriate conditions, the deities and
spirits protect the land, the people, and their faith. In order
to receive protection and support from these spirits and
deities, the Sherpa regularly perform rituals and make of-
ferings to beg forgiveness for offending actions they may
have inadvertently performed. The essential focus of wor-
ship is to appease the spirits and to request that they con-
tinue their protection of humanity from the negative forces
that exist in the world. Rituals aimed at pleasing the gods
and spirits may be performed simply by ordinary people or
through spiritual mediums such as lhawa or trained spe-
cialists. The Nyingmapa tradition of appeasing deities and
spirits of the land is similar to pre-Buddhist Bon practices.
Worship of these entities occurs in monasteries known as
gompa, in homes, or in open spaces. There are a number
of communally or privately owned gompa in Khumbu, each
embodying its own protector deities. The first was built in
Pangboche around 1667 and two additional major gompa
were then added in Thame and Rimijung soon afterwards.
Place-based spirituality
The Khumbu Sherpa possess numerous place-based
spiritual perspectives and taboos that are specific to the
local landscape and to the peoples that practice them.
The beyul spiritual perspective serves as an umbrella
for the relationship between the Sherpa and the physical
landscape, as well as between the Sherpa themselves.
Many other place-based spiritual perspectives are con-
nected to this larger concept. The origin of Beyul Khumbu
begins when Guru Rinpoche was meditating in a cave
south of Khumbu. From this cave, he flew to a cave above
Khumjung settlement in Khumbu and spent three days
there mediating and destroying or converting spirits hos-
tile to Buddhism. Afterwards, he predicted that this valley
would become a beyul, or a refuge for people in times of
Jomo Miyo Lang Sangma, the goddess that resides on Mount
Everest. She is believed to provide wealth to the Sherpa people.
Khumbu Yul-Lha, the protector deity of the Khumbu Sherpa peo-
ple. Photos: Jeremy Spoon.
The Sherpa also designate certain forests around their
settlements as off-limits to tree felling and harvesting. The
reasons for setting aside these areas include keeping vil-
lages safe from divine wrath or bad fortune and ensuring
that households continue to have sources of forest re-
sources nearby. Inside these forests, the felling of trees is
considered inappropriate; however, as stated above, the
gathering of NTFP and grazing is allowed. In forests pro-
tected for non-spiritual reasons, the general rules apply
regarding the harvest of live wood, although exceptions
for building may be allowed under certain circumstances
(Stevens 1993). Consequently, this spiritual perspective
applies only to the forest overstorey and not to the under-
storey, which in most protected forests is more disturbed.
There are two types of sacred groves. The first are for-
ests that grow in areas considered sacred because cer-
tain spirits reside there. The second category includes two
types of protected groves (lama and gompa) called kek-
shing. Lama-protected forests originated when a certain
powerful lama sanctified or cursed a forest patch, where
trees must not be used or felled by cutting implements.
These forests were the earliest sacred groves, most strictly
protected, and are the most enduring today. There are ex-
amples of such protected forests in Thame and Phortse
settlements. Gompa forests are typically groves that sur-
round or are nearby village gompa. It appears that the
trees gained their sanctity as a result of the construction of
the gompa and were not considered sacred before. There
are currently multiple gompa forests in the Buffer Zone
settlements, ranging in age from 350 years to less than a
The oldest juniper gompa forest exists near the Pangboche
Gompa, which is attributed to the sacred hair of Lama San-
gwe Dorji, the holy founder of the monastery. These trees
have not been cut for centuries and have now matured
into an ancient grove. Tengboche Gompa has the largest
privately owned forest in Khumbu, which was granted to
the reincarnate lama by Khumbu leaders in 1919 (Stevens
1993: 197). Within this monastery’s lands, a triangular hill
on the opposite side of the gompa is regarded as the sa-
cred home of the female protector deity or lhamo of the
area. Consequently, the forest on this site is not disturbed
out of respect for the protector deity.
Furthermore, throughout Khumbu exist deities and spir-
its that reside on mountains and hills, and in lakes and
springs that afford protection to the land and its people.
Mountain deities in general and local protector deities
in particular are characteristic of many Tibetan Buddhist
peoples throughout the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Guru Rinpoche subdued many of the fierce protector dei-
ties that existed in pre-Buddhist Tibet and bound them by
oath to remerge as protectors of Buddhism. The protec-
tor deities must be kept happy if the residents are to be
protected. If displeased, they will not protect them against
a range of calamities including avalanches, landslides,
floods, war and even plane crashes. The protector deities
also have their own associates or khor in the form of wild-
life, livestock, and other mythical creatures. The Sherpa
respect these associates and do not harm them, behavior
that influences their attitude towards wildlife.
The central protector deity in Khumbu is Khumbi Yul-Lha,
or the Khumbu country deity, (shortened to Khumbila),
who is one of the deities appointed by Guru Rinpoche to
be the protector of Khumbu. This deity currently lives in
the mountain directly above the Khunde and Khumjung
settlements inside the core area of the Park. The khor of
Khumbila are yak, tahr, sheep, and for some the yeti. Wor-
ship of Khumbila includes the burning of aromatic incense
made from subalpine and alpine plants, the placing of
white flags over the house three times a year on specific
days, and the annual ceremony of Dumji, whereby an en-
tire dance is dedicated to the deity while onlookers throw
rice as blessings and offer silk scarves called khata. In
Khumjung and Khunde settlements as part of the Dumji
ceremony, each household makes a flag for the deity,
which male household members take to a small lookout
place on the slopes of the sacred mountain.
Another protector deity in Khumbu that has gained in-
creasing significance with the advent of trekking and
mountaineering is the goddess Jomo Miyo Lang Sangma,
who resides on the mountain Jomolangma or Mount Ever-
est inside the park. This goddess is considered to be a
provider of wealth, which she holds in her right hand while
the mongoose in her left hand vomits norbu (a symbol of
wealth). She rides a tiger and is considered one of the five
long-life sisters (Tsering Che-Nga). Some local residents
attribute the tourism and mountaineering boom in Khum-
bu as a gift from this deity. Additionally, numerous other
mountains embody protector deities that are important to
people of different clans and settlements.
Generally, the climbing of a mountain that is the home of
a protector deity is prohibited; however, there is a tradi-
tion of circumambulating sacred mountains such as Mount
Kailash in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. In
Khumbu, some pious individuals make a pilgrimage around
Pokalde (5,808 m a.s.l.) high in the Imja Khola Valley in the
park. This mountain is sacred because it includes a histori-
cal hermitage site on its slopes, where Lama Sangwe Dorji
meditated. Mountain climbing became more common with
the advent of tourism and now Sherpa climb certain peaks
for income and reputation. Nevertheless, despite the ad-
vent of mountaineering, Khumbi Yul-Lha has remained off-
limits. To ensure safety when climbing other mountains,
the climbers and their families offer the mountain deities
incense and prayers before beginning a climb. These ritu-
als are generally not considered mandatory, but are per-
formed by many Sherpa climbers and their families. In the
event that a natural disaster claims a human life on the
mountains, it is common to attribute the misfortune to the
deities being displeased. The behavior of foreign climbers
can also affect the response of the deities.
Lu are another category of land protectors. They reside
under trees, in water sources and rocks, and in construct-
ed shrines and have both positive and negative conse-
quences for the local residents that house them. These
spirits often mirror human characteristics, such as good
or bad, or smart or dumb. Lu provide wealth and ensure a
family’s longevity, although they can also cause hardship,
often in the form of physical ailments that can only be treat-
ed by the shaman. The caretaking and pleasing of a Lu
through offerings is conducted by women and is passed
down through generations from mother to daughter. Pol-
lution of many types can upset Lu, as does the breaking
of boulders, digging of land, and cutting down of trees.
Many buffer zone households contain Lu adjacent to their
homes, often in the form of trees scattered throughout the
patchwork fields or nearby houses.
Past and present land-use and
Agro-pastoralism and forest use
Khumbu Sherpa subsistence is highly specialized and
employs high-altitude varieties of crops and livestock. This
specialization is possible thanks to the local ability to ob-
tain agricultural and pastoral products from regions below
3,000 meters by trade and, more recently, from weekly mar-
kets, Tibetan vendors, and Kathmandu and elsewhere. The
Khumbu Sherpa also make use of the micro-environmental
variations caused by altitude, aspect, precipitation, and
soil types. Primary crops include several varieties of po-
tatoes, buckwheat and barley. Livestock holdings harbor
various types of yak and nak, cattle (phalang) and yak/cow
hybrids (male: zopkio and female: zom). Sheep and goats
were also herded once in small numbers in the past. All
of these animals require seasonal transhumance between
the lower and higher common pastures: traditionally, the
main settlements are the winter villages at lower elevation
(gunsa), while the upper elevation pastoral settlements are
known as phu; the privately owned grazing huts and grass
fields are known as yersa. All gunsa and yersa settlements
nawa (the same areas that do not enforce the dee) have
formed their own village nawa that basically fulfill the same
duties as the officially appointed ones, but receive no com-
pensation. The consequence for harvesting live wood or in
a restricted area around the settlements is monetary, with
repeated offenders in the worst cases being punished with
Tourism development
Tourism development in Nepal is a relatively recent phe-
nomenon, with the nation-state only opening up its borders
to tourists in 1951. The initial driver for tourism was moun-
taineering: Nepal gained international recognition after
Maurice Herzog’s successful ascent of Annapurna I in 1950
and Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary’s historic climb
of Mount Everest in 1953. Aside from specific expeditions
aimed at climbing Mount Everest, significant trekking and
sightseeing activities in Khumbu did not begin until the late
1960s. This new tourism industry offered trekkers multi-day
camping trips in the mountains, spawning today’s so-called
‘trekking tourism’ (Stevens 1993). This tourism afforded
market integration for the local Sherpa population, deliver-
ing off-farm employment and income generation opportu-
nities to many subsistence farmers and herders. Tourism
Flags being offered to Khumbu Yul-Lha on the slopes of the sa-
cred mountain during the annual Dumji ceremony. June 2005.
Photo: Jeremy Spoon.
are currently within the buffer zone; however, grazing oc-
curs in both the park and buffer zone. Herding is on the
decline, although every household maintains some buffer
zone farmland.
Currently, the most important forest products are timber,
firewood and leaf litter. Forests also provide various mush-
rooms, berries and other fruits, condiments, tea substi-
tutes, medicines, aromatic leaves for incense and other
wild products at a range of elevations. Branches of shugpa
or juniper (Juniperus recurva) are an essential component
of ritual, typically burned at the onset of most ceremonies
to please the protector deities through the aromatic smell.
Juniper is also the typical wood used in cremation (Brower
Sherpa resource management encompasses regulations
on herding and interactions within nearby forests. The pas-
toral management system relies on the institutional regula-
tion of grazing. Within the system there are few cultural or
spiritual prescriptions that influence decisions about herd
size and structure, aside from the encouragement to keep
yak and cattle instead of smaller stock and the equating of
large herds with a level of prestige. There are no spiritual
perspectives forbidding grazing anywhere for more than
a certain amount of time or controlling the number of ani-
mals that graze at a particular site. The family thus decides
herd sizes and movements. In summer and early autumn
the management system intervenes, dictating grazing ar-
eas. Village-appointed or rotationally selected individuals,
called nawa, open and close pastures at different eleva-
tions and decide the timing of hay cutting. These seasonal
restrictions are called dee: the dee opens when livestock
has to shift from lower to higher pastures and when the hay
has to be harvested, and closes when the livestock return
and harvesting must cease (Stevens 1993). As of 2008, the
nawa were supported by the buffer zone to enforce the dee
only in roughly half of the area, which is generally along the
tourist route. These individuals receive a small amount of
compensation and conduct their roles as a family depend-
ing on who is available.
The current configuration of forest management is based
on collaboration between the various Buffer zone settle-
ments and the park. Buffer zone forests in close proximity
to settlements are mostly off limits to harvesters, a prohibi-
tion that is enforced by local residents. The park regulates
firewood collection within its boundaries: over the last three
years collection has been limited to thirty days a year in
two fifteen-day periods around May and December. During
these times, the forests are patrolled by locally appointed
forest guardians called shinngi nawa (in areas that enforce
the dee) or BZUG members to ensure that only dead wood
is harvested in permitted forests, reinforcing the spiritual
taboo. Some settlements in areas that do not have shinngi
jumped significantly with the building of Lhukla airport in
1964. For instance, numbers of trekkers grew from 4,254 in
1975/76, to 7,834 in 198 6/ 87, 17,412 in 19 96/97, and slightly
more than 27,000 in 2006/07 (DNPWC 2007). The number
of visitors continues to increase with most tourists visiting
the main routes towards Tengboche Monastery and Kala
Patar in the Imja Khola Valley, with rather fewer visitors fre-
quenting the Dudh Kosi and Nangpa Valleys.
One of the positive aspects of tourism development is that
local people have retained a considerable amount of con-
trol over the tourist industry. The fact that an indigenous
population inside and around a protected area is able to
control some of the tourism infrastructure and facilities, in-
creasing their economic capacity, is rare in other countries.
Every family in Khumbu is currently involved in tourism,
either directly or indirectly. Although the Khumbu Sherpa
as a whole receive significant benefit from tourism, prof-
its are not distributed equally. The households who live on
the tourist route benefit more from their increased market
integration in the form of lodges, tea-shop, shops, tourism
services, trekking agencies, and so on. Local lodges, tea-
shops, and shops all exist within the buffer zone in both
gunsa and yersa settlements. The households living in the
areas that are off the tourist route are generally less strong-
ly integrated into the tourism economy and only provide
people as seasonal porters and guides. The remainder of
the year these households engage more actively in farming
and livestock herding.
Tourism is now dictating land-use, as local lodges and tea-
shops require resources to meet the thousands who visit
the area each year. Some Sherpa land-use traditions have
had to change, and in some cases this has influenced set-
tlement development and expansion patterns, the timing
of the resource collection, and grazing systems in order
to accommodate tourism activities. Holdings of yak and
yak-cow hybrids have grown in recent years in relation to
other livestock types because of their demand for moving
trekkers’ and mountaineers’ luggage. Agriculture is also
affected, with more and more family members living off
tourism as their fields lie fallow. The most vital resource to
tourism is the use of firewood at lower elevations and dung
at higher locations to cook and heat the family-run lodges
and tea-shops. Although used in the buffer zone lodges
and tea-shops, firewood is harvested from the park forests.
This resource use is supplemented by micro-hydroelectric
power and more sustainable architecture; however, many
families continue to harvest or to hire harvesters during
the permitted times. Additionally, tourist visits are mainly
concentrated in two seasons in the spring and fall, which
causes overcrowding and possible erosion of trails, inten-
sified consumption of local and non-local food products,
increased human waste, an abundance of non-biodegrad-
able litter, and local inflation.
Key challenges, threats
and response
Political economic drivers of change
Sherpa cultural and spiritual values have been continually
changing and adapting to the circumstances affecting the
people and the land. The most recent and far-reaching
driver of change has been market integration through tour-
ism. As the scale of tourism has continued to increase,
Sherpa relations with place continue to change. For in-
stance, market integration has caused major shifts in con-
sumption behavior, which is compounded by an increase
in foreign goods and media through globalization. Market
integration is also causing some Sherpa to spend more
and more time away in Kathmandu or elsewhere and is
fomenting a growing transnational population in the United
States, Europe, and Japan.
The establishment of schools with assistance from Sir Ed-
mund Hillary in the 1960s allowed most Sherpa under the
age of thirty to have some western-style education and
to work more effectively in the tourism industry. However,
these schools use Nepali and English as the medium for
instruction and not the local language. There is also a lack
of place-based curriculums. Cultural exchanges with inter-
national tourists and the dominant Hindu culture also ap-
pear to be influencing the attitude of the local population
towards each other and the landscape, as well as causing
shifts in consumption patterns. Schools in Nepal’s remote
mountain regions are also less adequately equipped and
staffed, leading some Sherpa people who have the re-
sources to send their children to boarding schools in Kath-
mandu and elsewhere. This process is taking youth out of
the area during formative years, where they would other-
wise be walking and playing on the many trails of Khumbu,
participating in local ceremonial rituals, and learning about
their culture and language.
The mountain home of Khumbu Yul-Lha above Khunde and
Khumjung settlements. Photo: Jeremy Spoon.
Gompa forest above Tengboche Monastery. The triangular shaped forest overlooking the Monastery is the sacred home of its female
protector deity. Photo: Jeremy Spoon.
Additionally, with increased economic prosperity many
households are hiring outside laborers to farm, herd, col-
lect fuelwood, and gather leaf litter in Buffer Zone and Park
areas. These hired helpers come mostly from neighboring
non-Sherpa indigenous communities such as the Rai eth-
nic group, often from some of Nepal’s most economically
marginalized areas. It is more common for households
on the tourist route to hire, whereas off-route households
continue to gather their own harvests or work alongside
hired laborers. Outsourcing potentially threatens natural
resources, as the outsiders do not have the same relation-
ship with the Khumbu landscape. There have been nu-
merous cases where outside laborers have been caught
harvesting live wood and littering in the Park’s forests and
rivers (Spoon 2008).
The influence of change on cultural and spir-
itual values and responses
Before the advent of tourism, Sherpa developed their own
resource sharing and management regimes based on
their cultural and spiritual values; however, political eco-
nomic changes through market integration (including the
declaration of the Khumbu region as a government man-
aged protected areas) have caused an apparent weaken-
ing of indigenous management. The younger generations,
especially those living along the main tourist route, are
rapidly losing Sherpa knowledge and traditions. In other
cases, certain cultural and spiritual values persist or have
been reformulated to reflect contemporary circumstances:
nowadays protector deities provide safe passage to the
summits of peaks, thus providing wealth in the form of
mountaineering income.
Research on Khumbu Sherpa place-based spiritual per-
spectives and taboos have revealed that cultural and spiri-
tual values are currently being reconfigured in the Buffer
Zone settlements, especially among the younger genera-
tions and along the tourist route. The concept of viewing
Khumbu as a sacred hidden valley appears to be experi-
encing the most rapid decline, with far fewer people un-
der the age of forty aware of it. Most knowledge has been
retained about the principles of kindness and compassion
towards animals and the protector deity Khumbi Yul-Lha.
Comprehension of the gompa and other protected forests
and Lu spirits appear to be on the decline, although not
as severely as the understanding of the beyul concept.
Knowledge of species with attached spiritual connota-
tions (for example, the Himalayan tahr as the associate
of Khumbi Yul-Lha) also appears to be waning amongst
these people. In all cases, younger individuals and resi-
dents on the tourist routes have less appreciation of these
values than before. Additional results from research on the
Khumbu Sherpa’s familiarity with species also corroborate
this trend. Younger cohorts and individuals from the tourist
routes have less awareness of plants, mammals, and birds,
although subalpine overstorey and mushroom knowledge
appear to be stable (Spoon 2008).
Overall, results suggest that younger generations are start-
ing to view themselves and the land as non-relational,
compared to older generations who view them as relational
entities. In the most extreme cases, these differences are
evident between grandparents and grandchildren, even
within the same household. Western-style education may
be contributing to this process because it is taught by
non-Sherpa, it is not place-based, and it is conducted in
non-local languages. The outsourcing of labor and the pro-
cess of sending youth out of the area to boarding schools,
a trend among wealthier families, especially on the tourist
route, may also be driving these changes in perceptions of
place. Finally, shifts are occurring because some families
with increased wealth are emigrating from Khumbu com-
pletely (Spoon 2008).
A project developed to respond to changes in Sherpa
cultural and spiritual values and the loss of language is
currently being implemented by The Mountain Institute’s
(TMI) Asian Regional Program, generously supported by
the Ford Foundation Asia. This project aims to reinforce
and integrate the beyul concept to bring about greater
respect for the land and natural resources. To this end,
the project has made a documentary on beyul to raise
awareness among local people and outsiders, which will
be made available at park visitor centers, lodges, schools,
and homes. A traditional gate or kani is also being built
at the entrance of the park to welcome tourists into Beyul
Khumbu and exhibits at the park entrance station are be-
ing designed to interpret the relationship between local
culture and the environment. Working with local monas-
teries, the project is also piloting an income-generation
program for sustainable cultural sites and collaborating
with the BZMC and other organizations in the building of a
community training facility.
Additionally, -in collaboration with school management
committees- the project is creating a school curriculum
that teaches local script and the local mother tongue at
primary level. At the same time, it is supporting the de-
velopment of the first comprehensive Sherpa-English-
Nepali-Tibetan lexicon and illustrated books to document
the local language. Finally, work is underway to develop
a model for culturally and environmentally sustainable
tourism in off-route villages by integrating home-stays
and experiential learning. Overall, the project attempts to
maintain the Sherpa sense of place under the umbrella of
the more environmentally sustainable beyul concept, while
continuing the process of development through trekking
and mountaineering inside the protected area.
Future plans and recommendations
New Park Management Plan
Significantly, the Management Plan was revised for the first
time between 2003 and 200 6 and ratified in 2007. Most
importantly, the new Plan places stronger emphasis on the
integration of local cultural and spiritual values and prac-
tices into management. The Plan empowers the Sherpa
inside the buffer zone to take a stronger role in resource
management, which is intended to enhance the cultural
and spiritual values of the entire SNPBZ. It also recom-
mends the drafting of a regulation that legalizes their new
strategies and suggests steps that could be taken to re-
classify the park as a UNESCO mixed heritage site, pro-
viding a stronger emphasis on the cultural and spiritual
values of the local people. Finally, it recommends the par-
titioning of the park and the buffer zone area into different
management zones to accommodate and manage various
demands and use pressures (DNPWC 2007).
These new recommendations that take into account Sher-
pa land-use and management have great potential for
engendering local support for the protected area, while
maintaining a level of indigenous governance. If applied in
their entirety through the proposed participatory process-
es, they could usher in a new era in SNPBZ management,
augmenting what is already an important global example,
whereby indigenous people retain their lands and collabo-
rate with a protected area institution. Despite the extensive
consultation and support from different stakeholders, the
most critical factor that will affect implementation is pres-
sure from tourism businesses. Whether or not individual
commercial interests associated with tourism, inside and
out, will affect the successful realization of the Plan re-
mains to be seen.
General suggestions to augment changes in Sherpa cul-
tural and spiritual values of Beyul Khumbu/SNPBZ include
developing a place-based environmental education cur-
riculum in the schools that can be integrated into the ex-
isting natural science curriculum. Modules tackling the
Sherpa relation with place could be taught each year or
bi-annually. Curriculums could be supplemented by Sher-
pa language instruction in schools, ensuring that ecologi-
cal knowledge coded in language is not diluted by Nepali
language instruction. Young monks that the youth relate
to could also be brought in to teach Sherpa spirituality.
Opening a quality boarding school in the area may stop
the outflow of young students to Kathmandu schools.
Revegetation programs could be conducted with cer-
tain species that have associated spiritual connotations,
thereby promoting conservation and the accumulation of
merit in local Buddhist ideology. The beyul concept con-
tains a strong potential for transmitting Sherpa spirituality
regarding the landscape, thereby reinforcing the relation-
ship between people and land. Interpretive programs for
tourists may also reinforce the traditions within the Sherpa
themselves. The mother tongue language program, tour-
ist interpretation, and other components of the Livelihoods
along Beyul Trails Project address some of these sugges-
tions. Most importantly, the Sherpa themselves have the
resources, if they so desire, to influence changes in the
cultural and spiritual values that link people to place. The
outcome could be the reinforcement of environmentally
sustainable decision-making inside the park and buffer
zone and place-based indigenous identity, which is espe-
cially relevant in Nepal’s contemporary political economic
The concept of sacred hidden valleys in Tibetan Buddhism attributed
to Padmasambhava.
chhaam nyingje
Principles of kindness and compassion towards living things.
Sherpa and Tibetan name for Mount Everest (8,8 48 m), the highest
mountain in the world.
The system of moving livestock from place to place to protect crops
and encourage rotational rangeland use.
Monastery or places fo r monks to pursue spiritual studies and ways
of life.
Guru Rinpoche
The founder of Mahayana Buddhism who introduced Buddhism to
Tibet during the early eighth centur y. He is also attributed with hiding
beyul for his followers to discover in times of trouble. Guru Rinpoche
is also known as Padmasambhava.
Jomo Miyo Lang Sangma
The goddess who resides on Mt. Everest. She is believed by the Sher-
pa people to be the goddess of wealth and sustenance. The name
Jomolangma originates from the name of the goddess.
Assortment of wildlife and animals that are asso ciated with the guard-
ian deities.
Khumbi Yul-Lha
Literally Khumbu country god, he is the central protector deity of
the Khumbu area residing on a mountain above the Khunde and
Khumjung settlements. He wears a turban of white shrouds and rides
on a red horse.
Spirits that live under trees and in rocks and water sources that influ -
ence humans positively or negatively depending on their actions and
Locally appointed individuals responsible for enforcing forest and
crop protection through regulations, principally by controlling live-
stock movement in the Park and Buffer Zone.
shingi nawa
Locally selected forest guardians w ho enforce the ban on har vesting
live wood in locally protected forests in the Park and Buffer Zone.
Brower, B. 1991. Sherpa of Khumbu: People, Livestock, and Land-
scape. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation/Government
of Nepal. 1999. Buffer Zone Management Guidelines. Barbar Mahal,
Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation/Government
of Nepal. 2007. Sagarmatha National Park Management and Tourism
Plan (2007-2012).
Garratt, K. J. 1981. Sagarmatha National Park Management Plan. Wel-
lington, New Zealand: Depar tment of Lands and S urvey.
Ortner, S. B. 1989. High Religion: A Cultural and Political History of
Sherpa Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sherpa, L. N. 20 05. Sacred Hidden Valley and Ecosystem Conserva-
tion i n the H imal ayas’, Proceedings of the International Symp osium
on Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: T he Role of Sacred
Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes, Tokyo, 30 May-2 June 2005.
Sherpa, L.N. 2 003. Sacred Beyuls and Biological Diver-
sity Conservation in the Himalayas. Proceeding of the Inter-
national Workshop on Importance of Sacred Natural Sites for
Biodiversity Conservation, Kunming, 17-20 February 2003.
Sherpa, L.N. 199 9. Human impacts on high-altitude forest structures
in the Nangpa and Hinku, Sagarmatha and Makalu Barun National
Park, Nepal. Ph D Dissertation, D epartment of Forestry, University of
Spoo n, J . D. 20 08. Tourism in a Sacred Landscape: Political Economy
and Sherpa Ecological Knowledge in Beyul Khumbu/Sagarmatha Na-
tional Park, Nepal. PhD. Dissertatio n, Department of A nthropology,
University of Hawai‘i at M anoa.
Stevens, S. F. 1993. Claiming the High Ground. Berkeley: University
of California Press.
The Mountains Institute, Asian Regional Program (http://mountain.
org/wo rk/ himalayas /beyul.cfm).
The World Conser vation Union (IUCN). 1994. Guidelines for Pro-
tected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland: The World
Conservation Union.
About the authors
Jeremy Spoon recently completed his Ph.D. and works as a con-
sultant for international non-government al organizations and gov-
ernment institutions in N epal and the United States. His doctoral re-
search examined the interrelations between political econo my and
ecological knowledge in Beyul Khumbu/Sagarmatha National Park
and Buffer Zone, drawing on more than ten years experience carrying
out research with indigenous and other peoples and protected areas.
He earned a B.A . in Ethnic Studies from the University of Michigan
and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of
Hawai‘i at Manoa.
Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa is from the Sagarmatha National Park Buffer
Zone area, and is the Co -Director of The M ountain Institute’s (TM I)
Asi a Reg iona l Prog ram. He has worked f or th e Nepale se go vernm ent
as a protected area manager and planner, including serving as the
Chief Warden of Sagarmatha National Park and lead author of the
Park’s new management plan. H e earned a B.Sc. in Protected Area
Management from Lincoln University (N ew Zealand) and an M.A. and
Ph.D. in Forestry from the University of Washington – the first Sherpa
to be awarded a doctorate degree.
... The cryosphere components are seen as the sacred abode of deities and spirits protecting the local socio-ecological systems (Ikeda et al., 2016;Mukherji et al., 2019). For instance, Lü (the underwater spirits) of the Khumbu Valley (Bjønness, 1986;Spoon & Sherpa, 2008) and Klu in Ladakh (Gagné, 2019) protect the water bodies (lakes and rivers) while Mt. Langtang-Lirung in the Langtang Valley is the local protector deity (Pasakhala et al., 2022). ...
... The discussion on the cultural impacts of cryospheric change in the HKH has also explored the question of morality and the ethics of care where the geophysical and cultural landscapes are perceived as an assemblage of people's intricate and interdependent relations with animals, plants, and lands (Butcher, 2017;Gagné, 2019Gagné, & 2020. It is widely believed in mountain societies that when people disregard the sanctity and sacredness of these natural bodies believed to be protected by the deities and spirits (e.g., glaciers, summits, lakes, and forests) and pollute them, these entities would, in return, avenge and punish those committing the infractions (Butcher, 2013;Gagné, 2019;Sherry & Curtis, 2017;Spoon & Sherpa, 2008). This moral and ethical viewpoint also recognises the value of tending to and caring for the non-human members as well as the other dharma in one's life and livelihood, which includes farming, herding, conservation, and avoidance of pollution. ...
... The observed cryospheric changes have been framed and interpreted by many societies as the consequence of diminished morality and ethics, mainly the result of irresponsible human actions against nature and the loss of the values of reciprocity and morality (Gagné et al., 2014;Pasakhala et al., 2022). Although the connections between the two may seem abstract or even superstitious, especially to outsiders, these moral and ethical perspectives guide local interpretations and influence perceptions and responses -to either adjust or shift adaptive measures, for exampleof communities living in the glacierised region (Spoon & Sherpa, 2008). ...
Full-text available
The HKH region is experiencing non-climatic as well as cryospheric drivers of change (high confidence). Cryospheric change in the region has implications for the lives and livelihoods of more than 1.9 billion people. Understanding the intersections between cryospheric change and societies is essential to undertaking effective adaptation policies and practices to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Impacts of non-climatic drivers of change: People in the HKH region are experiencing multiple climatic and non-climatic drivers of change. These drivers of change are interwoven and have significant impact on the lives and livelihoods of mountain people as well as their capacity to respond or adapt to these changes. Mountainous areas in the region have witnessed economic growth and infrastructural and technological development, which is expected to continue (high confidence). Access of local communities to governmental institutions and their services is improving (high confidence), but this is also resulting in a weakening of traditional institutions (high confidence), with implications for adaptive capacity. Impacts of cryospheric change on society The major livelihoods of mountain communities are agriculture, livestock, tourism, and the collection and trading of medicinal and aromatic plants. The contribution of cryospheric services to these mountain livelihoods is high (high confidence). Cryospheric change, particularly changes in snowfall pattern, have adversely affected the livelihoods of communities (high confidence). Major adverse impacts include crop loss and failure, fodder shortage, livestock deaths, decrease in the availability of medicinal and aromatic plants, and degradation of aesthetic experiences. In many areas, communities have abandoned agriculture and pastoralism in response to cryospheric change and other non-climatic drivers to cryospheric change and other non-climatic drivers of change (medium confidence). These impacts have increased the socioeconomic vulnerability of mountain communities (high confidence), including food and nutrition insecurity. However, there are a few short-term positive impacts of cryospheric change on agriculture, pastoralism, and tourism – such as improved access to previously inaccessible sites for animal grazing and tourism. As the cryosphere changes along with the social, economic, and political dynamics in mountain societies, these cryosphere–livelihood linkages may gradually decrease (low confidence). High mountain communities in the HKH region are heavily dependent on snow and glacial meltwater to meet their water needs (high confidence). This reliance is not limited to mountainous areas. Water supply systems in downstream regions, including in densely populated urban settlements, are dependent on meltwater for domestic and commercial purposes (high confidence). Along with growing demand, poor management, and insufficient infrastructure, cryospheric change is likely to further exacerbate water shortages in the region (high confidence). Water stress in transboundary river basins in the HKH region – particularly the Indus, Ganges, and Amu Darya – have led to both conflicts as well as cooperation for managing water resources among the countries sharing the river basins (medium confidence). Components of the cryosphere also play a major role in the cultural, religious, and spiritual beliefs and practices of high mountain societies and influence their well-being (medium confidence). Human societies have ascribed spiritual relevance to the high mountains since ancient times; pilgrimages to the mountains have been made since the beginning of recorded human history. Tied to the spiritual reverence Indigenous communities hold for their natural environs is the understanding that there is a need to protect the local environment, including its cryospheric components (low confidence). Loss of the aesthetic properties of the mountains, glaciers, and snow cover could be perceived as a loss of honour and pride and be interpreted as consequences of diminished morality and ethics (low confidence). These effects could potentially decrease the attractiveness of high mountain sites for tourists, impacting local livelihoods (low confidence). Cryosphere-related hazards in the region have caused significant losses and damages of property, infrastructure, and lives, including tangible and intangible cultural heritage (high confidence). These disasters have led to a loss of traditional knowledge, increased social and economic burdens, and caused psychological stress and displacement (high confidence). People’s perceptions of cryosphere-related risks are shaped by socioeconomic, cultural, religious, and political factors, all of which determine their responses (low confidence). Cryosphere-related hazards are becoming more complex and devastating as they are increasingly interlinked with other environmental extremes (e.g., landslides, rockfall, seismic activity, and heavy rain), creating cascading hazards (medium confidence). The exposure of people and infrastructure to these hazards has increased due to a rise in population and an intensification of economic activities in the region (medium confidence). Cryosphere related hazards are projected to increase in the HKH region in the future, adding investment burdens with long-term implications for national and regional economies (medium confidence). Understanding of the implications of cryospheric change on livelihoods, water supply, and cultural heritage in upstream and downstream communities remains inadequate for robust adaptation action and effective sustainable development (high confidence). Adaptation to cryospheric change: Adaptation measures adopted by households and communities in response to cryospheric change can be broadly categorised as behavioural, technological, infrastructural, financial, regulatory, institutional, and informational. Behavioural and technological measures are the most reported across different sectors. These measures are mostly reactive, autonomous, and incremental in nature, and unable to fulfil the necessary speed, depth, and scope of adaptation (high confidence). With cryospheric change possibly taking on unprecedented trajectories, these measures may not be effective in the long term. There are concerns that communities may not be able to cope with an increased magnitude and complexity of extreme events as they try and navigate persistent socioeconomic challenges (high confidence). Local communities are already abandoning their traditional livelihoods and settlements, pointing towards an evident adaptation deficit to cryospheric change (medium confidence). Constraints and limits to adaptation, along with insufficient understanding of the interactions between cryospheric and non-climatic drivers and the associated impacts on mountain societies, could potentially hinder the overall target of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (medium confidence). To address this, there is an urgent need to integrate adaptation to cryospheric change with sustainable development, specifically in the high mountains (high confidence).
... The cryosphere components are seen as the sacred abode of deities and spirits protecting the local socio-ecological systems (Ikeda et al., 2016;. For instance, Lü (the underwater spirits) of the Khumbu Valley (Bjønness, 1986;Spoon & Sherpa, 2008) and Klu in Ladakh (Gagné, 2019) protect the water bodies (lakes and rivers) while Mt. Langtang-Lirung in the Langtang Valley is the local protector deity (Pasakhala et al., 2022). ...
... The discussion on the cultural impacts of cryospheric change in the HKH has also explored the question of morality and the ethics of care where the geophysical and cultural landscapes are perceived as an assemblage of people's intricate and interdependent relations with animals, plants, and lands (Butcher, 2017;Gagné, 2019Gagné, & 2020. It is widely believed in mountain societies that when people disregard the sanctity and sacredness of these natural bodies believed to be protected by the deities and spirits (e.g., glaciers, summits, lakes, and forests) and pollute them, these entities would, in return, avenge and punish those committing the infractions (Butcher, 2013;Gagné, 2019;Sherry & Curtis, 2017;Spoon & Sherpa, 2008). This moral and ethical viewpoint also recognises the value of tending to and caring for the non-human members as well as the other dharma in one's life and livelihood, which includes farming, herding, conservation, and avoidance of pollution. ...
... The observed cryospheric changes have been framed and interpreted by many societies as the consequence of diminished morality and ethics, mainly the result of irresponsible human actions against nature and the loss of the values of reciprocity and morality (Gagné et al., 2014;Pasakhala et al., 2022). Although the connections between the two may seem abstract or even superstitious, especially to outsiders, these moral and ethical perspectives guide local interpretations and influence perceptions and responses -to either adjust or shift adaptive measures, for exampleof communities living in the glacierised region (Spoon & Sherpa, 2008). ...
... Approximately 3500 people currently live in the Khumbu region. About 90% of the population is Sherpa, one of many highland ethnic minorities in Nepal (Spoon and Sherpa, 2008). Sherpa, or 'people of the east', are believed to have migrated from Kham in eastern Tibet to Khumbu more than 500 years ago. ...
... In recent years, research on the social and cultural influences of tourism has found that tourism has led to changes in Sherpas' lifestyle, economic patterns, education, marriage choices, and location of residence (Sherpa, 2008;Klatzel, 2009), with traditional language, family ties, and cultural norms and values being not as important to younger generations of Sherpas (Luger, 2000). Some scholars, however, have argued that the negative impacts of tourism on the local environment, culture, and society in the Khumbu region have been exaggerated (Stevens, 1993;Spoon and Sherpa, 2008), as the Sherpa people have demonstrated a strong resilience toward changes brought by outside cultural forces. The traditional relations of production, cultural order, and religious routines largely persist, although some of these might have been transformed through adaptations to modern technologies and ideologies. ...
The purpose of this book is to examine the interrelationships between religion, tourism, and the environment. The 12 chapters included in this volume elaborate on some of the core aspects of a proposed theoretical model of the ecosystem of religious tourism that views 'the environment' of pilgrimage as a dynamic process shaped by the activities, forms of control, perceptions, and representations of the actors involved in the production of sacred sites. Some chapters focus on the environment as a resource or generator for religious tourism, while other chapters discuss the environment as a recipient of impacts of religious tourism.
... Approximately 3500 people currently live in the Khumbu region. About 90% of the population is Sherpa, one of many highland ethnic minorities in Nepal (Spoon and Sherpa, 2008). Sherpa, or 'people of the east', are believed to have migrated from Kham in eastern Tibet to Khumbu more than 500 years ago. ...
... In recent years, research on the social and cultural influences of tourism has found that tourism has led to changes in Sherpas' lifestyle, economic patterns, education, marriage choices, and location of residence (Sherpa, 2008;Klatzel, 2009), with traditional language, family ties, and cultural norms and values being not as important to younger generations of Sherpas (Luger, 2000). Some scholars, however, have argued that the negative impacts of tourism on the local environment, culture, and society in the Khumbu region have been exaggerated (Stevens, 1993;Spoon and Sherpa, 2008), as the Sherpa people have demonstrated a strong resilience toward changes brought by outside cultural forces. The traditional relations of production, cultural order, and religious routines largely persist, although some of these might have been transformed through adaptations to modern technologies and ideologies. ...
... According to tradition, beyul are protected by secret doors, accessible only to adepts, that will open at the appropriate time, transporting practitioners to another realm of existence. Some well-known beyul are currently existing geographical places, including the Khumbu, Kembalung, and Rowaling valleys of Nepal (Skog 2016;Spoon and Sherpa 2008;Armbrecht 2009); Pemako in southeastern China (Baker 2004;Sherpa 2005); the Bumthang valley of Bhutan (Tshewang et al. 1995); and Dremoshung, an area below Mount Kangchenjunga in Sikkim (Balikci Denjongpa 2002;Ramakrishnan 1996;Sherpa 2005). The beyul are believed to supply material abundance to meet human needs; people are expected to behave in a manner appropriate to a sacred space. ...
... The beyul concept implies both an imputation of sacredness of the landscape by a great teacher, and a recognition that sacred landscapes could provide refuge for Buddhist practitioners in times of trouble. In contemporary times, the beyul concept has been adapted and adopted to support biocultural conservation, and has been applied to the Khumbu region of Nepal (Skog 2016;Spoon and Sherpa 2008) and the Bumthang valley of Bhutan (Tshewang et al. 1995). ...
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Consistent with the pan-Himalayan tendency to see the landscape as lively and animated, protector deities and local spirits are perceived to inhabit various features of the landscape in Bhutan, causing these places to be treated with reverence and respect. Local spiritual beliefs are prized as central to the cultural identity of the Kingdom, making their way into government planning documents, town planning negotiations, and the 2008 Constitution. This elevation of local spiritual belief has been central to the maintenance and preservation of Bhutanese culture in its encounter with globally hegemonic social, economic, and political norms. Spirits and deities are believed to be the original owners of the land predating the introduction of Buddhism from Tibet. According to terma texts—spiritual treasures hidden by great Buddhist teachers to be discovered later—the initial introduction of Buddhism into Bhutan occurred in the seventh century. At that time, the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo, the 32nd king of the Yarlung dynasty, built two temples in western and central parts of Bhutan as part of a strategy to pin down a demoness who was ravaging the Himalaya. About a century after the construction of the temples, Padmasambhava, known throughout the Himalayas as Guru Rimpoche, or “Precious Teacher,” arrived in Bhutan, subjugated eight classes of local spirits and made them sworn protectors of the Dharma. In this way, local deities and spirits became incorporated into Bhutan’s Vajrayana Buddhism to the extent that images of them are found at Buddhist temples and monasteries. Vajrayana Buddhism and local deities and spirits twine together in Bhutan to shape a cosmology that recognizes a spectrum of sentient beings, only some of whom are visible. The presence of deities and spirits informs local land use. Deity abodes or “citadels” (Dz.: pho brang) are restricted from human use. The presence of a deity citadel is sufficient in some locales to cause the diversion or reconsideration of human construction and resource use. By grounding spiritual beliefs in specific sites of the landscape, the citadels of deities sanctify the landscape, becoming nodes of resistance and resilience that support the Bhutanese in inhabiting their own internally-consistent cosmology, even as the pressures of global integration seek to impose hegemonic Western norms.
... Approximately 3500 people currently live in the SNP, and around 2500 in its buffer zone. About 90% of the population is Sherpa, one of many highland ethnic minorities in Nepal (Spoon & Sherpa, 2008). Sherpa, or 'people of the east', are believed to have migrated from Kham in eastern Tibet to Khumbu more than 500 years ago. ...
... However, language, family ties and cultural traditions are losing importance among the younger generation of Sherpas (Luger, 2000;Nyaupane, Lew, & Tatsugawa, 2014). Some scholars argue Sherpa have demonstrated resiliency toward externally induced changes, and the traditional relations of production, cultural order and religious routines largely persist, although some of these might have been transformed due to adaptations to modern technologies and ideologies (Stevens, 1993;Spoon & Sherpa, 2008). Others have suggested Sherpa have been very successful in negotiating between tradition and modernity, and largely kept the essence of their culture intact despite their deep involvement in tourism (Nepal, 2015). ...
While tensions between the sacred and the profane in tourism have been of long standing interest to tourism scholars, there is a dearth of literature on the growing influence of tourism on local residents’ spirituality and religious practices in sacred landscapes. This paper examines how local residents’ interpretations of sacred landscapes are influenced by tourism development, and whether tourism plays a role in influencing and reproducing sacred landscape and place-based spiritual values. This exploratory study is based on four months of fieldwork conducted in 2014 and 2015 in Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park in Nepal’s Khumbu Region. Results of the 33 interviews conducted with ethnic Sherpa community indicate the Sherpa consider their homeland as a beyul (sacred, hidden valley), and its landscapes (i.e. mountains, forests and lakes) as the abode of local deities. Tourism’s influence on local spiritual values is evident and reflected in changes in mountain deity worship, shift in human-environment relationship, and alterations in religious routines and practices. Although Sherpa still regard Khumbu as a sacred place and are actively involved in maintaining their spiritual values and cultural identity, the religious influence of beyul is slowly diminishing as reliance on tourism grows.
... Over the past 4 decades, research has focused on a variety of other issues that exacerbate resource conditions in addition to population growth. Key among them are a loss of or changes in historic livelihoods and local ecological knowledge due to a boom in tourism as well as further integration of local economies and lifestyles into global markets (Spoon and Sherpa 2008;Spoon 2011Spoon , 2013; and climate change and its consequences-rising temperatures and melting glaciers (Ericksson et al 2009;IPCC 2013), increasing glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs) (Bajracharya et al 2007;Bajracharya and Mool 2009;Byers 2007;Khanal et al 2015), and threats to ecosystem services (Palomo 2017). Few studies have examined tourism-induced transformations of agropastoral systems (Brower 1991;Sherpa and Kayastha 2009) and of water resources, aside from water pollution (Caravello et al 2007;Manfredi et al 2010;Nicholson et al 2016). ...
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A case study in the Solukhumbu region in northern Nepal reveals that the high number of seasonal tourists—which has doubled in 20 years—has led to growing water, food, and energy demands that have modified agropastoral practices and the use of local resources. This has induced new patterns in the movement of goods, people, and animals in the Everest region and the reconfiguration of the water–energy–food nexus. We use this concept of nexus to analyze ongoing interactions and transformations. Key changes involve (1) massive imports of consumer goods; (2) use of local resources with new techniques (hydropower plants, improved mills, greenhouses, and pipes for domestic networks) that depend on imported materials, which are newly accessible to Sherpas as a result of economic benefits generated by tourism; (3) commodification of local resources (water, hydropower, vegetables, fodder, and flour); (4) an increasing number of electrical appliances; and (5) new uses of water, especially for tourist-related services, including hot showers, watering of greenhouses, bottling of water, and production of electricity for cell phones, rice cookers, and other electric appliances. These new uses, on top of traditional ones such as mill operation, compete in some places during spring when water supplies are low and the tourist demand is high. A transfer of pressure from one resource (the forest) to another (water) has also resulted from the government ban on woodcutting, incentives to develop hydropower, and the competition between lodges to upgrade their amenities by offering better services (such as hot showers, plugs to recharge batteries, internet connections, and local vegetables). Our research finds that water is now central to the proper running of the tourist industry and the region's economy but is under seasonal pressure.
... Such studies tend to elevate the perspectives and values of the literary elite with less attention to the ways that 'everyday religion' in Buddhist communities may intersect with the goals of modern environmental conservation. Investigations of the lived traditions of Buddhists of the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau in the context of ecology and environmental conservation help widen the discussion to include the practices and concepts of ordinary people (Huber 1991;Huber and Pedersen 1997;Sherpa 2005;Spoon and Sherpa 2008;Yeh 2014). Incorporating the canonical views of Buddhism in relation to environmental concerns, together with ground-level local views of Buddhism, Animistic deity veneration, and livelihood practices, offers a robust way of understanding the multivalent and sometimes contradictory mutual in uences of environmental conservation and Buddhism in the Tibetan cultural ...
While religious belief and environmental practice can be at odds with each other in a reductionist paradigm, both are aligned in service of environmental conservation in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan. Government documents assert that the nation's unique sacred cosmology, a blend of Animism, Bön, and Vajrayana Buddhism, has protected Bhutan's natural environment, allowing about two-thirds of the nation to remain under forest cover. The widespread belief in spirits and deities who inhabit the land shapes the ways that resource-dependent communities conceptualize and interact with the land. Local beliefs reveal a deep affinity for and care of the landscape. In this way, local beliefs support the modernist goals of environmental conservation, while arising from a decidedly different ontology. The Bhutanese case highlights the potentials for both convergence and conflict inherent in the precarious intersections of traditional ecological knowledge and scientific epistemologies of the environment.
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We set out to assess the social impacts of tourism in a Community Based Tourism (CBT) destination by asking the following questions; (1) from a community and individual perspective, what are the major issues faced in a CBT destination?, and (2) is there any pattern to, or similarity between, quality of life and liveable environment impacts in a CBT destination? The Sagarmatha (Mt Everest) National Park in Nepal is used for the study area and where tourism is clearly an important contributor to the local economy. Despite high levels of resident and visitor satisfaction with tourism, survey results indicate that the major issues faced by communities and individuals in the Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone (SNPBZ) are related to uncontrolled tourism development. This is most evident in a lack of relevant skills and training, increasing time burden to cater for tourists, frustrations felt by residents during peak season, the impact of inbound migration, lack of community control and most importantly, the impact of waste and water pollution. Management of the SNPBZ is based on a multi-stakeholder system that includes local population participation, but it does not seem to be working very well. Our survey indicates that uncontrolled growth of tourism businesses is placing increasing pressures on traditional cultures and the environment, thus creating negative impacts on quality of live and liveable environment for residents. Without an effective management system that enhances the ability of communities and Park management to control the impact of tourism, the situation is very likely to worsen in the future.
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The increase in the number of tourists to mountain regions poses both opportunities and challenges for sustainable mountain development. In order to achieve sustainable development, it is essential to examine societal, landscape, and population transformation in mountain regions. This study explores transformation in the context of the tourism-related facility in Sagarmatha National Park and Buffer Zone (SNPBZ) of Nepal as an example of the Himalayan region. Questionnaire surveys targeting the owners and managers of tourism-related facilities and interview surveys with various community leaders, officials, and school principals were conducted in the park in 2017–2019. Both surveys show that the types, ownership, distribution, and capacity of facilities in the park have been transformed. Growth of tourist numbers, improvement of porters’ accommodation conditions, and migrant labor are the main factors driving the transformation. Tourism has also induced imbalanced development and unequal benefits among the villages in the park. The findings suggest that diversification of trekking routes and facility and service quality improvement could help to mitigate imbalanced development and unequal benefits. The in-depth examination of the transformation of tourism-related facilities augments the knowledge of the dynamic changes of facilities in mountain regions, which is vital for sustainable mountain development.
An eminent anthropologist examines the foundings of the first celibate Buddhist monasteries among the Sherpas of Nepal in the early twentieth century--a religious development that was a major departure from "folk" or "popular" Buddhism. Sherry Ortner is the first to integrate social scientific and historical modes of analysis in a study of the Sherpa monasteries and one of the very few to attempt such an account for Buddhist monasteries anywhere. Combining ethnographic and oral-historical methods, she scrutinizes the interplay of political and cultural factors in the events culminating in the foundings. Her work constitutes a major advance both in our knowledge of Sherpa Buddhism and in the integration of anthropological and historical modes of analysis.At the theoretical level, the book contributes to an emerging theory of "practice," an explanation of the relationship between human intentions and actions on the one hand, and the structures of society and culture that emerge from and feed back upon those intentions and actions on the other. It will appeal not only to the increasing number of anthropologists working on similar problems but also to historians anxious to discover what anthropology has to offer to historical analysis. In addition, it will be essential reading for those interested in Nepal, Tibet, the Sherpa, or Buddhism in general.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Washington, 1999 This study attempts to develop a better understanding of the role of human disturbances in shaping forest patterns in the Sagarmatha National Park. The Nangpa and Hinku valleys were selected as study sites to provide examples of a heavily disturbed and a less disturbed area respectively.The two main aspects of the study include reconstructing the settlement and forest/land use history and determining the present forest patterns. The study compared human use and forest structures at three different levels. Firstly, a comparison between aspects (warm and cool) was made within the Nangpa and Hinku valleys. Secondly, variations in forest cover on the same aspects of the Nangpa valley were compared and causes for their variation were explored. Thirdly, stand level structural variations were examined and discussed.The study showed that the warm and cool aspects of Hinku have similar forest composition and basal area coverage whereas similar comparison within the Nangpa found distinctly different forest structures. The variation in forest structure and composition on the same aspect of the Nangpa valley could not be explained entirely through variations in climate and site factors. Thus, it was concluded that much of the variation in forest structures in Nangpa Valley were caused by human modifications, and forests on warm and cool aspects could potentially develop to be similar in the absence of human disturbances. The variations in forest structures within warm aspect of Nangpa may be caused by a changes in land use pressure because settlements, which initially begun in the lower valley had later moved towards the head valley. Similarly, the variations in forest cover on across the cool aspect of the valley appear to be related partly to variations in collection and harvesting pressure.The study suggests that humans disturbances became a significant forest influences in the Nangpa Valley mainly after the height of the Little Ice Age, which occurred about 250--300 years ago. Human-induced forest changes include substantial increase in stand initiation structure and decrease in old growth. These changes have led to mitigation responses such as establishment of the indigenous nawa forest protection system and introduction of modern conservation concepts such as protected areas establishment in Khumbu. The conservation measures coupled with alternative energy and off-farm employment opportunities appear to be causing a trend towards forest recovery.A forest management system responsive to for multiple objectives of the Park, including habitats for biodiversity, resources for the resident people and aesthetic qualities for tourism is needed. Since, different forest structures are capable providing different values, one way to achieve these multiple objectives is to maintain the landscape in a variety of structures.
Sagarmatha National Park Management Plan. Wellington
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Garratt, K. J. 1981. Sagarmatha National Park Management Plan. Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Lands and Survey.
Sacred Hidden Valley and Ecosystem Conservation in the Himalayas
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Sacred Beyuls and Biological Diversity Conservation in the Himalayas. Proceeding of the International Workshop on Importance of Sacred Natural Sites for Biodiversity Conservation
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Tourism in a Sacred Landscape: Political Economy and Sherpa Ecological Knowledge in Beyul Khumbu/Sagarmatha National Park
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Spoon, J. D. 2008. Tourism in a Sacred Landscape: Political Economy and Sherpa Ecological Knowledge in Beyul Khumbu/Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal. PhD. Dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai'i at Manoa.
Claiming the High Ground
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Sacred Beyuls and Biological Diversity Conservation in the Himalayas
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Sherpa, L.N. 2003. Sacred Beyuls and Biological Diversity Conservation in the Himalayas. Proceeding of the International Workshop on Importance of Sacred Natural Sites for Biodiversity Conservation, Kunming, 17-20 February 2003.