We have taken the amazing opportunity to chat with our local ground handler in the Himalayas, Dawa Geljen Sherpa and let us tell you, he’s one of the most inspiring and charming people you will ever meet. Having grown up in Nepal, a mostly mountainous country, he has always had a passion for trekking and exploring nature and has been a professional mountaineer and trekking leader for 35 years.
In this interview, Dawa tells us more about his life in Nepal, the culture of the local people and the highlights of our treks in the Nepalese Himalayas.
Could you summarise yourself in three sentences?
I am Dawa Geljen Sherpa from Nepal, the Land of Everest. I have been a professional mountaineer and trekking leader for the last 34 years and really enjoy getting involved with social activities. I love my profession as it gives me the opportunity to meet new people from around the world and get to know their culture, all the while exploring nature and learning new things.
How did you find growing up in Nepal?
Growing up in Nepal is tough, especially for those who live in the remote villages. Since we are one of the poorest countries in terms of political leadership and 80% of the country is mountain, life is challenging.
I didn’t get to go to school until I was ten years old, because when I was young, education was more for the elites. The nearest school was an hour's walk. I had to drop school when I was sixteen to earn for my family. I started my job as a mountain guide in 1983 and through my guiding job, I got the opportunity to visit about 22 countries. While visiting these countries, I understood the value of education and the impact of development in people’s upbringing. So, I worked hard and now life is beautiful for me in Nepal.
What’s your favourite thing about the Himalayas?
My favourite thing about the Himalayas is that the mountains are so fascinating and motivating that you wish to do better and stand tall as them. I love the people here, the culture, custom, history and most of all, my job of introducing foreigners to the life in the mountains.
Having grown up in a secluded town in the Himalayas, how did you self-educate?
Back in my time, the school culture was still new as well as challenging. I couldn’t continue education further than Year 8 as I had to support my family. But learning didn’t stop then. I picked up English by listening to tourists when I worked as a porter for them. Once I learnt basic English, I was promoted to become an assistant guide, which exposed me more to western people and their culture. I learned from the way they spoke, acted and used technology. I constantly observed their lifestyle, which really helped me to professionally develop my role as a mountain guide.
What drew you to Kathmandu?
Living in the remote mountain is not easy. Many things are very centralised in the capital, making it compulsory for every individual in the country to be a part of Kathmandu. Some very basic and integral parts of life were only possible in Kathmandu, like better education for children and better jobs.
I first stepped into Kathmandu at the age of eighteen, in search of trekking offices that could provide me with a better job. After I was done with every job in the mountain, I had to get back to Kathmandu as I had to be in touch with the companies for the next job. If you stayed in the mountain, you would be contactless, which meant no further job. Later, I brought my family to Kathmandu for my children’s education and with my professional development, I was finally able to settle myself and my family in the city.
What would you say has been your proudest moment in life?
The proudest I have ever felt in my life was when I was able to help build two classrooms in the village school where I grew up, through my charity, Classrooms in the Clouds. I felt I was the happiest soul, because I was giving back to the land that had brought me up and contributing to the life of the many children who came to that school for their education. Now, I feel happier every time the organisation can support another community and another school.
Tell us a bit about the charity you set up.
Classrooms in the Clouds is a charity registered in the UK and a registered non-government organisation in Nepal. The organisation is dedicated to improving the education opportunities in the remote mountain region of Nepal to let children explore and develop their potential locally. We basically help build classrooms and other infrastructure necessary for the community schools, sponsor teachers at schools that lack enough government supported teachers and provide professional training to the teachers and the schools.
How did you get into managing treks and tours?
After working as a professional trekking and mountaineering guide for various leading companies, like Peregrine and Mountain Madness, I had learnt enough about the tourism industry to set up a company of my own. I believed I could organise trips in Nepal, India, Bhutan and Tibet, as I had explored most of these places and knew enough professionals who could support me if I had my own company. So I did it: I set up the company Adventure Thamserku. Many of the clients who had trekked and travelled with me before, confidently joined my company for their trips to Nepal. Gradually, we began to organise trips for clients from around the globe and partnered with many international companies so that we ran their trips in Nepal. Today, we can proudly say we have served more than 25,000 clients from around the globe and look to serve even more.
I hear you were once metres away from summitting Mount Everest! What was that like?
In my mid-thirties, while working for a company called Arun Treks, I had the opportunity to guide a Mexican client to the summit of Mount Everest. When we’d reached 8,800m, I got the feeling that my client was suffering from altitude sickness. We only had 48m left to climb to reach the peak, but the condition was such that this last stretch could have taken us an hour, which meant risking her life as she was already very weak. So I chose to turn back. I had always learnt to prioritise the safety of my clients, so I didn’t hesitate to prioritise her safety either. I knew the summit was very crucial for me, but not as crucial as my client’s life.
How is the trek to Mount Everest Base Camp?
Trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp is a dream trek for many adventure lovers. It is considered one of the best and the most adventurous trekking destinations around the world, as it leads you closest to some of the most beautiful and highest mountains in the Himalayas, including Everest, Lhoste, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, Pumori and many other peaks.
Getting the view of the highest peak in the world isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It is considered a moderately challenging trek. The trekking begins at Lukla 2,860m, which is already quite high to many of the trekkers and you end at 5,364m/1,7599ft at the Base Camp. If you choose to climb Kalapatthar, it is 5,545m/18298 ft.
The elevation creates the most difficulty on top of the geography, because the higher you go, the lower the oxygen level, so many people experience altitude sickness. But if you are physically fit and you beat the altitude, you can certainly conquer the trek.
What are the highlights?
Mount Everest is the Land of Everest and the homes to the Sherpas. Sherpas are the local inhabitant of the Everest Region and famous around the world for their mountain climbing skills. Your trip to Everest exposes you to the best scenery of some of the highest mountains in the world, like Everest (8,848m), Lhoste (8,516m), Nuptse (7,861m), Makalu (8,481m), Cho Oyu (8,201), Ama Dablam (6,812m), Pumori (7,161m) and Thamserku (6,623m) and the culture and civilization of the Sherpa people, who dwell in some of the highest elevations in the world. You get closer to these mountains on this trek than you do on any of your other trips. Once you are at 4,000m, you are surrounded by mountains in all four directions till you reach the Base camp.
What is it like to see the biggest mountain in the world up close and personal?
The mesmerizing experience of being close to the highest peak tempts you to go higher than ever, which also inspires you to achieve your other goals in your life. The view is jaw opening and you wouldn’t want to leave the place unless you feel the icy cold wind on your cheeks.
How do participants usually find acclimatisation as we trek higher? Is it tough and how long does it take before you get used to the different air pressure?
Since the trek starts at Lukla, 2,860m above the sea level, the place is already high for most of the foreigners. Many could feel altitude or the thin air pressure right from the beginning. But our trek is scientifically planned to make sure our participants get enough time to acclimatise before they go higher.
We don’t climb more than 800m approx. a day, which is generally a good height to which our body can acclimatise. Also, since we have a rest day after every 1,000m climb, we have an extra day for our body to relax and acclimatise better. We have trained first aiders on our team and clients can have the confidence that the trek operators have things planned well to fight altitude. Slow and steady wins the race, so a gentle and steady hike is the secret to conquer Everest Base Camp.
Do you have any tips on how to prepare?
To all of you preparing for the Everest Base Camp Trek, we request you include a daily walk in your schedule, so that you’re physically fit before the trip. Hills prepare you the best and a long-distance walk is better than a short-distance run. In a day, you cover 8-10km distance, but since it’s up the mountain, it is comparatively tougher than back home.
Make sure you include pack light, quick dry and warm wears for the trip. Heavy packing is discouraged for the trek as you can only fly 15kg weight on the domestic flight, including your day pack.
What are the tea houses like en route, particularly the ones we stay in overnight?
Most of the tea houses we use are above the basic accommodation. The rooms are on a twin sharing basis and the bathrooms are common. All the lodges have electricity, some use solar power; so clients can expect WiFi service and charging facilities, but they have to pay extra.
What’s the food like in Nepal and more specifically, what kind of food will we be eating during our treks in the Himalayas?
When in the city, expect all the varieties of foods such as continental, Chinese, American, Thai, Indian, Halal food and all other sorts. On the Everest Base Camp and Walk With Me treks, it's mostly Nepalese and continental. The foods are prepared freshly with organic ingredients. Processed foods and packed foods are less common on the treks.
What would you say is your favourite dish?
I love Dahl Bhat Tarkari, a typical Nepalese cuisine, made up of steamed rice and a cooked lentil soup.
How have you found working with Dream Challenges?
Adventure Thamserku works as land agent for many international travels and tour companies and among those, Dream Challenges is one of our important partners. We have found Dream Challenges a very efficient and well organised partner. Working as a land agent for Dream Challenges has been a great learning experience for Adventure Thamserku as well.
Here at Dream Challenges, we're so pleased to be working with Dawa. He has led a number of our treks in the Himalayas and makes our charity challenges in this stunning mountain range extra special as he gives us an unmatched insight into mountain life and culture. Our Mount Everest Base Camp Trek heroes not only get to explore one of the most beautiful parts of the world while supporting their favourite charities; they also learn a great deal about the life of the locals in Nepal.Learn more and register for the Mount Everest Base Camp Trek