KATHMANDU - As six of the 16 high-altitude workers who perished in the avalanche on Mount Everest on Friday are being cremated in the Valley, Kaji Sherpa, one of the nine survivors, sits upright on broken ribs on a hospital bed breathing through nebuliser.
"Friends we ate and joked and shared the tents with are all dead in a blink," says the 39-year-old, unable to believe the magnitude of the disaster. One of the six cremated on Monday, Neema Sherpa, was from a village not far from his in Thaksindhu, Solukhumbu. Six of the dead worked for the mountaineering agency Himalayan Guides Nepal, that Sherpa worked for.
That fateful morning, he was carrying a rucksack full of food and clothing for climbers from Camp 1 to 2 when a flying mound of snow hit him, broke two of his right ribs and knocked him unconscious.
Sherpa knew about the perils of working in the Himalayas when he chose Everest as his workplace in 2008. He began by ferrying drinking water from one camp to another and then worked as a kitchen boy for a few seasons before becoming a climbing Sherpa last year. As a climbing Sherpa, he could make Rs 200,000 to Rs 400,000 (S$2,500 to S$5,000) every Everest season. It was enough to provide for his family of six, with a wife and four children. But the Friday's incident has left Sherpa shaken. Now, he wants to quit as a climbing guide and return to full-time farming.
"There's no other option," says Sherpa, holding his head in his hands. In front of him on the table is a letter issued by the Nepal Mountaineering Associa-tion and et al, which says that Sherpa, and the others injured, will be compensated with Rs 50,000 each.
The costs incurred during his stay at hospital will be borne by his trekking agency. "You just recover. The company will pay," Himalayan Mountain Guides General Manager Iswori Poudel tells Sherpa.
Poudel has just arrived at the hospital with Sherpa's rucksack after attending the funeral of the six. The rucksack had been left behind at the airport in the rush to send Sherpa to the hospital.
As he prepares to leave, Poudel tells Sherpa, "Remember you survived the avalanche." As he reclines on the bed, blowing into the respirometer, trying to lift the red, yellow and blue balls to the top, Sherpa recalls the horror of being trapped under the snow. He had dug himself out, but his first thought as he saw a dozen guides running to his rescue was of fear. What if the avalanche strikes again?
"We aren't birds to outfly it," says Sherpa. The avalanche did not strike again, but the toll had been exacted.