Solukhumbu, Nepal – Twenty-year-old Parshuram Thalung finished school in the fifth grade. As the eldest of the seven siblings, he became a porter to support his family, thereby joining a legion of men and women in Nepal who literally bear the burden of every bid to scale the world’s highest peak Mount Everest.
Carrying heavy loads up high altitudes – from tents to gas cylinders – the porters are the unsung foot soldiers behind every expedition. But sixty years after the peak was first scaled, they still rarely occupy the spotlight and their back-breaking hard work is barely recognised.
Porters are commonly exploited and discriminated against. The business is unregulated. The trade unions have eroded, and brokers now decide who gets to carry what and for how much.
Hiking the challenging terrain with the best mountain gear and a small backpack is exhausting – but porters often make the journey without heavy clothing and sturdy footwear, while carrying loads of 50-70 kilograms on average.
Some porters even carry large wooden planks that can weigh up to 150 kilograms.
There are legal restrictions, such as a maximum carry weight and a minimum age, but in reality, these regulations go largely unenforced. Their daily expenses hover around $11 a day, while they make about $14.
Many porters are pessimistic about their future, complaining that profits from tourism rarely trickle down to their level.