Changing Seasons in Mahakulung

Chheskam, as viewed from Gudel

By Dilip Kulung

At the end of February, my people start preparing for the change in season. We gather firewood to cook meals and Himalayan bamboo to roof our homes. We build sheds for our pet animals and collect cooking items like salt, oil and sugar, which we cannot produce ourselves. Once we have collected and managed all necessary items for the approaching Summer, those that are physically capable head to the Everest region in search of a trekking job in early March.

The Kulung, one of Gurkha clan, are famous worldwide for being warriors of strength yet poor by wealth. You can guarantee that a Kulung will be smiling despite their hardship and the huge weight they carry on their shoulders while on the Everest trails. The ancestral home of the Kulung people is called the Mahakulung, which lies in the lap of Mount Everest. I love my home and honestly believe it looks like a piece of heaven in the summer season, surrounded by green farming lands and rolling hills.


In Spring, most parts of the Mahakulung look dry, but some parts are decorated by Himalayan blooming flowers like Rhododendrons and Orchids. Because Spring season is not too busy for farming, some of the Kulung women can be seen knitting traditional clothing on a large loom outside their houses. Anyone who is physically able is most likely on the Everest trails at this time. Only children and the elderly remain at home.

During Spring, my people bring their pet animals from the jungle to their field because it creates good dung manure for farming. You will hear people on the fields and at the sheds singing traditional songs in groups or by themselves. Hundreds of warbling birds join in adding to the joy.


By May, the Mahakulung valley looks green again as millets, maize, potatoes, wheat and barley mature. In June and July, Mahakulung looks so green as this is Summer season for us. My people are so busy during this time doing agriculture work. The Kulung will come back from the Everest trekking trails to assist their family members with their farming activities.

The Mahakulung has countless natural resources provided by our hilltops and worldwide known snow-capped mountains, from our meadows to our dense forests, including many important medicinal plants. But unfortunately, this area remains highly isolated from modern-day facilities. It’s time for more people learn about our piece of heaven.


Filming Reach for Nepal

Hallam and Fil from the Carrying Everest team have been doing some filming on an inspiring Canberra-based charity called the Reach for Nepal Foundation.  R4N are a fantastic organisation doing some great work for the people of Western Nepal. We are taking some time out from our busy schedule with Carrying Everest to do a profile on Lachhu and his work with the Foundation.

Photos by Philip Meddows


Photo Essay: Solukhumbu and Mahakulung

The Dzi Foundation recently posted an amazing photo essay of the very villages at the centre of Carrying Everest. Many of the photos were taken by our friend Heema Rai, who has contributed many of the photos used on this website.

Take the time to view some of these amazing photos from such a rarely-photographed region and see where the Carrying Everest crew will be heading in 6 months.

Music of Carrying Everest to feature on radio show


Carrying Everest’s composer, Jeff Zampillo, is hosting a radio show on Thursday night (Friday 2 October in Australia). Jeff will be talking about his new album with The Pneumatic Transit, as well as chatting about his work on Carrying Everest and playing some of the music he has worked on for the film so far. You can listen in from 4pm Chicago time on Thursday (or 7AM on Friday – Australian EST) at or search for WVLP – 98.3 FM on one of the many free radio apps. Of course, you can tune in directly if you reside in the Chicago area on Thursday afternoon.

As a side note, Hallam is currently working on a music video for The Pneumatic Transit  – and he thinks the album is absolutely amazing. Get a copy when it is released on 13 October.

Dilip’s Story


Dilip Kulung is a committed social activist who has been working the past 12 years to empower his people, the Kulung.

He was born and raised in Chheskam in Eastern Nepal, a village just a few kilometres south of Mount Everest in the territory called the Mahakulung.

The Mahakulung is geographically one of the most beautiful places in the world – perched at the earth’s summit – but is also the ancestral home of the Kulung people who are a hidden and marginalised Nepalese ethnic group who are not yet legally recognised by the Nepalese government.

The Makakulung encompasses the Hongu valley in the Lower Everest region, comprising of the Gudel, Chheskam, Bung and Sotang villages, and is home to more than 21,000 people. Twice a year for the bi-annual trekking season, the Kulung leave their homes for up to three months during March – May and September – November to work as porters, cooks, house workers and vendors to support the Everest trekking industry.

“The Kulung are physically capable of carrying large loads – nearly as much their own body weight – on their backs at high altitudes. They also typically do domestic work in different hotels on the way to Everest Basecamp and run small trades on the same trail to Everest.”

They do as much as 80% of the labour in the Everest region, but have not been rewarded with increased affluence or livelihoods.

Instead, they live in the shadows of Everest and the recent earthquakes, which almost wiped these villages off the map, have proven this even more so to be true.


“My people live a simple life. We live in a remote and highly isolated area away from the rest of the world and are not accessible by road. It can take some two days to reach our villages,” explained Dilip.

“We are the major pillar for Everest tourism industry, but unfortunately, we are treated as the mountain’s slave,” Dilip explained.

“We face many challenges including high rates of poverty, vast unemployment, an unproductive farming system, a poor education set up, environmental threats and unsatisfactory healthcare. Despite all the difficulties though, we live from a place of peace, harmony and mutual respect.”

“It’s one of the characteristics that sets us apart actually,” Dilip added. “We are positive in the face of adversity, smiling despite our troubles.”

The Kulung people are the most primordial indigenous group in the country.

“We have a separate language, our own traditions and cultural attires, a distinct social structure and lifestyle, and our kindness to others sets us apart. The Nepalese government has not yet formally acknowledged our indigenous status but our lobbying efforts are getting us closer,” he encouraged.


Earnestly campaigning and advocating for social change with and on behalf of his community, Dilip is currently working to provide urgent temporary shelter to the thousands of homeless families in the Lower Everest region following the twin earthquakes, which destroyed their homes.

“The monsoon season is almost here and the threat of avalanches, landslides and more aftershocks is very likely in the coming months.”

“Under the collective leadership of more than 250 young volunteers, we are planning for the future. We are working to develop sustainable and shock resistant infrastructure across the region to withstand any future threat of a natural disaster.”

“During recent years, we have successfully produced 45 kilowatt of electricity, erected a telephone tower, built taps with drinkable water and additional classrooms in our schools.”

Carrying Everest is a film about the Kulung people of Eastern Nepal. Despite being one of Nepal’s most sidelined and disadvantaged communities, they are also some of the most courageous and gifted people. Carrying Everest will tell their story.

Dilip explained what this film means to the Kulung.

“This film is a first for the Kulung. It will provide us with an opportunity to be truly heard; our voices, our lives, our perspectives. It is my hope that people from all corners of the world will feel compelled to support the Kulung and improve the quality of our current living situation. We have big hearts and much talent, but in the shadow of Everest, we remain unseen.”

A Broken Equation: More tourists doesn’t mean more income for the Kulung

10488167_887730567955835_4717268130870085658_nBy Leah Davies

The Kulung have been summiting the world’s highest peak since base camp expeditions first took place in 1921. Not for a challenge, or an adventure. Not to remedy a midlife crisis or to fulfill a lifelong dream. The Kulung have put their life on the line, braving the notoriously treacherous conditions of Everest for more than 90 years, twice a year, purely to earn an income to support their families.

They make the life-threatening trip up to 40 times per season out of survival.

On the Everest trail, you will see approximately 8,000 Kulung working as porters, carrying loads of fuel, food, ropes, oxygen tanks, and tents for their climber clients. You will also see them working as cooks, store hands and housekeepers, making the ascent as comfortable and convenient for the 30,000 tourists, which make the visit each year.

Placed at 145 out of 187 countries in the world on the UN’s 2014 human development report, the Nepalese government is reputably corrupt and the nation, living well below poverty levels.

The Nepalese people are very poor and for the Kulung, Everest represents opportunity – but at a severe cost.

Responsible for about 80% of the labour that supports the Everest trekking industry, the Kulung earn approximately $12 a day. After paying for their own meals and lodging on the trail, porters might only take $74 home to their families after a 13-day trek.

A look at the per capita income in Nepal will show you that on average, a Nepalese person earns less than $800 a year, while a porter will make on average $5,000 for two to three months of work (Source: Mark Jenkins, National Geographic, 2014).

The numbers speak for themselves.


Outside western guide groups however – who lead and manage increasingly more expeditions – earn about ten times the income of the Kulung, making up to $50,000 to $100,000 for guiding on Everest.

Exploited for their cheap labour, the Kulung know the odds are stacked against them and have accepted this reality for a long time now.

The Kulung know the land. They have a unique affinity with the sacred earth they have called home for generations upon generations, yet the government still does not recognise their indigenous ancestry and connection to the Mahakulung region, and poor policies and procedures allow for external mountaineer companies to occupy and dominate their industry.

The tragic death of 16 porters in 2014 on the Nepali side of Everest highlighted this and led to a referendum of risks by those who work on the mountain.

The injustice of the risk balanced with the very little reward was finally put under a global microscope.

Following the avalanche and the grief of their loss, porters in Nepal refused to climb for the rest of the season until the government listened to their demands. Among their demands were medical and life insurance, guaranteed pay during poor weather conditions and adequate compensation to the families who lost a loved one in the icefall. The government declared the mountain officially closed and 300 climbers returned home last year.

National Geographic also revealed that every climber pays a $10,000 peak fee to Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism but almost all of this money disappears either into the hands of the Nepali bureaucracy or into the pockets of government bureaucrats.

Conrad Anker, a three-time Everest summiteer and leader of the 2012 National Geographic/the North Face Everest expedition said: “I’d bet less than one percent of the three million dollars in permit fees collected each year goes back to the mountain.”

Kulung WomenAfter receiving $3.2 million in mountaineering fees from Everest climbers in 2014, the government increased life insurance premiums from 400,000 rupees ($4,000) to one million rupees ($10,000), offered an additional small compensation of $400 per family, and instituted minor changes on the mountain, including slightly increasing the presence of officials at Base Camp. Long-term support including funds to educate children of the deceased porters and the cost of living stipends for the widows came from coordinated efforts of a number of non-profit organisations instead (Norbu Tenzing Norgay, Outside Online, 2015).

For the first time in August last year, 40 porters of differing expertise and experience came together to discuss the issues faced by workers of Everest. Historically, porters have not been consulted on their opinion in an industry that is progressively governed by international climbers and expedition companies. At this meeting, the porters made seven recommendations including greater access to professional training opportunities, the need to reform overly-competitive business practices that encourage cuts in price and safety, and the necessity to introduce better employment practices.

While this is the reality for the Kulung people of Nepal, and the fight continues, there are countless tales telling of conquest over the world’s tallest mountain.

Stories of courage, passion and of noble people striving for a better life and future.

We have the ability to change the story.

To change it from one of deprivation and exploitation, to one rich with opportunity, ancient knowledge and the power of the heart.

Will you help change the story?

To put in frame: the goal of Carrying Everest

Chheskam, at the heart of Mahakulung. Photo courtesy Heema Rai

Discourse is plentiful on what is contained within the frame, but often it is what sits just out of shot that is lending the scene shape and form. The same is true for the Kulung of Eastern Nepal. Despite the countless books, films and musical tales of conquest and endeavour, little has been spoken of those behind these tales. Without the porters, shopkeepers and teahouse workers – there would be very few gallant tales to be shared around the proverbial campfire, thousands of kilometres away in foreign lands. The story of the conquest Everest continues to play, decades after Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s famous ascent, and often it is told in Western treatises. Modern day Everest travel/mountain-writing (and film) continues to define relationships strictly in terms of conquerer and mountain, climber and porter, employer and employee.

In 2014, out of friendship and curiosity, I resolved to to make a documentary about one of these ‘forgotten’ people of Everest. The concept is not an attempt to alleviate a perceived deficiency in Western conversation about the Everest subject. The intent, rather, is to spark the flicker of a flame.

In 2013, I visited Nepal for the first time. A friend who I worked with at Oxfam put me in touch with two fantastic people whom I met in back-alley cafe of Thamel, the main tourist trap in Nepal’s chaotic capital of Kathmandu. Over a couple of aptly-titled Everest beers, we discussed what it was like living in Nepal and how they were working to improve the lives of those around them. One of these two courageous men was named Dilip, who told me about the hardships his people face in the Solukhumbu region of Nepal. This discussion consequently sowed a seed in my heart and mind – I wanted to discover more, and find a way to help.

Shortly after my trip to Nepal, I filmed the short narrative Kiana. After a couple of film festivals and nearly two years of writing, rehearsing, filming and editing, I took a short break from filmmaking. But when the drive to venture back to that world returned, I could think of only one project I wanted to do: to share the story of those living in the shadows of Sagarmatha.

Photo courtesy Heema Rai
Photo courtesy Heema Rai

In many respects, the idea of a creating a documentary is more daunting than a narrative fiction. With narrative form, you have the chance to shape the film with a script – to know exactly what you need and have the ability to identify how that is to happen. In the instance of Carrying Everest, the starting point is less clear. While some documentaries have a wealth of background to draw from – for example a historical event – this film started with a brief conversation in Kathmandu regarding an issue I had never heard of. As I began to try and research the Kulung and where they lived, I noticed just how little literature in English was available. There were a couple of sites on the internet that spoke of the issues Dilip mentioned, and these I read thoroughly. I managed to find one or two anthropological texts, including one by Charles McDougal which was published in 1979. But the majority of other material was either in a language other than English or out of print. Eventually I was able to hone my research the more I learnt; as I began to learn about village names, issues, themes and so forth, I began to locate articles, blogs and photos of the place I had only read about.

As such, I am largely indebted to Heema Rai, who wrote a fantastic blog about her travel to and observations of Mahakulung. Her photos were some of the first images I saw of the region, while her writing articulated- and in turn bound the loose understanding I had in my mind – the issues the Kulung face. It was also Heema’s writing that inspired the name Carrying Everest, such a fantastic and concise description of a complicated issue.

But there is excitement in creating a documentary where there is little background information. And importantly, it emphasises not just the physical isolation of the Kulung, but the social and political inequality they face.

In truth, I see the value in maintaining an open approach to the filming. Thinking reflexively, it is far better for the Kulung to tell their own story. It would be a failure and mistake to attempt to conceptualise what the film is about in this circumstance. That is not to say that this would be a failed methodology, however, it is more applicable to another type of documentary.

The main purpose the film is to allow them to share their stories, their hopes, their struggles and their triumphs. Having a limited research background is far from a negative thing with this context in mind.

Ultimately, the film’s central question is ‘who are the Kulung?’ The aim is to seek the many answers to this inquiry, and in turn, allow their stories to be a catalyst for the change they strive for.

Photo courtesy Heema Rai
Photo courtesy Heema Rai