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The Sherpas’ Quest

Synopsis

The history of Mount Everest has always been associated with the Sherpas’ great mountaineering achievements. Without their input as mountain guides and carriers in high-altitudes, Everest expeditions are unthinkable. As inhabitants of the Nepalese mountains, especially the Solokhumbu and Makalu Valleys, they have the physical prerequisites for spending extended periods in the zone above 7,000 metres. For a few months each year, they accompany alpinists from various nationalities to the highest and most challenging peaks of the world. This film offers rare insights into the everyday life of the Sherpas. In the Makalu Valley, there is almost nothing that would deserve the name of road; everything, from sack of rice to bathtub, has to be carried by porters to the most inaccessible villages.

‘The Sherpas’ Quest’ follows four members of these special people – Phurba, Ngima, Ngima Tenji and Gelu – not only on Mount Everest but also into their homes. This trip to Nepal is a journey through time. Phurba lives in the most traditional habitation. His house has no electricity, the maize is still ground using hand stones and he and his neighbours live almost exclusively from what they can encourage to grow in the meagre soil of their fields. Ngima Tenji comes from near Lukla, a centre of Himalayan tourism, where two extremes collide. There are no roads to Lukla – everything has to be brought in by small propeller aircraft or on the backs of porters. Ngima, on the other hand, lives in a booming and teeming metropolis. Nobody knows exactly how many inhabitants Kathmandu has, but one thing is certain – the numbers are increasing daily. Only Gelu is a globetrotter, he works as mountain guide also in Europe.

90 years after the first Mount Everest expedition, in which sherpas also played a role, our team of four sherpas want to find the answer to one of the last secrets still jealously guarded by this highest of all mountains: were Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay really the first to set foot on the summit of Mount Everest? ‘The Sherpas’ Quest’ presents breathtaking images and fascinating stories from the top and the land at the foot of the world’s highest mountain.

“I have already been to the South Pole, have shot footage in winter in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, but this trip was without doubt the greatest adventure of my life…” claimed director Heinz Leger after the four months’ filming in Nepal and Tibet. Together with his camera crew Wolfram Wuinovic, Josef Neuper and Stefan Fritsche, he accompanied the four Sherpas Phurba, Ngima, Ngima Tenji und Gelu not only on Mount Everest but also into their homes – in the isolated Makalu Valley, the bustling hub of Himalayan tourism Lukla, and the chaotic streets of the capital, Kathmandu.

In the case of the expedition itself, filming at an altitude of over 26,000 feet above sea level was a particular challenge for Wolfram Wuinovic: “The wind batters you as you struggle to make out anything through your viewfinder while wearing oxygen mask and snow goggles, and then there is this intense cold that makes your fingers stiff after only a few seconds…”

The life of these Sherpa people is something that the average European would find inconceivable. In the Makalu Valley there is almost nothing that would deserve the name of road; everything, from sack of rice to bathtub, has to be carried by porters to the most inaccessible villages. On the associated four- to five-day treks, each of the Sherpa porters carries packs weighing up to 110 kilograms. Young children think nothing of a four-hour march on foot to reach their elementary school, and paths can very often become impassable for days on end due to flooding.

This trip to Nepal is also a journey through time. Phurba lives in the most traditional habitation. His house has no electricity, the maize is still ground using hand stones and he and his neighbours live almost exclusively from what they can encourage to grow in the meagre soil of their fields.
Ngima Tenji comes from near Lukla, a centre of Himalayan tourism, where two extremes collide. There are no roads to Lukla – everything has to be brought in by small propeller aircraft or on the backs of porters.
Ngima, on the other hand, lives in a booming and teeming metropolis. Nobody knows exactly how many inhabitants Kathmandu has, but one thing is certain – the numbers are increasing daily. In the morning and evening rush hours, an overwhelming tide of traffic forces its way through the city and leaves the uninitiated visitor gasping.

Fernsehfonds AustriaProduced by pre tv in co-operation with Terra Mater Factual Studios and ServusTV funded by Fernsehfonds Austria and TV filmfonds-wien

TV Filmfonds Wien