High on ArtFrom the ‘world’s most dangerous’ airstrip in Lukla to the beautiful Namche Bazaar, from pristine lakes to picturesque valleys, from stunning waterfalls to iconic sublime white peaks, the Everest region is full of surprises.
From the ‘world’s most dangerous’ airstrip in Lukla to the beautiful Namche Bazaar, from pristine lakes to picturesque valleys, from stunning waterfalls to iconic sublime white peaks, the Everest region is full of surprises. After spending a few days here, one is bound to parrot the oft-repeated rhetoric ‘heaven is myth, Nepal is real’.
Here, among all other surprises that the region has in store, Gokyo Village, at an elevation of 4,790m, stands tall with its own glories. Falling on the route that weaves through Namche (3,400m)-Dole (4,200m)-Gokyo (4,790m), eventually leading to the mesmerising Renjo La pass, at 5,350m above the sea level, it is of little surprise that Gokyo Village has established itself as one of the most popular trekking destinations in the area.
The village lies on the east shore of Gokyo Cho—a major lake among the six Gokyo lakes in the area—and is populated by Sherpa settlements. Especially popular for Gokyo Ri, situated at 5,357m, from where the majestic Mount Everest can be seen, the village is a gateway that leads towards Everest Base Camp in the east and Renjo La in the west.
Life at Gokyo, however, does not come easy. The remote location of the village has made procuring even the most basic commodities a challenge, making the livelihood here difficult to say the least. However, few Sherpa families have managed to live, even thrive, here, embracing the adversity. These Sherpas inhabit the region for as long as it is livable during a year, operating hotels and lodges as their primary occupation. When the weather turns extreme in winter, the villagers temporarily migrate to lower lands.
Recently, apart from the settlement’s unmatched tranquility, Gokyo has another out-of-the world establishment to flaunt to those passing through—the world’s highest art gallery. Yes, for the past six years, the tourists who come across this village have been halted in their tracks by this gallery decked with art as beautiful as the nature it is surrounded by.
The art gallery has been registered as ‘The World’s Highest Sherpa Art Gallery’ under the Company Act of Nepal since 2013. Established in 2011, the gallery exhibits founder Pasang Tshering Sherpa’s collection of personal paintings.
Through his artworks, Sherpa, who is also an arts scholar for the Sir Edmund Hillary’s Himalayan Trust, captures the serenity of the mountain life that surrounds him every day. After mastering his skills in Tibetan Buddhist Thangka paintings from the Kathmandu-based Tharkela Thangka Centre, Sherpa decided to return to his hometown to establish the gallery and a lodge, despite the naysayers warning otherwise. Now, the sight of a meditative Sherpa huddled over another landscape painting or an elaborate Thangka never fails to draw in curious travellers who can now buy more than just factory-made ‘ethnic’ handicraft as memorabilia from the region.
“It is so amazing to see an art gallery in this corner of the world! I am pleasantly surprised,” said Peter, a Danish tourist I met at the gallery. Peter believed that it was a great venture that tugged at the art lover that’s hidden inside most travel enthusiasts. “These paintings that reflect the essence of the Himalayas so well would make a great souvenir to take back home”, said Peter.
Sherpa, who enjoys living and observing the Himalayan way of life, and has managed to kick-start a venture that stays true to his roots and his passions, asserts that the youth should find and create opportunities in their homeland. He goes on to strongly advocate for rural entrepreneurship as a vehicle for development, “the youth are creative and proactive, and they are the ones that will build this country.
“The tourists that visit my gallery, situated at 4,790m, claimed that it is the world’s highest contemporary art gallery. This gave me the motivation to brand my art gallery as such. I have also submitted an application for the recognition with the Guinness Book of Records,” shares Sherpa.
According to current records, The Nautilus, situated at 4,300m above sea-level at the base camp of Plaza de Mulas, on the west face of Mount Aconcagua, Argentina, is the highest art gallery recognised by the Guinness World Records. The Nautilus, run by artist and mountaineer Miguel Doura, is housed in a tent which is taken down once the harsh winter sets in.
Sherpa, however, has made himself at home in his studio perched high in the Himalayas. In a region that is home to inhabitants hardened by the impossible terrain and stifling hardships, Sherpa remains a rare breed that has managed to etch out a space for art and creation.
He has also authored two books, namely — SHERPA: the Ultimate Mountaineers and Khumbu Directory. While Sherpa: the Ultimate Mountaineers, is a profile of Sherpas who have summited the Everest, the Directory is a book that profiles every hotel in the region.
Sherpa spends most of his time painting the Thangka. He shared that some of the paintings in display at the gallery are made in Gokyo while some he painted in Kathmandu. "I am running my art gallery since 2011," he further added. "I don't need to pay rent here and I am always happy with my parents and beautiful nature."
“The Guinness Record would be nice, but that’s not very significant. The fact that travellers stop in, appreciate my work, and even buy paintings that they lug around the Himalayas during their treks is motivation enough for me,” he says.
Once and if Sherpa’s gallery gets the recognition from Guinness, it will surely be another feather on Khumbu region’s already illustrious hat.
Until then, he busies himself in his tiny studio, drawing all the inspiration he needs as an artist from right outside his windows.