National Geographic : 1966 Oct
Sherpaland, My Shangri-La inspired by their devotion. Most of these people are Buddhists of the oldest sects of the Tibetan church. They brought their religion from their mother country, but in Nepal it has been further colored by folklore. Much of this springs from the visits of Indian sages, who crossed Sherpa country on their way to and from Tibet. These saints left miraculous traces of their stay. I was shown rocks on which they had sat and left an imprint. One brought a dog along-for there are its pugmarks on a slab KODACHROMEBY JOHN R. McKINNON ( N.G.S. of stone. Another sat so long in meditation his image was cast on a cliffside like a permanent shadow. Local artists have embellished it with gaudy paint. In a remote valley peopled only by four hermits, I came upon a large conical rock into which a one-room chapel had been cut. I was told that the rock had once been a saint's pointed cap. Tales like this are legion in Sherpaland. Small wonder that Sherpas are given to a powerful belief in the supernatural; their way of life leads them to one of the loneliest jobs on earth-summering with their animals in the sky-high pastures. In late spring Sherpas drive their yak herds to dizzying slopes above the villages, at alti tudes as high as 17,000 feet. Dotted about the ranges are crude stone huts in which herders live out the summer, for the animals must be guarded against predators-the snow leopard and that mysterious something Sherpas vow is the yeti, the "Abominable Snowman." Look Upon a Yeti's Face - and Die "My son saw a yeti over there," an old man told me, pointing across a valley to a lonely mountainside. "At first, he thought it was a nun, because it was red like a nun's robes and walked upright like a human being. It was only when he drew near and saw its face that he knew it was a snowman. Now I fear he will die, since no one can look upon the face of a yeti and live." Prophetic words! Returning some months later, I was surprised to find the son lying in a corner of the house. He was pale and terribly thin, with the shadow of death in his deeply sunken eyes. I asked the old man why he had not come to our expedition doctor. "The boy will die," he replied casually. "The lamas have said so. He saw the yeti." Happily, the boy responded to medicine I had with me. The parents were amazed but surprisingly matter of fact. My demon was obviously stronger than the snowman. In the fall the lush summer grass that grows below the snow line is harvested for feed. The yaks are brought down from the mountain Forces of evil succumb to benevolent spirits as masked lamas enact stories from Buddhist scriptures. In late fall the three day festival of Mani Rimdu brings hundreds of Sherpas to Thyangboche Monastery, where lamas perform in the courtyard.