Sagarmatha National Park
The Sagarmatha National Park is one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. This park includes 1,148 km2 of the Himalayas in the eastern part of Nepal. Sagarmatha is the Nepali word used for Everest (Mount Sagarmatha) and derives from the two Nepali words of sagar, which means “sky” and “matha” meaning “head”: that is “mother of the universe” in Sanskrit.
Sagarmatha National Park is the highest national park in the world; the lowest point is just over 2,800 meters and the highest, the Everest peak, just over 8,800 meters. Inside the park we find a unique combination of forests, barren lands, snowy peaks and various native animal breeds. Unlike other parks, this can be divided into four climatic zones due to the high difference in altitude existing inside.
From the time the park was established in 1976 and registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the number of tourists visiting the region each year has increased dramatically. Thus, from about 3,500 in 1979 to more than 30,000 annual visitors. Today, the park and its inhabitants are increasingly dependent on tourism as a means of life. Most of the tourists are people wishing to trek to Everest Base Camp or to one of the various other treks in the region, such as Gokyo, Island Peak or Tre Passes. The visitor center is located on the top of a hill in Namche Bazaar, together with a company from the Nepalese Army who is in charge of protecting the park. The southern entrance is a few hundred meters north of Mondzo, at 2835 meters, a day’s journey from Lukla.
With its altitude range of over 6,000 meters, the landscape of the Sagarmatha National Park varies drastically; it ranges from the lush forests in the southern regions below the arid lands that make up most of the valleys and, finally, to the glaciers and snow-covered valleys of the highest parts.
To the west of the Park, in the Dudh Koshi valley, are the Gokyo lakes, which represent the highest system of freshwater lakes in the world. In addition to the famous lakes, glaciers are very common in the park, with the Ngozumpa glacier being the largest of the Himalayas and the largest persistent body of ice in the world.
Among the park’s main attractions, however, there are the 7 peaks, each of over 6,000 meters: Everest, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Thamserku, Nuptse, Amadablam and Pumori.
The lower areas of the park are characterized by the fragrant forests of juniper, pine and fir. Moving to the north you climb altitude; the forests end and the vegetation gets considerably thinner, with the exception of some slopes covered with rhododendron, at the beginning of spring. Higher still, the plants become dwarf-sized shrubs and eventually only mosses and lichens can be found.
The lower forests contain at least 118 species of birds; for this reason the park has also been declared “Important Bird Area” by BirdLife International. Among the rare species of mammals that inhabit the area, we recall the snow leopard, the Himalayan black bear and the red panda. Yaks are easy to spot in the park, mainly because of the Sherpas who use them to transport goods up and down the mountains.
Tibetan Buddhist Sherpas have inhabited the region including the Sagarmatha National Park over the past four centuries. Their unique culture and religion has survived to this day and continue to be advocates of park conservation through their beliefs and their inextricable spiritual bonds with the land in which they live.
Slaughtering of animals is prohibited in the Park, so food is largely based on cereals and vegetables.
The sherpa culture is visible through the various monasteries that are scattered throughout the region and the rocks carved with prayer inscriptions that have become the symbol of Everest and the Himalayas. Over the years, Sherpas have become famous for their innate mountaineering skills and abilities, the result of years of high altitude life and navigation across the region.
It is widely believed that they have a genetic adaptation to high altitudes, which makes them naturally better at climbing and tackling the most extreme altitudes.