Virtually everyone in the Everest region now has a mobile phone. Even the lowest paid workers on the trails, the porters who carry the beer and noodles for the tourists, have phones and use them constantly. Nepal has a population of some 30 million people and about six million live outside the country and send back money to their relatives, which explains not just the crazy housing boom in the Kathmandu Valley but also the connectivity around Everest. Nonetheless, all these young men and women – only the yaks and donkeys are still without mobiles on the trails – earn a pittance, have virtually no access to education nor healthcare, often walk in flip-flops through sleet and snow all the way up to 5000m, and are exploited as they have always been, as they were prior to Nepal’s civil war. It’s not the only ugly side of Mount Everest, but it’s one of the most consistently visible.
Many foreigners, including myself, visit remote mountain regions precisely to get away from the curses of our modern lives, such as mobile phones, and criticizing the wish of local people in Nepal to have access to technologies we take for granted is absurd. But the mobile phones in the Everest region are virtually the only innovation in the life of the average porter. The large tour agencies still don’t provide adequate clothing and equipment to their workers while charging thousands of dollars to their foreign clients. The government and local authorities have done little with the money that’s earned from tourism to improve the lives of the people who keep the show on the trails, so to speak.