Scenes From the Khumbu

Three young Afghan women find beauty and wonder trekking in Nepal

By Wendy Becktold

November 1, 2018


View of Kantega from the Sherpa Cultural Museum outside of Namche Bazaar

In the November/December issue, Sierra reported on a 15-day expedition to Nepal’s Khumbu region that included three Afghan teenagers: Neki Haidari, Mariam Muhammadi, and Shogufa Bayat. They are all participants in Ascend: Leadership Through Athletics, a program based in Kabul that trains young Afghan women to mountain climb. The program’s expedition leader, Danika Gilbert, had arranged the trip to Nepal. Female mountain climbers are practically unheard of in Afghanistan, a culturally conservative country that is still plagued by an active Taliban insurgency. Back home, the three girls risk social repercussions for pursuing their passion. The trek in the Khumbu allowed them to practice their mountaineering skills in relative safety, learn about other cultures, and take their rightful place in the international community of mountain climbers that converge there each season. They also got to enjoy the unparalleled beauty of the high Himalayas. Here are some scenes from the trip (read the full story here).


Early morning hike out of Khumjung. The area around the villages of Namche Bazaar (11,220 feet) and Khumjung (12,401 feet) involves the first serious altitude gain for trekkers on their way to higher elevations, and it’s not uncommon to linger here a few days in order to acclimatize.  

Tengboche Gompa. After spending the night in the village of Deboche, we took an early morning hike up to the monastery, which is the largest and most active in the Khumbu.

Mariam with Mt. Everest in the distance. During the trek, Shogufa, Mariam, and Neki often talked about wanting to summit the world’s tallest peak someday.  


Prayer wheels above the village of Pangboche.

View from Pangboche of Ama Dablam (22,349 feet). The third most popular Himalayan peak to climb looks more impressive than Everest from this angle.

View from Machhermo Ri. We climbed the small peak above the village of Machhermo for this scenic sight.

Summit of Gokyo Ri (17,571 feet). This nontechnical peak is a strenuous but popular hike above the village of Gokyo, which lies in a valley to the west of Everest.

Neki on a day hike above the village of Phortse.


Mani stones, rocks inscribed with the Tibetan prayer “Om mani padme hum” (which translates loosely as “Hail to the jewel in the lotus”) are piled together on mountain passes throughout the Khumbu. 

Neki and Shogufa on the trail. On the final day of our trek, we retraced our steps through a low-lying valley dotted with villages and small family farms. 

Neki and Shogufa with the Afghan flag. Few people on the trail had ever met anyone from Afghanistan. The girls took their role as ambassadors seriously and were eager to show that Afghans are not always fighting.