The Invisible Footmen
Mountain guides and porters have come a long way since the days of the first ascent on Everest in 1953. A profession largely kickstarted by the natives of the Khumbu village in Nepal – the Sherpas; the occupation has since been taken up by various communities living around mountaineering hotbeds in India and Pakistan as well.
Calamities on Everest, such as the Earthquake in 2015 or, the fiasco involving Ueli Steck and Simone Moro have brought to the limelight sentiments that run amok the Sherpa community of Nepal. From widespread dissatisfaction due to a huge wage gap between the Nepalese native guides and their western counterparts, to the corrupt bureaucracy that holds back their development and welfare, the issues are piling on. However, the Sherpa porters have come a long way in the last 6 decades. From mere haulers of load under a foreign captain, the modern Sherpa adorned in his down jacket and mountaineering gear has evolved into an independent decision maker, sealing the route of the expedition and acting as a full fledged leader.
Things have not been so progressive in other parts of the Eastern Hemisphere. For instance, Pakistan which harbors five of the fourteen 8000ers including the iconic K2 and the Nanga Parbat, seems to be frozen in time. Despite these climbing attractions and many more like the famous Trango towers or the Ogre peak, the climbing ecosystem in the country is far from developed. The potential of the landscape, which has captured the fancies of pioneering mountain men such as Chris Bonington, Doug Scott, Alex Lowe, Reinhold Messner and Simone Moro among others, has failed to add to the fortunes of the footmen that serve it.
Clad in hand woven jackets and slippers for trekking boots, the mountaineering porters in Pakistan are expected to haul 25-40kgs of weight for a meagre 500-1000 Pakistani Rupees a day (Roughly 4-9 dollars). Unlike India or Nepal where mountaineering is fast evolving as a leisure or passion pursuit even among the locals, the larger Pakistani population is still quite oblivious to the sport. And though mountaineering education and schools have sprung up in Pakistan’s neighborhood, the country still lacks the will to harness the tourism and economic potential of the activity.
The hapless individuals who compose the lot of the footmen in Pakistan are victims of a booby trap carved out by unique socio-political forces at work in the region. The causes of their condition are often systemic, rooted in the popular religious ideology and propaganda. For instance, the preference for a male child, the lure of polygamy and resistance to birth control measures such as condoms, has lead to mounting social pressures due to a population explosion and the marginalisation of women. A family size bursting at the seams incapacitates one financially to educate and nurture their children. A lone son is often put to the charge of taking care of the entire clan. Under a slow to come ideological reform, there is no recourse and the cycle perpetuates from one generation to another.
In the film K2 and The Invisible Footmen, Iara Lee brings to light the plight of these mountain communities of Karakoram; which have been sacrificed to the apathy of the larger world. Set amidst the narratives of their socio-political situation and the daily struggle for earning a living, the story highlights the empowering incident of how these footmen make a figurative and literal climb over their struggles to succeed in reaching the summit of K2. That too unassisted and without supplemental oxygen. A feet that is remarkable by any mountaineering standard. The film showcases a ray of hope in the darkness of their world.
An unnecessary and unjust proof to the worthiness of these footmen for an equal stake in the world.
Watch the full movie HERE.
About Cultures of Resistance Films
Cultures of Resistance Films is a project of Caipirinha Productions, Inc. The mission of the project is to create and distribute films that advance public awareness about issues of social and economic justice, and that showcase creative efforts to promote peace and protect human rights.
Author: Sukrit Gupta
An avid climber, ultrarunner and day dreamer, Sukrit is a fan of everything that is self-managed and solo. A flag bearer for self sufficiency and pushing beyond limits, he loves to spend his time slithering over rock faces and devising cruel trail running courses in his mountainous backyard in Manali.