Nate’s Journey: 01 June

I woke this morning to the sound of heavy rain on the roof. Now in the afternoon, since the clouds have somewhat broken, a few heli will be able to fly back to Kathmandu. I got a text from Mingma saying that tickets are being arranged, so all I have to do is enjoy my time here in Lukla.

Once I’d eaten my porridge and milk-tea, I gathered some things and set off to find the village of Muse. The map Murari gave me back in the Kathmandu office had some vague trails shown in dotted lines to this place. I made my way and got conflicting directions from a young boy once I had left the main road. I relied on my intuition and eventually found some houses on the hillside.

I put it to the luck of the Irish that the first house I came to had a fluent English speaker. He told me that I had indeed wandered my way into Muse. I explained my reason for coming to his village, and gave him the jist of the biogas project at Gorak Shep. He was pleased to hear of the work our team is doing and offered to introduce me to his neighbor with the biogas digester. After the mandatory cup of milk-tea, we walked down to a house where no one spoke English. There is no way I would have figured out where this digester was without my new guides help.

My benefactor Nga Gyal Jen, introduced me and we were invited into a splendid house by Kaji Sherpa, the youngest son of the family. I stood by while my hosts spoke together in Sherpa, then Kaji put a burner on top of the wood fired stove and showed me the blue flame of biogas.

We walked through the lush garden in the backyard to a stone shed. The digester’s house was 4.7m by 4.2m on the outside. Inside, the small room was warmer then the house we had just left. I was impressed that a roof made of blue tarp supported by chicken wire was holding so much heat on an overcast day like this.  I saw the mixing station, built to the BSP specs that I’ve looked at so many times. There was also a temperature gauge at the start of the gas hose. It was reading ~0°C, but who knows how this thing was calibrated (if ever) and I am skeptical it was still working more than 12 years after being installed.

We went outside and met one of the older brothers. Puchetar Sherpa helped me pull the tape measure across the pit for the digester’s outflow. Then Nga Gyal Jen explained that they use pine needles to compost the effluent before use in the garden. I have seen this method done throughout the Khumbu with straight up human night-soil. So this technique is above health code standards for the region. Their garden was gorgeous, a testament to biogas effluent fertilizer. I know many a hippie in the states who would lust after the farm these folks have set up.

We went back inside where I was introduced to the patriarch, a man of 91 years. I was never given his name, he was just the father. We sat and had Sherpa tea. Melted butter, diluted with warm milk, cut with more than a hint of salt. After half my cup I decided I could handle it, which was good because they immediately refilled my mug.  As we sat in the kitchen I learned that BSP had built the digester in 2006, it has been in operation since, without incident.

The success of this digester at Muse is no guarantee that one at Gorak Shep will function. In this village, around 2500m up, the weather is much more clement and there is plenty of cattle and garden waste to feed the digester. I was most interested in the construction techniques used and the social dynamic that caused this project to excel. The digester is owned by one, large and clearly cohesive family. They have their own cattle and all the feed stock that might be wanted. This is a far cry from the scenario we have seen at Gorak Shep. But the people there are united by their desire to solve the massive waste issue they face and their love of the mountains. I think that with thoughtful planning and group involvement, our biogas project will see the same longevity I’ve observed in Muse.