Spreading over an area of 1,148 sq km of the Himalayan ecological zone in the Khumbu region of Nepal and covering the upper catchment areas of the Dudh Koshi and Bhotehoshi Rivers, Sagarmatha National Park seems to be an out-of-the-world wonderland, meticulously decorated with gorgeous mountains, frozen glaciers and deep valleys, dominated by the majestic Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world.
The word SagarmÄthÄ, which stands for Mount Everest, is derived from two words, Sagar or sea and MÄthÄ meaning head. Thus Sagarmatha means head of the sea or the highest point of the ocean from which Mount Everest came out. Sagarmatha National Park shares the International border with the Chomolungma Nature Reserve of Tibet in the north, Dudh Koshi River in the south and adjacent to the Makalu Barun National Park in the east. Barren land above 16,000 feet (5000 m) and largely composed of rugged terrain and gorges of the high Himalayas, it is a well-known destination for mountain tourism, which began in the early 1960s. However, the Sagarmatha National Park was established much later, in 1976 and consequently, it became the first national park of the country in 1979, also designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, for its superlative natural phenomenon and unique culture.
Adding further interest to this site, the park area hosts extensive Sherpa settlements of more than 20 villages with over 4000 Sherpas, who have inhabited the region for the last four centuries, continuing their unique traditional practice of culture, guided by the teachings of Buddha.
The renowned Tengboche and Thame, Khumjung and Pangboche, along with other monasteries, serve as the gathering place of the locals, celebrating their religious festivals like Dumje, Mane Rumdu and others. They strictly follow their religious restriction of animal hunting and slaughtering and adoration of all living beings. Apart from the Sherpa settlements, the seasonal settlements are located along the main tourist trails.
Besides Mount Everest, Sagarmatha National Park is ringed by several tall peaks, among which Baruntse, Lhotse, Nuptse, Pumori, Guachung Kang, Cho-Oyu and Nangpai Gosum are more than 22,000 feet (7,000 m) high. It is obvious that all the rivers in the area are fed by the huge Himalayan glaciers. While Ngozumpa Glacier feds on the Dodh Kosi, Nangpa Glacier feds on the Bhote Kosi. Likewise, Khumbu Glacier feds on the Lobuje Khola.
The Imja Glacier, one of eight which feed the Imja Khola, is located under Sagarmatha. However, all the glaciers show signs of retreat in the recent decades and several glacial lakes have already formed.
With the entire park located above 9700 feet (3,000 m), Sagarmatha National Park is the highest national park in the world and because of its high altitude, around 70% of it is barren, void of any vegetation and only 3% of the park area features forested ecology. The flora at the lower altitude of the park include Blue Pine, Himalayan Birch, Rhododendron and Hemlock forests, but plants above that zone are found to be dwarfs or shrubs. However, Junipes and Rhododendrons prevail even at elevations of 13,000 to 16,000 feet (4,000 to 5,000 m). As the altitude increases, plant life is restricted to lichens and mosses and plants cease to grow at about 18,690 feet (5,750 m), the permanent snow line in the Himalayas. However, the park becomes a paradise on the earth in summer, when different kinds of flowering plants grow rapidly after the first monsoon rains in June. During that period, the blooming flowers of various colours, along with the appearance of buzzing butterflies of myriad species, create a perfect picture of a fairyland.
Sagarmatha National Park is home to several rare species such as the Snow Leopards inhabiting above the elevation of 11,500 feet (3,500 m), along with the Red Pandas roaming in Bamboo-rich forests, while the Indian Leopards live in the forest of lower elevations. It is also home to the Musk Deer, Marten, Himalayan Serow, also known as Thar and Himalayan Mouse Hare, locally called Pika. Apart from the animals, the Park also hosts around 200 species of bird, which include the Impeyan Pheasant, Snow Cock, Bearded Vulture, Blood Pheasant and Red Billed Alpine Cough.
The most popular Trekking Route in the park area is the trek from Namche to Kala Pathar. However, the Chukung valleys and the Gokyo Lake also offer spectacular views to mesmerise tourists. Phortse is attractive to wildlife lovers, while the Thame Valley is popular for Sherpa Culture. Apart from that, there are several high passes worth crossing over. Due to the constantly increasing numbers of tourists visiting the property, the Government of Nepal declared a buffer zone in and around the park in 2002 to enhance the protection and management of the property, with the aim to conserve biodiversity in the region, the conservation of forests, wildlife and cultural resources, followed by conservation of other natural resources.