In honor of P’s mountaineering trip to Langtang this week (a place whose Wikipedia page mentions it is also known for Yeti sightings), I thought I was overdue for a post of this popular mythical Nepali creature.
If you strip Nepal down to its bare bones tourist advertisement stereotypes you would get a few things—Mt. Everest, yaks and yetis (and perhaps temples, prayer flags, Buddha, and Sherpas, maybe momos too). Take a quick stroll through the Kathmandu tourist district of Thamel and you could walk out with an arm load of t-shirts with thread embroidered Yeti on them, particularly yaks and Yetis– these seem to be a favorite combination. There is even a tasty Nepali restaurant near Boston called the “Yak and Yeti” (actually when I googled “Yak and Yeti” I found at least five—one in Boston, two near Denver Colorado, one in Anchorage Alaska, and one at Disney World!)
Anyway, I digress, back to Yeti. These creatures supposedly live in the high Himalayas, and are the Nepali version of what Americans call “Big Foot” (or “Sasquatch”). It is a large ape-like creature that the scientific community generally regards as a legend given the lack of conclusive evidence of its existence—although one night RH, D, P and I decided to watch a silly “documentary” on Netflix about the hunt for a Yeti called “Destination Truth” which might lead you to believe there IS scientific evidence, but the show was too overly dramatic to take seriously.
The show mentioned a sacred “Yeti scalp” in the Solukhumbu town of Khumjung, kept under lock and key in the local monastery. P, RH and I were there during our trek in 2009—and had I known I could have checked out an alleged “Yeti scalp” I would have insisted on going into the monastery (and tried to take a picture standing next to it, because that’s how big of a nerd I am), however, we only saw the monastery from the outside. Although the existence of the scalp in town, did made the “Magic Yeti” painting on the local school’s library door a little more understandable. Skeptics claim that the “scalp” is actually part of a dried shoulder of a yak or serow (a goat-like Himalayan antelope). Perhaps this is part of the origin of the yak/yeti dichotomy in tourist shops?
I don’t purport to be a Yeti expert, but some of the info online is a bit interesting (the following is gleamed from the Yeti Wikipedia page):
-It is also known as the “abominable snow man,” a term coined in 1921 by Alpinist Charles Howard-Bury who was working with the Royal Geographic Society’s “Everest Reconnaissance Expedition.” Howard-Bury insisted he saw tracks at 21,000ft “probably [caused] by a large grey wolf” but looked like those of a “bare-footed man.” The Sherpas on his trip volunteered that “the tracks must be that of ‘The Wild Man of the Snows.’”
– Supposedly a Yeti-like creature was part of the pre-Buddhist beliefs of several Himalayan people: the Lepcha worshipped a “Glacial Being” as a God of the Hunt, and followers of the Tibetan Bon religion also believed in a mythical “wild man” whose blood was believed to be magical.
-There are many stories of supposed “sightings” including a 1953 report by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay who claimed to have seen large footprints while scaling Mt. Everest. Tenzing said he had never seen a Yeti, but his father had seen one twice, although later in life he became more skeptical. Hillary remained skeptical throughout his life, but mounted a 1960 expedition to collect and analyze physical evidence, including the sacred Yeti scalp from Khumjung—it was his research team that concluded the scalp was not from an ape-like creature, but not all anthropologists agree with him.
-American actor Jimmy Stewart smuggled the remains of a supposed Yeti hand called the “Pangboche Hand” out of South Asia by concealing it in his luggage from India to London.
-In 1966 the legend of the Yeti was so popular that the country of Bhutan created postage stamps with the creature’s likeness. You can buy them on Ebay, I kindda want to.
Skeptics often put forward misidentification of known animals as an explanation of sightings and “evidence” – large langur monkeys, Tibetan Blue Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, Asiatic Black Bear. Could something be misidentified up there? Sure—particularly sightings made by mountaineers climbing high altitude mountain peaks with lack of oxygen, fatigue, and other factors affecting them. Meanwhile, scientist discredited the existence of gorillas in East Africa until specimens could be brought back, and now only a fool would deny their existence.
I err towards the skeptic side, if only to make myself less worried about bumping into something scary while taking a walk in the woods (Big Foot, Yeti, little green men, or otherwise), but it’s interesting to hear stories about such sightings.
While P, RH and I were hiking in Solukhumbu we asked our guide if he had ever seen a Yeti. He said yes, at a distance. Whether it was true or not, it made for interesting post-dinner conversation along the trail.
Anyone else have a Yeti story? Or a Big Foot story while on the subject? ;)