A band of nine Israelis, including a local politician, a sculptor, and a camera crew, set out last week on an eccentric mission to Everest, determined to grace the highest place on earth with a statue made of rocks from the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea. A silhouette of the famed saltwater lake, the statue was ultimately erected at the mountain’s base — 18 miles from the summit.
Accompanied by sherpa guides and a porter who lugged the 45 kilogram (99 pound) metal and stone sculpture, the Israeli expedition was designed to encourage cooperation between Israel and Nepal by linking the world’s highest and lowest points with a symbolic art exchange. They’d bring a Dead Sea statue to Mount Everest and the Nepalese would bring an Everest statue to the Dead Sea.
For Dov Litvinof, head of the Tamar Regional Council, which borders the Dead Sea, however, the mission was not just about tourism. It was also to save the Dead Sea from imminent death.
He told Channel 2 that the driving objective behind the trek to the ceiling of the world was “to raise awareness of the Dead Sea’s condition” through press coverage. He noted at a brief ceremony near the base of Everest, where the sculpture was planted, that while Everest rises a centimeter each year, the Dead Sea’s level drops over a meter.
The Dead Sea’s level is falling that fast because most of the water that historically flowed into the saltwater lake has been diverted or cut off in the past several decades, and industrial plants increasingly evaporate its waters to extract valuable minerals.
Making his way up the winding Himalayan trail towards Everest, Litvinof distributed samples of Dead Sea salt to hikers and explained the Israeli mission.
The idea of hauling the statue to the world’s tallest mountain was the latest initiative by Israel and Nepal to promote bilateral ties and stimulate tourism. The two countries established formal relations in 1960, Nepal opened its embassy in Tel Aviv in 2007, and the Himalayan country is a favorite vacationing destination for Israeli backpackers.
Last year, Kathmandu and Jerusalem issued a joint stamp depicting the Dead Sea and Everest as a token marking decades of cooperation between the two states.
The five-shekel stamp ($1.25) bears a picture of Mount Everest, towering at 8,848 meters (29,028 feet), and the mineral-rich Dead Sea, at 422 meters (1,384 feet) below sea level. It shows the Israeli and Nepalese flags and has Hebrew, Nepalese, Arabic and English writing on it.
Hanan Goder, the Israeli ambassador to Nepal who helped promulgate the sculpture swap, said the stamp and the statue were not just about promoting tourism, but “creating a bond between the two nations.”
“Nepalis and Israelis are similar in many respects” he said, including their appreciation for the natural wonder of their respective lands.
As for the group’s decision to place the statue at Namche Bazaar — a village 18 miles from the summit of Everest and just a little over a third of the tallest peak’s altitude — instead of somewhere closer to its summit, the Channel 2 reporter who accompanied the team summarized, “Haven’t the Jewish people suffered enough?”