Pilot to return to Nepal with 'yeti hand'
Yetis, monks, thieves and Jimmy Stewart. Mike Allsop's tale has all the makings of a Hollywood movie.
But there is nothing phony about his mission to help restore the pride of the 1000-year-old Pangboche monastery in Nepal, nestled high in the Himalayan foothills near Mt Everest base camp.
Mr Allsop, an Air New Zealand pilot, Everest climber and adventurer, will return to the monastery this month with a special gift from Sir Richard Taylor's Weta Workshop.
The replica hand is a copy of the monastery's "original" yeti hand, which was stolen by persons unknown in the 1990s.
The hand, and part of a skull that proved to be from a rare goat, provided the monastery's small source of income, from tourists who came to see the artefacts.
In the 1950s, explorer Peter Byrne and Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart conspired to take one finger from the hand and have it tested in Britain, but the results were inconclusive, Mr Allsop said.
"There's two stories – one says Peter Byrne got the monks drunk and switched the finger. But I've spoken to him, and he says he offered to pay the monks and they agreed to let him take it."
Since the rest of the skeletal hand and the skull part were pinched in the 1990s, the monastery and its leader, Lama Gershe, have been without their main source of income. Mr Allsop hopes the replica items will help it survive until he can track down the originals.
He admits being sceptical about the existence of yetis, but said the legend was real enough to the monks.
"I asked Lama Gershe if he believed in it, and he started arguing with his wife in front of me. His daughter was translating for me and I asked her what they were fighting about.
"She told me he'd said his wife's friend was attacked at her back door by a yeti five years ago – and she'd said no, it was 10 years.
"And the sherpas, if they're around other people, they'll tell you they don't believe, but get them alone and they'll say: 'We don't have problems with yetis ... except in monsoon season."'
Mr Allsop has had a special connection with Pangboche since he first visited on his way to climb Everest in 2007. Lama Gershe helped to name his youngest son, Dylan Michael Dalha Allsop.
Last year when his eldest son, Ethan, turned seven he took him to see Everest and Pangboche, and plans to do the same with his younger children when they reach the same age.
He will leave for the monastery, with 15 Air New Zealand staff, on April 17 to install the replica artefacts in a secure glass case.
He hopes his campaign, Return The Hand, will locate the original bones, but time may be running out for Lama Gershe, who suffered a stroke last year.
THE MYTH OF THE YETI
The yeti, or abominable snowman, is one of the most famous mythological creatures. It is said to inhabit the mountainous areas of Nepal, Tibet and India.
Several explorers, including Peter Byrne, believe they have found tracks and dung belonging to yeti.
Sir Edmund Hillary, conqueror of Mt Everest, led an expedition in 1960 with a team of 21 scientists, climbers and other specialists, along with 310 Sherpas, to do scientific research on acclimatisation to altitude and to hunt for yetis. They failed to find any but brought back hair samples. Fellow Everest conqueror Tenzing Norgay told Sir Ed his father had twice seen a yeti.
Sir Ed's long-time friend, Tom Scott, said Sir Ed did not believe in the yeti but liked the concept. "The locals believed in them and Ed felt really bad for myth-busting them. He liked the possibility of the yeti. If someone found one, he would have been delighted."
The Dominion Post