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The Kangchenjunga region is sparsely populated. An estimated 500 live in the Ghunsa valley. The main ethnic groups are Limbu, Bhotia, Sherpa, and Tibetan. Of these, the Sherpa communities generally live in the highest areas, beyond which there is no possibility of permanent human settlement.

The village of Folay is Tibetan and markedly different from nearby Ghunsa. In Folay, the villagers speak Tibetan, wear traditional Tibetan clothing, and are in most ways more connected to the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala than to their Nepali hosts in Kathmandu.

For those who have seen the terrible degradation of Tibetan culture in Chinese-controlled Tibet, Folay seems, in comparison, better-preserved, more Tibetan, and less affected by both Chinese and Western influences.

Folay has an active Bhuddist monastry and two gompas.


Life in the Kangchenjunga region is one of subsistence agriculture, pastoral farming, and trade.

Rice, wheat, maize, millet, mustards, and vegetables are grown on narrow terraces. Cattle, water buffalo, sheep, and goats are grazed on high-altitude alpine meadows during the summer and brought to lower levels for the winter. Local forests provide wood for fuel and construction.

Middle-altitude grains are traded for high-altitude resources such as Tibetan salt and wool.

There are no roads beyond Taplejung, from where a loaded porter takes three long days to reach Ghunsa. Houses are built of rock and timber; many have earth floors. Plastic piping brings water from nearby streams to village watering points.

Education and medical facilities are improving, thanks to KSP.