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May 6

Khumjung, Nepal

The Yeti Scalp of Khumjung

A Himalayan monastery claims to have a piece of a centuries-old abominable snowman. 

A small village monastery in northeast Nepal claims to have a 300-year-old Yeti scalp, one carried by Sir Edmund Hillary across the globe for inspection by zoologists and other experts. Despite its purported provenance, it did not pass inspection.

The half football-shaped scalp sits in a cabinet at the temple, or gomba, of the village called Khumjung, and for a few Nepalese rupees the monks will take out a small, glass-fronted box containing the scruffy-haired dome. But no matter the donation, the scalp stays in the padlocked box.

The relic is purported by the village to have come from one of the “abominable snowmen” of Himalayan legend, and was found by Hillary and journalist Desmond Doig in 1960 when they were on an expedition to look for evidence of the big-footed beast. They found the scalp in the home of old Khumjung woman, who said it was a good-luck charm for the village, and was anxious about letting it leave. In order to avoid disaster befalling the village, Hillary agreed to a deal: If he made a donation to the monastery and a local school, and took with him a guardian for the scalp from the gomba, they would let it leave and be examined.

The scalp turned out to have been fashioned from the hide of an animal, most likely a goat-antelope native to the Himalayas. After its trip and reported debunking it was returned safely to the monastery, and you can read more about that, as well as the duplicate of the scalp at New York’s Explorer’s Club, here. Then make up your own mind if they really exist or not. As Khumjo Chumbi, the monk who was charged with watching over the scalp on its round-the-world voyage, told the Guardian newspaper at the time, “We don’t believe in giraffes and lions in Nepal because there aren’t any there. Likewise, you don’t believe in yetis because you have none in your country.”

Know Before You Go

Khumjung is in northeastern Nepal, about 85 miles east of Kathmandu (as the crow flies) and inside Sagarmatha National Park World Heritage Site, an uphill side-trip from the trekking route between Namche and Gorak Shep. When you reach the village, catch your breath and look for the monastery.

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