Who are Sherpas?
According to the Sherpa dialect, the word “Sherpa” is derivative of two different words “Sher” meaning “East” and “Waa” meaning “people.” Thus, literally, Sherpas are the” people from the east.” It is indicative that Sherpas are an ethnic community living in the eastern part of the Nepalese Himalayas.
Also known as the Khumbu Region, the Everest Region is the main settlement area of the Sherpas; however, they are found in the Trans-Himalayan Region and main cities such as Kathmandu, Pokhara, Dharan, etc. They are of the Tibetan Buddhist origin which lives around the Tibetan Plateau and its adjacent areas of Nepal.
They live in the Himalayan Region of Nepal at an altitude above 3,000m. To survive in the high altitude region they have to ascend and descend to difficult terrain. Looking back at the history of ancient Nepal, there was lack of trade centers in remote areas due to the lack of developmental infrastructure such as road, transportation, etc. There used to be salt trading routes to Tibet from Nepal across the Himalayan passes from the east to the west.
Trips - Who are Sherpas?
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Cultural Value of Sherpas
Due to the altitude that they have been living for such a long time, they are habituated to walking up and down the hills and across the Himalayan passes above 5,000m. Though compulsion, the Sherpas have had a long time experience of trekking across the Himalayas.
In trekking and mountaineering industry of Nepal, the Sherpas are guides and porters for high altitude trekking and expeditions, even above 8,000m. As soon we hear the word “Sherpa” we feel encouraged to reach the top of the highest peaks in the world such as Everest, K2, Kanchenjunga, Annapurna, etc.
Just as the Nepalese pride on the Gurkhas, the Nepali Sherpas pride on their Mountaineering Heritage and Heridity! There is a common saying “A Sherpa is away from home a single night, when he comes back the following morning; he has already been to the Everest, Lhotse, or Makalu!” This very saying is a tribute to the Sherpas and their forte in peak climbing and expeditions in Nepal.
History, Religion, Language, & Culture of Sherpas
The historical evidence shows that the ancestors of today’s Nepali Sherpas began migrating across the Himalayas in the beginning of the 16th century. They walked over the high passes into the Himalayan Region of Nepal in search of the land that would support life and occupation more easily than in the Tibetan Plateau.
As the Tibetan Plateau bordering with Nepal lies in the rain shadow area of the Great Himalayan Ranges, life is rather hard in there. In that sense, life even in the alpine zone of Nepal is more comfortable than in the dry landscapes.
In the beginning, they settled around the eastern part of Nepal particularly the Khumbu Valley, Rolwaling Valley, and Helambu Valley. Even today, the majority of the Sherpas are found in these regions. However, with the development of transportation and business towns, they migrated to city areas to make their life easier still.
The Sherpas are followers of the Tibetan Buddist religion specifically Bon-po and Nyingma-pa. The Sherpas of the Eastern Nepal are of the Nyingma-pa sect whereas those of Upper Mustang and Dolpo Region practice Bon-po religion.
Their dialect is a branch of the Tibeto-Burman language. Contrarily, the Sherpas of the Tsum Valley Manaslu and the Nar Phu Valley Manang do have their own dialects.
The religious shrines of the Sherpas are monastery or gompas. They also have chortens and mani walls highly decorated by colorful prayer flags and prayer wheels. These shrines are more beautified with Buddhist arts and scriptures. For example, Tengboche Monastery of the Everest Region, Bouddhanath Stupa of Kathmandu, and Shey Gompa of Inner Dolpo are some important Sherpa shrines.
Stats & Facts
The Sherpa population in Nepal is estimated to be nearly 150,000 in the major settlement areas in the environs of the Himalayas. Nevertheless, a large number of them have migrated to urban areas as well.
A Sherpa guide or mountaineer earns some USD 5,000 by working hard in bigger expeditions like Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Manaslu, etc. They have key roles of carrying loads, setting up camps, fixing ropes across crevasses, and guiding climbers to the summits. Thus, the Sherpas have numerous records in the field of mountaineering.
Works of the Sherpas
Traditionally, the Sherpas were involve in agriculture and herbal trade for economic activities. They would collect herbal products and visit town to town or door to door to sell them. Half the year, they used to spend in cattle rearing and agriculture and the other half in selling their products in lower altitude.
When foreigners were allow to visit Nepal and the Himalayas in the 1950s, majority of male Sherpas switched their job to tourism industry. Tourism industry of Nepal has been a boon for the Sherpas and the Sherpas have been a boon for the tourism industry of Nepal. Regardless city tours, the Sherpas have been working for mountaineering and peak climbing in Nepal.
If you have a Sherpa as your team leader or climbing guide, even if you are a beginner, you will accomplish your Everest Expedition. Such confidence is gain as long as you hear of the Sherpa and their skills in mountaineering. At a point, it feels as if the Sherpas were children of the Himalayas which always nurture them even at the harshest conditions!
Their high altitude skills, warmth, friendliness, happy and relaxed attitude of life, plus their grave complexion are really perfect to be trekkers and mountaineers. It looks as if they were born for high altitude trekking and mountaineering as well as helping out people for such activities!
Sherpas in International Organization
The Sherpas are regard as elite mountaineers who guide people for high altitude expeditions. The works of the Sherpas are guide and porter setting up higher camps, and exporting loads from base camps. Porters from other ethnic communities and animals fetch loads only up to the base camps.
When other means of transportation fails to work, the Sherpas are the only ones to ferry loads up to the highest camps and down. They remind of the Yeti who is said to be the indigenous to the Himalayas above 5,000m. Their job is more decisive inn making your expeditions a success or failure.
Besides ferrying loads, the Sherpas renovate or set up new routes, confirm the ropes and routes are safe. Finally, they help climbers to hike to the highest point of a peak. In bigger expeditions, safe descent is more important not the ascent less important. Thus, they assist the climbers to get down safely up to the base camp. Mind it, until you come safely to the base camps, your mountaineering journey has not end!
In this globalized world, many Nepalese Sherpas have been working as international guides. They have been demand internationally to assist expeditions across the globe. It’s their skills, hard work, and sincerity that they are globally recognize as elite mountaineers. Thus, many of them have been certified by International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) of many countries.
The Sherpas are Superhuman Mountaineers; why?
The Sherpas are Superhuman Mountaineers because there is hardly any climber in the world who has completed bigger expeditions without the SHERPA. They have been living in the high altitude Himalayan Region since their whole generations. Thus, they have wonderful genetic adaptations of climbing trekking peaks in Nepal and 8,000er expeditions.
Studies have shown that the Sherpas have phenomenal high altitude adaptation that they can climb higher without necessity of acclimatization. This genetic strength and habitual activity have helped the Himalayan Sherpas to master the ability of high altitude climbing and trekking in Nepal.
The Sherpas are the inhabitants of the Himalayas around the Tibetan Plateau and the Eastern Nepal. They have marked the history of tourism industry, mountaineering and expeditions across the world. They have helped thousands of people to reach the summits of Nepal trekking peaks and 8,000m plus mountains at very low cost.
It is their genetic characteristic that has helped the Sherpas to adjust in high altitude region even without oxygen and proper accommodation. Migrated in the early 16th century, they have been living in the Himalayas and major cities of the country. Most of the males have been involve in tourism industry of Nepal since the 1950s. They are synonymous to the Himalayas just like the Yeti!