Sherpa: The Himalayan People

Himalayas, the glorious land that homes the mesmerizing range of mountains which are envied by millions to conquer is dominated by non-other than the Sherpa’s.

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to step in the Everest said,” The Sherpa’s pay a very important role in most mountaineering expeditions and in fact many of them lead along the ridges and up to the summit.” Well, this very statement by the legendary man himself tells what a daring peoples are Sherpas.

Sherpa is one of the major ethnic groups residing in mountain region of Nepal. They are mostly inhabited in eastern part of the country. However, some live farther west in Rolwaling Valley and Helambu region. Looking at a place of their settlement, Tengboche is oldest settlement of Sherpas in Nepal,and their language belongs to the south branch of Tibeto-Burman languages,and it is a mixed Eastern Tibet and central Tibetan dialects.

The term ‘Sherpa’ is derived from Sherpa language words shar meaning east and wa meaning people which literally refers to their geographical origin in Tibet.

History of Sherpas

Initially, Sherpas were nomadic people who first settled in Khumbu region of Solukhumbu after which they gradually moved westward along salt trade routes.

Although there is no written proof of Sherpa history, as per the oral history, four groups migrated from Solukhumbu at different times giving rise to the four fundamental Sherpa clans: Minyagpa, Thimmi, Seratawa,andChawa. These ultimate four clans are responsible for more than 20 different clans that exist today.

Sherpa ancestors migrated from Kham (historical Tibet region) in about 14th century. It is believed that Mahayana Buddhism religious conflict may have caused the migration. They traveled through U and Tsang, before crossing the Himalayas. Then by 1400s, Sherpas of Khumbu region attained autonomy within the newly formed Nepali state.

More about Sherpas

Who are Sherpas?

As mentioned above, Sherpas are the resident of mountain region especially known for their excellent climbing skills and superior strength and endurance at high altitude.

However, before mountain climbing became a popular pastime in Himalayas, Sherpas were just a group of people who migrated to Nepal from Eastern Tibet.

What do they do?

Although Sherpa is an ethnicity of Nepal, it has become a job description on a formal trekking crew. Most of the Sherpas are engaged as guides and porter,and they do everything en route like carrying the loads, ensuring the loads are evenly distributed, setting the camp and being responsible for trekking group safety.

Sherpas are expert in securing climbing routes, fixing lines, ferry supplies and guiding clients to the peak of Everest and other peaks. Their known to have self-sacrificing personality making them tenacious best friends with mountaineers.

Sherpas are an excellent guide to base camp, higher camps and the summit. As dangerous and challenging their job can be, they also earn a considerable amount of looking. An experienced elite Sherpa can make $ 4,000- $5,000 in two months, which is very considerable in scenario of Nepal economy.

Why are Sherpas tough mountaineers?

It is a question to wonder why Sherpas are so resilient to the high altitude effects than normal people. As per the American study of 1976, Sherpas has undergone genetic adaptations after living in one of the world’s highest regions for thousands of years giving them a benefit when in high altitude with low oxygen level.

Adapting in higher regions includes unique hemoglobin-binding enzymes, doubled nitric oxide production, heart that can utilize glucose and lungs with increased efficiency in low oxygen conditions. If we follow the same hypothesis, then if we live in higher altitude region for all our lives, somewhere down the line in future, our generation would become Sherpas.

Who are the famous Sherpas?

After the introduction of Sherpas, you possibly won’t be surprised if I tell, Sherpa was one of the first to scale the Everest,and he was Tenzing Norgay Sherpa, probably the most one.

Pasang Lamu Sherpa is the first Nepali female to ascend the Everest. Mingma Sherpa became the first Nepali and first South Asian to climb all 14 world’s highest mountains setting the record of mountaineer to climb all 14 on first attempt. Likewise, Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa, along with Sano Babu Sunuwar was voted “People’s Choice Adventure of the Year 2012” for their three-month journey in which they climbed Everest and paraglided down the mountain and proceeded to kayak through Nepal and India until they reached Indian Ocean. Well, these are just some highlights of popular Sherpas. With their courage and daring nature, they have claimed their name in most of the record in mountaineering.


Are Sherpas really invincible?

Sherpas are genetically adapted guardian angels of Mount Everest making them pretty much invulnerable but not invincible. Looking at the fatality rate, one-third of 225 people who have died while trying to climb Everest were Sherpas.

There are many sad stories from early days of climbing about Sherpas who were left on mountains to fend for themselves. Although Sherpa excels the courage than usual person, they can’t guarantee against your own death. Climbing the summit is already challenging with unpredictable weather in risky trails.

They will obviously do the risky part of climb by moving ahead to set up the ropes and ladders. They will become increasingly responsible for clients safety who have paid for their professional services.

Why Sherpa’s reside in Everest region after all this time?

Now, this is a general query which can instantly pop-up once hearing about Sherpas and their inhabitant. Why Sherpa’s don’t move to cities and live comfortably instead of constant struggle and risk on their life?

It seems like it is just the general outlook. Sherpa’s actually don’t reside in mountain region except some families. They are adventurers and keep on traveling the world.

Sherpas with good economy background often send their kids to cities and abroad for higher education. As per the report of Outside magazine, more than 5,000 Sherpas are living in abroad with half of them in New York.

Many Sherpa families have moved to city areas and have opened trekking-related business.

Is mountaineering a passion to all Sherpas?

You might be intrigued by the question are all Sherpas into mountaineering, after reading the fact that they are genetically adapted to higher altitude region.

High mountain peaks are the home of gods to Sherpas. As per their belief, they should be worshipped and revered from afar and shouldn’t disturb their adobe by conquering them. Originally the obsession with climbing the mountain was a European thing.

Now, you understand Sherpas are actually the dwellers of mountain region.

Even the Sherpas who climb and assist expeditions believe accidents and casualty happens when due respect is not paid to the gods in Himalaya. Before moving any further with expedition, a prayer ceremony with offering to gods is conducted.

Here is a shocking incident that happened in 1996 expedition. As per Jon Krakauer, member of the same expedition, describe the anxious foreboding of Sherpas at lack of during the puja ceremony which ended up with the death of eight people including highly experienced climbers.

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