Who are sherpa

Who are Sherpa?

Sherpa means an ethnic group of people from the north east part of Nepal. Sherpa doesn’t mean to carry something and doesn’t necessarily mean high altitude worker/porter. Sherpa is an ethnic group of people living in the mountains whose primary occupation is to assist climbers to the summit of the mountain. 

The word Sherpa comes from two different words Shar ‘’east’’ and waa ‘’people’’. So together, Sherpa means ‘people from the east’ according to the ethnic Sherpa language. Contrary to popular usage, a Sherpa is a member of an ethnic group from the mountainous region of Nepal, the Himalayas – not necessarily a high-altitude porter or climber. They live in the mountains at an altitude ranging from 3000m to 5000m, which makes them a

However, in trekking and expedition area, ‘’Sherpa’’ is commonly used to describe high altitude guides and porters. They take great pride in their mountaineering heritage, just as another famous people of Nepal, the Gurkhas, who take pride in their warrior skills.

Tenzing Norgay Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hillary

History and Religion.

Starting in the early 16th century, the ancestors of today’s Sherpas began migrating over the high passes into Nepal, most probably from the eastern Tibetan province. They settled in the eastern region of Nepal – Everest region, Rolwaling region and in the Helambu region north of Kathmandu. The language of Sherpa is similar to Tibetan and is considered a branch of Tibeto-Burman language. They practice Buddhism of the Nyingma-pa (Oldest Buddhist sect). An important aspect of Sherpa religion is monastery or gompa.

Statistics and facts

According to the 2001 census, the Sherpa population numbers nearly 1,55,000. Most Sherpa work in tourism, trade and agriculture. They mainly live in the Solukhumbu region and inhabits the valleys of Dudh Koshi and Rolwaling region too. A large number of Sherpa have moved to the capital city, Kathmandu for the better life of their and their children. A Sherpa will earn USD 5000 on average for his 2 months-long hard work on bigger expeditions i.e Everest and other 8000m mountains by carrying loads, establishing camps and for guiding people to the summit.

Work of Sherpa

Traditional Sherpa economic activities were centred on agriculture and trade. It was later after foreigners visited the Himalayas, the tourism brought them a new source of income. Today majority of Sherpa people still work in tourism, guiding people in the Himalaya. Sherpas have gained world renown for their high-altitude skills and well as for their warmth and friendliness, their happy, relaxed attitude to life and similar traits that continue to endear them to trekkers and mountaineers.

Sherpas are regarded as an elite mountaineer, serving as the guides at the extreme altitudes, particularly for high altitude expeditions.  Sherpa acts as a guide and porter, and do everything from setting up the base camp to establishing and carrying up the loads to higher camps. The job of Sherpa begins from the base camp of a mountain carrying loads higher up the mountain, where no other means of transports are available. People from other ethnic group and domesticated animals ferry the load till base camp and from here onwards, it is the Sherpa’s job to ferry loads to higher camps, set up climbing routes and assist climbers to the summit of the mountain. 

Today, many Sherpa guides work nationally and internationally guiding people to the summit of peaks in different parts of the world. Some Sherpa guides are even an IFMGA/UIAGM certified mountain guides.

Why Sherpa are considered superhuman mountaineers?

The climbing ability of Sherpa is the result of a genetic adaption to living in a high altitude. Sherpa people live in the high altitude regions of Nepal which makes them well adapted to the high altitudes. Recent studies and research have found out that Sherpa has a genetic advantage in high altitude and thus can adapt to the high altitude without more acclimatization. The Sherpa of Himalaya has evolved to master the ability to survive in high altitude.

More read on Sherpa: Sherpa – The guardian of Himalayas 

About Author

Highland Expeditions is a high altitude adventure travel company based in Kathmandu, Nepal founded by local alpine experts with over 30 years of experience in trekking and mountaineering in the Himalayas.

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