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If you have ever traveled in the Himalayas or the snowy mountain region, you will always hear the name Sherpa. Sherpas are the “Guardians of the Himalayas.” If you are curious, then in this blog, we will discuss the life of Sherpas, their background, what you must know about them, and the places they mainly inhabit.

Whether trekking the Everest Base Camp or exploring the Sherpas will be your trusted guide. These adaptable mountaineers are well-versed in every terrain you wish to conquer. They warmly welcome trekkers from all corners of the globe, but they also hold their own culture in high regard, a unique blend of traditions and beliefs.

So, let’s get to know the life of the Sherpa by first learning about their historical background.

Historical Background

Sherpas have a long and rich history that has influenced the culture and tradition of Nepal and Tibet. If we talk about the Sherpas’ background, we will have to talk about migration, adaptation, and their connection with the civilization of the Himalayas. Although nobody has confirmed it, the Sherpas’s origin is most likely from the Kham region of Eastern Tibet. Sherpa originated from the Tibetian word ‘people of the east. However, they decided to migrate towards the Solu Khumbu region of Nepal when caught in the middle of the central religious conflict of Mahayana Buddhism. 

They were also looking for new lands for new work opportunities, which ultimately led them to the majestic gates of the Everest region. The Everest region was also in the early era of being a trade route from Nepal and Tibet, and there were more job opportunities like animal husbandry, guest houses, etc. Between the 10th and 15th centuries AD, the Sherpas divide themselves into four clans known collectively as ‘ru’: Minyagpa, Thimmi, Sertawa, and Chawa.

Life of sherpas in mountain
Life Of Sherpas 4

At first, they settled in a few regions of Nepal, like Helambu and Rolwaling. But finally, they found their ultimate home in the Khumbu or Everest region, in the vast area covered mainly by the Sagarmatha National Park. 

At first, they lived in a nomadic settlement. Still, eventually, they started adapting and starting agriculture and animal husbandry, which helped them earn money and live the life they were dreaming of. They put more emphasis on trade and established small settlements for old pubs, bars, teahouses, etc. They continued trading with local Nepal people, and when the conflict ended, they also extended their hands to the Tibetian settlements.

The Sherpas’ prosperity in the Khumbu region significantly contributed to the growth of Buddhist Tibetan culture brought to Nepal, which has since become a vital aspect of the Himalayan people’s culture. Buddhism in Nepal has flourished over the years and has welcomed all the monks from Tibet, China, and other countries as they have made it the place to live. They also built the central symbol for Buddhism in the Tengboche Monastery, which hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims visit yearly.

Things to know about the Life of Sherpas

  • The Sherpa’s name is derived from “People of the East,” which means they were initially from Tibet and migrated to the Everest region.
  • Sherpas are very adaptive and have adapted to live in high-altitude settlements. They can easily survive in the intense cold and the atmosphere with less oxygen, which is why many people who have climbed Mount Everest are Sherpas.
  • Initially, Sherpas were farmers, herders, and experts in animal husbandry for adaptation; they became traders and opened many hotels, lodges, and teahouses in the Khumbu region.
  • Sherpas have greatly benefitted from the increased development of the Nepalese tourism industry. Nepal is landlocked, so most tourists come to Nepal for mountainous adventures.
  • Sherpas were also catalysts in introducing and developing Nepal’s Buddhism or Tibetian culture. 

Origin, Culture, Food, Livelihood, Belief, and Language of Sherpas

The Sherpas have been assisting local and foreign trekkers in high-altitude treks as porters, navigators, and guides for a long time. Let’s learn some of the basic facts about the Sherpas.

Origin

Sherpa’s information’s origin needs to be distinct and precisely clear. Some information states that they are a mix of Tibetans and the first Indigenous inhabitants who were previously living in Nepal; in another theory, it has been revealed that they are the descendants of the Tibetans who migrated to Nepal from Tibet in the early 15th century.

Culture

The Sherpa community has a rich cultural heritage, as the culture of Tibetian Buddhism has been translated from generation to generation. However, in their credit, they have also vastly adapted. Sherpas have special celebrations, traditional clothing, and a unique way of life. They are good at living in challenging places.

Religion

The initial practice of the Sherpa religion has been passed through Vajrayana Buddhism, which is highlighted in their celebration using prayer flags, chortens, mani walls, etc. They have also established several monasteries, Gompas, and museums to preserve and raise awareness of their culture. One of the most significant symbols of religion for Sherpas is the Tengboche village, where the impressive Tengboche monastery lies.

Food

Sherpa are not picky or choosy with their food since there is a need for more options or availability of fresh produce. Some everyday Sherpa dishes will surely last in your memory if you are a local or foreign trekker. Some of the most common Sherpa food delicacies include Riki kur, which is a kind of Potato Pancake; Sherpa Noodle Soup, which is a kind of Thukpa; Sherpa butter tea; Dhindo, Gundruk, Sherpa or Tibetan bread, etc. Trekkers will have menus of delicious local foods like Dal, Bhat, local vegetable curry, yak cheese, yak steaks, organic pickles or gn vegetables, etc.

Livelihood

The livelihood of Sherpas has changed drastically over the years. Previously, they were more kind of farmers and yak herders and more focused on animal herding. They were not as many traders and were indeed not as much into tourism as they are now. After living in the Himalayan mountains for some decades, they became good at trading with the local Nepali people and Tibetans. When the government opened the door for trekking and mountain climbing, their livelihood changed entirely as they became expert in helping foreign people not from the local areas.

Language

In recent times, sherpas have become fluent in Nepali, Tibetan, and Sherpa, a mix of the Tibetian and Burman languages. After months of indulging with foreign trekkers, they have become fluent in simple English, making communicating with them more accessible. The Sherpas are fluent in all these languages, including English, and have a high chance of becoming guides and porters and earning a fantastic income.

Where are Sherpas people found mostly?

The Himalayas are home to the Sherpas. Most are found in the Solukhumbu district, central to the Everest region. The eastern region is limited to the Khumbu region and the Kama, Khatra, Barun, Rolwalling, and Pharak valleys. 

The Sherpa people have also increased their habitation in the Helambu region and the vast west in the Bigu area. In each region they visited, they built monasteries, gompas, and the spot for meditation. The first-ever celibate monastery that Sherpa built in Nepal was the Tengboche monastery.

Sherpas are limited to Nepal and other countries like Bhutan, India, China, etc. The Tingri Country in Bhutan, Darjeeling, and Sikkim in India are widespread Sherpas habitats. In modern times, Sherpas are also migrating to Western countries like the USA, Canada, and the UK for better opportunities and more substantial earning sources.

Connection of Sherpas to Everest

The Sherpa’s connection with Mount Everest cannot be described literally and straightforwardly. The Sherpas think Mt. Everest is extraordinary. They call it Chomolungma, which means ‘goddess mother of the world.’ They believe powerful spirits live on high peaks and care for their community, so they do not hesitate to show respect to these spirits.

Due to their religious beliefs, the Sherpas organize pujas to receive blessings and express gratitude to the mountains. The Everest region has been home to Sherpas for a long time, and Mount Everest has become their identity. Hence, Sherpas believe their lives and fate are intertwined with Mount Everest.

Education and Modern Influences

Historically, the Sherpa people received a traditional education system that was primarily informal. They used to visit monasteries for schooling and to learn primary education about the culture, tradition, lifestyle, and beliefs of the Sherpa people from their younger days. Sherpa kids are now getting a modern education with new lessons in schools in big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara.

Life OF sherpas ..
Life Of Sherpas 5

Nowadays, Sherpas are also aware that having a proper education, including a foreign language, will allow them to work as a guide, drastically improving their household’s financial situation. Although modern influences have some advantages, they also come with certain compromises. It has also become challenging for them to balance their cultural heritage with contemporary influences. 

Challenges faced by Shrepas

Sherpas are known for their resilience and mental fortitude, as they live in intense conditions of harsh weather, freezing temperatures, and low oxygen levels. However, they have also faced significant challenges over the decades, which have grown significantly complicated recently. Some of the difficulties that Sherpas frequently face are:

Natural Disasters

Sherpas live in high-altitude mountains where natural disasters are common. They occasionally face the challenge of avalanches, floods, landslides, icefalls, and other challenges. Dynamic weather conditions mainly cause these natural disasters.

Climate Change

Climate change is making life harder for Sherpas. Melting ice and glaciers are causing more avalanches, and the rising temperatures in the Himalayas make adjusting tough for the Sherpa people.

Off seasons

The Sherpa people depend heavily on tourists and trekkers for their economic conditions. In Nepal, the peak seasons are generally six months, and the rest of the six months are the off-seasons. Nepal’s winter and monsoon seasons are not ideal for trekking, so fewer trekkers visit the region. Due to their weak economic conditions lately, Sherpas are migrating towards Western countries for better opportunities.

Clothing of Sherpas 

Sherpa clothing consists of the elements they need to survive in the mountains and items that highlight their culture. 

For men: Sherwani is a long quilted coat.

For women: Dresses like Tongkok. Aangi and Pangden 

Modern times, the Sherpa people have also been influenced by modern clothing. Even in the mountains, they wear hand-woven silk and wool cloth, which keeps them warm.

Some famous sherpas all over the world

Sherpas are synonyms for mountains or Himalayas, and many are very popular. The first Sherpa who became extremely popular and was among the household names was Tenzing Norgay Sherpa. He and Sir Edmund Hillary from New Zealand were the first to climb and conquer Mount Everest.

Appa Sherpa became the first household Sherpa name after Norgay, climbing the summit 21 times. However, another impressive Sherpa, Kami Rita Sherpa, has recently broken that record. He was motivated by Appa Sherpa and has already climbed the summit over 30 times.

Pasang Lhamu Sherpa was the first female mountaineer to climb Mount Everest. Pemba Domba Sherpa was another female who climbed the summit two times, but she died in 2007 after falling from Lhotse.

Conclusion

Hence, the Life of Sherpas is undoubtedly exciting but also challenging. They are solid physically and mentally as they have to live with limited resources in the harsh cold weather, and there is a risk of significant mishaps like avalanches, snowstorms, and blizzards. Whenever exploring the Annapurna region, the Sherpas will be your trusted guide.

However, due to Western influence, they face particular challenges in protecting their culture and benefiting from learning Western countries’ new norms and cultures. Building infrastructure and services will help the local people who are surviving traditionally. So, protecting the environment and keeping the region balanced is up to us. It’s important to recognize and respect the environment.

FAQs

How has tourism impacted the lives of Sherpas?

Tourism is the primary source of economic activity for Sherpas. The popularity of the treks like Everest, Pikey Peak, and Three Passes trek has developed their financial condition. However, exposure to western trekkers has made it hard for them to protect their traditional culture and traditions.

Does Sherpa face any dangers while climbing mountains?

Yes, Sherpa faces many challenges, such as dynamic weather, freezing temperatures, and disasters like avalanches, snowstorms, and blizzards.

Are Sherpas only found in Nepal?

No, Sherpas are not only found in Nepal; they are all over the world. They live in India, Tibet, China, Australia, the USA, Canada, and the UK.

How has climate change affected the Himalayas?

Climate change has affected the Himalayas and the lives of Sherpas. Global warming, glacial retreat, consistent dynamic weather, and continuous natural resources are the most common challenges.

Who was the first female Sherpa to climb Mount Everest?

Who was the first female Sherpa to climb Mount Everest?
Pasang Lhamu Sherpa was the first female Sherpa to climb the Mt Everest.

Tej Bahadur Gurung

With an experience of almost two decades, founder Mr. Tej Bahadur Gurung has established Nepal Alternative Treks as a widely recognized and reliable tourism operator. His degree in Tourism Studies and devotion to the sector has given him in-depth knowledge about trekking, climbing, cultural, and geological aspects of the country. He is a pioneer in introducing the concept of ‘off-beaten tracks’ and ‘alternative routes’ as well as treks and tour packages surrounding it.

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