Although the word Sherpa is most often used to describe someone working as a mountain guide or porter in the Everest region it actually means “Eastern People” and they are a Himalayan ethnic group living on the borders of Nepal and Tibet.
They were a nomadic people, settling in Khumbu District of Nepal before spreading west along salt trade routes. There are four main clans that were born from this migration; Minyagpa, Thimmi, Sertawa and Chawa clans, although there are more than 20 clans now.
In addition to Nyingmapa (a school of Buddhism) Sherpas also believe in a number of deities and demons that inhabit their mountains.
The vast majority of Sherpa people live in the Eastern regions of Nepal but they are also present in the West (for example Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal) as well as Bhutan, Tibet, Sikkim and West Bengal.
The language of the Sherpas is a branch of Tibeto-Burman languages and is a mixture of this and Eatern Tibet / Lhasa dialogue.
Sherpas and Mountaineering.
In the world of mountaineering Sherpas are especially highly regarded due to their knowledge of the mountainous terrain. Because of their natural acclimatization resulting from living at high altitude they have a natural aptitude to the rarified atmosphere of the high mountains and from the earliest days of Himalayan exploration they have served as guides and porters.
This rich mountaineering heritage is symbolized by Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, perhaps the most famous of these mountain people. Tenzing reached the top of the world alongside New Zealand mountaineer, Edmund Hillary, in 1953 - the first men to climb Everest.
Despite any natural affinity to their environment, as might be imagined many Sherpa lives have been lost over the years to the dangers of high altitude mountaineering and their culture has been inextricably influenced by Westerners intent on scaling the highest peaks in the world.
- Read Sherpa: The Invisible Men of Everest (National Geographic).
- How Many People have died on Everest?
In 1922, George Mallory’s (first Everest expedition) 7 porters were killed in an avalanche and, more recently, in 2014 and 2015 many lives were lost in the Khumbu avalanche and as a result of an earthquake. Over the years it is believed around 40% of deaths on Everest have been Sherpas and Nepali workers.
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