The word ‘Sherpa’ has become synonymous to Nepal and the alpinist culture.’ Sherpa’ is often used as a slang to denote carrying heavy goods and referring to the ethnic group of people living in the Solu-Khumbu Valley of Nepal. The original meaning of the word is “People from the east” as the community migrated from Eastern Tibet to Nepal some hundred years before the two became separate countries.
In the highest altitudes of any human habitation
The Sherpa or as they call themselves, the ‘Sharwa’ community reside in Eastern Nepal, while some of them live in the Rolwaling Valley (west) and the Helambu region (north of Kathmandu).They are typically potato and wheat farmers who cultivate their crops through terrace farming. Since they settled in the highest altitudes of any human habitation, the snow cover from November to February hinders their farming activities. It forces them to descend to lower elevations in search of other work. Once spring arrives, the young and able-bodied Sherpas go back home to celebrate their New Year’s ‘Losar’ festivities.
Hilary and Tenzing
The mountaineering concept that this community is most linked to was never actually a part of their lifestyle. The alpine activity was a European idea that became popular after Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay’s Everest expedition in the 1950s. At first, the Sherpas were baffled by the foreigners’ curiosity to scale the mountains. They consider the mountains as Gods, something to respect from afar rather than to conquer. They believe that accidents that occur on the trail often happen when people disrespect the Gods, and therefore, they always perform a ‘puja’ before any expedition.
The best mountain and trek guides
Mountaineering and alpine activities have now become the primary source of income for the Sherpa community. Being acclimatized to the high altitude, they are genetically more capable climbers as they have a higher haemoglobin count, which helps absorb oxygen better. It makes them agile climbers as they do not suffer as much from Hypoxia. Their particular knowledge of the terrain has labelled them as the best mountain and trek guides. The influx of tourists has led to a significant economic shift in their community. Sherpas who previously relied on farming and casual porter services are now into business related to travel and adventure companies. Through this new identity has created opportunities for them, it has also revealed certain disadvantages. Sherpas are almost always pressured to live up to their stereotyped image of the self-sacrificing, friendly and heroic villager who is expected to put their clients’ needs before anything else. It has led to people glossing over many Sherpas’ tragic deaths on the trail to the summit and normalizing their mistreatment. We must never forget the sacrifice their community makes every season and revere them for their gallantry.
Inseparable from home
The Sherpa life is more intertwined with their home, the Himalayas than we can imagine. They worship and lead a life of respect for their environment. There’s more to learn from their community than just scaling to the top of the world. They scale courage, humility and the spirit of brotherhood.
What's Your Reaction?
With a passion for travel, Rudy is currently relishing her life in Goa. She shares informative & inspiring stories and keeps narrating moments in life that we all need to appreciate more.