They are a community of proud and brave men and women who lead a simple lifestyle based on the principals of Buddhist teachings. The name Sherpa hails from the Tibetan Shar-pa, meaning ” Easterner”. They migrated to Nepal from the Tibetan Plateau in the north, where they lived as nomadic herders and traders, some 600 years ago. Devoutly religious Tibetan-speaking Sherpas presently live in the mountainous Everest Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalayas, the home to the world’s highest peak. Sherpas are friendly and typically greet you with gleaming eyes, the warmest smiles and the strongest handshakes you will ever get. On the softer side, no amount of words can describe their humility, humbleness and their down to earth mannerisms.
With a never say die attitude, sherpas are the life blood of a thriving adventure tourism industry in Nepal today. The international climbing expeditions in the high Himalayas hire sherpas to do the slog work mainly due to their hardiness, expertise, and experience at high altitudes, which is considered a result of a genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes. Such is their physical strength in the mountains that one local sherpa guide holds the world record 19 summits of Mount Everest over a span of less than 15 years. Sherpas make up bulk of the western climbing expedition teams and there is a sherpa hand in every department, as load carrying porters, camp helpers, cooks, cleaners, trail breakers, ice fall and rope fixers or climbing guides – they are quite simply the “been there and done that” type.
Sherpa women are called Sherpanis. Few Sherpanis too work as sirdars( guides) and some carry equal amounts of workload as men to the upper reaches of Base camps or herd yak caravans carrying gear for expeditions. Records say that several Sherpanis have successfully summited Everest.
The popular among adventure enthusiasts to Nepal is the Everest Base Camp trek, a scenic 16 day trek that reaches 17,600 ft and considered the finest high altitude trek in the world. It is in these adventures that trekkers meet these sturdy people and come to rest their lives with. Right from the word go, the sherpas form a strong bond with visitors and treat every client as their first each time they are called upon to serve. They have a distinct ability to please others, when to call the shots and make decisions that will facilitate the interest of a group. Almost every trekker never misses an opportunity to savour the typical sherpa hospitality when guides proudly open the doors for their own homes and invite visitors for home-cooked meals served by the sherpani of the house. From the tea houses(local lodges trekkers stay) to the Buddhist temples and the colourful streamers decorating the trails, you will be immersed in the Sherpa culture while on the Everest Base Camp Trek. You will take home fond memories of an under-appreciated race of people who are happy to share their beautiful country with travellers from all over world.
It was Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who first reached Mt Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, and Tenzing who plants the flag in the famous photo of triumph. It was only fitting that a Sherpa be part of the first pair to finally reach the world’s highest summit that had long seemed unattainable.
” People who climb Everest boast of their success but few of them mention that 95 percent of the work – the grunt work – was done by the Sherpas”
– Ed Viesturs, a veteran mountaineer in his book – Everest: Mountain Without Mercy