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Sherpas in Nepal

sherpa people in nepal | Berg Reisen Nepal Pvt. Ltd.

The Definition of Sherpa 

The Sherpa ethnic group is indigenous to Nepal’s most hilly regions, including Tingri County in the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Himalayas. The word sherpa is derived from the Sherpa language words shar “east” and pa “inhabitants”, which refer to their origins in eastern Tibet.

The majority of Sherpas dwell in Nepal’s eastern regions, particularly Tingri County, however some live further west in the Rolwaling Valley, Bigu, and the Helambu region north of Kathmandu. Sherpas build gompas, or Buddhist monasteries, where they practice their religion. Tengboche was Solu-first Khumbu’s celibate monastery. Sherpa people also inhabit in Tingri County, Bhutan, as well as the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal, notably the Darjeeling region.

The Sherpa language, which is mixed with Eastern Tibet (Khamba) and central Tibetan dialects, is part of the Tibeto-Burman language family’s south branch. This language, however, is distinct from Lhasa Tibetan and is incomprehensible to Lhasa speakers. In recent years, the number of Sherpas travelling to Western countries, particularly the United States, has increased dramatically. With a population of around 16,000 Sherpas, New York City boasts the largest Sherpa community in the United States. Nepal’s 2011 census counted 512,946 Sherpas living inside its borders. Sherpas are well-known for their expertise in mountaineering as a source of income.


history of sherpas in nepal | Berg Reisen Nepal Pvt. Ltd.

At various eras, Tibet and Solukhumbu were connected, giving rise to the four major Sherpa clans: Minyagpa, Thimmi, Sertawa, and Chawa. These four groupings eventually splintered into the over 20 clans that exist today. Religious conflict between Mahayana Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism may have contributed to Tibetans fleeing Tibet in the 13th and 14th centuries and settling in Nepal’s Khumbu region. The Khumbu Sherpa people achieved autonomy inside the newly constituted Nepali state by the 1400s. As tensions with China escalated in the 1960s, the Nepali government’s control over the Sherpa people strengthened.

Khumbu became a national park in 1976, and tourism became a key source of revenue. However according Gautam Buddha (1994), the Sherpa came from Tibet to Nepal some 600 years ago, first by Rongshar in the west and then over the Nangpa La pass in the east. The group of people from the Kham region, east of Tibet, is thought to have been known as “Shyar Khamba” (People from Eastern Kham), and the place where they settled was known as “Shyar Khumbu.” The “Shyar Khamba,” or residents of Shyar Khumbu, were given the name Sherpa over time.

According to a research published by the Nepal Ethnographic Museum in 2001, modern-day Nepal became an important part of the Nepalese kingdom. Sherpas, like other Kirat Nepalese tribes, have been moving around the Himalayan region since ancient times, surviving as Alpine pastoralists and traders.


sherpas in the mountain | Berg Reisen Nepal Pvt. Ltd.

Many Sherpas are well-known in their communities as great mountaineers and experts. They were extremely useful to early Himalayan explorers, providing as guides at the highest altitudes of the region’s peaks and passes, particularly for efforts to ascend Mount Everest. Today, foreigners generally use the phrase to refer to practically any guide or climbing supporter hired for Himalayan mountaineering trips, regardless of nationality. As a result of this usage, the term has become a slang term for a mentor or advisor in other contexts. Sherpas are known for their toughness, competence, and experience at extremely high elevations in the international climbing and mountaineering community. Unique hemoglobin-binding capacity and doubled nitric oxide generation are two of these adaptations.


sherpa religion in nepal | Berg Reisen Nepal Pvt. Ltd.

The original Tibetan migration, according to Buddhist oral traditions, was a search for a beyul (Buddhist pure-lands). Sherpas follow the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism, which is known as the “Ancient” school. It stresses mysticism and the inclusion of local deities shared by the pre-Buddhist Bön religion, which incorporates shamanic components, and was founded by Padmasambhava (commonly known as Guru Rinpoche) during the 8th century. Sherpas, in particular, believe in valleys and hidden treasures. Nyingmapa practice has traditionally been passed down orally through a loose network of lay practitioners.

Later versions include celibate monasteries and nunneries, as well as the belief in reincarnated spiritual leaders. The Sherpa believe in a vast number of deities and demons who inhabit every mountain, cave, and forest, in addition to Buddha and the main Buddhist divinities. Ancient practices woven into the fabric of Buddhist ritual life must be honored or tamed in order for them to be respected or appeased. Many of the Himalayan mountains are revered as sacred sites. Mount Everest is known as Chomolungma by the Sherpas, who revere it as the “Mother of the World.” Mount Makalu is revered as the Shankar deity (Shiva). Certain mountain summits and their guardian deities are revered by each clan.

Lamas (Buddhist spiritual leaders) and other religious practitioners residing in the villages nowadays maintain Sherpa religious issues on a daily basis. The village lama, who preside over ceremonies and rites, can be a married householder or a celibate monk. Shamans (lhawa) and soothsayers (mindung) are also concerned with the supernatural and the spirit realm. Lamas identify witches (pem), serve as deities’ and spirits’ mouthpieces, and diagnose spiritual illness. The temple, or gompa, is a fundamental part of Sherpa religion. A gompa is a prayer hall for monasteries or villages.

Throughout the Solukhumbu region, there are numerous gompas and roughly two dozen monasteries. Monasteries are institutions of lamas or monks (sometimes nuns) who take a vow of celibacy and live in seclusion in search of religious enlightenment. They are well-liked and respected by the general public. Their only contact with the outside world is through monastic rituals, annual festivals open to the public, and the reading of sacred texts at funerals.

Traditional clothing

sherpa traditional clothing | Berg Reisen Nepal Pvt. Ltd.

Long-sleeved robes called kitycow are worn by men and fall just below the knee. A knitwear belt called kara is put around the waist of a chhuba, producing a pouch-like pocket called tolung that can be used to store and carry small goods. Traditionally, chhuba were constructed from thick home-spun wool or a sheepskin version known as lokpa. Chhuba is worn over raatuk, a shirt (traditionally made of bure, white raw silk), kanam (shorts), and tetung (outer jacket). Long-sleeved, floor-length tongkok gowns are historically worn by women. In warmer times, a sleeveless variant known as angi is worn over a raatuk (blouse). Metil aprons are worn in front, and gewe aprons are worn in back, and they are linked together by an embossed silver clasp known as kyetig. Tibetan dress is similar to Sherpa dress. Home-spun wool and silk are increasingly being supplanted by factory-made materials. Many Sherpas increasingly dress in ready-to-wear western attire.

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