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Total population
Regions with significant populations
Nepal, India, China (Tibet)



Predominantly Tibetan Buddhism – 93%
Minority Hinduism, Bön, Christianity

Related ethnic groups

Tibetans, Jirels

Nepal ethnic groups

Selected ethnic groups of Nepal;
Bhotia, Sherpa, Thakali
Kiranti, Rai, Limbu

The Sherpa (Tibetan:ཤར་པ། "eastern people", from shar "east" + pa "people") are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalayas. Sherpas migrated from eastern Tibet to Nepal within the last 300–400 years.[1]

The term Sherpa is also used to refer to local people, typically men, who are employed as guides for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas, particularly Mt. Everest. They are highly regarded as elite mountaineers and experts in their local terrain. Most Sherpas live in the west regions; however, some live farther west in the Rolwaling valley and in the Helambu region north of Kathmandu. Pangboche is the Sherpas' oldest village in Nepal. The Sherpa language is a dialect of Central Tibetan and is mutually intelligible for speakers familiar with modern Lhasa vernacular.

The Jirels, native people of Jiri, are ethnically related to the Sherpas. In India, Sherpas also inhabit the towns of Darjeeling and Kalimpong and the Indian state of Sikkim. The 2001 Nepal Census recorded 154,622 Sherpas in that country, of which 92.83% were Buddhists, 6.26% were Hindus, 0.63% were Christians and 0.20% were Bön.


Nepalese sherhpa and pack

A Nepalese Sherpa and his pack.

Sherpa carrying woods

Sherpa porter carrying wood in the Himalaya, near Mount Everest

Sherpa guide

A Sherpa guide

Sherpas were of immeasurable value to early explorers of the Himalayan region, serving as guides and porters at the extreme altitudes of the peaks and passes in the region. Today, the term is used casually to refer to almost any guide or porter hired for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas. However, in Nepal, Sherpas insist on making the distinction between themselves and general porters, as Sherpas often serve in a more guide-like role and command higher pay and respect from the community.

Sherpas are renowned in the international climbing and mountaineering community for their hardiness, expertise, and experience at high altitudes. It has been speculated that a portion of the Sherpas' climbing ability is the result of a genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes. Some of these adaptations include unique hemoglobin-binding enzymes, doubled nitric oxide production, hearts that can utilize glucose, and lungs with an increased sensitivity to low oxygen.[2]


The Sherpas belong to the Nyingmapa sect of Buddhism. The oldest Buddhist sect in Tibet, it emphasizes mysticism and incorporates shamanistic practices and local deities borrowed from the pre-Buddhist Bon religion. Thus, in addition to Buddha and the great Buddhist divinities, the Sherpa also have believe in numerous gods and demons who are believed to inhabit every mountain, cave, and forest. These have to be worshiped or appeased through ancient practices that have been woven into the fabric of Buddhist ritual life.

Many of the great Himalayan mountains are worshiped as gods. The Sherpas call Mount Everest Chomolungma and worship it as the "Mother of the World." Mount Makalu is worshiped as the deity Shankar (Shiva). Each clan recognizes mountain gods identified with certain peaks that are their protective deities.

The day-to-day religious affairs of the Sherpas are dealt with by lamas (Buddhist spiritual leaders) and other religious practitioners living in the villages. It is the village lam a, who can be married and is often a householder, who presides over ceremonies, and rituals. In addition, shamans (lhawa) and soothsayers (mindung) deal with the supernatural and the spirit world. They identify witches (pem), act as the mouthpiece of gods and spirits, and diagnose illnesses.

An important aspect of Sherpa religion is the monastery or gompa . There are some two dozen of these institutions scattered through the Solu-Khumbu region. They are communities of lamas or monks (some-times of nuns) who take vows of celibacy and lead a life in isolation searching for truth and religious enlightenment. They are respected by and supported by the community at large. Their contact with the outside world is limited to the annual festivals to which the public is invited, and the reading of sacred texts at funerals.

Traditional Costume

Sherpa dress is similar to that worn by Tibetans. Both men and women wear a long inner shirt over a pant-like garment, both made out of wool. Over this, they wear a thick, coarse, wraparound robe (bakhu) that reaches to below the knees and fastens at the side. A sash is belted around the waist. Both males and females wear high, woolen boots with hide soles. The uppers are colored maroon, red, and green (or blue), and the boots are tied on with colored garters. An unusual feature of women's dress is the multicolored striped aprons worn to cover the front and back of the bodies below the waist. Both married and unmarried women wear the rear apron, while the front apron is worn only by married women. Various ornaments and a distinctive cap called a shyamahu complete the dress of the Sherpa woman.

Traditional Sherpa dress is rapidly disappearing among Sherpa men. Many younger men who have worked for mountaineering expeditions wear Western-made high-altitude clothing.

Famous Sherpas

One of the most well known Sherpas is Tenzing Norgay. In 1953, he and Edmund Hillary became the first people known to have reached the summit of Mount Everest.[3][4][5] Norgay's son Jamling Tenzing Norgay also climbed Everest in honor of his father with the famous Ed Viesturs and Araceli Segarra during the disastrous year of 1996.

Two Sherpas, Pemba Dorjie and Lhakpa Gelu, recently competed to see who could climb Everest from Basecamp the fastest. On May 23, 2003, Dorjie summited in 12 hours and 46 minutes. Three days later, Gelu beat his record by two hours, summiting in 10 hours 46 minutes. On May 21, 2004, Dorjie again improved the record by more than two hours with a total time of 8 hours and 10 minutes.[6]

On May 21, 2009, Apa Sherpa successfully summited Everest for the nineteenth time, breaking his own record for most successful ascents.[7] Perhaps the most famous Nepalese female mountaineer is Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepalese female climber who died during the descent. Another woman Sherpa who is well known is the two-time Everest summiteer Pemba Doma Sherpa, who died after falling from Lhotse on May 22, 2007.[8]

See also


  1. Oppitz, Michael (1968) (in German). Geschichte und Sozialordnung der Sherpa, Teil 1. Innsbrück and Munich, Germany: Universitäts-Verlag Wagner. ISBN 978-3703010392. 
  2. Kamler, K. (2004). Surviving the extremes: What happens to the body and mind at the limits of human endurance. New York: Penguin.
  3. Christchurch City Libraries, Famous New Zealanders. Retrieved 23 January 2007.
  4. Everest not as tall as thought Agençe France-Presse (on, 10 October 2005
  5. PBS, NOVA, First to Summit, Updated November 2000. Retrieved March 31, 2007
  6. "New Everest Speed Record upheld". Retrieved 2007-02-04. 
  7. "Super sherpa's new Everest record". BBC News. May 16, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-16. 
  8. "Famous female Nepal climber dead", BBC News, 23 May, 2007

External links

Template:Scheduled tribes of West Bengalaf:Sjerpa bg:Шерпа ca:Xerpa cs:Nepálský šerpa cy:Sherpafa:شرپاko:셰르파족 hi:शेर्पा id:Sherpalb:Sherpa ml:ഷെര്‍പ്പne:शेर्पा ja:シェルパ no:Sherpa nn:Sherpaerpt:Xerpas ro:Şerpaş ru:Шерпы simple:Sherpa fi:Šerpat sv:Sherpa tl:Sherpa ta:செர்ப்பா th:เชอร์ปา tr:Sherpa uk:Шерпа (народ) zh:夏尔巴人

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