Sherpas – Mountain People of the Himalayas

Sherpas are people who live in the northeastern part of Nepal, in the valleys of the Himalaya Mountains. There are about 40,000 sherpas , many of which live near Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain.They probably came to Nepal from Tibet in the early part of the 16th century. Sherpas still have many customs and traditions of the Tibetan people and they also dress in Tibetan clothes.

Most sherpas are Tibetan Buddhists. They have no written language and worship the mountains around them, which they view as the home of the gods. Mount Everest, for example, is called Chomolungma, the Mother of Gods.

At first the world did not know very much about the sherpas. They lived alone in their villages, traded goods and grew corn and potatoes. When the British started mountain climbing expeditions in the 20 th century they used sherpas as guides. With the help of yaks sherpas helped mountaineers bring their heavy loads into great heights.

Sherpa boy carrying a heavy load
Image: © Vyacheslav Argenberg /, CC BY 4.0,
via Wikimedia Commons

Over the years sherpas have been admired for their physical strength. They need less oxygen to breathe and can work better at high attitudes and in thin air. Even today sherpas rely on walking to move around. There are no cars or other vehicles.

In 1953 a sherpa named Tensing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, a mountaineer from New Zealand, became the first people to get to the top of Mount Everest, the world’s highest mountain.

Helping tourists get to the top of high mountains has become is a great source of income. While mountain climbers pay around $ 60,000 for an expedition, sherpas earn $2,000 and more on a trip. Some of them have even started their own business, or operate hotels and lodges for tourists. Even though sherpas know the region better than anyone else they risk their lives on expeditions. About a third of the people who have died trying to conquer Mount Everest have been sherpas.

In the last few decades many international organizations have helped sherpas improve their life. A foundation set up by Sir Edmund Hillary has brought health care and modern medicine to remote villages. Water power plants and hospitals have also been set up. The tourist industry has made life easier for most sherpas. Many have adapted to a more western way of life even though some of them still live as their ancestors did many centuries ago.

Tensing Norgay (left) and Sir Edmund Hillary
Photo from the collection of John Henderson
Image:Dirk Pons, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


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