Sherpas are probably the best-known ethnic group of Nepal. They are famous for their strength and adaptation to life at high altitudes. Often they are pictured as nearly superhuman, that can run up mountains with infinitely large loads on their backs. But who are those mysterious people really?
The Sherpa are only a very small group of people in Nepal, totalling about 35,000 people. They mostly live in Central and Eastern Nepal, mainly in the Everest region. Sherpas are not originally from Nepal, but moved there from Eastern Tibet about 500 years ago. As most Tibetan people, Sherpas are well adapted to living at high altitudes.
Being Tibetan, the Sherpas brought Buddhism with them and built many beautiful monasteries in Nepal. Buddhist religion dictates to care for other living creatures, and so Sherpas are extremely warm and helpful people. You will experience their hospitality when travelling through their villages. Not only their religion, but also language and culture are similar to their Tibetan brothers.
Sherpas were not traditionally mountaineering people. Many Himalayan peaks are considered sacred in Buddhism, and climbing them is seen as blasphemy. When the Westerners arrived to conduct the first expeditions about 100 years ago however, the Sherpas embraced mountaineering as part of their culture.
Since 1921, they helped at and led many large mountain expeditions, among others to Everest. The reputation they earned for this now lets them charge high fees for their services, and most Sherpas have made it to relative wealth – they no longer work as porters, but own lodges and trekking agencies.