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The people from the East: the Sherpas of Everest

The Everest Region of Nepal makes it into every trekker’s bucket list and remains a reverie for the rest. The river of fanfare associated with this region understandably springs from the highest peak in the world- the Everest. The region is second only to the Annapurna in terms of popularity and number of trekkers. Additionally, the Everest region houses Sagarmatha National Park, a natural world heritage site and home to diverse flora and wildlife. Anyone who has taken an Everest cultural trek can affirm that this terrain has much more to offer than just picture-perfect captures fit for an adventure magazine or an acclamation worthy ‘National Geographic’ moment.

What makes any place thrive and come to life is surely its people. The Sherpas are the lifeline and soul of the Everest region. Westerners often recognize ‘Sherpa’ as a profession devoted to offering guided summit and tasked with the arduous porting of essential supplies up ahead from the base camp of Mount Everest, but this couldn’t be any more misguided. The Sherpas, descending from Tibet have been indigenous to this region for more than 500 years. They mainly reside in the southern footholds of Everest in the Solukhumbu district of Nepal. Sherpas also reside in the valleys and villages surrounding the area and also constitute a substantial portion of the urban population in Kathmandu. Honesty, hard work and responsibility are the virtues of this community that dwell in the mountains.

The Himalayas are central to the Sherpa community. It has not only remained their home, but also the representation of the austere but a content Sherpa way of life. The cultural dimension of the Sherpa community is just as fascinating as the action-packed trails. The Sherpas, avid followers of Buddhism are religious people and have a well-knit community. The monastery stands as the pillar of harmony and the heart of their culture. It is the sacred string that garlands each Sherpa family into a community. Also known for their warm hospitality, the Sherpas know how to make any visitor feel welcomed. Offering ‘khada’, a scarf made of silk, figurative for respect and friendship is the Sherpa way of greeting. And the Sherpa tea, churned out of fresh Yak milk only makes you feel more warm and welcomed.

When it comes to reveling, the Sherpas have their own style. Mani Rimdu is a major festival of the Sherpas. Celebrated following the full moon just after the grandest Nepalese festival of Dashain in autumn, it is a commemoration of the founding of Buddhism in Tibet by Guru Rinpoche. It is believed with fervor that Buddhism is recreated with every annual celebration. It is a 19-day elaborate ceremony observed in the communal monasteries in the Khumbu and Solu regions of the district. A major witness of this festival is the Tengboche Monastery, the largest in the Khumbu region placed at an altitude of 3,867 meters and in the midst of the Sagarmatha National Park. Presenting masked dances, plays accompanied by traditional music and attire, each performance recites an interesting story and most importantly reiterates the teachings of Buddha. The dances considered sacred, are exclusively performed during this festival and not otherwise performed for the sake of entertainment. The plays representative of victory of good over evil, feature symbolic demons being oppressed and warded off. Lhosar is another major Buddhist cultural festivity that marks the new year on the lunar calendar, which falls on the month of February. With the onset of spring, the Khumbu region bounces back to life after a harsh winter and the Sherpas who made an escapade to the lowlands with the herd of yaks, return back home to reunite with the older family members who had stayed back. The New year is celebrated with much revelry, feasting and merrymaking.

It may be easy to generalize every Sherpa or a Sherpini (a female Sherpa) to be a mountain guide, but it is far from true. Although it is a Sherpa who has climbed Mt Everest the most number of times, every Sherpa is not a mountaineer and definitely not a guide or a porter. A growing number of Sherpas are now in different professions, business and even politics. However, they shall ever remain an integral part of the Everest region.

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Himalayan Glacier

Himalayan Glacier

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