Sherpa - Orientation

Identification. The Sherpas are one of the Bhotia, the Tibetan-related ethnic groups inhabiting several high valleys in northeastern Nepal. They practice the Nying ma pa, or "old" version of Tibetan Buddhism. The name "Sherpa," Tibetan shar pa, means "easterner," referring to their origin in the eastern Tibetan region of Khams.

Location. The main present homeland of the Sherpas is Solu-Khumbu in the northern part of the Sagarmatha District in eastern Nepal. The main valleys settled by Sherpas are the Khumbu, Pharak, Shorong (Nepali Solu), Arun, and Rolwaling. There are also permanent Sherpa settlements in the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, and in the Indian hill towns of Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Siliguri, and others. Most Sherpa villages in Nepal are at elevations between 2,400 and 3,600 meters, on the southern slopes of the Himalayan range, concentrated around the base of the Everest massif.

Demography. An estimate of Sherpa population places them at about 20,000 or 25,000, mostly living in the Solu-Khumbu area, but with colonies of several thousand each in Kathmandu and Darjeeling. They thus constitute less than 1 percent of the total population of Nepal. It appears that Population in Solu-Khumbu is remaining stable or, if anything, declining, partly due to out-migration to the towns.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Sherpa language is a dialect of Tibetan, and thus it is a part of the Tibeto-Burman Family of languages, to which many of the other languages of Nepal also belong. All Sherpas speak Nepali, the official language of Nepal. While there is no Sherpa writing system, many Sherpas are literate in Tibetan, Nepali, and in some cases Hindi and English as well.

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