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Embarking on a trek to Everest Base Camp is not only an incredible adventure, but it is also an opportunity to immerse oneself in the unique culture and lifestyle of the Sherpa people who call this region home.
Who are the Sherpas?
The Sherpa people are a Himalayan ethnic group who originally migrated from Tibet. Their migration route followed the Tibet-Nepal salt trade route, and they eventually settled in the Solukhumbu District of Nepal. Over time, the Sherpas have evolved to become expert mountain climbers and are known for their incredible abilities to navigate high altitudes and low oxygen levels.
Sherpa History and Culture
The Sherpas have a rich and fascinating history that dates back hundreds of years. They migrated to Nepal in four waves, and these groups later became the four primary clans in Solukhumbu. These clans have since divided into many subclans called ru.
The Sherpa people follow Buddhism, particularly the Nyingmapa practice, which has been passed down orally through a loose network of lay practitioners. Animism, the worship of nature, is also an important aspect of their religion. The Sherpas have a deep respect for the mountains and nature in general, and their day-to-day religious affairs are presided over by Lamas, Buddhist spiritual leaders. Gompas, prayer halls for villages or monasteries, are an important aspect of the Sherpa religion. Many Gompas and monasteries are scattered along the Everest Base Camp Trek, providing a unique opportunity to experience their spiritual traditions firsthand.
Sherpa Lifestyle and Food
Sherpa cuisine is simple yet delicious, with a focus on starchy foods, vegetables, and occasional meat. However, the Sherpa religion prohibits the killing or slaughtering of animals in the Khumbu Region, so meat is either brought from Kathmandu or villages below Lukla for their consumption. One popular dish is Sherpa stew or Shakpa, a soupy noodle cuisine made with homemade noodles, dried or fresh meat, and locally grown vegetables with salt and spices. Another popular food is T. momo or Tingmo, a unique dumpling cooked in Sherpa households. Sherpas also have a special tea called Tibetan tea or Su Chya, which is served with salt and butter and is taken at all meals throughout the day. Rice beer, called Chhyang, is an alcoholic drink enjoyed by Sherpas.
What is the main occupation in the Everest region?
Tourism is the major source of income for the Everest region, particularly along the trekking route. However, animal husbandry and agriculture are also important sources of income in other areas.
Major Festivals of the Everest Region
The Everest region is home to some of the most interesting and amazing festivals that provide a window into the local culture and traditions. Here are the top three festivals:
Mani Rimdu Festival
This festival is a celebration of the foundation of Buddhism by Guru Rinpoche in Tibet. It is celebrated in the monasteries of Tengboche, Chiwong, and Thame and falls in October or November each year. The festival lasts for 19 days, but only three days are open for public participation. The main attraction of the festival is the masked dances, or Chham, which represent the symbolic defeat of demons, chased away or converted into Protector of Dharma. Monks also perform a fire ritual called Jinsak to relieve all harm in the world.
This festival honors the birth of Guru Rinpoche and is celebrated in Khumjung, Phakding, Namche, Pangboche, and Thame of the Everest region. It usually falls in June or July and promotes religious values and brings communities together. It is a four-day festival when villages are decorated with new prayer flags. Monks perform traditional mask dances and fire rituals. Visiting each other’s houses for a feast and having fun drinking and dancing is an important part of the festival.
Gyalpo Lhosar is celebrated by Sherpa ethnic group and marks the beginning of Tibetan New Year. It is celebrated in April. For the New Year celebration, several different dishes are served, such as Guthunk – a kind of dumpling, a special soup consisting of a combination of meat, yak cheese, rice, wheat, and vegetables. Monks or Lamas chant mantras for light touches to be passed through the crowd. Traditional dance is also an important part of the Lhosar and represents the clash between god and demon.