The Sherpas migrated to Nepal, Solu-Khumbu four or five centuries ago from eastern Tibet and nowadays represent Nepal’s most famous ethnic group. Their name, locally pronounced ‘sharwa’, means ‘people from the East’. They still maintain the highest permanent settlements in the world, up to 4,700 meters , which accounts for their legendary hardiness at altitude.
Before the 1830s, until the arrival of potatoes cultivation enabled a settled lifestyle, the Sherpas were nomads, driving their yaks to pasture in Tibet and wintering in Nepal. Cross-border trade is currently mostly one-way, with everything from butter, noodles, and meat to electronics, carpets and cement making its way south from Tibet. However, such commercialism does not mean Sherpas are not devout Buddhists, and most villages of note support a Gompa (Monastery) and a few monks/nuns. With the beginning of the first expeditions, the Sherpas worked as high-altitude porters, giving them the reputation of ‘tigers of the snow’ and at the same time teaching them climbing techniques.