Sherpa Culture

You might have guessed by now, I am a bit smitten with Sherpas and their lifestyle. Here is a little bit about why.

Sherpas are a clan or tribe of people, like the Masai of Africa or the Suquamish Natives of Washington State. They call themselves a Buddhist caste of Nepal, but I hate the word caste for its connotations,  particularly when Nepal is still shaking the caste system and the Buddhist castes have lower standing than the predominant Hindu castes in the country.  So I think of the Sherpa as a unique culture of people who has been incorrectly labeled as “people who are good at carrying things up mountains.” They are really so much more than that. There are many Sherpas who have never carried anything up a mountain, and yes there are plenty who have set records in the high mountains of the world.

Ok, now that we’ve established who I am talking about, I have to say, I love Sherpa culture. There are so many intricate and interesting things that they embrace as part of their own. Here are a few of my favorites.
They are Tibetan Buddhist. This religion is so incredibly beautiful both visually and in its teachings. I’ve been told that no war has ever been fought with Buddhism as a pretense. Good start, good karma. Think peace, acceptance, shared burden and respect for everything living and you get the gist. It’s pretty easy to like, but they’ll never push it on you. It’s there if you want to take it up though and they’re happy to show you the rituals and their reasons as they happen.
They are happy. Yes, everyone has moments of whining, but in general, these people work very hard and have very hard lives, but they are always smiling, joking, playful and happy.
They have very strong family ties, but beyond family, they have “cousin brothers” and “village sisters.” A cousin brother is someone who may or may not be an actual cousin. A village sister is someone who is from the same village you grew up in. Generally, if you know a person reasonably well, you can call him your cousin. If both you and he are Sherpa, it’s probably true anyway. And they even call people they don’t know well “brother” and “sister” out of respect. Enchanting. Their language has different words for uncle on mother’s side and uncle on father’s side, because it is important to know how you are related to everyone you meet. I just read today that there are about 3000 Sherpas in the Khumbu region (the area around the Everest Highway). I am pretty sure they all know each other because they make time and effort to know each other.
They are naturally hospitable. It is their nature to invite anyone who passes into their home. They welcome you in and offer you everything they have. Asking for something as a guest is not polite or necessary.

Sherpa food is awesome! It has some curries, like the rest of Nepali food, but mostly it has cold-weather food:  Sherpa stew, momos (steamed meat or vegetable dumplings), riki  kur (potato pancakes with yak butter) and thukthan (curried noodle soup) are all staples. All of them range in flavor and ingredients based on what the host has to offer.  
One of my favorite things that has happened so far on this trip: Our guide, Ang Tsering lives in Ghat, which is on the Everest Highway between Namche and Lukla. Yesterday as we passed through we stopped in to his family home and his mom made us riki kur with garlic chives, Himalayan salt and yak butter spread. Then she offered a bowl of rilduk (potato dumplings in yak cheese and garlic broth.


It was amazing, but the best part was that we, as Westerners were invited to the hearth, the kitchen heart, with a wood stove and allowed to sit and eat there with the family. Usually guests are served at the tables in the lodge-room or common area. Sherpas are allowed into the hearth when they want. It was such a wonderful feeling to be invited in as well.