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The Sherpa people moved into the Khumbu region from neighbouring Tibet some 400 years ago. They have their own language, which is different to Nepalese and is related to their Tibetan origins. 

Until the advent of mountain tourism their primary activities were trading with Tibet and farming.

There are roughly 6,000 Sherpas living in the region, spread out amongst about 20 villages.

The conservation oriented Sherpa culture has benefited the Khumbu region for centuries. They have managed their natural resources well. In particular they have looked after the forests, flora and fauna. In 1976 the Sagarmatha National Park was established, which encompasses the Khumbu valley, and much of its success can be attributed to the care the Sherpa people have taken over their homeland for generations.

As Tibetan Buddhists their traditional cultural and religious practices include the restriction of animal hunting and slaughtering as well as reverence of all living beings. Consequently there is an abundance of wildlife in the Khumbu, such as the rarely seen snow leopard, bears, musk deer and bearded vultures. 



The remote Khumbu valley lies directly below Mount Everest in Nepal. The Nepali word for Everest is Sagarmatha but the Sherpa people who live here call the highest mountain in the world Chongolongma, which translates as “Mother Goddess of the Earth”. 

The Khumbu, home of the Sherpa people, is an outstanding area of natural beauty, with deep valleys, high glaciers and steep majestic mountains. The region was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1979 by UNESCO. Many of the villages lie at between 3000 and 5000 metres. As well as Mount Everest (8,848 metres) and the neighbouring mountain of Lhotse (8,516 metres), the fourth highest mountain in the world, there are seven other mountains over 7,000 metres. 

It truly is mountainous terrain and it is therefore not surprising that there are no roads in the Khumbu. Even today, as roads do begin to encroach into the lower mountain areas below the Khumbu valley, it is still an 18 hour jeep ride from Kathmandu to the lower reaches of the region. It will then take you five days on foot to reach the higher villages! If you don’t fancy a rough jeep ride then the only other alternative is a 30 minute flight in a small place from Kathmandu to the village of Lukla which, at 2860 metres, has a very exciting landing strip. For westerners who are trekking to Everest Base Camp it is then still a further seven days walk or more to the higher villages and upper reaches of the Khumbu valley. 

This really is a challenging area in which to live and work, but also one of the most beautiful and spectacular in the world. 



Over the last fifty years the Khumbu valley has seen tremendous growth in the mountain tourism industry of trekking and climbing, with the biggest draw being of course Mount Everest. Tourist numbers have grown from the few hundreds who visited the region annually in the 1970s to 50,000 in recent years.

Many Sherpas, accustomed to living at high altitude, make a living assisting climbers in ascending the highest mountains in the world. Some are tremendously accomplished as mountaineers in their own right. For some this has been financially very successful, for others, sadly it has cost them their lives. 

Tourism has both benefited the region and caused it problems. As visitor numbers have grown, inevitably the demand for tourist accommodation has grown too. As well as assisting climbers on expeditions, many Sherpas also own mountain lodges, offering food and accommodation to trekkers and climbers who are on their way up and down the Khumbu valley. 

There is a huge range of accommodation available in terms of size and standard. At lower altitudes, in the small villages, between Lukla (2,860m) and Namche Bazaar (3,440) an overnight room will vary in price from $5 up to $200 in one of the few “luxury” lodges. However in the higher villages, above Namche Bazaar, the provision of quality accommodation becomes more difficult due to the absence of mains power or firewood. Plus the remoteness of the region makes logistical supply both challenging and expensive. However some lodges have adapted to try and meet Western demand, offerin sit on toilets and showers. However some of these adaptations have not been successful due to frost damage - yet another of the challenges faced by those living and working at such high altitudes.

There are numerous small shops in the region lining the trails. Often having a shop front of only a few metres these stalls are aimed primarily at trekkers and climbers. In general they offer bottled water, carbonated soft drinks, beer, canned fruit juice, chocolate and biscuits. 

And of course everything that is sold in the shops and the lodges, not to mention all the building materials for constructing the lodges, have to somehow get to the Khumbu from Kathmandu. These goods usually arrive in Lukla by plane or helicopter, but they then have to be transported up the valley either on foot on the back of a porter, or by yak. Nothing is easy here. 

It is a harsh but very beautiful landscape, inhabited and looked after by the Sherpa people, the custodians of this region, whose culture and warm hospitality make it the welcoming place that it is for all tourists who visit. 

About the Khumbu: News
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