Sherpa are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalayas. Their origins are under controversial study.
Most Sherpa people live in the Nepal's eastern regions; however, some live farther west in the Rolwaling valley and in the Helambu region north of Kathmandu. Pangboche is the Sherpas' oldest village in Nepal. The Sherpa language belongs to the south branch of the Tibeto-Burman languages. This language is however separate and not intelligible for Lhasa Tibetan speakers.
Nepal estimated there were 150,000 Sherpas in 2001. The number of Sherpas immigrating to the West has also significantly increased in recent years, especially to the United States. With a population of about 2500 Sherpas, New York City has the largest Sherpa Community in the U.S.A. The 2001 Nepal Census recorded 154,622 Sherpas in that country, of which 92.83% were Buddhists, 6.26% were Hindus, 0.63% were Christians and 0.20% were Bön.
According to oral Buddhist traditions, the initial Tibetan migration, was a search for beyul (Shangri-La). The Sherpa were nomadic Tibetans and then primarily settled in the Solukhumbu District (khumbu) district and then gradually moved further westward. Salt trade occurred along these routes. In oral history, four groups migrated at different times giving rise to four main Sherpa clans, Minyagpa, Thimmi, Sertawa and Chawa. There are over 20 clans today which are sub-groups of the four. About 1840 Sherpa ancestors migrated from Kham. Mahayana Buddhism religious conflict may have contributed to the migration. Sherpa migrants traveled through Ü and Tsang, before crossing the Himalaya.
By the 1800s, Khumbu Sherpa people maintained autonomy within the newly formed Nepali state. In the 1960's, among growing tensions between China and India, Nepali government influence on the Sherpa people grew. In 1976, Khumbu became a national park and tourism became a major economic force.
According to Oppitz (1968), Sherpas migrated from the Kham region in eastern Tibet to Nepal within the last 300–400 years. On the other hand, Gautam (1994) concluded that Sherpa migrated from Tibet approximately 600 years ago, through the Nangpala pass. It is presumed that the group of people from Kham region, east of Tibet, was called as " Shyar Khamba" (People who came from eastern Kham), and the place where they settled was called " Syar Khumbu". As the time passed the " Shyar Khamba", inhabitants of shyar Khumbu, were called as Sherpa. A recent Nepal Ethnographic Museum (2001) study postulated that Sherpas were not migrants who crossed the border of Tibet to Nepal. This is because the modern political entity of Nepal was not in existence then. Only after the unification by P.N. Shah in 1768, then the Himalayan region of present day Nepal became an integral part of the kingdom of Nepal. Prior to this, there was no separate political identity of Nepal and Tibet. Sherpas, like some other indigenous Kirat Nepalese tribes, would move from one place to another place of the Himalayan region as Alpine pastoralists and traders, since ancient times.