For people who don’t know, Nepal is just a small country located in South Asia between India and China. But for those that do know, Nepal is a country so expansive in its variety that it transcends the notion of big and small, a country so beautiful that you will keep coming back for more and a country with such depth that even after 10 visits you would have barely scratched the surface.
Now let’s try to understand why Nepal is one of the most amazing places on earth and why Nepalis are the coolest people. And it all starts with where Nepal is located. No matter how you look at it, Nepal is always located at the boundary points, at the fringe where big worlds meet. It is at the boundary points, yes, but it has also been far removed and different from those worlds. It is this dichotomy that makes Nepal the awesome place it is. (Warning: The following treatment has a lot of rambling thoughts and hence can be unfruitful to those pressed for time. Read only if you have the time to enjoy the finer things in life.)
Nepal’s neighbors are none other than the upcoming superpowers of the world: the Celestial Empire of China to the north and Hindustan to the south. And while both these countries are making major inroads into the world power structure, or perhaps because of it, Nepal has managed to remain distant from all this frivolous quest for power and is still an underdeveloped country with a falling Human Development Index ranking.
Even though these two countries seem equidistant from Nepal, it is closer to its southern neighbor both culturally and politically. Also, the grapevine has it that the powers that be have a gentleman’s agreement that Nepal is under the sphere of influence centered at the South Block in New Delhi. However, Chinese influence has seen a marked increase, especially along the northern frontier. Also, while China and India are the big boys on the block, the NATO boys aren’t exactly absent and have a considerable influence too.
What does this mean for you?
While the political masses to the north and south of Nepal are only recently preparing for a standoff, the tectonic masses have been in a collision for over 70 million years now. To put that number in perspective, that was about the time dinosaurs were dying out and our ancestors looked like lemurs.
It was perhaps a fortuitous collision for they gave rise to what is now the highest mountain range on earth, the Himalayas. In addition to being the highest mountains on earth and dictating the climate of a subcontinent, the Himalayas is also the stuff of wet dreams for adventurers worldwide.
A ‘minor footnote’ to this momentous erection was that the Indian subcontinent became a fertile land with plenty of rainfall while Tibet became barren and dry. Also, since Nepal is smack in the middle of a fault line, minor earthquakes are a part of life here with a big one occurring every 100 years or so.
What does this mean for you?
Here are some interesting facts that related to the geology of Nepal:
Because of these geological forces, Nepal is the country with the highest mountain on earth:
Mt. Everest only knew she was the tallest of them all in the year 1852 when The Survey of India measured the height at a staggering 8848 m. She went by the name Peak XV then. But the 8848 m height is now long gone as a more accurate height has been measured. This happened in the year 1999 when American Survey managed to anchor in the summit rock a receptor for satellite signals from GPS. Since then the height has been corrected to 8,850 m. But it is still not the highest in the solar system. That crown goes to Olympus Mons of Mars that measures well above 22,000 m.
Having said that Sagarmatha as it is known in Nepali is still growing at a rate of 4mm per year. Remember the plates? They are still pushing against each other! So maybe after some 100 million years or so Mt Everest can be the highest in the entire solar system. But it’s not that straightforward.
Interestingly in Nepal, mountains less than 7000 m are not even worthy of names. There are numerous high scaling mountains in Nepal that easily beat so-called “high” mountains of other countries and still don’t have names! Not bragging, just mentioning ;-)
Contrast that to the Seven Summits, highest peaks of each continent. Not a single one crosses the 7000 m mark except of course Everest. When it comes to maintaining high standards Everest is certainly the boss. At 8,850 m it is very hard to argue against it. Aconcagua (6,961 m) is the second highest mountain of all the seven summits. That’s a difference of 1,889 meters!”
Mount Everest is also where most records have been set. From highest altitude helicopter landing to marriage at the top of Everest, this giant has seen it all. Everest has also set the record for the highest altitude brawl! Basically, anything that happens in Everest is a record in itself. Go play a Gameboy at the top of Everest and voila! You have created a record. Go moonwalk on the summit someday and get your name in the record books.
You might think climbing mountains in Nepal is an easy job because of the number of people who have climbed Mt. Everest alone. But let the numbers speak for themselves. Ever since the first attempt at conquering Everest in 1921 the total number of deaths is recorded to be 248 as of the December 2013. Hence, on average 4.4 climbers have died on Everest each year since 1921.
How to see Everest:
How not to see Everest
Ecozones are the largest divisions of the earth’s landmass based on the distribution of living beings. Basically, they are huge areas where organisms have been evolving in relative isolation from other ecozones. And guess what, Nepal lies at the boundary of the Palearctic and Indo-Malaya ecozones. As such, for a country that covers but 0.01% of earth’s land surface area, Nepal has 6391 species of flowering plants (2.76% of the world), 534 ferns (5.15%), 185 mammals (3.96%), 874 birds (8.90%) and 651 butterflies (3.72%).
What does this mean for you?
Some of the interesting animals of Nepal are:
1. Snow Leopard
In terms of wildlife, Nepal has some of the best to offer. High above in the Himalayas, the elusive snow leopards are a perfect jewel to the beautiful Himalayas. If you ever see this beautiful creature consider yourself blessed as they are very rare and only the very lucky ones get to catch a glimpse of this magical creature. Despite being highly endangered one of them seems to have made it to the Kung Fu Panda movie. All in all, Nepal is thought to harbor 300-500 snow leopards and is an important country for the future of these magical creatures.
If you do plan a trek specifically in hopes of seeing a snow leopard then the Annapurna Circuit Trek and Kanchenjunga Trek are the best two treks. Just make sure to pack in the low of luck and a lot of patience.
2. One-horned Rhinoceros
One-horned Rhinoceros is quite a celebrity in Nepal. Surely being in the endangered animals list helps, but it’s not just that. The sheer beauty of these animals is hard to ignore. They feature prominently in animated tv ads for cement factories, bank etc. Also, the Nepalese national cricket team is symbolically called the Rhinos and the cricket association of Nepal (CAAN) has got a rhino as its emblem. The first Prime minister of Nepal under the newly adopted Constitution of Nepal, K.P Oli, has made special efforts to mention how special these animals are. Here’s what he said in his own words, “Rhinos are not born in America, Europe or Australia. To see a Rhino he has to come to Nepal. If a man hasn’t seen a rhino in his life, what has he seen? Half of his life is wasted. What has he done earning money, does he eat dollar, euro?”. The Gaida speech is quite famous amongst Nepalese. By the way, Rhinos are called Gaida in Nepali.
Rhinos are targeted by the poachers for their horns which are believed to have medicinal qualities. It is believed to cure snake bites, hallucinations, typhoid, food poisoning and many other disorders. Also, these horny rhinos are commonly believed to be prescribed as an aphrodisiac. The population of these one-horned rhinos was alarmingly low in the early 20th century. There were about only 600 individuals surviving in the wild. Thanks to rigorous conservation efforts the number has grown considerably. In fact, as of 2015, there were 645 greater one-horned rhinos in the Terai arc landscape of Nepal alone.
Nepalese relate so well to the greater one-horned Rhinos being Nepali that many argued Rhinos should replace the Holy cow as the national animal of Nepal.
Are you are here in Nepal to see these one horned Rhinos? The best place is Royal Chitwan National park. There you will get to see these armored beasts even outside the jungles. Just a little luck is enough to see these beautiful animals as opposed to the elusive Snow Leopards which requires a lot more luck and patience.
3. Himalayan Monal
More famously known as Danfe in Nepali, this guy is the dandiest of the high altitude birds with its iridescent plumage. Among the 876 species of birds found in Nepal, this colorful bird takes the top position. It is also the national bird of Nepal and loves to fill the morning air with its far carrying high pitched whistle. Like other high altitude birds, they are easier to see during the autumn and winter as they descend to lower altitudes then and go about in large parties.
The Annapurna region and Everest region are the best places to see this colorful bird. Make sure you have a good camera and fire away! You will have to get pretty high, however, as these birds will only be available after the 3300 m mark and up to altitudes of 4570 m.
125 distinct languages crammed into such a small country is perhaps one of the reasons why nothing ever gets done here in Nepal for everything is just lost in translation. Jokes aside, the absolute diversity comes to light when you consider that China which is 65 times larger has just 2.5 times more languages than Nepal and India which is 22 times larger and is considered a rather diverse country has only 3.6 times more languages than Nepal!! And again this has all got to do with the meeting of the two worlds and also the fact that Nepal is a very rugged country which limits communication and movement.
However, most people here speak and understand Nepali which is not only the lingua franca but also the official language of Nepal.
What does this mean for you?
Even though Nepal is at the crossroads of the Indian and Sino-Tibetan civilizations, there is limited influence from the Sino-Tibetan side. Also, as the world is becoming much smaller and the culture more homogenous, the whole concept of a discrete civilization has started to become frivolous. Hence, we will leave the deep stuff to the scholars and focus on the little things that define our civilizations. Also, rather than contrasting the Indian and Sino-Tibetan Civilization, it will be helpful if we first look at the western and Nepali way of doing things.
Shedding off the fear to be politically incorrect, I think it is fair enough to say that while the west values objectivity and straightforwardness, we Nepalis are a rather emotional and polite bunch. While the west measures, we feel it. While the west values individuality, we value communal feel good and conformity. While the major currency in the west is cash, here it is karma. Okay, now that went a bit too overboard, but you get the point!!
Also on a lighter note, it will perhaps be okay to say that while the west sits in the loo, we squat; while the west uses toilet paper we use our hands. Oh, that water bit will make sense once you try out our food. If you use toilet paper the morning after a scrumptious Nepali meal, there is a genuine possibility that it could burn!! Also, while the west sits on chairs and eats with spoons and forks, we sit on the floor and eat with our hands. And no we don’t use the same hand we use in the loo. Left is for the loo and right is for eating.
As far as the differences between the Indian and Sino-Tibetan way of doing things here in Nepal, the most important difference is perhaps the level of boisterousness between the two. Most of the Sino-Tibetan people who happen to inhabit the higher parts of the country are generally more lively and more open. It is also interesting to note that in this culture women have a higher place than cultures influenced by the Indian civilization. They are also more receptive to flirting and are much more straightforward about feelings than groups influenced by the Indian civilization.
But then again please note that these are all politically incorrect generalizations. Reality may be very different. :P
What does this mean for you?
That great Tibetologist David Snellgrove astutely explains the difference between Hinduism and Buddhism in his book Buddhist Himalayan:“Hinduism is perhaps like that characteristic Indian tree, the banyan, which drops roots from its branches and goes on growing where it can. Even when the first roots die, it is still the same tree that goes on growing.
If Hinduism is like the banyan, Buddhism is represented by the pipul. It has scattered its seeds abroad in different countries and these have taken root in different soils. The seed has been self-abnegation, of which the philosophical counterpart is universal non-substantiality, and the trunk has been a sound monastic order.”
This simile is actually very deep and since we have only fathomed one-third of it, we will leave it at that and come to more bite-sized things.
First, let’s start with the similarities between Buddhism and Hinduism. Both religions believe in reincarnation, karma, and enlightenment. Also while most people these days consider these concepts to be Buddhist, all of these concepts come from Hinduism. On the flip side of things, at least in Nepal, Hinduism has actually inherited a lot of Buddhist structures and deities as their own. Also, the way these religions spread shows the inherent tolerant nature ingrained in both. Unlike the Abrahamic religions which actively tried to decimate local faiths during their expansion, both Hinduism and Buddhism incorporated local beliefs into their larger philosophical framework. Hence, animistic (or paganistic, if you fancy that word) elements were absorbed rather than destroyed. As such, a lot of such elements still dot the cultural landscape of Nepal.
That much for stuff that will never come in handy during your travel. Now let’s get real. The way you differentiate a Hindu shrine from a Buddhist one is that while Hindu temples are based either on the Pagoda or the Shikhara style, Buddhist shrines are based on the stupa.
Interestingly, a lot of Hindu shrines also figure erotic carvings while Buddhist ones are big on scary figures. This becomes still more interesting when you consider that here in Nepal, Hindu societies are much more sexually closed than Buddhist ones. Hindu society sure has come a long way from composing the Kamasutra to treating sex as taboo.
Also, while the mascots of Hinduism are the pot smoking Babaji, the mascots of Buddhism are monks with shaved heads. Okay, Babajis aren’t the only mascots, there are Pujaris and Pundits too, but they are the coolest. The common denominator for all these people is perhaps the curious custom of putting a tika which is unique to Hinduism. Tika is basically some sort of color smeared on the forehead. They come in various shapes and sizes and signify the sect a Hindu devotee belongs to.
Taking this theme of the Hinduism as the cool religion further, consider some of the Hindu gods:
Sure, not all Hindu gods are so indulgent, but the fact that a religion idolizes gods of such character perhaps says something about the coolness or otherwise of a religion. On the Buddhist side of things, we have Lord Buddha in his meditative posture; Manjushree with his sword that cuts through ignorance; Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion; and Vajrapani, the fearsome figure that epitomizes the Buddha’s power. Yes, in front of the colorful Hindu gods, the Buddhist ones look like a sorry and serious bunch.
Before you come to the conclusion that Hinduism is the way to go, consider that Hindu gods ask for animal sacrifice and some of the sacrifices happen in such scale that they attract a lot of media attention. While it isn’t much different from the Turkey massacre that occurs at Thanksgiving, consider this that no such violent rituals exist under Buddhism. However, just like other religions, Buddhism has had its share of violent elements characterized most recently in Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Also consider the fact that Hinduism has codified the caste system, the single most unjust way to classify human beings that not only hinders the mobility of men but also the progress of a civilization. And finally, we have the weird system of untouchability in which select groups of people are not allowed to touch the food and water of other people and are also generally not allowed to enter the house. People who are thus discriminated could be people of low caste, menstruating women or even someone who has had death in her family recently.
Despite the similarities and differences, Hinduism and Buddhism are so intertwined in Nepal that sometimes it is hard to separate the two. For example, Hindu shrines shrug shoulders with Buddhist stupas and pilgrims of both religion pay homage at the same site. Indeed just like the banyan and peepal tree that are always found together at resting places (called chautari) throughout Nepal, these two religions have lived in harmony for a long period of time here.
What does this mean for you?
Hindu temples are usually closed to foreigners and photography is usually strictly forbidden. Buddhist places of worship, on the other hand, are much more welcoming to foreigners.
However the best part of religion no matter which is definitely the festivals. Here is a rundown of 3 really cool ones:
Indra, according to the Hindu scriptures is the king of heaven. Indra Jatra is a street festival marked by the dance of deities and demons (masked men), display of sacred images in honor of Indra. After all, a king has to be entertained. Alongside this festival is another festival by the name of Kumari Jatra; a chariot procession of the living goddess Kumari.
The festival starts with the erection of the Yosin or Linga, a pole from which banner of Indra is unfurled. Family members remember the deceased in the past year and offer fruits and other edible items.
Indra Jatra is the only time when Swet Bhairav and Akash Bhairav are displayed to the public. Shwet Bhairav in a way has become a pop culture icon featuring in numerous merchandises. The angry face of Shwet Bhairav must be one of the favorites for many designers. One famous custom is where alcohol is poured through a pipe protruding out of the Bhairav’s mouth and devotees tussle to get a drop of it. Not to get drunk but to receive blessings in form of alcohol, although getting drunk is often a by-product. Akash Bhairav is the one in Indra Chowk not in Basantapur Durbar Square. Another interesting custom is the Pulu Kisi dance. Kisi in Newari language means an elephant. Pulu Kisi is believed to be the carrier of Indra himself. Young lads come under a clothed white elephant structure and dance through the streets of Kathmandu.
Indra Jatra is quite a happening festival. Sometimes a little too happening. Nowadays this festival has been picking up news for brawls and ill manners especially because of drunk youngsters. So you might wanna be a bit careful while witnessing Indra Jatra. Jatra means festival in Nepali by the way.
Indra Jatra is celebrated for a period of 8 days starting from the 12th day of bright fortnight (Shukla Paksha) of the month Yanlā (corresponds to September) in the Nepal Sambat calendar. If you are looking forward to this festival then here are the dates for the coming three years:
2018: September 21, Friday
*The dates may vary by a day or two.
Head straight over to Basantapur Durbar Square and the surrounding areas to witness this festival
Yartung is celebrated high up in the Himalayas by Buddhist communities. Just when the monsoon ends and the skies start opening up revealing the blue beauty within is when the Yartung is celebrated. Traditionally the festival was held in celebration of the return of horses and other livestock from high pastures. It is the biggest festival in the trans himalayan region and rightly so. Yartung is celebrated with great energy in the Mustang district. Yartung is basically 4 days of debauchery and daredevilry. It is characterized by drinking, merrymaking, archery contest and horse race. The horse race, however, is the main attraction of the festival. Riders from surrounding villages gather and take part in horse races, one of which requires the riders to pick up a scarf with money inside it from the ground while the horse gallops at crazy speeds. It is a sight to behold. This is the time when the riders showcase their strength and horse riding skills. Foreigners love this event and surround the area for photographs. There are some great snaps of this festival like the one below.
Yartung starts from the kingdom of Lo Manthang. The kings and the villagers there all gather to celebrate this festival. There are other festivals like Yak blood drinking festival and Mani Rimdu all celebrated with great vigor by the himalayan people. But Yartung takes the cake.
If you wish to witness this festival then here are the dates for the next five years: 18 August 2016; 6 September 2017; 26 August 2018; 15 August 2019 and 2 September, 2020. The dates may differ by a day or two. Head over to Mustang and witness this awesome festival in its entirety. Also make sure you have good stamina for lots of booze.
Who doesn’t love some color in their life? Holi obliges everybody who loves color as it is the festival of colors. Yet another Hindu festival in the list and definitely the most entertaining one. Colors and water are splashed onto other people. This festival is all about having fun with colors and water, that’s it!
It does have historical significance. According to Hindu scriptures, there was a king by the name of Hiranyakashipu who was given a boon that he was indestructible. He became increasingly arrogant and began to think of himself as a god. His son, Prahlada, however, did not worship him and instead was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. The king wanted to kill his own son but his previous attempts were thwarted by Pralhad believe in Lord Vishnu. So the king tricked Prahlada into sitting with the king’s sister, Holika in a fire pyre. Holika was immune to fire but however, this time around she burned and the boy survived. Holi is named after Holika and people play with colors to celebrate her death.
It is somewhat like La Tomatina of Spain where people get crazy with tomatoes. Here in Nepal people go crazy on the streets playing with water and colors; Holi in Terai belt is particularly fun. Nowadays, in city areas events are held at different locations and people come together to celebrate. Should you be in Nepal during the Holi you will definitely not want to miss this one.
This thing not only goes to show the main process that dictates the climate of Nepal but is also a good way to figure out how cold it is going to be while you are trekking in Nepal. The altitude here basically squeezes the climate of an entire hemisphere from the equator to the poles into a 200-kilometer wide cross-section. To put that in perspective, the variety that comes from 10,000 kilometers of expanse or 90° of latitude is squeezed here within 200 kilometers or 2° of latitude. Hence if you are in Nepal, it is possible to walk from the tropical heats of the equator to the frigid cold of the poles in a matter of a few days. There are three major reasons for the variety of climates that are found in Nepal: altitude, altitude, and altitude. Temperature goes down by about 5.5°C for every 1,000 meters climb when the air is humid, and by about 10°C for every 1,000 meters climb when the air is dry. The average is about 6.4°C/1,000 meters. So between the lowest point in Nepal at 70m and the highest point at 8,848 meters, there will be a temperature difference of 56°C!!! Okay, that was a bit extreme but even when you go from Kathmandu (~1,400 meters) to Everest Base Camp (5,380 meters) there is a difference of 25°C!!
It is also interesting to note how while most of the world has four or fewer seasons, Nepal actually has six. The season here starts with the promise of Spring (Basanta) which gives way to the scorching dry heat of Summer (Grishma). Respite comes in the way of the Monsoon (Barsha) to give way to more pleasant temperatures of the Autumn (Hemanta). Before the land gives in to the harsh Winter (Shishir) there is a short period of dry, clear and pleasant Pre-winter (Hemanta).
What does this mean for you?
There is no single way to be a Nepali. Ethnically, Nepal has seen migrations of the Austronesian people, that of the Indo-Aryan Caucasoids and has also been at the crossroad of two East Asian ethnic groups. As such, there are so many faces to Nepal that sometimes it is hard to keep track of them all at times.
Ethnically, Nepal can roughly be divided into the following broad ethnic groups:
What does this mean for you?
Some Fun Facts about the Nepali People
Just like every other aspect in Nepal, there is so much variety of food in Nepal, that it is absolutely impossible for a new visitor to keep track of who eats what here. For example, the Newars and Gurungs are big on the buffalo but usually do not eat pork, the Khas Brahmins do not touch meat at all, the Khas Chhetris prefer goat and the Rais prefer pork. But as the country is becoming more and more mixed and homogenous, the current state of affairs is that almost everybody eats everything these days. The de facto national food is Dal Bhat while the most favored snack is Momo. The fact that Dal Bhat is closely related to Indian cuisine while the Momo is of Tibetan origin goes to show the overarching influence of these cuisines is shaping the Nepali gastronomical experience.
Despite the variety and seeming randomness, there are some overarching trends here. First, the amount of spice used is inversely proportional to the altitude of the place. So in the southern lowlands bordering India, the amount of spice used isn’t exactly different from northern India. The usual suspects are turmeric (Nepali: Besar), cumin (Jeera), garlic (Lasun), fenugreek (Methi) and chili (Khursani). And the food is generally very spicy and very oily. Given the hot and humid climate of the area, the antimicrobial properties of the spices are very important. For the same reason, onion is almost always used in just about every other dish especially non-vegetarian items.
The second trend one sees is that the amount of meat consumption and the size of the animal consumed is directly proportional to the altitude of the place. Again, it has got to with the amount of microbial activity. At the lowlands where the microbial activity is the highest, vegetarian food is more popular. As far as the non-vegetarian items, they are mostly chicken or fish. As you go higher up goat and pigs make an appearance; goat in the western region and pork in the east. In the Kathmandu Valley and Gurung settlement around Pokhara, buffalo is the norm. Higher up, large beasts like yak too are fair game.
In addition to these overarching trends, there are certain foods that stand out as uniquely Nepali: Gundruk, Hog Plum powder (Nepali: Lapsi ), Beaten Rice (Chiura) and Dhindo being the most prominent examples.
What does this mean for you?
Here are some of the iconic food from Nepal:
Dal Bhat is the most common and everyday household meal. If there is anything like the national food of Nepal, Dal Bhat would be it. Dal bhaat was traditionally eaten by Khas people in the ancient times. Nowadays, it has become the defacto national food of Nepal. Every other household eats Dal Bhat as their staple food. This dish consists of steamed rice, vegetables as side dishes, soup made of lentils, meat curry of your choice and pickle. It is served in almost every other restaurants. And the best thing is you can refill as much as you want and no extra money will be charged.
Dal Bhat is perfectly balanced in terms of nutrition and consist of energy producing foods which is why it is recommended in the trekking regions. Besides filling up your tummy you will also be energized for the next day. A popular saying suffices this, “Dal Bhat power 24 hour”. You should be seeing lots of t-shirts with this line in the streets of Thamel. As previously mentioned there is so much diversity in terms of everything and food is no different. With a variety of people come different eating habits and delicacies.
Khas people or now collectively Brahmins, Chhetris, Thakuris etc used to eat Dal Bhat. It was they that started the tradition of eating Dal Bhat twice a day; one during the morning and another during the night. Slowly the Khas started to migrate to different parts of Nepal and the tradition of eating Dal Bhat caught on. It is now a staple diet of every household. The rice is often replaced with Dhindo, a thick porridge-like substance made from buckwheat or barley.
When it comes to food the Newars of Kathmandu Valley simply own it! This ethnic group has to be the biggest foodie in all of Nepal as is suggested by the variety of food they have to offer. If you have ever been to a Newar party you would understand. A common talk in the town is that if you present a buffalo to a Newar family nothing will remain of the animal. Each part of the ‘delicious’ animal is a delicacy in itself for the Newars. Meat is obvious but besides that, the eyeballs, tongue, liver, intestines, brain, bone marrow and everything in between are all considered a delicacy and eaten with great enthusiasm by the Newars. Which is why the talk in the town; nothing remains!
Some of the more famous cuisines are burnt buff meat (Choila), bone marrow stuffed in intestines (Sapu Micha), blood sausage, beaten rice (Chiura), fried intestines (Bhutan), fried lungs (phokso), pancakes made from lentils (bara) etc. There’s also sanyakhuna and Takha/Thalthale which is a jelly-like substance with buff meat inside them. The jelly part is made by boiling buffalo fat extensively and leaving it to freeze. They aren’t hardcore carnivores however as it may seem. They eat their veggies as well, but in a manner typical to the Newars. The more famous veg items are spicy potatoes (Piro Aaloo) and steamed spinach with peanuts. There’s also yomari, which is a type of steamed sweet bread with a dark chocolate like filling called chaku; the steamed bread is made from rice flour. In fact, there is a separate festival dedicated to this food alone called Yomari Punhi. I have to admit there aren’t as many veg items as there are non-veg items. I know you must be startled by some of these dishes but they are tasty and are normal cuisines amongst Newari people. A lot of food requires a lot of drinks to wash it down which is why Newari people have their own homemade liquors (aaila, chyaang). Homemade liquors might require fire extinguishers to your throat. If you want to go for a relatively mild one you will probably want to order chyang, a white liquor made from rice. The one that might require a fire extinguisher is transparent just like water and is called aaila.
Kirtipur has pretty cool Newari restaurants serving up authentic Newari dishes. One of the more famous ones is ‘Lahana’. There is another one by the name of Honacha in Patan Durbar Square that is quite famous for Newari dishes, specially choila. These, however, are not fancy and clean establishments. Therefore, nowadays there are some modern restaurants serving up Newari dishes too like The village, and Falcha.
Besides the food mentioned above, the Sherpas have their Rigikur, Shyomar, Tsampa and butter tea. Rigikur is potato pancake, Shyomar is sort of like a liquid cheese. Tsampa is roasted flour made from Barley. Butter tea is a regular drink in the Himalayas. Traditionally, it is made from tea leaves, yak butter, water, and salt. Also, Khapse is their go-to snack food which is basically deep fried dough made from wheat flour. The Tharus have their Ghonghi which is considered a delicacy. In France, it is known as escargot and is considered a delicacy there as well. Although we are quite sure the Nepalese won’t be charging you as much as in France. They are basically snail shells and the snail is eaten by sucking it from the shell.
If you happen to be a boring person and decide not to try the local delicacies don’t worry. There are restaurants serving all types of food from all over the world. Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Japanese, Korean, Indian you name it, they are all available in a variety of restaurants. Some restaurants even localize foreign food and try to give it a Nepali twist.
Sure, Nepal is a pretty expansive country in terms of variety, but how large is it on paper? Officially Nepal has 147,181 square kilometers (56,827 square miles) of land to its name in the world’s political map. That means you could compare Nepal to Bangladesh or Greece or England and Wales combined. While we find this last comparison rather politically motivated since there are more than a few Welsh who would cringe at the ‘combination’, we will leave that for another day. But saying Nepal is about the size of Bangladesh is like saying that the Empire State Building is about the size of a football field (also called soccer by people who play football with their hands).
The vertical real estate of both the Empire State Building and Nepal is just too large to ignore as you will find out first hand if you have ever trekked in Nepal. And it isn’t just the real estate, with altitude comes an attitude that is impossible to ignore.
Is Nepal a Country?
However, since Nepal is such a small country on paper and is squeezed between two giants a lot of people wonder if Nepal is a country. Commonly asked questions include:
What country is Nepal in?
Nepal is a country in its own right and is awesome.
Is Nepal a country?
Is Nepal in India?
Is Nepal part of India?
For the last time now, No.
If I ask a Nepali the above question will they be offended?
Most definitely yes. Hence read the whole article to understand the Nepali psyche.
This is another question that frequently pops up when people realize how diverse and small Nepal is. This country has no sea access and is both economically and militaristically very weak and is nestled between two giants. So, how has Nepal managed to remain independent?
To answer this question one has to go back in time. And a little history shows that Nepal was not only an island back in the days but also much powerful country than it is right now. I call it an island in the sense that it was protected by malaria (Aunlo) infested forest to the south and the towering Himalayas to the north. As such, it was not exactly an easy affair for people from the lowlands or from the north to manage a war here.
Also passes in the Nepal Himalayas are the natural connection between China and India and were part of the extended Silk Route and a major part of the Salt Trade Route. As such, Nepal’s economy was much more vibrant than it is right now. Just to illustrate the extent of this trade, consider the fact that contractors on one of the trade routes paid an annual tribute of 56 kilograms of gold as late as the first decade of the twentieth century. The route in question is the Kali Gandaki trade route, the contractors are Thakalis of Tukuche and 56 kilograms of gold is worth USD 2 million right now. And that wasn’t even the busiest of the trade routes in Nepal and early twentieth century was about when the entire Silk Route was crumbling apart!! So in the heydays, there was a lot of trade through the Himalayan passes which made Nepal an economically vibrant area.
Now compare that to the situation right now when the bulk of the population is dependent on subsistence agriculture. There is very little in the way of industries and the only trade that occurs are imports. The whole situation is compounded by the fact that the brightest and most enterprising of the young folks are sweating it out abroad. It wasn’t always so, and it was on the basis of this economic power that Nepal carved a niche for itself in the Himalayas.
Given the fact that this area benefitted hugely from the trade, it isn’t hard to guess that Nepal had a much stronger military back then. While of course, it didn’t compare to the Celestial or British Empires, Nepal’s military prowess was a pain for these empires as exemplified by the Sino-Nepalese War (1788-1792), Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816) and the Nepalese-Tibetan War (1855). This was directly the result of colonial ambitions of the fledgling Nepali state and her neighbors.
As it is right now, it is incomprehensible how such wars could be waged without disastrous consequences to Nepal. There simply isn’t the economic substrate to create the military prowess that characterized Nepal is the past. However, every Nepali still proudly remembers that Nepal was a country that has never been colonized.
Another interesting reason for Nepal’s independence which has no basis in any research whatsoever is the personal observation that Nepal is a country of rebels. We are guessing that these rugged terrain lacking any pull factor other than a safe sanctuary has always attracted people who refuse to submit or people who are simply looking for solace. The Tharus of western Terai, Shahs of western hills and Sherpas of eastern Himalayas are examples of people who fled persecution in their original homeland and rather than submitting came to a rugged and dangerous region that is now called Nepal. And in making a living out of this precipitous terrain, these guys have shown their determination. And in making light of the hardships here, these guys have shown their resilience. Actually, prophecies by Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) liken the southern slopes of the Himalayas to a beyul or place of refuge for those of the Buddhist faith in times of crises. And indeed it has worked out that way if you look at the Sherpas who came from Kham following religious persecution. Such a story of a group coming into Nepal after refusing to surrender is a hallmark of many ethnic groups in Nepal and the secluded and rugged nature of the country gives some credence to this possibility. So in some way, Nepal is full of people who are unmanageable, rebellious, independent and headstrong. It is perhaps no coincidence that the most feared of all armed forces in the world, the Gurkhas, come from these rugged terrains. On the lighter side, this rebelliousness and a strong sense of independence have not only made Nepal an independent country so far but has also made the Nepali clocks differ from the GMT by a weird 5 hour and 45 minutes! While most other countries have their clock either 4 or 5 or 6 hours different from the GMT, Nepal is the only country to have that 45 minutes.
Also perhaps that is why while the entire world has rectangular flags, we have a double triangular flag!!
Thus, Nepal is still a sovereign and independent country primarily because of her rugged location, strong economic and military past and most importantly her headstrong citizens!!
Location: South Asia, between India and China
Coastline: 0 km (Landlocked)
Government Type: Federal Democratic Republic
Capital: Kathmandu (1,400 m above sea level)
Area: 147,181 sq km (56,827 sq mi)
Population (Kathmandu): 1.183 million (2015)
GDP: $70.08 billion (2015 est.)
Driving System: Left
Telephone Country code: +977
Internet Country Code: .np
Visa: On Entry for most countries.
Port of Entries: Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA)- only international airport, Kakarvitta, Jhapa; Birgunj, Parsa; Kodari, Sindhupalchowk; Belahia, Bhairahawa; Jamunaha, Nepalgunj Mohana, Dhangadhi; Gaddachauki, Mahendranagar; Rasuwagadi, Rasuwa
Time Zone: GMT +5:45 hours
Currency: Nepali Rupee
Exchange Rate: USD 1 = NPR 109.67
Climate: varies from Tropical Wet Monsoon to High Altitude Cold Desert. Primary rainy season: June to September.
Terrain: Ranges from the flat plains at 70 masl (meters above sea level) to the rugged Himalayas at 8,848 masl.
Highlights: 8 of the world’s 10 highest peaks are here including the highest Mt. Everest.
Protected Region Area: 28,959.67 sq km (19.67%)Major National Parks**: Chitwan National Park, Sagarmatha (Everest) National Park, Annapurna Conservation Area
Ethnic Groups: Chhetri 16.6%, Brahman-Hill 12.2%, Magar 7.1%, Tharu 6.6%, Tamang 5.8%, Newar 5%, Kami 4.8%, Muslim 4.4%, Yadav 4%, Rai 2.3%, Gurung 2%, Damai/Dholii 1.8%, Thakuri 1.6%, Limbu 1.5%, Sarki 1.4%, Teli 1.4%, Chamar/Harijan/Ram 1.3%, Koiri/Kushwaha 1.2%, other 19%
Languages: Nepali (official) 44.6%, Maithali 11.7%, Bhojpuri 6%, Tharu 5.8%, Tamang 5.1%, Newar 3.2%, Magar 3%, Bajjika 3%, Urdu 2.6%, Avadhi 1.9%, Limbu 1.3%, Gurung 1.2%, other 10.4%, unspecified 0.2%
Religions: Hindu 81.3%, Buddhist 9%, Muslim 4.4%, Kirant 3.1%, Christian 1.4%, other 0.5%, unspecified 0.2% (2011 est.)
UNESCO World Heritage Sites: 10
Major Heritage Sites: Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Lumbini, Pashupatinath Temple.
Natural Hazards: severe thunderstorms; flooding; landslides; earthquake.
Other Hazards: Strikes and demonstrations.
Major infectious diseases: bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, and dengue fever