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Nepal

Nepal

General Background

Nepal, a land historically as nebulous as its elusive mountain peaks, the highest in the world, has held the interest of adventure-seekers for years. This small landlocked country between China and India comprises a world of its own ranging from modern living to ancient traditional practices in rural areas. A mostly mountainous country, Nepal is situated along the southern slopes of the Himalayas, which were believed to be the home of the Nepalese gods. For many years Nepal was considered a land of mystery. Its rulers did not welcome foreign visitors. The Nepalese themselves lived sequestered behind their mountains but the establishment of diplomatic relations with other nations, efforts to modernize the country, and the growth of tourism ended the kingdom’s traditional isolation.

Nepal embraces an array of ethnic groups with vibrant cultures, religions, ancient history and languages. It is one of the few countries in the world where such immense climatic and topographic diversity features so dramatically and exists in such a small geographical area. Nepal is also rich in biological diversity and is home to a wide variety of flora, fauna and wildlife. Rich culture, art and history attract visitors each year, where they can see various religions coexisting harmoniously among the multitude of ethnic groups that form the people of Nepal.

This small South Asian country is home to eight of the ten highest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest and Kanchenjunga — the world’s tallest and third tallest respectively. It is the birthplace of The Lord Buddha, and boasts holy Hindu sites, beautiful temples, stupas, mosques and churches, a number UNESCO heritage sites as well as some of the most mesmerizing scenery the world offers.

Geography

Nepal is slightly larger than the state of Arkansas and has the greatest altitude change of any location on Earth. The lowlands are at sea level and the mountains of the Himalayas are the tallest in the world. Mount Everest rises to 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) and is the world’s highest peak. The Himalayas formed 10–15 million years ago when India collided with the continent of Asia and pushed the land into high mountains.

The north of Nepal is covered by enormous, snow-capped mountains with a cold alpine climate, the middle region is scattered with hills and has a mild climate, and the southern region is made up of the flat Terai with a very warm, humid and tropical climate. The Himalayan and hilly landscape have attracted adventure-seeking travelers for years. They come for mountaineering, climbing, trekking, hiking, mountain biking, helicopter sightseeing, paragliding, hang gliding and rafting.

People & Culture

Most of the people of Nepal practice Hinduism, but some practice both Hinduism and Buddhism. The caste system has been outlawed by the government but it still makes up the social structure of everyday lives.

Nepalese are from four main groups: the Hindu caste, the Bhotes, the hill tribes, and the Newar. The Hindus originally came from India and continue to follow the caste system. Hill people include the Sherpas and other tribes.Sherpas are born in the mountains at elevations above 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) and are known for their ability to guide tourists in high altitude climbs. They teach visitors about Sherpa culture and Buddhism’s love of the land. The Bhotes live in mountains in the north and are originally from Tibet. The Newar are the original native people of the Kathmandu Valley. Most Nepalese live in the central, hilly region, which embraces the Kathmandu Valley, and in the southern plain known as the Terai. The Ganges River floods this area and makes the land very fertile for growing crops. About 10 percent live in the mountains over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and are traders, farmers, and herders.

Language

Nepali is the official language of Nepal. Nepali uses Sanskrit, a script-based character system. English is spoken on major trekking and tourist routes throughout Nepal. Signs are mainly written in Nepali, although occasionally signs are written in English, especially in areas that are frequented by trekkers, tourists, and climbers.

History

Seemingly everything about Nepal is a contradiction. It’s a tiny landlocked country of astounding topographical diversity. From the tallest mountains in the world, Nepal plummets to subtropical tiger jungles stretching at sea level along its southern border—all within a distance of 92 miles. It’s caught between the two giant webs of Asia: China and India. Although the United Nations and the international community recognize its independence, Nepal cannot reach the outside world without the expressed approval of its powerful neighbors. The reality is that, at every point on the compass, Nepal’s independence is compromised.

Nepal is known as a land steeped with religion. In the 6th century BC, small kingdoms started to emerge in southern Nepal. One of these was the Shakya kingdom. A prince of the Shakya kingdom named Siddhartha Gautama rose to power, but later renounced his status as prince. He went on to lead a religious and ascetic life of self-denial and became known as the Buddha, or enlightened one, and started the Buddhist religion.

Later, Nepal would become part of the Mauryan Empire of India followed by the Gupta Empire. In the 18th century, Prithvi Narayan united the country from his land of Gorkha. For some time the land was called the Gorkha Kingdom. In 1846 the Rana regime gained power. They isolated Nepal from the outside world for a number of years.In 1996, Maoist extremists started a revolution against the monarchy. There was a 10 year long civil war. In 2008 the monarchy was abolished, but the country was left in a state of flux as different parties in the government have not been able to come to an agreement on how to govern.

Nepal’s feudal past collides with the 21st century. It’s a country that was born in—and is still hobbled by—an archaic caste system that traditionally supports ethnic marginalization, gender repression, and absolute rule, and yet it now grapples with the obliteration of caste–at least on paper. Its people are generally a peaceful group, and yet they have been beleaguered by a decade-long civil conflict. Nepal has a monarchy that has managed to cling to its throne—with varying degrees of success—for 238 years: And yet a Maoist insurrection has all but scuttled the royal institution.

The unification of Nepal occurred ten years before the American Revolution. A Gorkha warlord—the first of Nepal’s kings—conquered and consolidated scores of belligerent principalities to establish a central government that is still seated in the Kathmandu Valley. Nepal was fiercely xenophobic. Few foreigners were permitted to enter its southern border. Western influence was almost non-existent until World War I and World War II, when the British Army utilized the famous Gorkha soldiers as vanguard troops in conflicts throughout Asia, Europe and Africa. These fearless combatants returned to their homeland with new concepts and new expectations based on what they had experienced abroad. Also, by the end of World War II, the British Empire’s control of the subcontinent had given way to the Gandhi-inspired “home rule” in India. Pan-Asian independence became a catchphrase in the late 1940s.

Nepal opened its borders in 1950. Pandora’s box. Initially, the end of isolationism seemed like a godsend. Nepal had attributes the rest of the world desired. Because of Nepal’s jaw-dropping beauty and medieval culture, (and more specifically because of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s summit of Mount Everest in 1953,) Western adventurers and tourists targeted Nepal as one of the most dramatic and exotic destinations on earth. Foreign currency poured into the tiny kingdom, followed by huge humanitarian donations from foreign powers. International handouts became the status quo, something Nepalis came to regard, unfortunately, as a bottomless well.

But culturally, Nepal had no idea what it was getting into. The contradictions that had always been a part of Nepal were suddenly compounded by foreigners’ fantasies, expectations and imported values. The difference between the rural and urban populations, for instance, was suddenly thrown into high relief—something that still holds true today. 85% of Nepalis live a remote, agrarian existence. Most areas have no electricity, no roads, no schools and no medical facilities. Transportation up and down the mountainsides is of the two-footed variety. The extreme difficulty of reaching these places ensures that local peacekeeping is largely left unmonitored. Poverty prevails and is accentuated by corrupt local authorities. An oxen-powered plow is high-tech. Whenever the crops fail, subsistence existence degenerates into near starvation. Even if there is a primary school nearby, peasant children are expected to help with the family harvests and livestock by the time they reach the age of six. It follows that illiteracy remains as high as 60%–some reports say as high as 80% among women, who do most of the fieldwork.

The urbanized areas are jarringly different. Poverty and illiteracy abound but communal aspiration attaches itself to a resolutely non-pastoral future. What one sees in Kathmandu and the other industrialized areas are cyber cafés, cell phones, very poor air quality created by non-regulated auto emissions, and malodorous factories excreting waste into holy Hindu rivers. The town people are thoroughly addicted to the high-tech gadgetry of Western culture as advertised through satellite TV.

Cuisine

Nepali cuisine combines a range of ingredients, techniques and characteristics from its neighboring countries with its own gastronomic history. Set against the backdrop of the Himalayas, the people of Nepal have many different backgrounds and ethnicities, and this multitude of influences is reflected within the country’s cuisine. Nepalese dishes are generally healthier than most other South Asian cuisine, relying less on using fats and more on chunky vegetables, lean meats, pickled ingredients and salads. While Nepal does take heavy influences from its closest geographical companions such as India, China and Tibet, this mountainous country only opened up its borders to outsiders in the 1950s. This factor, in addition to transport and trade difficulties in Nepal’s geographical setting, has maintained a focus on using locally grown produce. Common ingredients found across Nepalese cuisine include lentils, potatoes, tomatoes, cumin, coriander, chili peppers, garlic and mustard oil. Yoghurt, or dahi, is popular across Nepal, and is eaten for its healthy attributes and adaptable nature, as it can be used as a side dish or as an ingredient in drinks, called Lassis, and desserts called Sikarnis.

Nature

People in Nepal rely on trees for most of their energy needs. Forests are rapidly being cut down and used as firewood in heating and cooking. The land has become fragile and erodes away when the trees have been removed. Animal species are also becoming extinct due to population growth and deforestation. The Bengal tiger, the Asian one-horned rhinoceros, the snow leopard, and the Ganges freshwater dolphin are all endangered animals. Many tourists come to Nepal to see the exotic wildlife, so the Nepal economy depends on protecting these animals from extinction. The yeti (or Abominable Snowman) is said to live in the mountains of Nepal. No conclusive evidence has been documented as to whether the yeti actually exists or not, but several explorers claim to have seen yeti footprints. No one has ever found one so the mystery persists.

Interesting Facts

  • The Nepali word for Everest, Sagarmatha, means “Forehead of the Sky.”
  • 92.1% of Nepal’s energy comes from hydroelectric plants. The rest comes from fossil fuels
  • Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 197th in GDP
  • Despite his objections, the Royal Geographical Society named the highest mountain in the world after Sir George Everest
  • Cows are the national animal of Nepal so their slaughter is banned in the country
  • Nepal’s flag is the only national flag in the world that isn’t square or rectangle
  • In 2008 an English team won the Elephant Polo World Cup, held in Nepal
  • Nepal ranks first in the world for the production of mustard seeds, and is the world’s third largest producer of ginger

Our Projects

Establish Cultural Exchange

We are partnering with Peace Corps volunteer and nutrition sensitive food security specialist Laura Davis, who is just beginning her service in Aalkhola, a village close to Pyuthan in Western Nepal. She lives in a small rural community of only 60 families. Students there are eager to learn about and connect with other cultures. Through our virtual cultural exchange program, you will have the opportunity to learn about Nepali culture directly from these students while teaching them about your own. You will be able to complete shared activities and share photos and videos of your respective lives. Through this program you will be able to help fulfill this small Nepali village’s need of textbooks, reading books, art supplies, sports equipment and musical instruments while also developing and growing your understanding of the world.

Get the WorldChanger Experience™ with us!