Monday, January 9, 2017


Four main things come to mind when I think about Nepal: 1) Mt. Everest, 2) Sherpa guides, 3) they have an odd-shaped flag, and 4) the Bob Seger song “Katmandu,” named after the city Kathmandu. However, I’m fairly certain there’s more to the country than a rock song named after its capital and flag shaped like no other.  

The name Nepal is thought to have derived from a number of origins, including being named after a Hindu sage known as “Ne.” Others believe it’s related to the Newari people or of other Tibetan origins. 

Nepal is a landlocked country that lies in between the Tibetan region of China to the north and India to the south. Small areas of India separate Nepal from Bhutan and Bangladesh. The country is divided into three main areas: terai (plains region), hills (between the terai and the mountains), and the mountain region (part of the Himalayan Mountains). Eight of the worlds “eight-thousanders [8000m+]” are located in Nepal, including Mt. Everest. Nepal’s climate is generally linked to its altitude. It also experiences five seasons: the four traditional seasons along with a monsoon season. 

Sir Edmund Hillary (of New Zealand) and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay
People have trekked through the Himalayas nearly 11,000 years ago, and various Indian and Tibetan people more than likely started living in the Nepali region about 2500 years ago. It was once under the Tibetan Empire, but later was ruled by the Chalukya Dynasty of South India who introduced Hinduism to the Buddhism that was already there. During the mid-18th century, a Gorkha king by the name of Prithvi Narayan Shah worked to basically set up Nepal as we know it. There was quite a bit of negotiations and conflicts over borders, especially concerning a few of the northern Indian states that border Nepal. The British East India Company certainly wasn’t happy about giving up those states, and a war ensued. The British completely underestimated the Nepali fighters. Starting in the mid-1800s and lasting well into the beginning of the 20th century, different factions in Nepal fought against each other over who should rule and how. Slavery was abolished in 1924, which led to certain social changes. In response to the tyrannical Rana government, pro-democracy groups popped up during the 1940s. Finally King Mahendra had had enough of it in 1959 and enacted a “partyless” system, which lasted until the people revolted in 1989 and forced a multiparty system in. In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal decided to stir up the pot by trying to get rid of the parliamentary system in lieu of a people’s republic. This led to a civil war where 12,000 were killed. Nepal finally moved to becoming a federal republic and secular state in 2006, losing its notoriety as a Hindu Kingdom while abolishing the monarchy. In October 2015, Nepal chose Bidhya Devi Bhandari as its first female president.  

The capital city is Kathmandu, located in the Kathmandu Valley. The city itself has about 1.4 million people, but there’s about 5 million in the metro area. The city is a multiethnic community with a mix of Hindu and Buddhist populations. Kathmandu, as well as Nepal in general, depends on the tourism industry. It has a thriving arts scene, casinos, hotels, museums, restaurants, and shopping areas that attract millions of people each year. In April 2015, an earthquake that measured 7.8 on the Richter scale devastated the city of Kathmandu. 

Nepal’s economy is still highly dependant upon agriculture. In fact, it employs nearly three-quarters of the people in some aspect. They still have to contend with a large number of unemployed and underemployed, though. The service sector seems to be increasing. Through many reasons and causes, Nepal struggles with poverty and receives aid from several countries. Its currency is tied with the Indian rupee.

Traditionally, Nepal has been a Hindu country with a smaller number of Buddhist followers (it’s said that Buddha was born in Nepal). The country is the site of the Lord Shiva temple, an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus all over the world. There are actually smaller numbers of Muslims, Christians, indigenous beliefs, and other religions followed there as well. However, the government declared the country a secular state in 2006.

Although Nepali is the main language spoken in Nepal, there are a number of other languages spoken here, along with four different sign languages! Nepali is often used as a lingua franca among different ethnic groups and is commonly written in the Devanagari script (the same one used for Hindi and Sanskrit). Tibetan is spoken in the regions near Tibet, and many people in government and commerce use Maithili. In larger cities like Kathmandu, many people understand English as well. 

Nepal is certainly remote and rugged and has its own set of cool features (no pun intended). The Nepali word for Mt. Everest is Sagarmatha, meaning “forehead of the sky.” (Lovely name. I think I know a guy who could go by that name, too.) The Nepalis are actually years ahead of us: according to the Nepali calendar, it’s 2074. Roughly 20% of 13-15 year olds smoke tobacco, which is probably why (among other reasons) their life expectancy is only 59 years old. However, Nepal is the #1 producer of mustard seeds and #3 producer of ginger, which probably means I’m going to love their food.

Up next: art and literature

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