Nepal is in South Asia, located between Tibet (China) to the north and India to the south, east, and west. The total area of the country is 147,181 sq. km. The country can be divided into three main geographical regions: the Himalayan region, the mid-hill region, and the Terai. The highest point in the country (and the world) is Mt. Everest (8,848 m) while the lowest point is in the Terai plains of Kechana Kalan in Jhapa (60 m).
The Terai region occupies about 17 percent of total land area of the country. The Midlands (600 – 3,500 m), north of the Mahabharat range is where the two beautiful valleys of Kathmandu and Pokhara lie covered in terraced rice fields, and surrounded by forested watersheds. The Himalayan region (above 3,000 m) is comprised of mountains, alpine pastures, and temperate forests limited by the tree-line (4,000 m) and the snow line (5,500 m). Eight of the fourteen 8,000m+ peaks in the world lie in Nepal: Sagarmatha or Mount Everest (8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), Lhotse (8,516 m), Makalu (8,463 m), Cho Oyu (8,201m), Dhaulagiri (8,167 m), Manaslu (8,163 m) and Annapurna (8,091 m). The inner Himalayan valleys (above 3,600 m), such as Mustang and Dolpa, are cold alpine deserts sharing topographical characteristics with the Tibetan plateau. Nepal holds the so called “water towers of South Asia” with its 6,000 rivers which are snow-fed or dependent on rain.
Climatic conditions of Nepal vary from one place to another in accordance with the geographical features. In the north summers are cool and winters severe, while in the south, summers are tropical and winters are mild. Nepal has five major seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, autumn, and winter. An average temperature drop of 6°C occurs for every 1,000 m gain in altitude. In the Terai, summer temperatures exceed 37° C and higher in some areas, and winter temperatures range from 7°C to 23°C. In mountainous regions, hills, and valleys, summers are temperate while winter temperatures can plummet to sub zero. The valley of Kathmandu has a pleasant climate with average summer and winter temperatures of 19°C – 35°C and 2°C – 12°C respectively.
The Himalayas act as a barrier to the cold winds blowing from Central Asia in winter, and form the northern boundary of the monsoon wind patterns. Eighty percent of Nepal’s precipitation is received during the monsoon (June-September). Winter rains are more pronounced in the western hills. The average annual rainfall is 1,600 mm, but it varies substantially by eco-climatic zones: Pokhara receives3,345 mm while Mustang receives less than 300 mm. Significantly, there is no seasonal constraint on traveling in and throughout Nepal. Even in December and January, when winter is at its severest, there is compensating bright sun and brilliant views. For most of the trekking areas in Nepal, the best time to visit is during the spring and autumn. Spring is the time for rhododendrons while the clearest skies are found after the monsoon in October and November. Even so, Nepal can be visited the whole year round.
The population of Nepal was approximately 26.62 million according to a recent survey done by the Central Bureau of Statistics, Nepal. The population is comprised of about 101 ethnic groups speaking over 92 languages. Distinctions in caste and ethnicity are more easily understood in view of demographic grouping. Though there exist numerous dialects, the language of unification is the national language, Nepali. Nepali is the official language of the state, spoken and understood by majority of the population. Multiple ethnic groups have their own mother tongues. English is spoken by many in government and business offices. It is the mode of education in most private schools of Kathmandu and some other cities.
Northern Himalayan People: In the northern region of the Himalayas are the Tibetan-speaking groups, namely: Sherpas, Dolpa-pas, Lopas, Baragaonlis, and Manangis. The Sherpas are mainly found in the eastern regions of Solu and Khumbu; the Baragaonlis and Lopas live in the semi-deserted areas of Upper and Lower Mustang in the rain-shadow of the Annapurnas; the Manangis live in Manang district; while the Dolpa-pas live in Dolpa district of west Nepal.
Middle Hills and Valley People: Several ethnic groups live in the middle hills and valleys. Among them are the Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs, Brahmins, Chhetris and Thakuris. There are also occupational castes namely: Damai (tailor), Sarki (cobbler), Kami (blacksmith), and Sunar (goldsmiths).
Ethnic Diversity in the Kathmandu Valley: The Kathmandu Valley represents a cultural melting pot of the country, where people are found from varied backgrounds from all over the country. The natives of the Kathmandu Valley are the Newars. The Newars of Kathmandu Valley were historically traders or farmers by occupation and their culture is a unique integration of both Hinduism and Buddhism.
Terai People: The main ethnic groups in Terai are Tharus, Darai, Kumhal, Majhi, and other groups. They speak north Indian dialects like Maithili and Bhojpuri. Owing to the fertile plains of Terai, most inhabitants live agriculturally. There are, however, some occupational castes like Majhi (fisherman), Kumhal (potter) and Danuwar (cart driver).
Customs and traditions differ from one part of Nepal to another. An astoundingly complex amalgamation of peoples live in the capital city, Kathmandu, where cultures are blending to form a national identity. The Kathmandu Valley has served as the country’s cultural metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the 18th century. A prominent factor in a Nepali’s everyday life is religion. Adding color to the lives of Nepalis are festivals year round, which the people celebrate with much pomp and circumstance. Food plays an important role in the celebration of these festivals.
Nepal was declared a secular country by the Parliament on May 18, 2006. Religions practiced in Nepal include: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism,Sikhism, Bon, ancestor worship, and animism. The majority of Nepalis are either Hindus or Buddhists. The two have co-existed in relative harmony throughout the centuries.
Buddha is widely worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus of Nepal. The five Dhyani Buddhas – Vairochana, Akshobhaya, Rathasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi – represent the five basic elements: earth, fire, water, air and ether. Buddhist philosophy conceives these deities to be the manifestations of Sunya or absolute void. Mahakaala and Bajrayogini are Vajrayana Buddhist deities are worshipped by Hindus as well.
Hindu Nepalis worship the ancient Vedic gods. Bramha the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Destroyer are worshipped as the Supreme Hindu Trinity. People pray to the Shiva Linga or the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva in most Shiva temples. Shakti, the dynamic element and the female counterpart of Shiva, is highly revered and feared. Mahadevi, Mahakali, Bhagabati, and Ishwari are some of the names given. Kumari, the Virgin Goddess, also represents Shakti. Other popular deities are Ganesh for luck, Saraswati for knowledge, Lakshmi for wealth, and Hanuman for protection. Krishna, believed to be the human incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is also worshipped widely. Hindu holy scripts like the Bhagawad Gita, Ramayana and Mahabharata are widely read in Nepal. Vedas, Upanishads and other holy scriptures are read by learned Brahmin Pundits during special occasions.
The diversity in Nepal in terms of ethnicity again makes room for a broad diversity of customs and traditions. Most of these customs are informed by Hindu, Buddhist, and/or other religious assemblages. Among them, the rules of marriage are particularly interesting. Traditional marriages are arranged by parents after the boy or girl comes of age.
In general, Nepalis do not eat beef. There are several reasons for this, one being that Hindus hold the cow to be sacred. The cow is also the national animal of Nepal. Another interesting concept among Nepalis is the division of pure and impure. “Jutho” referring to food or material touched by another’s mouth directly or indirectly, is considered impure by Nepalis. Nepalis consider cow dung to be pure for cleansing purposes. During menstruation women are considered impure and hence, are kept in seclusion until their fourth day purification bath. Nepal is a patriarchal society. Men usually go out to work while women are homemakers. However, in cities, roles can differ. Most Nepalis abide by the caste system in living habits and marriage. Rural Nepal is mostly agrarian, while some aspects of urban life carry the glitz and glamour of the ultra-modern world.
Nepal does not have a distinct cooking style. However, food habits differ depending on the region. Nepali food has been influenced by Indian and Tibetan styles of cooking. Authentic Nepali taste is found in Newari and Thakali cuisines. Most Nepalis do not use cutlery but eat with their right hand. The regular Nepali meal is dal (lentil soup), bhat (boiled rice), and tarkari (curried vegetables) often accompanied by achar (pickle). Curried meat is very popular but is saved for special occasions, as it is relatively more expensive. Momos (steamed or fried dumplings) deserve a mention as one of the most popular snacks among Nepalis. Rotis (flat bread) and dhedo (boiled flour) are also common in some homes.
Text source: Nepal Tourism Board