May Nepalese Hindus, Nepalese Muslims


Land of contrasts: the travel destination Nepal

Anyone who thinks Nepal is only for mountaineers and trekking fans is underestimating this multi-ethnic state colossally. Also those interested in culture, art lovers and everyone who wants to get out of everything known and want to see the world from a different perspective will be intoxicated by the thousands of years of tradition, the wealth of stories, creativity and joie de vivre. For us one thing is therefore beyond question: Every visitor will experience Nepal as a fascinating and extremely "peculiar" kaleidoscope. A rare treasure in a globalized, tourism-industrialized world.

Over a hundred peoples and a breathtaking topography characterize the small Nepal, which, squeezed in between the overpowering India in the south and the threatening China in the north, bravely defends itself against attacks. A cosmos of its own that unites all cultural and climatic zones - from the subtropical wetlands of the Ganges lowlands to the eternal ice of the eight-thousanders in the Himalayas. As close together as the geographic differences are, so closely cohabit the most diverse peoples - so close that the borders appear partly fluid and partly insurmountable. And no matter what origin, above all is the belief that pervades every corner of daily life and allows the Nepalese to remain calm and serene as well as lovable and tolerant despite all adversities. That has not changed even after the devastating earthquake in 2015, which permanently damaged the infrastructure, irretrievably destroyed part of the historical heritage and cost the lives of 9,000 Nepalese.

Travel to Nepal

Nepal is unquestionably a longing destination for travelers from the ever faster turning western civilization. A completely different world opens up here, one that moves, challenges and inspires us in equal measure. A world that impressively proves that poverty and crises do not exclude states of being such as serenity, contentment and truthfulness. States that we rarely achieve with our oversupply of resources. Reason enough to get to know this fairytale microcosm, which is no bigger than Austria and Switzerland combined, but which is incredibly human. A trip to Nepal will perhaps shake, disturb and exhaust all certainties. But it will also be an incomparable pleasure that will touch every traveler deeply and have a lasting impact. Everyone who travels to broaden their horizons is in good hands here.

This is especially true for the cultural and economic center of Nepal with the old royal cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Traditions are incredibly alive here and the arduous departure into modernity can also be felt everywhere. This is especially true for the metropolis of Kathmandu with its fairytale pagodas, sikharas and stupas, whose incredibly lively life leaves every guest speechless for the time being. 3.5 of a good 30 million Nepalese live in Kathmandu and make it an ideal starting point to empathize with the Nepalese way of life and to explore the country from here. Since 2015 at the latest, I prefer to walk or take a plane, because the road network has not yet recovered from the earthquake disaster in 2015.

The geography of Nepal

Nepal lies between the two most populous countries in the world, China and India, between the 26th and 30th degrees of north latitude and the 80th and 88th degrees of longitude east, and is thus roughly on the same level as Florida or Saudi Arabia. It has an area of ​​around 147,000 square kilometers (800 km long, 90-230 km wide), i.e. it is not even half the size of Germany. Only 3% of the area is inland waterways. The tropical jungle area called Terai extends on the border with India. In the north of the Terai rise the foothills of the Mahabharat chain and the Siwalik foothills, followed by the mountainous country that encloses the valleys of Kathmandu and Pokhara. The majority of the Nepalese population lives here. To the north of these valleys, the mountains of the Himalayas rise into the sky, separating Nepal from Tibet and China - with the boundary line being exactly in the middle of Mt. Everest.

The history of Nepal

Before the documented historiography of Nepal began, the Kathmandu Valley was a huge mountain lake that dried up at some point due to an earthquake. At this point in time, there was a migration in which many people of Indo-Aryan and also Tibetan-Burmese origin from the surrounding regions united to form the so-called Newar, who thanks to excellent agricultural and manual skills still have the image of Kathmandu and in terms of pagoda architecture China and Japan shape. The UNESCO has included the seven of the many impressive buildings in the Kathmandu Valley in the list of world cultural heritage, confirms this fact in its laudation as follows: These buildings document the "cultural traditions of the multi-ethnic population of an urban society (...) the one possessed the most highly developed skills in the processing of bricks, stones, wood and bronze worldwide "(....)" The coexistence and fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism with animistic rituals and Tantrism is considered unique ". Documented historiography begins in the 4th century AD. At that time, Nepal was ruled by Indian Hindu dynasties, who integrated the Buddhist Newar into the Hindu social system and granted Buddhist monks the same status as Hindu Brahmins. In the 15th century, the empire split into the three rival kingdoms of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, which shaped the fate of the country politically, religiously and artistically until 1768 and brought the Kathmandu Valley an economic heyday and amazing prosperity. The constant change of Hindu ruling houses was to continue until 1845, when the Jang Bahadur clan from the Rana dynasty seized power. She ruled Nepal as a dictator until 1951 and completely sealed off the country from the outside world. To this end, a new system of government was established that only gave the king nominal power. It was not until 1950, with the support of India, that King Tribhuvan deposed the regime and opened the borders. After the king's death, a new constitution came into force in December 1960, which legitimized the Panchayat democracy, a unique Hindu monarchy without a party. After bloody unrest, a new constitution came into force in 1990, with which Nepal returned to the constitutional monarchy, which was challenged again in 1996 by the Maoist guerrilla organization Jana Yudha ("People's War"), resulting in a ten-year civil war in which more than 13,000 people were killed. This movement wanted to create more social justice and curb corruption and police arbitrariness. At the same time, constant changes of government paralyzed the country's economic development. In 2002, King Gyaendra dissolved parliament, in 2005, relieved the cabinet and declared a state of emergency. Under popular pressure, the king had to reinstate parliament and recall the former prime minister. Through the mediation of the UN, a peace agreement was concluded between the prime minister and the rebel chief in the same year and the Maoist rebels were disarmed. The final disempowerment of the king in 2006 meant that the function of head of state was transferred to the incumbent head of government Koirala. Until then, Nepal was the only country in the world with a constitutionally protected Hindu state religion. In 2008, Nepal was finally declared a republic under the new president Ram Baran Yadav, the former rebel leader Prachanda took over the office of the new head of government in the same year - and Maoists are still represented in the state government today. The constitutional monarchy had to give way to the new state name, which is still valid today: Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

The political system of Nepal

Nepal was a Hindu kingdom for 240 years, and since 2008 it has been governed in the form of a multi-party parliamentary democracy. The young republic's parliament is currently composed of the constituent assembly, which is part of a peace agreement between the Maoist rebels and the government. Nepal is administered through five development zones and 75 districts.

The assembly is seen as a milestone on the way to a political reorganization of the country. Important parties are the bourgeois-liberal Nepalese Congress Party (NCP), the Maoist Communist Party (CPN-M), the Communist Party of Nepal - United Marxist-Leninists (CPN-UML) and the conservative Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). In particular, the ongoing integration of the Maoist movement, which organized massive uprisings against the political establishment from the mid-1990s onwards, is a major challenge. It continues to have a great influence in Nepal, because displeasure with the previous one is rising above all in the rural areas How to deal with the low standard of living, the weak economy, corruption and the huge population explosion.

The economy of Nepal

Statistically, Nepal is the second poorest country in Asia after Afghanistan and one of the ten poorest countries in the world. The average per capita income is around € 290, and half of the population probably earns significantly less than that. However, when calculating the per capita income, it is not taken into account that a large part of the national economy continues to barter takes place.

There are many reasons for the weak economy: On the one hand, there is no direct access to international shipping and air traffic is only possible to a limited extent due to the high mountains. On the other hand, decades of political instability have adversely affected the already weak economy.

Most of the Nepalese are farmers who tend their fields mainly by hand and can barely feed themselves. The small surplus is used to barter food such as salt, tea or substances. Rice, potatoes, corn and other types of grain are grown. However, this branch of the economy is also in decline and endangered by ongoing soil erosion. This development is intensified by the massive deforestation for firewood and the development of agricultural land for the exploding population. Only in the Terai, on the border with India, are there still undeveloped lands that can absorb the falling yields. The poorly developed industry in Nepal is also located there. Nepal exports carpets and textiles, but earns too little from them to be able to import the urgently needed machines and industrial goods. Therefore, the country is heavily dependent on foreign aid. Natural resources are largely unknown due to the inaccessible terrain. The largest natural future resource in the country is undoubtedly the largely unused hydropower.

80 percent of exports make up agricultural goods. The largest source of income is tourism, which brings in around 30% of total foreign currency. The majority of travelers come from India and other Asian countries, to which the holy sites of Hinduism and Buddhism mean a lot. Another source of foreign currency are the Gurkha troops active abroad. Overall, India is by far the most important trading partner of Nepal - followed by Japan, China, the USA and Germany.

The Society of Nepal

Nepal has about 30 million inhabitants. The ethnic mosaic of Nepal consists of 100 mainly Indo-Aryan and Tibetan-Burmese ethnic groups and is characterized above all by high permeability. The strong mixture of ethnicities, religions and cultures is unique worldwide and has a great fascination for travelers. The reasons lie in the changeful cultural history of the country, which began in the 7th to 8th centuries BC. Begins with the tribe of the Kiranti. Their religion was characterized by a mixture of Hindu and Tantric elements. A little later, Siddharta Gautama, also called Buddha, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal and helped Buddhism flourish. After his enlightenment as a preacher of the "four noble truths" he traveled through the country and after his death around 480 BC. followers spread his message. Around AD 200, however, Buddhism was replaced by Hinduism, which moved in with the Licchavis from northern India.

The Nepalese caste system develops due to the rulership structure parallel to the Indian one. From the tenth century onwards, many Hindus (including many Brahmins) emigrated from India to Nepal in order to escape the Arab invasion or Islamization and to preserve the Hindu culture and ritual purity. The Nepalese caste system changed over time and has become much more pragmatic today. Prosperity is an increasingly important factor for caste membership: poorer Nepalese are more likely to be assigned to the untouchables, richer ones more likely to be assigned to the upper castes. In the same way, European foreigners, who as non-Hindus should actually be untouchables, are counted among the upper class and only treated as untouchables in religious rituals. On top of that, Hinduism and Buddhism have become so closely intertwined that most Nepali feel they are both Hindus and Buddhists at the same time. The places of worship of both religions stand side by side and some of the main shrines are now jointly used for daily puja (Sanskrit for "honoring"), which is now one of the most important everyday rituals in both Hinduism and Buddhism Religions revered. Regardless of religious affiliation, everyone takes part in religious festivals and parades and worships the popular deities. The mixture in the Kathmandu valley goes so far that one can only recognize religious affiliation by whether a Hindu or Buddhist house priest is employed. It is also generally considered socially acceptable for Buddhists and Hindus of the same caste to marry.

Religion & culture in Nepal

Religion is the most elementary factor in Nepal - no matter which one. Above all stands the probably most important mantra "Om mani padme hum", which is an expression of the fundamental attitude of compassion and religious tolerance of the Nepali: Hinduism and Buddhism coexist in perfect harmony with the still living religions of the hill tribes from ancient times. Religion influences daily life like nothing else and thus also determines the culture of the country. Officially, Nepal is a Hindu country. Around 80 percent of the population profess Hinduism, around 10 percent Buddhism and 4 percent Islam - the rest is made up of Jains, Christians, animists and others. An exact count is not possible as many Nepalese see themselves as Hindus and Buddhists alike. The sacred places are not places of religious gatherings as with Christians and Muslims, but rather places of knowledge that improve the karma of the individual and promote health as well as enlightenment. Everyone deals with religious acts with himself.

Flora & Fauna of Nepal

Due to its unusual geography, Nepal has a diverse flora. The tropical Terai in the south of the country is characterized by vegetation of sal trees, from whose wood the ornate doors and windows typical of the Kathmandu Valley are carved. The banya tree with its hanging roots and the pipal tree are also at home here. Other characteristic plants are elephant grass, bamboo, orchid trees, dillenias, mimosas, catechu acacias, wool trees and various types of herbs. In addition to various types of banana, fruit types such as mango, orange, grapefruit and lemon trees complement the scenery. In the central mountain region, on the other hand, red, pink and white flowering rhododendrons and magnolias dominate the landscape. Orchids, oak and chestnut trees as well as eucalyptus trees imported from Australia can also be found in this location. In addition, many of the flowers known to us such as begonias, dahlias, gardenias, geraniums, jasmine, hibiscus and many more bloom in the Kathmandu Valley. Rhododendron trees, birch and coniferous forests as well as many alpine plants, as very rarely, can be found up to the tree line at 4500 meters also the edelweiss.

The Himalayan Mountains are mainly home to brown bears, wild cats such as foxes, various types of deer and deer or types of monkeys. At altitudes over 3000 meters, the agriculturally and logistically irreplaceable yaks shape the landscape. In the southern national parks there are also tigers, rhinos, elephants, various species of monkeys and crocodiles, along with a large population of birds and butterflies.

The infrastructure of Nepal

As a result of the severe earthquake on April 25, 2015 and severe aftershocks, infrastructure damage and impassable roads continue to exist across the country. In Nepal there is left-hand traffic - very chaotic, louder and apparently left-hand traffic with no rules. In Kathmandu this often results in longer traffic jams. Masses of motorcycles clog the streets and prevent the small buses, cars and taxis from moving forward.All vehicles in Nepal are usually very old and rudimentary, so it is not wrong to have a face mask against the exhaust fumes with you.

For inexperienced Nepal tourists, the taxi in big cities is the most sensible alternative. However, there are seldom fixed tariffs. The rule of thumb when negotiating prices is: Less than half is still too much. The buses require a sense of adventure, because there are neither timetables nor clearly marked bus routes, but only a conductor who calls out the next stops from the moving bus. The micro bus is the most common form of public transport in Kathmandu. However, they are usually completely overcrowded. Alternatively, there are tuk-tuks and rickshaws to choose from. For excursions between Kathmandu and cities like Chitwan, Pokhara or Lumbini, there is a wide range of tourist buses for which tickets can usually be bought in the hotel. If you want to save yourself hours of driving over bumpy mountain roads, you should use the various domestic flight connections.

Nepalese cuisine

In contrast to the excellent cuisine of the neighbors India and China, the Nepalese national cuisine is downright boring. The national dish is Daal Bhaat, boiled rice with a thin lentil sauce. Curry vegetables or pickle (spicy pickled fruit or vegetables) are sometimes served with this. In Nepal people eat with the right (!) Hand, cutlery is frowned upon. Rice is already considered a luxury, especially in the mountains. There, the population mainly feeds on tsampa - roasted flour that is processed with a little liquid porridge. In Kathmandu you can find snack stands almost everywhere where you can try samosas (potatoes and chickpeas fried in batter), kerau (dried chickpeas in sauce) and alu daam (curry potatoes).

The Himalayan beer is called Tongba, a mixture of hot water and fermented millet, or the high-percentage Roksi schnapps made from barley or millet, which the villagers usually make themselves for home use. Otherwise there is the cloudy, home-brewed Chang beer, which you should avoid, however, as it is made from water that has not been boiled. We recommend the Nepalese tea "Tschia", which is boiled in the Indian style with spices and sugar directly in the milk. The notorious, rather salty butter tea is also one of the national drinks in Nepal.