Culture Smart! Nepal provides essential information, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! Nepal offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience.
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Anna Bentinck is a hugely experienced audiobook narrator having recorded a wide variety of audiobooks including genres from classics to teenage sci-fi, children's titles and animation.
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By Tessa Feller
Bravo LtdCopyright © 2008 Kuperard
All rights reserved.
LAND & PEOPLE
Sandwiched between China to the north, and India to the south, Nepal runs approximately 500 miles (800 km) from northwest to southeast, and is between 56 and 143 miles wide (90 and 230 km), covering an area of 56,827 square miles (147,181 sq. km). It is home not only to Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet (8,848 m) the world's highest mountain, but to eight of the world's ten highest peaks, and several hundred more exceeding 20,000 feet (6,000 m).
The Himalayas give the country its unique appeal to the outside world, but this picture can be misleading: altitudes descend to less than 200 feet (60 m), and more than 40 percent of the land area is below 3,300 feet (1,000 m). The extreme variation in altitude within a small space influences everything, from Nepal's climate to its ethnicity and demography, history, and political and economic development.
More than 60 million years ago, the Indo-Australian tectonic plate collided with the Eurasian continent. The resultant crunching of the Earth's crust over millennia has created a series of mountain systems running in a northwest/southeast direction. These divide Nepal into roughly parallel strips of different ecological character.
The Ganges plains extend some 25 miles (40 km) into Nepal along its southern border with India, forming the lowlands or Terai, and rising to a maximum 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level. This area was infested with malaria and largely uninhabitable until sprayed with DDT in the 1950s. Now its dense forests have been cleared to make room for people from the hills, and its fertile plains, though just a fifth of the territory, house a good 50 percent of the total population.
Separated from the Terai by the Mahabharat range of hills are the pahar (mid-hills), covering 60 percent of the land area and ranging from 1,000 feet (300 m) to nearly 15,000 feet (4,500 m) in altitude. Characteristic of these are flat, enclosed high valleys that have been inhabited for centuries, such as the highly populous and cultivated Kathmandu valley and Pokhara.
North of the mid-hills is the great Himalaya, which covers almost a fifth of the nation's territory. The few treacherous paths that traverse these high mountains, formerly trade routes between Tibet and India, are now mainly used by backpackers. The sparsely populated inner valleys of the Himalaya are screened to an extent from wind and rain, but can only be reached on foot or by airplane.
The Transhimalaya beyond is an arid desert region along the Tibetan border, in the rain shadow of the Himalayas at an average altitude of 19,700 feet (6,000 m) above sea level.
There are effectively two seasons in Nepal: the dry season from October to the end of May, and the monsoon, which starts in June and goes on until the end of September. The best times to visit are after the monsoon, in October and November, when the country is lush green and the air is clearest, and February (when the rhododendron forests are in full bloom in the countryside) through to April, before it becomes too sultry.
The Himalayas form a meteorological divide, separating the moist monsoon climate of southern Asia on one side from the arid continental climate of the Tibetan steppes on the other. The monsoon arrives from the southeast, and falls most heavily on the southern and southeastern slopes of the mountains. This is not a good time to travel, as the mountains are often obscured by clouds, and road conditions can be very poor.
Average annual precipitation is approximately 98 inches (2,500 mm) in the east of Nepal, and 148 inches (3,755 mm) in Pokhara. Compare this with 140 inches (3,552 mm) in Seathwaite, the wettest inhabited place in England. The difference is that precipitation in England is spread evenly over twelve months, whereas in Nepal, it is concentrated into two. Rivers you can paddle in one day can turn into raging torrents overnight, sometimes washing away whole villages, roads, and bridges.
Temperature and climate are determined by the country's position in the northern hemisphere (it is on a latitude with the Central Saharan desert) and by altitude. While temperatures in the high mountains are permanently below freezing, temperatures in the Terai may reach 104°F (40°C) in the hottest months (May and June before the monsoon breaks). These temperatures are compounded by high humidity. Temperatures in the capital regularly rise to 86°F (30°C) in summer, but drop pleasantly at night due to its altitude (4,265 ft/1,300 m above sea level). In January, temperatures in Kathmandu may reach 68°F (20°C) in the sun, but fall to near freezing point at night. Pokhara and especially the Terai are significantly warmer, although the Terai can feel very cold in January because blanket fog sometimes fails to rise for days at a time.
Broadly speaking, the Terai enjoys a tropical climate, the mid-hills are tropical to temperate, and the high mountains have an alpine climate. Hillsides are terraced and cultivated up to 8,900 feet (2,700 m) or the level of the clouds and mist on their southern slopes. Barley and potatoes grow to an altitude of 14,100 feet (4,300 m), which is also the tree line. The snow line begins at about 16,400 feet (5,000 m), much higher than in the Alps.
Nepal has a population of approximately 29 million people, growing fast at an annual rate of 2.3 percent. There can be few geographical areas of similar size in this world as ethnically diverse: the census of 2001 identified ninety-two living languages, and a hundred-and-three distinct caste and ethnic groups.
Several waves of migration over two millennia brought Indo-Aryan peoples from the south together with Tibeto-Burmese peoples from the north. The country's sheer topography and climatic peculiarities facilitated the preservation of separate cultural enclaves.
A demographic map of the country roughly reflects the high mountain, mid-hill, and lowland zones described in the section on geography. Each zone can be further divided from east to west, with different ethnic groups inhabiting different regions.
In the high Himalayas, Buddhist peoples of Tibetan descent predominate. These include the Sherpas in the northeast, Tamang in the Central Himalayas and hills, and Thakali further west. The pahar (mid-hills) region is home to Rai and Limbu peoples in the east, Newars around the Kathmandu valley, and Gurung and Magar further west, as well as the originally Gorkha caste-structured Hindu Parbatiya, who include the two highest castes, Bahuns and Chhetris, and dalits (untouchables). Today the Parbatiya make up 40.3 percent of the total population.
Until the eradication of malaria in the 1950s, the Tharu people were almost the sole inhabitants of the Terai region. Nowadays it is home to migrants from the hill areas and population overflow from the Ganges plains in India. Dominant ethnic groups are the Maithili in the east, Bhojpuri in the central Terai, and Abadhi in the west. Large numbers of Muslims from India have also settled in the Terai. Approximately 7.3 percent of the population currently lives in the mountains, 44.3 percent live in the central mid-hill region, and 48.4 percent now live in the Terai. These regions comprise 35 percent, 42 percent, and 23 percent of the total land area respectively.
A BRIEF HISTORY
There are two problems with historical accounts of Nepal. One is that most are in fact restricted to the story of the Kathmandu valley. The second is that the country's history is inevitably recounted from the point of view of the dominant higher-caste Hindus (Bahuns and Chhetris). This in itself, however, is a reflection of the country's history: the Kathmandu valley and higher-caste Hindu groups who live there have dominated politics, the economy, and Nepali society for centuries. At the same time, other religious and ethnic groups, although subordinated in the Hindu order of things, have traditionally been tolerated. Indeed, the country's relative isolation has made it a safe haven for those escaping domination elsewhere.
Excavations have shown that the Kathmandu valley has been inhabited for at least 9,000 years. Both Indo-Aryan migrants from the south and Tibeto-Burmese groups from the north are believed to have been present in the valley since about 1000 BCE.
The ancient Indian epics, the Mahabharata and Ramayana, provide the first documented references to the Kiratis, a Mongoloid people who dominated the valley for almost a millennium from around the eighth century BCE. The Rai and Limbu peoples of eastern Nepal are believed to be their descendants.
Several flourishing Hindu kingdoms in the Terai in the first millennium BCE included that of the Shakya dynasty, whose most famous prince was Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, born around 563 BCE in Lumbini. He later renounced his rank to lead an ascetic life and become the founder of the Buddhist faith.
The Licchavis, 450–879
The Licchavis were Indo-Aryans who invaded from northern India around 300 CE, coming to power in the middle of the fifth century. They introduced the Hindu caste system that continues to divide society to this day, but also set a precedent for religious tolerance and syncretism. The first Licchavi king, Manadeva I, is said to have worshipped at both Hindu and Buddhist shrines.
This was a period of great economic prosperity and cultural activity. The Buddhist temple complexes of Swayambunath and Bodhnath date from the Licchavi era, as do the Hindu temples of Changu Narayan and Pashupatinath. Mountain paths that still exist today became important trade routes linking Tibet with India. During this time, Buddhism found its way to Tibet, and the pagoda style typical of Licchavi architecture was adopted in China and Japan.
The Thakuri Kings, 602–1200
The Thakuri kings reigned from the seventh to the thirteenth centuries, cementing their relationships with north and south by means of strategic marriages. The daughter of Amsuvarman, the first Thakuri king, married a Tibetan prince and is said to have converted her husband to Buddhism. She is still honored today as a reincarnation of the Green Tara goddess of Tibetan Buddhism. The city of Kathmandu also dates from this era, having been founded in the tenth century. Meanwhile, the advance of Muslim conquerors in the south appears to have caused both Buddhist and Hindu clerics to take refuge in the Kathmandu valley.
The Malla Dynasty, 1200–1768
The Malla kings were a Newar dynasty that reigned in the Kathmandu valley from 1200 to 1768. The Newars today consider themselves to be the original inhabitants of the valley, but no one really knows where they came from.
After more than a century of feudal conflict, and a devastating invasion by Muslim Mughals in 1349, King Jayasthiti Malla succeeded in uniting the whole valley in 1382. He sought to impose order by implementing the rules of orthodox Hinduism. The caste system was extended to include the Buddhist Newars.
Buddhist priests took the highest social rank, like their Hindu (Bahun) counterparts, followed by noblemen, officials, shopkeepers, and farmers. Monks were permitted to marry and the status of priests also became hereditary, thus reinforcing their status within the social hierarchy. Priests began to perform more worldly jobs and carry out their priestly duties as secondary occupations. The tantric form of Buddhism began to spread (see Chapter 3). Newar, a Tibeto-Burmese language distinct from Tibetan and Nepali, became the language of state.
King Yaksha Malla, grandson of Jayasthiti, pursued an expansionist policy until the country extended from the Ganges in the south to Tibet in the north, and from the Kali Gandaki River in the west to Sikkim. On his death in 1482, the kingdom split into three rival kingdoms ruled from Bhaktapur, Kathmandu, and Patan. Political feuding continued for the next two centuries, eventually inviting disaster, but culturally this period was a golden age, in which the three kingdoms vied to outdo each other in terms of architecture and art. Many of the buildings and works of art still to be admired today in Bhaktapur, Patan, and Kathmandu date from this era.
The Shah Kings and the Unification of Nepal, 1768–1846
The Hindu rulers of the Shah dynasty from the tiny kingdom of Gorkha, some 62 miles (100 km) to the west, had meanwhile been growing in strength. Although both Muslim and British troops rushed to help the Mallas, King Prithvi Narayan Shah of Gorkha was able to defeat them and unify Nepal in 1768.
Fearing European intervention, the new ruler expelled all Christian missionaries from the country and refused entry to foreigners. Nepal entered a (first) period of self-imposed isolation — in retrospect perhaps a blessing, as the country was to be spared ever being ruled by foreigners.
In their thirst for new land, the Shah kings spread throughout the mid-hills of Nepal, taking with them both their religion and their Nepali language, a language of Indo-Aryan origin. For a while the country extended from Kashmir in the west to Sikkim in the east. The Chinese put a stop to their expansion when they attempted to conquer Tibet.
War Against the British
Meanwhile the influence of the British on the Indian subcontinent was growing. In 1814, a border dispute with the British East India Company led to war.
Significantly, although defeated, Nepal was never actually colonized. By the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816, the Nepalese were forced to give up Sikkim and much of the Terai to Britain, and tolerate a British resident in Kathmandu, stationed there to monitor the situation. This established the country's present-day borders. A further long period of isolation began. The British residents were to be the only foreigners allowed into the country for more than a century.
The British were so impressed by the valor and tenacity of these hardy mountain warriors, that they not only allowed them to surrender honorably with their arms, but began to employ them in the ranks of the East India Company's army. When they later proved their loyalty during the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the British Army created its elite Gurkha regiments. Since then they have become one of Nepal's most famous exports, serving not only in the British but also in the Indian Army and as mercenaries elsewhere. Their courage is legendary, and Gurkhas have served in the British Army in both world wars, the Falklands, and Iraq. In return for their help during the two world wars, Nepal was assured of its independence and guaranteed duty-free transit of commodities through India.
The Ranas, 1846–1951
In 1846, Jung Bahadur Rana, a nephew of the king, had many of the most important people in the country massacred in the Kot courtyard next to Kathmandu's Durbar Square, before declaring himself prime minister. Thereafter power was in the hands of the Rana family, who became hereditary prime ministers. The Shahs were relegated to the role of puppet kings with little more than a ceremonial function. The Ranas maintained cordial relations with Britain, rushing to help the British during the Indian Mutiny in 1857 with 8,000 Gurkhas, although the country remained isolated from the outside world.
Excerpted from Nepal by Tessa Feller. Copyright © 2008 Kuperard. Excerpted by permission of Bravo Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
About the Author,
Map of Nepal,
Chapter 1: LAND AND PEOPLE,
A Brief History,
Chapter 2: VALUES AND ATTITUDES,
Karma, Dharma, and Fatalism,
The Caste System,
The Importance of the Family,
The Aphno Manche Concept — a Family Support Group,
The Jagir Culture,
Tradition and Superstition,
Attitudes Toward Work and Keeping up Appearances,
Attitudes Toward Women,
Attitudes Toward Children,
Attitudes Toward Neighboring Countries,
Attitudes Toward Others,
Chapter 3: RELIGION, CUSTOMS, AND TRADITION,
Islam and other Religions,
Religious Traditions and Rites of Passage,
Chapter 4: MAKING FRIENDS,
Greetings and other Courtesies,
What Should I Talk About?,
What Should I Wear?,
Sports and other Clubs,
Chapter 5: THE NEPALESE AT HOME,
The Nepalese Day,
Radio and TV,
Chapter 6: TIME OUT,
Crowds and Lack of Privacy,
Shopping for Pleasure,
Cultural and Social Life,
The Great Outdoors,
Chapter 7: TRAVEL, HEALTH, AND SAFETY,
Getting Around the Country,
Where to Stay,
Health and Safety,
Chapter 8: BUSINESS BRIEFING,
The Business Environment,
Bureaucracy and ITL[Baksheesh]ITL,
Employment for Foreigners,
Chapter 9: COMMUNICATING,
English Language Publications,
Using the Telephone,