If you think this is going to be like one of those clichéd and boring buzz feed lists about Nepal: Everest, Trekking, Buddha & Pokhara, you are partially correct. But Nepal is so much more than just that.
Though almost minuscule tiny dots on the face of this planet, there are many facets of this landlocked country unexplored, untapped, and unknown to the rest of the world. Of course, one could do numerous treks, temple tours, adventure sports, mountaineering, and so forth; each one of which is an equally interesting and enriching experience of its own. To be born in this melting pot of diverse cultures and traditions, I consider myself lucky that I got to see it and live it firsthand. I got an insiders’ perspective and got an insight into the various nuances of Nepali-ness, which is as much a state of mind as it is a physical reality. This write-up is a small attempt from my side that, after you read this, other things will also come to your mind, when you hear the word Nepal.
I can understand why every culture gives so much importance to food. We eat, thus we are. We understand that very well in Nepal, in fact, we take that a bit too seriously. In other parts of the world, you start a conversation asking, “how are you?” or talking about how lovely or horrible the weather has been today. “Khana Khayo?” is a casual hello here, literally translates as “Did you eat?”. We ask you that because we care, this culture understands food is happiness and how important food is for our well-being. Food is the epitome of the culture and they have an intrinsic relationship, yet little attention is paid to understanding, exploring, and promoting Nepali food culture, which defines who we are.
Momo and dal-bhat–tarkari are now synonymous with Nepali Cuisine, but food in Nepal is much more than just those two dishes. Momo is dumpling and Dal is a broth made of lentils and often tampered with spices, bhat boiled rice and tarkari is any seasonal vegetable curry or meat.
Nepalese cuisine has had influences from Tibetan, Chinese, Indian and een Bhutanese cuisines, but moderation is the mantra of Nepalese food. We have had our own tweaks and twists to other influences to make them our own, to add a bit of “nepali-ness” to the food.
Have you tried the overwhelming Newari Cuisine? Rich and diverse in taste, texture and flavors, this is probably the one of the few cuisines in the world that boasts of at least 20 different dishes of just buffalo, so this cuisine definitely lacks no imagination. From savory to sweet, sour to spicy its rich palate caters to everyone’s appetite. And of course, there is the earthy Tharu cuisine, which is deeply rooted in the heartland of Terai, Southern Nepal. Tharu cuisine, distant cousin to the French cuisine, as both of them relish in the delicacy of “Ghonghi” known as “Escargot” In French. From lavish and elaborative Thakali Cuisine which has evolved adopting from both the mountains and the plains to the very little known Kirant Cuisine from eastern Nepal which offers a variety of flavors ranging from burnt inner feathers of a chicken to the wild lichen.
After traveling extensively in nooks and corners of Nepal, I could not help but be impressed at the people in Nepal co-existing with the harsh environment and in this immense ethnic diversity. I have been fortunate enough to perceive the beautiful and colourful ethnic mosaic that is precariously balanced. From the lap of Himalaya to the vast Terai plains, the tribal variety is phenomenal.
Much has been said about the diversity of people in this land. I am not going to bore you with the demographics. However, one never misses noticing the charm of the simplicity and honesty of people living in Nepal. You will be greeted with smiling faces everywhere you go.
Tolerance is the second religion here. When it comes to religious beliefs, Nepalese are significantly flexible, pragmatic and more importantly tolerant. A Hindu will bow in respect passing by a Buddhist Stupa and vice versa. Patience and good humour are the virtues of people here. Quick to smile and fierce to fight Nepalese are renowned for their bravery around the world. The stories of bravery and courage reverberate in far-away lands.
The Music & Festivals
Nepal is the land of festivities. Every other day there is one festival or the other. We have festivals for cows (of course because she is HOLY). Festival for dogs; it’s our answer to the English proverb “every dog has its day”, festivals for crows, snakes, frogs and not to forget our festivals of colours and lights. Nepalese surely know how to celebrate life. Every aspect of nature & life are part of culture and festivity here.
Just like our humongous ethnic diversity, it’s no surprise that our musical heritage is equally diverse and prosperous. The music that echoes in the high mountains is deep and entrancing while the music in the south is joyous and full of rich rhythm.
Eastern classical music is deeply rooted in Katmandu valley where it flourished in the Durbars of Maharajas in the medieval period. The devotional hymns in the praise of the numerous deities that resonate in the temples and monasteries are perfectly tuned in classical Ragas. Classical music here is contemplative and pensive capable of evoking a meditative state in the listener and player singer alike. Not to forget the pop and rock culture that has rocked Nepali Music since the 80s.
The beauty of our music is, a song can be performed simply and, in all humility, or with the grandest elaboration retaining the core of both meaning and melody.