Once you visit Nepal, you will never want to leave. The spirit Nepal will live on within you. Nestled in the cradle of the highest mountains on Earth, Nepal is an explorer’s paradise. Imagine people born deep in the Himalayan mountains, displaying the wisdom and patience of these mountains in every smile. This is Nepal. Pokhara is an idyllic city in the Western Development Region of the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. The city is located 200 KM west (most of a day’s bus ride) of Kathmandu, and is referred to as the “Seven Lakes City” and “Gateway to the Himalayas.” Tourism
Tourism is the largest industry in Nepal. Located between China and India, Nepal contains 8 of the world’s 10 highest peaks, including Mount Everest and Kangchenjunga. Major tourist attractions are wilderness and adventure activities and religious sites. Important Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage sites are the Pashupatinath Temple, the world’s largest temple of Shiva, and Lumbi, a World Heritage site that is traditionally considered to be the birthplace of Gautama Buddha. Here there is plenty of adventure, such as white water rafting, trekking the Annapurna Circut, a visit to Royal Chitwan National Park, elephant safari, and much more. Volunteers also have the opportunity to participate in and learn about local festivals.Quick Facts
Official Name: Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal
Climate: varies from cool summers and severe winters in north to subtropical summers and mild winters in south
Currency: Nepalese rupee
Ethnic Groups: Chhettri 15.5%, Brahman-Hill 12.5%, Magar 7%, Tharu 6.6%, Tamang 5.5%, Newar 5.4%, Muslim 4.2%, Kami 3.9%, Yadav 3.9%, other 32.7%, unspecified 2.8% (2001 census)
Languages: Nepali (official) 47.8%, Maithali 12.1%, Bhojpuri 7.4%, Tharu (Dagaura/Rana) 5.8%, Tamang 5.1%, Newar 3.6%, Magar 3.3%, Awadhi 2.4%, other 10%, unspecified 2.5% (2001 census)
Religions: Hindu 80.6%, Buddhist 10.7%, Muslim 4.2%, Kirant 3.6%, other 0.9%
Labor Force (by occupation): agriculture: 75%, industry: 7%, services: 18%
Industry: Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy, providing a livelihood for three-fourths of the population and accounting for about one-third of GDP. Industrial activity mainly involves the processing of agricultural products, including pulses, jute, sugarcane, tobacco, and grain. Nepal has considerable scope for exploiting its potential in hydropower, with an estimated 42,000 MW of feasible capacity, but political instability hampers foreign investment. Additional challenges to Nepal’s growth include its landlocked geographic location, civil strife and labor unrest, and its susceptibility to natural disaster.
Exports: clothing, pulses, carpets, textiles, juice, pashima, jute goods
Imports: petroleum products, machinery and equipment, gold, electrical goods, medicine
Natural Resources: quartz, water, timber, hydropower, scenic beauty, small deposits of lignite, copper, cobalt, iron ore
Current Environmental Issues: deforestation (overuse of wood for fuel and lack of alternatives), contaminated water (with human and animal wastes, agricultural runoff, and industrial effluents), wildlife conservation, vehicular emissions
Population below poverty line: 24.7% (2008)
Life Expectancy: 66.16 years
Literacy rate (age 15 and over can read and write): male: 62.7%, female: 34.9%
Refugees and Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs): refugees (country of origin): 107,803 (Bhutan); 20,153 (Tibet/China) IDPs: 50,000-70,000 (remaining from ten-year Maoist insurgency that officially ended in 2006; displacement spread across the country)
Nepal’s population is made up of over 40 different ethnic groups. The two major groups in Nepalese society are Tibeto-Burmans, or Mongoloids from the north, and Indo-Aryans from the south. Many customs have been developed by the influences of the land, climate and available resources.The largest groups can be divided on the basis of geographical locations by altitude. These groups include: Sherpas,Tibetan speaking people, Tibeto-Burman and Indo-Aryan, Lowland Terai People.Languages
There are some 120 native languages of Nepal, belonging to the Indo-Aryan, Sino-Tibetan, Austro-Asiatic and Dravidian language families. Nepali is the national language of Nepal, while other major languages of the country are Newari, Awadhi, Limbu, Hindi, Mundari, Bahing and Maithili. Many of Nepal’s indigenous languages are on the verge of extinction.
Nepal was the world’s last constitutionally declared Hindu state. But after the movement for democracy in early 2006 and the sacking of King Gyanendra, the Nepali Parliament amended the constitution to make Nepal a secular state.Challenges
Nepal faces issues poverty, unemployment, a history of authoritarianism, violence, crime, drug peddling, human trafficking and environmental pollution. Once a Hindu monarchy, Nepal’s transition to democracy is compromised by its fractured political base. Nepal has experienced significant violence and civil strife combating Maoist insurgents. Stark differences between the Maoists and other parties over the constitution, limit potential for consensus. Continual ongoing clashes between the government and Maoist rebels has resulted in a significant populations of internally displaced persons, estimated at between 100,000 and 200,000 people in 2006.HIV/AIDS
Although HIV/AIDS affects only about 0.4% of the adult Nepali population, the prevalence rate masks a concentrated epidemic among at-risk populations such as female sex workers, injecting drug users, homosexual males, and migrants. Nepal’s political instability has resulted in nominal government support for national HIV and AIDS programs. Therefore, most HIV/AIDS activities are funded by external development partners.Women’s Issues
In Nepal, poverty, unemployment, and social discrimination disproportionately affect women. The unemployment rate remains at about 40% and the lack of trained skills among the labor force is critical.
Despite the fact that the Constitution does not differentiate between men and women, women in Nepal face difficulty accessing education or a political voice, with females almost twice as likely to be illiterate than their male counterparts. As a result of this severe gap in gender equality, Nepal is one of the few countries in the world where the female life expectancy is actually lower than male life expectancy. Few women hold positions of political power and voter registration for women is consistently lower than that for men, despite their larger population.
Entrenched social norms ensure that women are not considered equal to men. The influence of the Hindu religion places an emphasis on women’s chastity and virginity. This has resulted in increased restrictions and marginalization of women, as well as the marriage of girls at ages 12-14 in rural settings. Despite the obstacles Nepalese women face, local and international organizations are working for women’s empowerment.
Nepal exhibits tremendous geographic diversity due to greatly varied elevations, rising from less than 328 ft. (100 meters) elevation in the tropical Terai—the northern rim of the Gangetic Plain, beyond the perpetual snow line to Earth’s highest peak at 29,029 ft. (8,848 meters) at Mount Everest or Sagarmatha. Along a south-to-north transect, Nepal can be divided into three belts: Terai, Hill and Mountain Regions. In the other direction it is divided into three major river systems, from east to west: Koshi, Gandaki/Narayani and Karnali (including the Mahakali/Sarda along the western border), all tributaries of the Ganges. The Ganges-Yarlung Zangbo/Brahmaputra watershed largely coincides with the Nepal-Tibet border, however several Ganges tributaries rise inside Tibet. Nepal is surrounded by India on three sides and China’s Xizang Autonomous Region (Tibet) to the north. To the east are India and Bhutan. Nepal measures roughly 497 mi. (800 kilometers) along its himalayan axis by 93 – 155 mi (150 – 250 kilometers) across.
Nepal is not only the land of mountains, it is also the land of festivals. There are more than 50 festivals celebrated in Nepal every year. While the national festivals have fixed dates, religious festivals are set by astrologers following the lunar calendar. The best part about the festivals in Nepal is that all the events are celebrated with the same enthusiasm and galore as hundreds of years ago when people had no other means of entertainment. New Year: It is known as “Navavarsha” in Nepal. Nepal has its official calendar that begins from the first day of the first month Baisakh. This very first day is observed as Nepali New Year which usually falls in the second week of April. People go for picnics, have get-togethers and celebrate the day socializing in various ways as this day is also a national holiday. Lhosar (Tibetan New Year): This is the New Year of the Tibetans and Sherpas of Nepal which falls in February. The Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu like Boudhanath and Swayambhunath are decorated with eye catching colorful prayer flags pulling the crowd. The people perform their traditional dances and welcome their New Year with feasts and family gatherings wearing all the new clothes and finest jewelries and exchanging gifts. Saraswati Puja: Saraswati Puja or Shree Panchami is a day to celebrate the birthday of Saraswati – the Goddess of Learning. This is a day when people from school students to scholars worship their pens and books to please the Goddess and expect her favor in their studies so they become wise and knowledgeable. People also throng around the idol of Goddess Saraswati, especially in Swayambhunath and offer flowers, sweets, fruits, etc. On this day, small children are taught to read and write and people write on the stones and slabs with chalks and pencils. This day which falls between January/February is regarded as a very auspicious day for marriages too as it is believed that Goddess Saraswati herself blesses the couples. Normally it is the astrologers who fix the marriage date and time in Nepal. Shivaratri (Maha Shivaratri): Shivaratri or the night of Lord Shiva that falls sometime between February/March is one of the major festivals of Nepal. This day is dedicated to the Lord of the Lords – Lord Shiva or Mahadev who lived in Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas. Lord Shiva is the most worshipped God in the Hindu religion. More than 100,000 of Hindu devotees from India and Southeast Asia throng weeks ahead of the festival and gather in and around Pashupatinath temple – one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus in Kathmandu to pay their homage to Lord Shiva on his birthday. “Pashupatinath” literally means “the Lord of animals” as Lord Shiva is considered as the guardian and protector of everything that exists in the Himalayan Kingdom. On this holy day, worshippers take dip and bath in the holy river at early dawn and fast for the whole day and stay around fire to keep them warm as it is still winter in Nepal. Holi: This festival of water and colors that falls between February/March is also known as “Phagu” in Nepal. This day is observed to rejoice the extermination of female demon Holika who together with her King brother conspired to kill his son Pralhad, an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu. This day, playful people especially the young ones wander through the streets in groups on foot or vehicles with various colors smeared all over them and the people in houses make merry throwing colors and water balloons at each other and also to these people on the streets. Ghode Jatra (Festival of Horses): This festival takes place between March/April and a grand horse parade takes place at Tundikhel. Although this festival does not have much of religious aspects, a large number of people, even from outside Kathmandu flock around Kathmandu to witness the horse race and other exciting sports activities performed by the Army in the presence of the King and the Royal family. Buddha Jayanti: Buddha’s birth anniversary is celebrated every year during May in Nepal. On this day people swarm in Swayambhunath and Boudhanath to pay homage to Lord Buddha and also visit Buddha’s birth place in Lumbini and chant prayers and burn butter lamps. Lord Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha Gautam but he abandoned his luxurious life when he realized the misery of mankind and went in search of enlightenment. Gai Jatra (Cow Festival): This festival of cow is celebrated every year in August/September. This is one of the most popular festivals in Nepal as it is full of humor, satire, comedy, mockery and shades of sadness too at the same time. And on this day satires and jokes on anybody is legal. As per the tradition, the family who has lost a relative during the past one year must take part in a procession by sending young boys in cow like attire and walk through the streets of Kathmandu lead by a cow. Cow is regarded as a Goddess and it is also the national animal of Nepal. This festival also purges many who have lost their loved ones as they get to console themselves as to they are not the only ones who have been bereaved and it also teaches to accept death as a part of life. Krishna Janmastami: The birth anniversary of Lord Sri Krishna, believed to be the 8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu falls sometime in August/September. All the devotees assemble in Krishna Mandir, the ancient Krishna Temple in Patan Durbar Square and other temples with the idol of Sri Krishna and offer prayers, flowers, food, sweets and chant hymns too. Teej: This is a Hindu married woman’s day for her man. This festival is celebrated in August/September. Women clad in beautiful red saris with shining potes (glass beads), singing and dancing is the sight almost everywhere in Nepal during the festival of Teej. On this day women observe a fast and pray Lord Shiva for the long, healthy and prosperous life of their husbands and their families. The unmarried women also observe this festival with unabated zeal with the hope that they will get to marry good husbands. From early dawn, women queue up in the multiple lines in Pashupatinath to offer their prayers to Lord Shiva. Indra Jatra: This festival named after Lord Indra- the God of Rain and also the King of Heaven is celebrated by both the Buddhists and Hindus in Nepal in August/September. This festival lasts for eight days with singing, mask dancing and rejoicing. The chariot of Kumari – the Living Goddess is taken through the main streets of Kathmandu with much fanfare. On the first day, the King of Nepal also pays homage to Goddess Kumari. The crowd of excited people from performers to spectators engulfs the streets of Kathmandu during this festival. People get to enjoy various classical dances like elephant dance, lakhe – a very popular dance of a man with a mask. Tihar: This festival of lights (also called Diwali) falls between October/November and is the second biggest festival after Dashain. This festival lasts for five days and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and happiness. Different colorful varieties of fireworks are always associated with this festival. On this auspicious day, people light up diyas and candles all around their house. They perform Laxmi Puja in the evening and seek divine blessings of Goddess of Wealth. The festival of Diwali is never complete without exchange of gifts. People present All the houses are cleaned and decorated with the belief that Goddess Laxmi will enter the house that is the cleanest. People light candles, oil lamps and other lights and everything is illuminated. During the five days, crows, dogs and cows are worshipped and honored with vermilion, garland and delicious food for what they have done in the lives of humans. Crows are regarded as the messenger that brought news even during the time when there were no postmen or postal services. Dogs are the most obedient animals and they guard our house as true guardians. The cow is also a symbol of wealth in Hinduism and she is also the national animal of Nepal. During Tihar, the Newari community in Nepal also observes Mha puja – a ritual of worshipping one’s own body and life. On this very day, the Newari New Year which is also known as Nepal Sambat begins. The festival ends with Bhai Tika – brothers’ day when his sisters worship him for his long and healthy life to safeguard the lives of his sisters. This is also a gambling time in Nepal as gambling is not illegal during this festival. Dashain (Bijaya Dashami): During the month of Kartik (late September and early October), the Nepalese people indulge in the biggest festival of the year, Dashain. Dashain is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar, celebrated by Nepalese of all caste and creed throughout the country. The fifteen days of celebration occurs during the bright lunar fortnight ending on the day of the full moon. Thorough out the kingdom of Nepal the goddess Durga in all her manifestations are worshiped with innumerable pujas, abundant offerings and thousands of animal sacrifices for the ritual holy bathing, thus drenching the goddess for days in blood. Dashain commemorates a great victory of the gods over the wicked demons. One of the victory stories told is the Ramayan, where the lord Ram after a big struggle slaughtered Ravana, the fiendish king of demons. It is said that lord Ram was successful in the battle only when goddess Durga was evoked. The main celebration glorifies the triumph of good over evil and is symbolized by goddess Durga slaying the terrible demon Mahisasur, who terrorised the earth in the guise of a brutal water buffalo. The first nine days signify the nine days of ferrous battle between goddess Durga and the demon Mahisasur. The tenth day is the day when Mahisasur was slain and the last five days symbolise the celebration of the victory with the blessing of the goddess. Dashain is celebrated with great rejoice, and goddess Durga is worshiped throughout the kingdom as the divine mother goddess. In preparation for Dashain every home is cleansed and beautifully decorated, painted as an invitation to the mother goddess, so that she may visit and bless the house with good fortune. During this time the reunion of distant and nearby relatives occur in every household. The market is filled with shoppers seeking new clothing, gifts, luxuries and enormous supplies of temple offering for the gods, as well as foodstuffs for the family feasting. Thousands of sheep, goats, ducks, chicken and water buffalo are prepared for the great slaughter. All types of organisations are closed for ten to fifteen days. Labourers are almost impossible to find; from the poor to the rich, all enjoy the festive mood. Anywhere you go the aroma of ‘Vijaya Dashami’ is found. The first nine days of Dashain are called Nawa Ratri when tantric rites are conducted. In Nepal the life force is embodied in the divine energy and power of the female, depicted as goddess Durga in her many forms. All goddess who emanated from goddess Durga are known as devis, each with different aspects and powers. In most mother goddess temples the deity is represented simply as a sacred Kalash, carved water jug or multiple handed goddess holding murderous weapons. During these nine days people pay their homage to the goddess. If she is properly worshiped and pleased good fortunes are on the way and if angered through neglect then misfortunes are around the corner. Mother goddess is the source of life and everything. The first day of Dashain is called Ghatasthapana, which literally means pot establishing. On this day the kalash, (holy water vessel) symbolising goddess Durga often with her image embossed on the side is placed in the prayer room. The kalash is filled with holy water and covered with cowdung on to which seeds are sown. A small rectangular sand block is made and the kalash is put in the centre. The surrounding bed of sand is also seeded with grains. The ghatasthapana ritual is performed at a certain auspicious moment determined by the astrologers. At that particular moment the priest intones a welcome, requesting goddess Durga to bless the vessel with her presence. The room where the kalash is established is called ‘Dashain Ghar’. Generally women are not allowed to enter the room where Dashain puja is being carried out. A priest or a household man worships the kalash everyday once in the morning and then in the evening. The kalash and the sand are sprinkled with holy water everyday and it is shielded from direct sunlight. By the tenth day, the seed will have grown to five or six inches long yellow grass. The sacred yellow grass is called ‘Jamara’. It is bestowed by the elders atop the heads of those younger to them during the last five days when tika is put on. The jamara is taken as a token of Goddess Durga as well as the elders blessing. As days passes by regular rituals are observed till the seventh day. The seventh day is called ‘Fulpati’. In fulpati, the royal kalash filled with holy water, banana stalks, jamara and sugar cane tied with red cloth is carried by Brahmans on a decorated palanquin under a gold tipped and embroidered umbrella. The government officials also join the fulpati parade. With this the Dashain feasting starts. The eighth day is called the Maha Asthami. The fervour of worship and sacrifice to Durga and Kali increases. On this day many orthodox Hindus will be fasting. Sacrifices are held in almost every house through out the day. The night of the eighth day is called ‘Kal Ratri’, the dark night. Hundreds of goats, sheep and buffaloes are sacrificed at the mother goddess temples. The sacrifice continues till dawn. While the puja is being carried out great feasts are held in the homes of common people where large amount of meat are consumed. The ninth day is called Nawami. Temples of mother goddess are filled with people from dawn till dusk. Animals mostly black buffaloes are slaughtered to honour Durga the goddess of victory and might and to seek her blessing. Military bands play war tunes, guns boom and officers with beautifully decorated medals in full uniform stand there. When the function ends the courtyard is filled ankle deep with blood. On this very day the god Vishwa Karma, the God of creativity is also worshiped. All factories, vehicles, any machinery instruments and anything from which we make a living are worshiped. We also give sacrifices to all moving machinery like cars, aeroplanes, trucks etc. to get the blessing from goddess Durga for protection for vehicles and their occupants against accidents during the year. The entire day is colourful. The tenth day is the Dashami. On this day we take tika and jamara from our elders and receive their blessing. We visit our elders in their home and get tika from them while our younger ones come to our home to receive blessing from us. The importance of Dasain also lies in the fact that on this day family members from far off and distant relatives come for a visit as well as to receive tika from the head of the family. This function continues for four days. After four days of rushing around and meeting your relatives Dashain ends on the full moon day, the fifteenth day. In the last day people stay at home and rest. The full moon day is also called ‘Kojagrata’ meaning ‘who is awake’. The Hindu goddess of wealth Laxmi is worshipped. On this day the goddess Laxmi is given an invitation to visit each and everyone. After Dashain everyone settles back to normal. After receiving the blessing of goddess Durga, people are ready to work and acquire virtue, power and wealth. Dashain thus is not only the longest festival but also the most anticipated one among all the festivals of Nepal.