Nepal: An Introduction
Nepal is a landlocked country, surrounded by India on three sides and by China's Tibet Autonomous Region to the north. The shape of the country is rectangular with the width of about 650 kilometers and length of about 200 kilometers. The total landmass is 147,181 square kilometers. Nepal is dependent on India for transit facilities and access to sea. All the goods and raw materials arrive into Nepal from the Bay of Bengal and through Kolkata.
Though small in size, Nepal contains great diversity in landscape. The south of Nepal, which borders India, is flat and known locally as Terai. The Terai is situated about 300 meters above sea level. The landscape then dramatically changes to mid-hills of over 1000 meters and reaches as high as 8000 meters with the Himalayas in the north bordering China. This rise in elevation is punctuated by valleys situated between mountain ranges. Within this maze of mountains, hills, ridges, and low valleys, changes in altitude has resulted in great ecological variations and has given rise to many different cultures, traditions, and languages.
Because of fertile soil and easy to develop irrigation facility, Terai is the breadbasket of the country. Terai is also the most densely populated region in Nepal, followed by the mid-hills, especially large
towns like Kathmandu and Pokhara. In the Himalayas, the weather is extremely cold in the winters, and many people migrate to lower hills during the winter. The Himalayas is extremely popular tourist region. Trekking, mountaineering and whitewater rafting are some of the activities that are popular with the tourist.
The climate of Nepal varies from warm summers with mild winters in the low-lying southern region, to alpine conditions with very severe winters in the mountains. Between December and February, temperatures drop well below freezing in the mountains. The best time to travel to Nepal for trekking is in early spring or late autumn, when the weather is dry and temperatures mild. The monsoon season occurs between June and September.
Nepal’s history can be traced back to the Kirats. The Kirats migrated from north-eastern Himalayas. They came to Nepal in about 700 B.C. and physically were short and had robust bodies, broad cheeks, flat noses, and dark eyes. They were well trained in the art of warfare and were very skillful archers. There were altogether 29 kings of this dynasty who ruled over Nepal for about 1225 years.
After the decline of Kirats, Licchavi Dynasty ruled Nepal in the late fifth century. Rulers calling themselves Licchavis began to have substantial influence on the politics, society, and economy in Nepal. The first Licchavi king of historical importance was Manadeva. The Licchavis rule spanned over a period of about 630 years.
Malla Dynasty was the next most important dynasty to rule Nepal after the Licchavis: Beginning in the early twelfth century, leading notables in Nepal began to appear with names ending in the term malla, (wrestler in Sanskrit), indicating a person of great strength and power. Ari Malla (d 1200-16) was the first king to identify himself as a Malla king, and the practice of adopting such a name was followed regularly by rulers in Nepal until the eighteenth century. It is during the Malla dynasty that the foundation of the city of Kantipur (later Kathmandu) was laid.
Shah Dynasty: Prithvi Narayan Shah unified Nepal, winning over many small hill principalities that were scattered all over Nepal. He succeeded his father King Nara Bhupal Shah to the throne of Gorkha in 1743
AD. and marched into Kathmandu to end the rule of Malla dynasty. Prithvi Narayan Shah was successful in bringing together diverse religious-ethnic groups under one flag.
After the Shah dynasty was successful in establishing a powerful kingdom, their rule was characterized by infighting between courtiers and different queens for the power and favor of the King. This led of frequent massacres and disappearances of ministers and even queens.
Since ancient period, Nepalese people have celebrated the coming and ending of each season. Most festivals are closely related to the religion, hence majority of them are either Hindu or Buddhist in nature, although many animist festivals are also celebrated in the country. In the northern region of Nepal, where people of Tibeto-Burman race are in the majority, the festivals tend to take place mostly in summer season, as winters are harsh. These festivals are also mostly Buddhist in nature.
In the mid-hills, large numbers of ethnic groups celebrate their own festivals. Among them Dashain is the biggest festival for the Hindu population, while Tihar, Fagu Purnima and Shiva Ratri are other bigger festivals. In the southern region, there is a substantial number of people following Muslim religion and Eid is among many festivals that are celebrated here. Chath is perhaps the most celebrated occasion in the south.
Majority of the Nepalese are Hindus. The country until recently was the only Hindu kingdom in the world. Nepal is now a republic and a secular state. Buddhism has the next biggest following and the followers to two religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) enjoy a very uncommon bond and both enjoy each other’s festivals also. Nepal also has sizeable followers of Christianity and Islam and in some regions even communities with animalist beliefs. Nepalese people above all are known for their religious tolerance and no religious riot or violence has been experienced till now.
The GDP (gross domestic product) of Nepal was estimated at USD 19.6 billion in 2014. The major contributor to the Nepalese economy is agriculture (36.8%). The Himalayan nation is heavily dependent on remittances, which amount to as much as 25% of GDP. Following that, service center and industry are the two biggest contributors to the GDP. Nepal’s biggest agricultural products are tea, rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, milk and meat.
Meanwhile, Nepal’s workforce, which is estimated at 10 million, suffers from a severe shortage of skilled labour.
About one quarter of the population live below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. The spectacular landscape and diverse, exotic cultures of Nepal represent considerable potential for tourism, but growth in this hospitality industry has been stifled by recent political events.
Many Nepalese also migrate to India in search of seasonal or permanent work. Recently, many have migrated to the Gulf countries and Malaysia. Revenue received from these migrant works constitutes about $50 million a year. Many Nepalese also join the Gurkha Brigade maintained by the India Army and the British army.
In the past 50 years, there has been a dramatic expansion of education facilities in the country. According to 2011 census, adult literacy (age 15+) of the country was reported to be 56.6% (female: 44.5%, male: 71.6%).Beginning from about 300 schools and two colleges with about 10,000 students in 1951,there now are 49,000 schools and colleges and nine universities.
Nepal's diverse linguistic heritage evolved from three major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto- Burman and various indigenous languages. The major languages of Nepal spoken as mother tongue are Nepali with 44.61%. The rest are Nepali Maithili (11.7%), Bhojpuri (6%), Tharu (5.86%), Tamang (5.19%), Newari/Nepal Bhasa (3.2%), Magar (3%), Bajjika (3%), Urdu (2.6%), Awadi (1.9%), Limbu (1.3%), Gurung (1.2%) and others (10.4%).
The road traffic in Nepal is very chaotic and suicidal from the western perspective. But local Nepalese generally understand the rules and customs as applied in their country and don’t really drive very fast in the city. But it is important to emphasize the need for care when crossing roads. The long bus journeys in winding roads of Nepal can lead to travel sickness and it is advisable to bring appropriate medicine.
The Living Conditions:
Nepalese houses are simple and basic. In many village homes, you won’t find a living room and family members will congregate in a kitchen to talk and eat. In these houses, toilet will be located outside the main house. But in most modern homes, the toilets are inside the house. The toilets are mostly of Asian style (squat). They won’t contain any toilet papers also.
Most houses won’t have tap or running water and they will use water pump. You have to use this for your washing and the laundry. You will get a simple but clean room, mostly containing bed and a shelf and sometimes a table and a chair. It is possible that you have to share your room with a host-brother or sister or another volunteer. Pillow and blanket can be provided, but it would be better and more comfortable if you bring your own sleeping bag and a mosquito net.
Food is provided three times a day: a light breakfast in the morning (tea and some bread), the first Dal Bhat (rice, curried vegetables and lentil soup) between 9 and 10 am and a second Dhal Bhat in the evening between 6 and 8 pm. On special occasions you will get meat (chicken, buffalo or goat) with rice. Even if Nepal is considered as a very poor country, there is enough food for everyone. During the day, you might get a snack like popcorn or puffed rice. Additionally, you could buy fruits or cookies and share them with your family.
Nepalese people live in a joint family and you will often see 3 or even 4 generations living in the same house. There
is a tradition to respect the elders and follow their advice. As a part of this family, you should always show respect andfollow their customs and speak politely to the elders.
Women in the house are usually busier than men with daily chores, including cooking. They also work in
the field, while men go to work or do business or deal with outside matters. You can learn to cook, milk the buffalo or work on the field (planting rice and vegetables). Additionally, you can support them by doing the dishes and cleaning your room. Sometimes you might just watch TV or play cards with the whole family.
Younger family members are especially interested in learning about your family and culture and show great enthusiasm to converse with you in English. So, don’t forget to bring some pictures and tell something about your life. Perhaps you can even get the chance to cook and show how food is prepared in your country.
Accommodation for the volunteers
Volunteers are usually accommodated with a host family living nearby the project area. In Chitwan, host families are very eager to take up new volunteers. In Kathmandu, however, volunteers are mostly accommodated in residential areas near the project site. Most of the families have experience with volunteers and will give you all the necessary advice and support you need to feel comfortable. Family members will be able to communicate with you in English, though they won’t be fluent in the language. Additionally, NVCYE Program members will visit you from time to time and you can address any problems to the office in Kathmandu by telephone or email.
Nepal at Present
On May 28, 2008, the democratically elected members of Constituent Assembly overwhelmingly voted to end constitutional monarchy in Nepal and declare Nepal a republic with multi-party system. Since then, Nepal has President as the head of state, while all the executive powers lie with the Prime Minister, who heads the government. The legislative powers lie with the Constitutional Assembly.
After the election in May 2008, the Constituent Assembly had a mandate of two years, during which time it was tasked to write a new constitution and hold election for a new parliament. On Oct 2011, the Assembly failed to write the new constitution and its tenure was extended twice by its members much to the dislike of the general public.
The failure in writing the constitution had created many uncertainties in Nepal. The 4 major parties (2 communists, 1 based in Terai - a region close to India, and one a socialist) were locked in bitter disputes. However, after seven years of struggle, Nepal finally succeeded to promulgate a new people’s constitution on 20th September, 2015.
Majority of the Nepali people have welcomed the constitution that recognizes Nepal’s multilingual, multiracial and multi-religious make up. Under the monarchy, only one language, culture and racial group was prompted above others. Currently, all ethnic groups are free to practice their culture, language and religion.
The political scenario of Nepal had remained volatile during the mid 2013, giving rise to political clashes, deadlocks and postponed CA elections. Despite repeated delays and inter party rifts, the CA elections were held again under the leadership of Khil Raj Regmi, the Chairman of the Interim Election Government. With the successful completion of the elections for the second constituent assembly on November, 2013, Nepal was on a phase of political transition. Nepal witnessed the Nepal
Congress party getting a majority in the elections with sweeping votes from the public and got Sushil Koirala elected as the new Prime Minister of Nepal.
Despite the political deadlock and the global economic meltdown, the Nepali economy has continued to grow steadily. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and majority of the population rely on subsistence farming for survival, so this growth is vital to bring the Nepalis out of poverty. The main reason behind the economy continuing to do well is immigration of Nepalis to India, Middle Eastern countries and other wealthier regions of the world. The remittance they send back to Nepal has kept the economy afloat and provided relief to the government when many small to large scale industries are shutting down due to trade union activities that frequently paralyze production.