Tuesday, November 8, 2011

10 Things You May NOT Know About Nepal...

Rooftops of Patan's Durbar Square
Patan, Nepal - 2007 

"This is no unfitting place in which to remark that within the confines of the Valley...there is concentrated a world of varied interest, tradition, and beauty as may be found nowhere even among the history-coloured and majestic towns and ruins of India...The continuity of life and faith has suffered from no religious intolerance for, strange though it may seem, Buddhism and Hinduism have here met and kissed each other...In some ways - certainly in more ways than any other state or district in India itself can claim - Kathmandu remains to-day much as it was in the seventh century."
- Perceval Landon
(British writer and journalist who traveled through India and Nepal in the early 1900's)
My last post "10 Things You May NOT Know About Bhutan" was quite a success (relatively speaking, of course). It has now become my most popular post, overtaking "Yantra Mantra, Jantar Mantar....Abracadabra??". Thank you all for checking in and giving me encouragement to "blog on".

So - I thought I might continue on that theme, this time with Nepal.  I was born in Nepal, so in some ways, this should be an ideal topic for me.  I'm an "expert" by virtue of my heritage - or am I? Many of the odd facts I know about Nepal were passed down to me in the form of stories - from my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. The stories always sounded so incredible to me that even as a teenager, I found myself checking up on their veracity - in guidebooks and other publications on Nepal that I could find.

Traditional Newar Craftsmanship
Bhaktapur, Nepal - 2007
There are now many publications available on Nepal and my "go to" source on the cultural history of Nepal is the 2 volume set "Nepal Mandala" (1982) by historian and cultural anthropologist, Mary Slusser. Also, Wolfgang Korn's "Traditional Architecture of the Kathmandu Valley" published in 1976 is a classic, and my favorite reference as an architect.  It's a phenomenal piece of work by an architect and team-member of the German organization responsible for leading the restoration work on the old Malla kingdom of Bhaktapur in the 1970's.

In contrast to Bhutan, Nepal has been hosting tourists and mountain climbers since the 1950's when the country officially opened its doors to the outside world. So I hope that these 10 Things You May NOT Know About Nepal include some truly new and interesting morsels that will inspire you to take another look at Nepal....

1) Nepal sets its clock 15 minutes ahead of India.  Why? The only explanation I can think of is that despite its position as a tiny landlocked country with little monetary wealth, the "pride" of the Nepalese required that the country be "ahead" of India at something!

2) Roughly the size of Tennessee, Nepal is home to an astounding number of distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language.  Major groups include the Gurkha, Newar, Bhotiya, Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Thakali, Rai, Limbu, Sherpa, and Tharu. Though Nepali is the official language, there are over 100 regional languages that are recognized. Sadly, many may go undocumented as they die out and are lost over time due to migration and assimilation.

Young Kumari
Bungamati, Nepal - 2009
3) Since 1817, Britain's "Brigade of Gurkhas" have been populated by Nepalese soldiers, predominantly from the Gurung, Magar, Rai and Limbu ethnic groups. When the British fought Nepal in 1814 in an effort to annex the country (fighting was ended by Treaty - Nepal remained independent but had to cede much of its southern territory), they were so impressed by the fierce soldiers wielding kukris (heavy short knives with curving blades unique to Nepal), that they later encouraged them to volunteer for the East India Company. Sam Manakshaw, former Chief of Staff of the Indian Army was quoted as saying, "If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha."

4) Until the country was unified into a single kingdom in 1769, the name "Nepa" referred to the Kathmandu Valley, inhabited by Newars and ruled by the Malla kings from 1200 to 1769. The arts flourished under the Mallas, especially in the late period from 1382 to 1769 and the artistry of the Newar craftsmen spread to other countries. Nepalese architect Arniko was called to serve in the court of Kubilai Khan in China and some credit him as the originator of the multi-tiered temple style of architecture. The traditional art and architecture of Nepal visible today is a legacy of this period.

Patan Durbar Square
Patan - 2007
Between Pashupatinath and Guhyeshwari
Kathmandu, Nepal - 2007
5) Nepal has the densest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Seven are located within a ten mile radius within the Kathmandu Valley: Swayambhunath, Boudhanath, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Changu Narayan, Pashupatinath, Kathmandu Durbar Square, and Patan Durbar Square.

Outside the Valley are three additional World Heritage Sites: Lumbini (the birthplace of Prince Siddartha Gautama who would later be known as Sakyamuni Buddha), Chitwan National Park and Sagarmatha National Park.

The World Heritage Programme, which was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference in 1972, catalogues, names and sometimes also provides funding to conserve sites of outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity.

Lumbini - Birthplace of Siddartha Gautama (Sakyamuni Buddha)
Lumbini, Nepal - 2007
Traditional Newar Architecture
Kathmandu, Nepal - 2007
Passageway Overlooking the Courtyard
Patan, Nepal - 2007
6) In 2009, Less than six decades after King Tribhuvan struggled to re-gain power from the hereditary Rana Prime Ministers, and almost two and a half centuries after his ancestor wrestled the country from the Mallas, the monarchy in Nepal is no more. Prior to the 2001 Royal Palace Massacre, when the Crown Prince opened fire at a family gathering killing all his immediate family and close relatives before shooting himself, the country was heading towards a constitutional monarchy. The tragedy, the death of a popular king, combined with the reign of an unpopular one and the continuing Maoist insurgency and their ultimate rise to power paved the way for the formation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.

7) Nepal's official calendar is the Nepal Sambat. Though Nepal utilizes the western or Gregorian calendar as well as the Hindu Bikram Sambat calendar, as of October 2011, the Nepal Sambat, is the country's official calendar.

Nepal Sambat is a lunar calendar.  It has 354 days and every three years, an extra month is added.  The calendar year typically starts in October during the Tihar (or Dasai) festival, and the day is commemorated by Mha Puja, a Newar tradition in which one celebrates and purifies oneself to greet the new year. According to the Nepal Sambat, the current year is 1132.

Terraced Rice Paddies
Nagarkot, Nepal - 2009
8) In the span of less than 125 miles, south to north, Nepal physically rises from an elevation of 200 feet above sea level to the highest point on earth - Mount Everest - 29,029 feet (and still rising!)  As the country (well, before there were countries...) on the leading edge of the Indian subcontinent's violent collision with Eurasian plate, it is no surprise that the altitudinal variation in Nepal would be the greatest of any country in the world.

In 2001, I had the opportunity to join a group of family and friends following a pilgrimage route to Mt. Kailash in western Tibet.  I thought..wow...this would be a great opportunity get a unique view of the Himalayas from the north side. What didn't occur to me at the time is that the Himalayas are a little less impressive when viewed from an elevation of 14,000 feet (average elevation of the Tibetan Plateau) than from around 4600 ft (elevation of Kathmandu).

Mighty Himalayas
Taken from Buddha Air Flight - 2009
9) Of the 10 tallest mountains in the world, eight of them (all rising over 8000 metres (26, 247 feet) are located in Nepal: Everest - also known as Sagarmatha - (1), Kangchenjunga (3), Lhotse (4), Makalu (5), Cho Oyu (6), Dhaulagiri (7), Manaslu (8), and Annapurna (10).

10) Finally I must include an apocryphal tale that is too interesting NOT to repeat...
Nepal was fortunate to have never been conquered by a foreign power.  The barriers of the Himalayas to the north and the malaria infested jungles to the south protected the kingdom from invading forces. At some point, the British were invited to visit Kathmandu and were awed by the wealth they saw, especially at Pashupatinath, one of the most holy sites for Hindus in the subcontinent. The Nepalese king proposed a wager: the British would place all the gold they could collect on a scale to be weighed against the solid gold "hump" of the Pashupati ox (carrier of Shiva).  If the British gold was heavier than the ox's hump, Nepal would be theirs.  As luck would have it, the British failed to win the wager and forfeited all their gold coins.  As the story goes, these coins were worked into the stone floors of Pashupatinath.

I heard this story when I was eight years old, and yes, there are indeed circular coins imbedded in the floors of Pashupatinath...but how they came to be there....well that I don't know for sure...

Nyatapola Temple
Bhaktapur, Nepal - 2007
photo by Gary Griggs
The Malla Family (my mother's side) and the Shrestha family (my father's side)
Art of Nepal: a catalog of the LA County Museum of Art, Pratapaditya Pal
The CIA World Factbook
National Geographic
Slusser, Mary. Nepal Mandala. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1982.

All of the images posted here are also available for purchase as 8x10 and 5x7 fine art prints and A2 size greeting cards (all printed on archival water color paper) at http://DigitalYak.etsy.com/. Be sure to send me a message if there is something you'd like that you don't see listed, or if you'd like a custom size or item, as I truly enjoy creating one of a kind items that hold special meaning. Thanks!!


  1. Thank you Deepika for these wonderful pictures of beautiful Nepal. You also have an enchanting face and smile according to my point of view.
    Question : did you take some pictures of the new Kumari Devi of Patan (Samita Bajracharya)who is a summit of Himalayan feminine beauty and mistery ?
    Sarva Mangalam - damien -

  2. Sarva Mangalam...
    Thank so much you for your kind words. I have not had the pleasure of meeting the Kumari Devi of Patan but will definitely try to learn more about her.