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NEPAL




NEPAL

 

Table of contents:

1.     Nepal at a glance

2.     History



a.      geological b) non-geological

1.     Religions

2.     Peoples

 

1.     Basic Facts:

Official Name:

Kingdom of Nepal

Area: 145,391 square kilometres, 885 kilometres from east to west, 160 kilometres from north to south

Terrain:

heavily mountainous, 14% of Nepal is cultivated, 13% is pasture, 32% is forested

Highest point: 8.848 m Mount Everest, Sagarmatha, Chomolungma

Lowest point: 69 m

Topographical Regions:

High mountains of the Himalaya - 27% of total land area

Mid- Hills - 56%

Low- land Terai - 17%

Climate:

ranging from subtropical (south, Terai) to cool, dry and alpine (north, Himalayan region)

highly influenced by the monsoon

Population:

about 21.5 million growing at 2.4 percent annually, 50% under the age of 21

Life expectancy: 53 years

Occupations:

93% agriculture, 5% services, 2% industry

Government:

Multy-party parliament demogracy headed by King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah

Date of constitution: 9. Nov. 1990

Capital:

Kathmandu (population ~500.000) situated in Katmandu Valley (population ~1.000.000)

Peoples:

Tribal groups include: Newar, Gurung, Limbu, Magar, Rai, Sherpa, Tamang, Tharu

Major hindu caste groups are Brahman and Chhetri

Other groups: Indians, Tibetians, Muslims

Languages:

official language: Nepali, 58% spoken

Newari 3%, Tibetian languages 19%, Indian languages 20%

total amount of languages: ~30 + dozens of dialects

Religion:

Officially: 90% Hindu, 8% Buddhist, 2% Islamic

Reality: 25 % Buddhist

In Nepal Hinduism and Buddhism overlap mostly.

Curreny:

'Rupees' - ~4.5 Rs equals 1 S

 

2.     History:

a.      Geological History:

As Nepal is highly embossed by the gigantic mountains of the Himalaya (eng.: Abode od Snow), also the country itself came into being during the origin of the massif, 130 million years ago. The Indian continental plate, that had broken off the huge continent Gondwanaland, drifted against the Eurasial plate. The enourmous pressure that resulted from this movement towered up the material in between the two plates an created the Himalaya. This process is still in progress (nice rhyme).

The Terai, he southern part of Nepal, is already on the Indian plate and thus very low and plane.

b.     The Kingdom's History:



The Legend:

says that there was a mysterious lake, set deep in the mountains. On a small island on this lake grew a blue lotus, containing the eternal flame of the Primordial Buddha. Manjushri, a manifestation of the Buddha came to worship here and, to make the access easier for pilgrims, he cut a passage through the hills, which limited the lake, and so drained it.

A fertile valley was revealed, people settled here to farm and build villages and this became Nepal. The first settlers were the Newars which were very skilled at crafts and trade.

The island itself is now a religious centre called Swayambunath with a Buddhist place of worship - a stupa.

Early Kingdoms:

The first kingdoms of Nepal were strictly confined to the Kathmandu Valley. They were organized in dynasties. The first great one was the Licchavi dynasty, which lasted from 400-700 A.D.. Other centres of civilisation only developed in the Terai at Lumbini, where 543. B.C. a prince of a local ruler was born, who later achieved enlightenment and became the Buddha (see Buddhism).

Already Nepal had built up profitable trading links with its powerful neighbours to the north an south. Situated in between this two cultural extremes, Nepal developed a distinctive individual culture.

After a transitional kingdom in Kathmandu Valley, the upcoming Malla-dynasty brought Nepal's economy and culture to a golden age (~1200 A.D.). The Valley was devided among 3 Malla brothers and one sister. Each of them built up a sort of city-state, which soon found themselves in a dynamic competition. Rivalty between them led to a attempt of outdoing each other in splendour.

So Kathmandu Valley grew into one of the world's richest region of art and architecture.

Disputes among the 4 Malla kings caused other rules to gain power in their region. Especially the Muslim Shahs established a stronghold near Kathmandu after they had defeated a part of the Malla's Gorkha (Nepali soldiers) army. This made it possible to gradually extend their power over the hill-tribes, which represent a mighty group of people in the surrounding area of Kathmandu Valley. With their help and supported by their own Gorkha troops, they invaded the Valley and expelled the ruling Mallas after 10 years of campaign in ~1770 A.D.

Thus the Shahs became the new rulers of Nepal and the Shah-dynasty began.

Mid. History:

The Shahs heavily maintained their expansion policy and stretched the borders to what is the present day Kingdom of Nepal. One of the desired territories was a fertile plane in the south, which just had become vacant from the power of the decaying Mogul empire. Not only the Shahs were interested in this region, but also the British East India Company, that was expanding too, to fill the political vacuum. After diplomacy had failed, both parties went to war in 1814 A.D.. Two years of conflict followed and at last the British won.

Both signed a peace treaty that introduced a close friendship among Britain and Nepal. The Shahs could secure their borders and the B. East India Company was allowed to set up a British Resident in Kathmandu, which spoiled Nepal's 'holy' independence a little. Nepali never had appreciated any foreigners or strangers in their country so the British did not feel well in the hostile environment of Kathmandu Valley.

This desired isolation from the outside world was intensified when, in 1846, an army officer from the Rana familyclan infiltrated the ruling staff of Nepal by taking advantage of a crisis. The Shah monarch was deprived of his political power but stayed in his position as a King whereas the intruder took over the rule of Nepal as its Prime Minister and Commander in Chief. Moreover he ensured that after his death, both posts would be carried on by a member of his own family. Thus the Shahs remained as deprived kings and the Ranas controlled the country.

To prevent anybody else from taking over the power, they totaly isolated Nepal from the outside world for the next century. In 1928 only 120 English and 10 other Europeans had entered Kathmandu Valley and none of them had been permitted to step on the surrounding hills and areas except for entering or leaving Nepal. Only some privileged ones were allowed to join taditional huntings in the Terai.

Building roads was forbidden, so nearly no trade relations were established.

Tribal groups like the Sherpas near the Tibetan border were the only ones who could cultivate trading links to Nepal's northern neighbour.

The Exploration of the Himalaya:

James Renell, a great geographer and map-maker, realized that the high peaks of the Himalaya could be seen from the Indian plains at a distance of 240 kilometres. He speculated that some of them might be higher than 8000m but there was disbelief until a very striking peak in west Nepal was calculated from India to be 8167m high, in 1811 A.D.. This was the famous Dhaulagiri massif, the world's seventh highest mountain.

Forty years later only 2 more massifs had been accurately surveyed. With vague methods Peak XV was found which was thought to be 8840m high and thus the highest mountain of the world. Since nobody knew the mountain's local name it was named after the former Surveyor-General of India, Sir George Everest. Years later it was found out, that the Tibetan name for Mt. Everest is Chomolungma, which was translated as 'The Mountain So High, That No Bird Can Fly Over It'. The Nepalese name for Peak XV is Sagarmatha, which honors King Sagar, a divinity of the Hindu legend. Besides, its true altitude is 8848m.

The Time of Espionage:

Related to Nepal's entire isolation, the curiosity of the Survey of India in the country increased. In 1863 they used Himalayan traders as their surveyors to get to know forbidden territories in Nepal. Those men, known as Pundits entered disguised and without permission and went for 2 years across the most distant and secret areas.

Then several men and expeditions followed unauthorized and dedicated themselves to the extravagant mountains of the region. Lots of forbidden information was gathered.

The Opening of Nepal:

Due to the considerable amount of means and soldiers, Nepal had placed at Britain's and India's disposal during both World Wars, the Ranas began to relax their grip on their country. The effect was, that in 1951 the Shahs managed to start a revolution, that overthrew the Ranas and reestablished their rule. Moreover they abandoned all parties but the Nepalese Congress Party soon forced them to do an election which they won instantly. This set up of modern methods allowed Nepal to bring the period of seperation to an end. Needed development programs were started to build up the basis for an infrastructure. Visitors were gradually allowed to move around without any restrictions inside the country.

In 1950 the first 8000m peak was climbed by an French expedition and three years later, after several attempts the Mt. Everest was 'beaten' by two men named Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

How to rule?

The current king died and his son King Mahendra introduced the so-called Panchayat system, a very strict traditional Hindu policy without any parties, for the reason, that Westernstyle parliament demogracy could not work in Nepal.

By his death in 1972 his son, the present day, Western-oriented King Birendra ascended the throne. He improved the constitution and extended the Panchayat with a new single party system. Since the demogracy movement pushed through a multy-party system in 1990, King Birendra is only the decoration of a multy-party parliamentary demogracy.

1.     Economy:

General:

Nepal is among the poorest and least developed countries in the world with about 60% of the population living below the poverty line. Agriculture is the foundation of its economy, providing a livelihood for 93% of the entire polulation and representing 40% of the gross national product. Industry is still at an early stage of development and mainly involving the processing of agricultural products like jute, sugarcane, tobacco, and grain.

The production of textiles and carpets has expanded recently. Hydropower is supplying the major part of electricity-consuming households. Nevertheless the greatest portion of the population remains without any access to that form of energy.  Other important source of funds is tourism that has developed comparatively recent.




 

 

The System:

The basis for Nepals economy is the liberal market system, that has been introduced in the mid fifties. Many other reform programms followed and this is the current result of the governments effort: Private business is Nepals business foundation. The government remains as a provider of infrastructure facilities with a weak controlling role. To make economy more competitive, tariff rates and taxes are quite low and the Rupee is fully convertible in all current currencies.

Quantitative restrictions concerning import or export are abolished to have an investment friendly economic environment to support industrial development. Export procedures are simplified and Joint Ventures are promoted.

Foreign investment in Nepal's most important ecomomy branches like hydropower, tourism, mining and other mineral industries and even in its tiny stock market are welcomed. Investments come mainly from India, Japan, USA, China, S. Korea, Germany, France, Hongkong, UK, Switzerland, Thailand, Pakistan, Austria, Singapore, Bermuda, Netherlands and Taiwan. They are part of an exchange relation with Nepal.

Nepal gains technologic knowhow and funds to work with and the foreign partner can use its rather cheap workers.

However, this modern economic system looks quite productive but difficulties prevent many important projects. A big problem is that Nepal is enormous mountainous and thus building up the needed infrastructure goes along with many troubles. And without an infrastructure the thought of a modern industry is quite hasty.

Tourism:

In 1994, more than 325,000 tourists visited Nepal, compared with about 46,000 in 1970. Mountaineers and trekkers come to experience the majestic Himalayas, while other tourists enjoy the thrill of observing rhinos and tigers in southern wildlife reserves like Chitwan National Park. In the Annapurna region and Sagarmatha (Mount Everest), tourism increases the population of hillside villages by four- to five-fold. Tourism adds about US$70 million per year to the economy and is the country's largest source of foreign currency. The government plans to have 1 million tourists visiting Nepal in 2000.

The other side of the coin is the cultural disbalance the hords of tourists cause among the inhabitants. Traditions get lost and producing quality crafts changed to producing a great quantity of crafts for selling to the strangers. Moreover sacred restricted areas are now open for entry which bring about religious anger among the faithful. Trekkers leave tons of thrash on the beautiful peaks every year that must be cleaned with effort which devours a lot of money.

Therefore holidays in Nepal are made rather expensive by the government.

The means are special tourist prices in shops or restaurants that are about 4 times as high as the prices for Nepalis. For trekking many expensive permitts are needed and entrance fees of museums are high too.

 

2.     Religions:

As Buddhists and Hinduists are both very spread over Nepal, they are related in a peaceful coexistence. Rituals and divinities are overlapping and places of worship are used by both in very similar ways.

Moreover they include the concept of Karma. Karma is somehow a marker for aktions the person set, the Karma belongs to. Leading a good life results in a positive Karma and on the other hand bad action makes it worse. The better the Karma is at the end of ones life, the more honourable the next life will be. The overall aim is not to reincarnate but to pass to Nirvana, a sort of paradise respectively heaven.

Tantrism is another interesting part of them. It is a mighty force that surrounds all things and every action on the world. Gurus for example can use this power to seek enlightenment and to perform unbelieveable actions like flying or dying and then rising from the dead. How far that is true, is unknown.

The Muslims represent a too small part of society to have a significant impact on the 'landscape' of religions.

 

Buddhism:

Nepal is the home of Buddhism. In 563 B.C. Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born as a son of a local ruler in Lumbini, a small village in the Terai. His mother died right after his birth. A holy clairvoyant prophesied his future and his father isolated him in a palace to turn him towards religion. Siddhartha grew into a unspoilt, intelligent, athletic man and as he dared to leave the palace unallowed and saw the poor, filthy world outside, he began to question the life itself. Inspirated by an ascetic, he left his home forever on a quest for enlightenment.

He studied with great teachers and increased his intellectual potential but he didn't gain satisfaction. By leaving all material goods behind him and by facing extreme suffering in total solitude he tried to find his answers. So he had experienced two extremes: sensual indulgence and complete ascetism. He attempted to find the meaning of life in between this two poles. Meditating in North India, Mara, a sort of Buddhist Satan appeared to tempt him but his meditation was so intensive that he was aware of him. Besides his view of the world around him and of himself changed completely, he saw both as a unity.

From now on he was 'Buddha', the enlightened one. He spent the next 45 years teaching in Nepal and North India, causing hundrets of people converting to his doctrines.

At the age of 80, he died and passed directly into Nirvana, the ultimate heaven.

Afterwards Buddhism grew quite quickly when the Indian emperor also converted to the new religion.

The main doctrine is based on the 'Four Noble Truths' and the 'Eightfold Path'. Mankind suffers because of its attachment to people and things in a non permanent world. The individual can get rid of desire by leading his life with neverending attention to right views, right intentions, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, reight effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.

The 'self' is nothing but an illusion, trapped in the endless circle of rebirth and influenced by Karma. By following these Buddist doctrines an escape from this circle can be achieved and the 'self' can ascend to Nirvanva.

The Tibetian Buddhism, which has a great impact on Nepalese Buddhism, has a spiritual leader - the Dalai Lama. His position corresponds to the position of the pope in Chrisianity.

Places of whorship of Buddhism are so-called Stupas, which consist of a hemisphere on that a cube with painted eyes and noses is placed. Those represent the respective organs of Bhudda, looking in all 4 directions and caring for the faithful.

Hinduism:

Hinduism has its origin with the first invaders, who settled in the north of India about 1700 B.C.. They recorded the Vedas, a collection o fover 1000 hymns defining a polytheistic religion.Out of this grew the Brahmanism, a strict caste-conscious faith, linking all men to the god-creator Brahma. So the most honourable caste are the Brahmans, the priest class, who were said to have come from Brahma's mouth. The caste below them are the Chhetris, the warrior class, who have their origin in his arms; the Vaisyas, craftsmen and traders, from his thights and the Sudras, who go about the very low occupations, from his feet. Thus the order of the castes is:

*)        Brahmans

*)        Chhetris

*)        Vaisyas

*)        Sudras



Although the caste-system was abolished in 1963 its importance didn't decrease. Especially the circle of rebirth and Karma, that is described not far below, maintains the foundation of the, for Europeans discriminating, social structure. Everybody, from birth to death, has a particular position, occupation and membership within this hierarchy.

Changing one of this regulations is forbidden, therefore intermarriage within Nepal's different groups is unwanted. Particularly the Sudras are the worst treated. As they have come from Brahma's feet, which are in contact with the earth, the source of all pollution, Hinduism placed severe restricions on their rights. They are not allowed in any upper-caste homes in the village, priests won't officiate at any of their religious rites, the entrance to many shops is restricted and touching a member of a higher group is prohibited.

As Brahmanism developed to modern Hinduism, the people began to feel that the questions of existence or reality were subjects, too vast to be processed within a single set of beliefs. Therefore the religion includes many different metaphysical beliefs and viewpoints. So every individual can choose the practice or system that suits him.

Hinduism has no fixed creed and no governing organisation.

Only the Brahman priests serve as spiritual advisers to upper-caste families and the sole authority to the faithful are the Vedas texts.

The development of different sects within Hinduism caused tendencies to different gods - especially to Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver and Shiva the destroyer, whereas the last two are the most important in Nepal. The gods are worshipped at little shrines, which most houses of Hindus consist of, and in great Pagodes, big temples built in a characteristic way.

The faithful believe in a circle of life, death and rebirth. All people us are striving to be released from that circle. There is a cosmic ladder of heaven, each rung is a symbol for another level of existence. Everything from bugs and Sudras at the bottom to Brahmins at the top. The souls move up and down this ladder with each rebirth they go through, depending on the actions the person has set during his or her life. Finally everybody tries to climb up and off the ladder, to gain liberation from existance and entrance into heaven.

Dharma is the set of principles for reaching and maintaining social, ethical and spiritual harmony in life. The merit earned by following Dharma determines the form of birth in the next existence.

 

3.     People:

Nepal is a mosaic of over thirty different ethnic groups with their unique languages, cultures and religions who have over the centuries settled the hills and the valleys of Nepal, coming from all directions. Despite this great variety, Nepal has a tradition of harmony rather than conflict. Society has always been open for new ideas, values and new people. Each cultural group has maintained their own traditions due to the avoidance of intermarriage, especially among caste Hindus.

50% of the entire population lives below the poverty line, 88% of women and 61% of men are illiterates.

 

The Newars:

The oldest group of people in Nepal are the Newars. They were a fusion of Tibetian and Indian immigrants and were the first who settled in Kathmandu Valley. Their genius in arts, crafts can be seen in the temples, palaces that constitute the environment of the Valley.

The Ghorka invasion of 1768 brought somehow a nationhood to this milieu. Newars are living in huge family-complexes with 30 or more members. From an early age, the individual learns how to fit within the social nucleus and how to relate to the clan, caste and religion. Newars are Hindu.

The Tamang:

Outside the Valley rim live the Tamangs. Their name is derived form 'horse soldiers' in the Tibetian language and it is supposed that they descended from the Tibetian cavalry. Today they are mostly small farmers. Some work as porters and craftsmen. Tamangs are Buddhists, as the most upper Himalayan peoples are. They worship in gompas (monesteries) that are located in nearly every village. In every day life, they orientate themselves at Tibetian customs and lifestyle. Even polygamy is still practiced, although it has been forbidden by the government.

The Sherpas:

The best known of the high-mountain peoples are the Sherpas. They live in high Himalayan settlements where life is consisting of hard work and religion only. The Tibetian language and their looks show up their ancient origin. Although the name 'Sherpa' has become synonymous with 'mountain guide', it's only those in the Everest region who have acieved relative prosperity through guiding expeditions and escorting trekking groups or providing small lodges on busy tracks.

The Thakalis:

In former times this group was quite prosperous from their monopoly on salt. They mined the material in their own, dry valley and sold it on high prices. Due to the poorness of their land, they now have to look for a new income. They see their chance in tourism which is growing rather fast in Nepal. So a major part of Nepal's hotels are owned by Thakalis, now famous for their hospitality and quality.

Their society is composed of four clans and their religion is a mixture of all that they have been confronted with: Buddhism, Hinduism, Bon-po (a pre-Buddhist religion).

The People of the Middle Hills:

The various peoples living in the temperate zone of Nepal's middle hills are sometimes by mistake called as Gurkhas. The British and Indian armies have famed Gurkha regiments, named after the soldiers from the former Kingdom of Ghorka. But there is no single ethnic group today referred as Gurkhas. By tradition, most of them come from the Gurung, Magar, Rai and Limbu peoples.

The Gurungs are self-sufficient farmers and herders, living in central and western Nepal.

Magars are quite predominant numerically. They gained reputation for martial services inside and outside of Nepal. They live mostly from farming in nearly every typical region of the country. From the high valleys to the plains of the Terai, the Magars have adopted themselves to the respective conditions. Rai and Limbus favour military work to all other professions, mainly because soldiers return home with added prestige and income.

All groups are nominally Hindu, although some have introduced some Buddhist practices in their religion.

Brahmans and Chhetris:

are somehow ethic groups of their own within Nepal. They have traditionally played an important role in society. From west Nepal, they spread over all parts of the Terai and especially over the middle hills. As orthodox Hindus, they believe in a hierarchical caste structure, which is a rather big advantage for them as they are at the top of it. Nevertheless 'Caste', a word originally brought to Nepal and India by the Portugese, is easily misunderstood by outsiders. It was first introduced for social balance by the Malla rulers to protect their regime.

Most societies in the world maintain hierarchical systems too. They are all based on birth, wealth and education. In their minds, Hinduism merely sets or fixes this natural concept.

Brahmans and Chhetris are predominantly subsistence farmers. However their rather good education and priest traditions has made it possible for many to take important roles in modern Nepalese government and business.

Moreover this two peoples have provided the lingua franca, Nepali, and the main cultural foundation for Nepals national identity.

Peoples of the Terai:

The Terai Hindus, especially the high caste peoples, are more orthodox and conservative than the Hill People. Although the caste system has lost its legal basis, the higher castes still control most of the region's wealth and have considerable political power.

Other ethic groups are Moslems. They can be found along the central and western sections of the Terai. The main income in the zone is agriculture as in most of the other regions in Nepal.










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