When visiting a country for the first time, we typically experience a variety of feelings. Nepal was so different from any other place I had been to, that I felt like a pop-eyed toddler exploring the world around me. In Nepal, everything left an impression on me. I was surprised, disgusted, amazed and intrigued. So, today I wanted to share a few facts about Nepal that stuck in my mind and will probably grab your attention you too.
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Religious facts about Nepal:
Nepal is a secular state in which 80% of the population is Hindu, 10% are Buddhist and the last 10% are believers of different faiths. What attracted my attention was the fact that both Buddism and Hinduism coexist and even overlap in certain aspects. Therefore, it is quite normal to see a Buddhist person participating in a Hindu ritual and the other way round. There is even a religious complex in Khatmandu called Swayambhu which holds praying areas for both religions. I could not imagine a holy place where different religions peacefully mingle in my own country.
A fact about Nepal that personally horrified me is that religious animal sacrifices are still a tradition. In Hinduism, it is common to slaughter goats inside a temple as an offering to a god. At least, the meat of the animal is used to feed people rather than go to waste.
However, there is another type of sacrifice in which a living goat is tied up close to the deity for whom the offering is being done. It is totally forbidden to kill the animal, and it will remain there, tied near a statue, until it dies of starvation. Some people will bring food to the animal, though, a kind gesture for an animal condemned to live within a 2-meter radius for the rest of its remaining life.
A living goddess
This is probably the most bizarre religious tradition I have ever heard about. The Kumari is believed to be the reincarnation of the Buddhist female deity Vajradevi. Some Hindus also venerate the Kumari as the reincarnation of the Hindu goddess Taleju.
The process of selection occurs when the most recent Kumari has reached puberty, which is perceived as the Goddess leaving her body. Candidates are put forward by their parents and they must be girls from a specific chaste of the Newar Buddhist community. The process of selection is very strict and girls must be healthy, meet specific distinct physical features and have God-like temperament. Kumaris are taken away from their mundane life to be venerated and have exclusive treatment. When their time is due, however, they must leave behind their holy positions and return to their humble lives.
Historical and political facts about Nepal:
Country with second most Tibetan refugees
From 1959, the year in which Dalai Lama was exiled, more than 80000 Tibetans have emigrated out of their homeland. Most of them went to India, Nepal and Bhutan. These countries have been generous with the Tibetan community within their own possibilities. In Nepal, there are a few Tibetan communities and a little museum that you can visit near Pokhara. If you want to support these communities you can purchase one of their famous Tibetan rugs or make a donation.
A young constitution
Nepal had a ruling a monarchy from 1768 until it was abolished in 2008 by an elected Constituent Assembly. The Kingdom of Nepal then became the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. However, it wasn’t until 2015 that a new constitution was approved. Nepal’s constitution is among the current youngest ones in the world, just behind Cuba, Thailand, Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic.
Language facts about Nepal
According to Nepal’s constitution there are 129 native languages, all of them considered national languages. The most common language is Nepali, which comes from the ancient Sanskrit language. Nepali is used as the official language for government work but provinces can also choose a second language for this purpose. Most of the native languages are only used in spoken form and many of them are endangered. Most of the languages which have a written form, including Nepali, use the Devanagari script, also used by many other languages native to India.
Namaste means hello
If you have ever been to a yoga class your instructor will dismiss the session after a little meditation, a couple of oms and a final namaste. If you are like me, you may have thought the expression to be a mystic word, probably similar to “ I am grateful”, “thank you” or “go in peace”. It literally means I salute the God in you in Sanskrit, which sounds very mystic indeed but in reality, Namaste is a very common term used to say “hello”.
Socioeconomic facts about Nepal
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been the beneficiary of international aid that accounts for around $350 million per year. Experts have noticed that this money has not upskilled Nepal’s workforce or improved Nepal’s economy and so SMEs have decided to shift towards social enterprising.
One example is Sam’s One Tree Cafe, a restaurant in Kathmandu that only hires deaf waiting staff. There are many more social enterprises that you can support when you visit Nepal, so make sure you do a little bit of research to find restaurants, cafes, gift shops and hostels who will benefit many communities with your business.
Stray dogs in Nepal
On my first day in Kathmandu, I was surprised to see a large number of dogs on the streets. There are many stray dogs in Mongolia (where I live), but what I saw in Nepal was another level. They were mostly lying near private houses and temples. They looked pretty chubby and relaxed, probably because they get fed by locals. Unfortunately, not all stray dogs in Nepal are well-taken care of and not all of them are as chilled as the ones I saw. Even though I didn’t have any violent encounter with stray dogs, I have heard they can be pretty dangerous, depending on the area.
The crude reality about stray dogs is that most of them will eventually meet a cruel end. When developing countries cannot cover the basic needs of its people, animal welfare barely maters. Sadly, in Nepal, the government deals with overpopulation of dogs by poisoning them. Thankfully, the NGO Animal Nepal is actively involved in programs to prevent human cruelty towards animals.
Natural facts about Nepal
I found it surprising, that despite being such a small country, Nepal is among the top 50 most biodiverse countries in the whole world. Apparently, areas with tropical weather tend to have more animal and plant diversity due to constant temperatures. I honestly always thought of Nepal as the country of the Himalayas and didn’t know that actually there is more subtropical land in the south, called Terai (17%) than mountainous land (11%). Some facts about Nepal’s biodiversity are that it is home to 8% of the world’s bird species and 2% of the orchid species.
Unicorns exist, but they are endangered
Let’s start by saying that this is a bittersweet fact about Nepal. The greater one-horned rhino is the one Asian rhinoceros endemic to Nepal and India. They inhabit the grasslands and swamps of the valleys but years of hunting and deforestation made rhinos numbers plummet. In Nepal, this happened especially when the Chitwan valley opened up after the Rana regime had fallen (they held this land as private property) and malaria was eradicated. The population of rhinos rapidly dropped to less than 100 rhinos during the late 1960s. The two major reasons for that were deforestation of their natural habitat and poaching.
The government of Nepal created Chitwan National Park in 1973 and since then they successfully have managed to increase the numbers of the rhino population. Even though the conservation program has been very effective in the management and control of poaching, this is not free of controversy.
Blood sucking creatures
The rainforests in the subtropical area of Nepal house the most awful bugs in the whole world: leeches. Yuck! Once they hook to your body, you are better off if you let them be. They will suck your blood and once they finish they will let go of you without you even noticing. That’s because they numb the area and it doesn’t hurt or itch. Only when you see the blood coming out of a wound you’ll know what has just happened. But they are still gross.
If you are using proper equipment while you explore nature, they won’t trouble you much, but be careful because they can climb!! Don’t forget to cover all the exposed skin when you enter the forest.
We made it to the end of the list of 12 random facts about Nepal. I hope you found them useful or at least interesting. I know there are many more facts, but these are the ones that I learnt during my trip and that stuck with me. If you are travelling to Nepal soon, I think you will benefit from knowing some of these facts in advance. For example, I wish I had known more about social enterprises and had done some homework before travelling to Nepal. Which one of these facts about Nepal surprised you the most?