EVERYDAY LIFE IN NEPAL
Religion and caste infuse daily life in Nepal. In the mountains there are no roads and people carry huge loads on their backs on foot trails, often anchoring the stuff in place with a strap wrapped around their forehead. In many homes there is no electricity, running water, toilets or even an outhouse. People often sleep on handwoven bamboo mats placed on clay pallets or on cots or mats on the floor. Household possessions include cups, toothbrushes. Water is gathered from a rubber pipe connected to a spring. Fire, candles and gas lamps suppy light.
Rural women in Nepal have traditionally taken care of children, cooked, collected firewood, fodder and dung for fuel and washed clothes while men have done the heavier agricultural tasks and worked outside the village, doing things like trading, portering, and labor to earn money. Plowing is regarded as men’s work while fetching water is considered women's work. Both men and women do hard, physical labor, but women tend to work longer hours and have less free time. They used to die younger but that is no longer the case. In urban areas, men have traditionally had more work opportunities than women but that is less the case as women become better educated. There are now many women professionals. Women also do a lot of market work and take on significant roles in family businesses and shops. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]
The senior female member played a commanding role within the family by controlling resources, making crucial planting and harvesting decisions, and determining the expenses and budget allocations. Yet women's lives remained centered on their traditional roles — taking care of most household chores, fetching water and animal fodder, and doing farm work. Their standing in society was mostly contingent on their husbands' and parents' social and economic positions. They had limited access to markets, productive services, education, health care, and local government. Malnutrition and poverty hit women hardest. Female children usually were given less food than male children, especially when the family experienced food shortages. Women usually worked harder and longer than men. By contrast, women from high-class families had maids to take care of most household chores and other menial work and thus worked far less than men or women in lower socioeconomic groups. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
The economic contribution of women was substantial, but largely unnoticed because their traditional role was taken for granted. When employed, their wages normally were 25 percent less than those paid to men. In most rural areas, their employment outside the household generally was limited to planting, weeding, and harvesting. In urban areas, they were employed in domestic and traditional jobs, as well as in the government sector, mostly in low-level positions.
Gurung Daily Life
The Gurung is an ethnic group that live primarily the Himalayan foothills of central Nepal around Pokhara and the Annapurna, Lamjung and Himalchuli regions. They speak Gurung — a tonal language related to Tibetan — and have traditionally been Tibetan Buddhists but have been strongly influenced by Hinduism. Gurung are the 11th largest ethnic group in Nepal. According to the CIA Factbook in 2020 they make up 2 percent of the population.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “There is little formal division of labor among Gurungs. Men may not weave cloth and women may not weave bamboo or plow. Women generally look after the house, cook, and care for the physical needs of children. Men and women engage in most agricultural activities, as well as chopping wood for fuel and gathering fodder for livestock. Livestock in high-altitude pastures is most often tended by men. Metalwork, tailoring, and carpentry are performed by non-Gurung service castes who live in hamlets attached to Gurung villages. [Source: Ernestine L. McHugh, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“The goods that they produce, such as baskets and blankets, are useful and tend to be of a conventional plain design. The artistry of Gurungs is expressed in their folk music and dance and especially in the evanescent form of song exchanges between young men and women.” Khukuri Naach is kind of dance during which Gurkhas display their power and pride and their knives. Gurungs often employ exorcists as well as scientific drugs when suffering from an illness. Scientific medicine is highly valued, but it is costly and is not easily available in rural areas. Herbs and plants are also used in treating illness and injury. |~|
Thakali Daily Life, Villages and Houses
The Thakali is an ethnic group that lives in the Jomson area near Annapurna, a major trekking area. Occupying a fairy inhospitable area between the Tibetan highlands and the Hindu lowlands, they number around 13,000 to 14,000 and have been powerful merchants since the 1850s when they provided the Nepalese rulers with vital intelligence during a war with Tibet and was rewarded with a monopoly on the lucrative salt trading routes with Tibet.
Shigeru Iijima wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The Thakali merchants live in the valley of the Upper Kali Gandaki, but some of the agropastoral Thakalis inhabit the slopes of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Himals. Their houses are either rectangular or square and were originally of Tibetan style. The houses of the Thakalis as a whole are large, spacious, and clean. Houses are made of slate stones with flat roofs. But the Thakalis have to build bamboo huts within the Tibetan-style houses during the rainy season in the Comparatively humid area, like Lete and Ghasa villages, in the Southern fringe of Thakhola. [Source: Shigeru Iijima, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
“Not only the adults but also the children work hard. The Thakalis in Tukuche have not developed a division of labor, except for work such as the caravan trade for males and housekeeping for females. However, the Thakalis living in the Hindu lowlands of Nepal have in recent times emulated the behavior of Hindu high castes and have secluded women from outside labor.
“The Thakalis are quite artistic people, loving not only the arts but also natural beauty such as the landscape and flowers. It is, however, very interesting that they show their artistic abilities more in secular aspects of life, such as commerce, cooking, interior designing, and so forth, rather than in the arts themselves. |~|
Urban Areas of Nepal
Urban population: 20.6 percent of total population (2020) (compared to 83 percent in Great Britain and 21 percent in Ethiopia). Rate of urbanization: 3.15 percent annual rate of change (2015-20 estimated). According to the United Nations the urban population was 14 percent in 2005 and the urban growth rate was 5.1 percent between 2000 and 2005. The urban population was 11 percent in 2002 according to the CIA. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020;”Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
Kathmandu is the largest city and urban area with a population of 1.424 million people. The Kathmandu area is home to about 4 million people. Kathmandu, had a population of 741,000 in 2005. Other major cities include Pokhara with a population of about 427,000 in 2020, 265,000 in 2011 and 140,000 in 2000; Lalitpur (Patan) with a population of about 300,000 in 2020, 226,728 in 2011 and 175,000 in 2000; Biratnagar with a population of 182,000 in 2020 and 125,000 in 2000; and Bhaktapur with a population of 81,000 in 2011 and 120,000 in 2000.
Alfred Pach III wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Throughout the hills there are a number of large towns consisting of several hundred or a few thousand people, especially where there is an important temple or monastery, a marketplace, a motorable road, or an administrative center. The Newari have typically lived in cities or large towns that each form a commercial, social, and ritual center surrounded by their terraced fields. Their settlements vary in size from large villages to the former city-states of Patan, Kathmandu, and Bhaktapur in the Kathmandu Valley. [Source: Alfred Pach III, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
Urbanization in Nepal
UNESCO has decried the "uncontrolled urban development" in Kathmandu Valley and now pollution is so bad there that schools have been closed because of bad air. According to Reuters: “Dust from construction works, exhaust from old, poorly maintained vehicles and smoke from coal-burning brick kilns blend in a murky haze that hangs over the ancient city of four million people, raising the risk of cancer, stroke, asthma and high blood pressure, experts say.” [Source: March 30, 2021]
According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “Nepal historically was one of the least urbanized countries in the world, but urbanization is accelerating, especially in the capital, and urban sprawl and pollution have become serious problems. Kathmandu and the neighboring cities of Patan and Bhaktapur are known for pagoda-style and shikhara temples, Buddhist stupas, palaces, and multistory brick houses with elaborately carved wooden door frames and screened windows. At the height of British rule in India, the Rana rulers incorporated Western architectural styles into palaces and public buildings. Rana palaces convey a sense of grandeur and clear separation from the peasantry. The current king's palace's scale and fortress-like quality illustrate the distance between king and commoner. Although the largest and most famous buildings are well maintained, many smaller temples and older residential buildings are falling into disrepair. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]
Urbanization generally was viewed as closely related to economic development. If the correlation between urbanization and economic development — historically based on the experience of the industrialized nations — is accepted, then Nepal has a long way to go before it becomes economically advanced. Nepal was one of the least urbanized countries in the world, with only 6.3 percent of its total population residing in urban areas in 1981. Yet it appears that the 1971-81 decade experienced a major spurt in urban population, increasing by approximately 108 percent, at an annual rate of more than 8.4 percent. The urbanization rate in the early 1990s was around 8 percent. Nevertheless, only twenty-three settlements were designated as urban areas, and only one of these settlements had a population above 100,000 — the capital city of Kathmandu, which had a total population of slightly more than 235,000. Together with the other two major urban settlements — Patan (also called Lalitpur), which had about 79,800 people, and Bhadgaon (also called Bhaktapur), with about 48,500 people — the Kathmandu Valley in the Hill Region had the largest concentration of the total urban population — almost 40 percent. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
In terms of the regional distribution of these urban settlements, the pattern was skewed in favor of the Terai. Fourteen of the twenty-three settlements were found there, the majority located in eastern and central Terai. The Mountain Region had no urban settlements. This situation clearly demonstrated that Nepal not only remained predominantly rural, but also that the existing urban areas were neither well developed nor well connected in terms of their geographical distribution. The only real urban network was found in the central section — the quadrangle consisting of Kathmandu, Pokhara, Butawal (and Siddhartha Nagar), and Hetauda.
Urban Life in Nepal
Kathmandu is a very noisy and dusty city. The pace of life and the activity in streets — pedicabs, motorized rickshaws and women carrying things on their head — is reminiscent of an Indian city. The streets that were once the domain of hippies travelers are now occupied by trekking shops that cater more to a more upscale clientele.
In the narrow back streets of Old Kathmandu are old brick-and-wood buildings. Typical Kathmandu houses are of three-or four-story brick construction, many with ornately carved wood trim. The bazaars are a jumble of people, vegetable stalls, small shops and free-roaming cattle. Most of the people are Hindus; they look like Indians and the tilt there head the same way Indians do when they say yes.
Kathmandu, including Bhaktapur and Lalitpur (Patan), is home to almost 2 million people. It has a serious pollution problem. Battery-powers taxis and non-polluting electric tuk tuks have been introduced to alleviate pollution problem. Much of the food and supplies for Kathmandu come by road from the southern plains and India.
Describing a walk through an old quarter of Patan, Isabella Tree wrote in National Geographic: As we leave her house — an old, low-ceilinged, brick-and-timber building in a neighborhood called Thabu — Unika skips along through the narrow streets, pulling her mother, Sabita, and elder sister, Biphasa, by the hand. It’s a short walk to Hakha Bahal, the courtyard where for centuries members of her extended family have lived and gathered for religious rituals and festivals and where the first part of the selection will take place. Unika’s wearing her favorite yellow fleece hoodie with “Snoopy” on the back.” [Source: Isabella Tree, National Geographic, June 2015]
Migration in Nepal
In the early 1990s, there was a massive and persistent outflow of people from the hills, the areas that once served as a refuge for migrants. In addition, the volume of migration has been increasing over time. There have been two major types of migration. Permanent or lifetime migration occurred primarily within the national boundary, particularly from the highlands to the Terai Region; it was motivated by the search for land. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
Until the mid-1950s, the volume of permanent migration within the country was very small. Since then, however, there has been increased permanent internal migration, mainly because of population pressures, paucity of land resources in the hills, and the implementation of land resettlement programs in the Terai Region. This form of migration was identified in the 1981 census as lifetime internal migration.
The total volume of lifetime internal migration in 1981 was close to 1,272,300 persons, a figure that represented 8.5 percent of the total population. The vast majority of lifetime internal migrants originated in the Hill and Mountain regions and moved to the Terai Region in search of land in a movement that can be called frontier migration. These findings confirmed that the north-south (highland-lowland) flows of migration have made a substantial contribution — both directly and indirectly — to the rapid population growth of the Terai Region. *
In 1991, 46.7 percent of Nepal’s population lived in the Terai region, 45.5 percent resided in the central hilly region, and 7.8 percent lived in the northernmost mountain region. By the early 2000s, large-scale internal migrationwas overcrowding in the fertile Terai region. One of the major variables responsible for this trend was the Hill residents' quest for land. About half of the male Hill migrants to the Terai mentioned "agriculture" as their reason for migrating. The "not stated and others" category also constituted a high percentage, probably because most family members who moved with their parents or household heads had no specific reason for their migration. [Source: *”Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]
A high score for trade and commerce among the mountain migrants might reflect the fact that they historically were deeply engaged in interregional as well as cross-border trade with Tibet as their principal economic activity. Because their traditional trade and commercial relations with Tibet had been largely cut off because of political changes after 1950, they might have moved to the Terai, where such opportunities were expanding, particularly in urban areas. *
The pattern for female migrants was generally consistent with the pattern for male migrants. The exception was female migrants for whom marriage as a reason for geographical mobility ranked quite high. This pattern generally reflected the commonly observed reality that female mobility in Nepal was largely tied to family mobility (that is, husbands or parents). Although individual (unmarried) female migration seemed to be gradually on the rise, it still was quite limited.
Circular migration included seasonal migrants, who moved to wage-labor sites, such as urban centers and construction areas, during the agricultural slack season (November to February). These circular or absentee migrants included long-term (but not permanent) migrants, who moved in search of long-term salaried employment, such as army, government, chaukidar (doorman or guard) services, or factory jobs. Once these migrants succeeded in landing a relatively permanent job, they normally visited their families and villages once every two to three years; if they did not secure such a job, they might return in a few months. Unlike permanent migration, circular migration was both internal (within the country) as well as external (outside the country). Although internal circular migrants ultimately might become permanent migrants, t
Circular migrants, both internal and external, were classified as absentee population in the 1981 census. The major difference between the two groups was that the internal absentee population generally consisted of short-term or seasonal migrants. Such migrants left the hills in search of temporary jobs in nearby towns or at construction sites and generally returned to their villages after the winter season to resume farming. On the other hand, the external absentee population was largely composed of long-term migrants. In the cases of both types, most migrants were adult males although some husbands periodically took their wives with them after they were well established in their jobs. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
The volume of circular migration, or absentee population, has been rising. In the mid-1950s, such migration totaled almost 217,000 persons, most coming from the hills. More than 90 percent, or more than 198,000 people, were external migrants; the vast majority went to India. In 1981 the absentee population totaled almost 591,000 people. Of these, 188,000 people, or 32 percent, were internal migrants, and approximately 403,000 people, or 68 percent, were external migrants. Even though the percentage of external migrants in the total absentee population had declined from 90 percent in the mid-1950s to 68 percent in 1981, their absolute number had increased by 205,000 people. Whereas the increasing number of absentee population from the hills was an unmistakable indicator of the region's deteriorating economic and environmental conditions, the decreasing percentage of external migration in the total volume was largely the result of the emergence of the Terai as an alternative, internal destination. *
The vast majority of migrants came from the Hill and Mountain regions. Together, they made up 141,200 (85 percent) of the total of internal migrants and about 365,000 (91 percent) of total external migrants. Unlike in the Hill and Mountain regions, the majority of the Terai's 82,650 absentees were found within the country. *
An analysis of reasons for absence from home revealed quite a contrast between lifetime internal migration and circular migration. Service, which included a variety of jobs, surfaced as the most dominant reason for being absent from home in both internal and external cases of circular migration. On the average, 64 percent of external migrants mentioned service as their reason for migration, the highest rate being posted by the Hill migrants; 28 percent gave no reasons, or other reasons. *
Rural Areas of Nepal
Rural population: 79.4 percent of total population (2020) (compared to 17 percent in Great Britain and 79 percent in Ethiopia). According to the United Nations the rural population was 86 percent in 2005. The rural population was 79 percent in 2002 according to the CIA and and over 90 percent in the 1990s and before. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020;”Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007]
The elite in Kathmandu have done virtually nothing to help develop the countryside. Brahmans own much of land in the countryside and force peasant to work for them in feudal arrangements. Absentee landlordism and bonded slavery are disturbingly common.
Farming was the most important source of livelihood in rural areas, but the scarcity of land placed severe constraints on agricultural development. Landholding was the most important basis for, or criterion of, socioeconomic stratification. The 1981 agricultural census data identifies five classes of peasantry: landless and nearly landless, people with no land or less than half a hectare; subsistence, those with half a hectare to one hectare; small, holders of one to three hectares; medium, people with three to five hectares; and large, farmers of more than five hectares.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Most Nepalis depend on agriculture for their main subsistence and as a source of cash. In the midland and southern regions of the country, the land has been terraced for generations, so that people are able to grow irrigated rice during the monsoon and dry rice, maize, millet, and wheat on more elevated dry land both in the summer and during the winter. They intercrop their fields with soybeans and chilies, and they have gardens of cauliflower, squash, turnips, and greens. Most people in Nepal keep buffalo, goats, or cows for milk and buffalo or goats for meat, and, if the people are not orthodox Hindus, also pigs and chickens. [Source: Alfred Pach III, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
Although farming traditionally ranked among the most desirable occupations, villagers frequently encouraged some of their children to leave in search of civil service, army, and other employment opportunities. Individual migration was often the result of a family decision and an important economic strategy; it not only served as a safety valve for growing population pressures but also generated cash incomes, thereby averting any undue economic crises in the family. Well-to-do village families usually pushed their children to obtain civil service jobs as a means of climbing the bureaucratic ladder and of developing valuable connections with the elite political structure. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
Rural Life in Nepal
The population of Nepal is overwhelmingly rural. In the 1990s Nepal was predominantly a rural-agricultural society, where more than 90 percent of the people lived in rural areas and depended on farming as a source of livelihood. Even in settlements designated as urban areas, the rural-urban distinction easily was blurred; approximately 50 percent of urbanites outside the three cities in the Kathmandu Valley were engaged in farming for their livelihood. Even in the Kathmandu Valley cities, 30 to 40 percent of city dwellers were agriculturalists. In this sense, most urban areas were economic extensions of rural areas, but with an urban manifestation and a commercial component. Farming was the dominant order of society and the mainstay of the economy, a situation that was unlikely to change, given the extremely sluggish pace of economic transformation. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
There are many places with no electricity, no running water, no plumbing, no television, no cars and no flush toilets. The nearest paved road is often hours or days away on foot. By some counts there were only 2,000 doctors in all of Nepal in the 1990s with 60 percent of them concentrated of urban areas, More than 40,000 of Nepal’s villages have no doctors or hospitals. Those that have facilities often have poorly-supplied clinics. The state of health care in Nepal can be shockingly poor. People have deformed arms and legs that are the result of having broken bones incorrectly set. The lifestyle is often not very healthy either. People bath in ponds and rivers with water buffalos and their manure, sleep in flea-infested straw mattresses, sitting in smokey rooms where fires are used for cooking, heat and light and eat thin soups and never feel full,
Chopping wood, churning butter, scything wheat and , herding goats and buffalo common rural chores. Some Nepalese farmers loose as much as one fourth of the crop to wild animals, with monkeys often being the worst thieves. Many poor Nepalese grow their own tobacco in backyard gardens. Distance is sometimes gaged in smokes — how far one walk with one pipeful, or in 45 minutes.♬
Village Society in Nepal
Above the kinship network was the village, which functioned as a broader unit of social existence. Some villages were no more than hamlets made up of just a few houses; others were sizable communities of several neighboring hamlets. In more populous villages, the caste groups contained occupational low (untouchable) caste groups, such as the Kami (ironsmiths who make tools), the Sarki (leathersmiths), and the Damai (tailors and musicians), who fulfilled the vital basic needs of the village as a fairly selfcontained production unit. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]
Villagers occasionally pooled their resources and labored together to implement village-level projects, such as building irrigation ditches or channels, or facilities for drinking water. If a household could afford to hire farm labor, it usually relied on the mutual labor-sharing system called parma, which allowed villagers to exchange labor for labor at times of need.
In terms of production relations, the first two classes were dependent on large landowners for survival. Small landowners, on the other hand, were relatively independent; they did not have to depend on the large landowning class for survival, especially if they were involved in circular migration as a source of supplementary cash income. Nor did they regularly employ members of the first two classes. Landowners of medium-sized plots were independent of large landowners. Their engagement in wage laboring or tenancy farming was sporadic, if present at all. In some cases, they employed others during peak farming seasons. The large landowning class regularly employed farm workers and benefited from the existence of excess labor, which kept wages low. In general, the situation of landholders was exacerbated by the archaic nature of farming technology and the absence of other resources. It was not surprising that rural poverty was widespread.
Rural Women in Nepal
Women have traditionally done most of the field and house the work. They carry fire wood and water, cook, work in the fields, care for the children, clean the house, dry, winnow and husk grain, gather leaves for animals and collect dung used as cooking and heating fuel. Among some groups, women till the soil, plant and harvest the crops and widowed and divorced women engage in trade and shopkeeping. Because village men are often gone working elsewhere, women are more often in charge of farming and often know more about it than men.
In some rural areas of Nepal, women are little more than beasts of burden. They are possession of their father until they get married and then are possessions of their husband. Often women do all the work while men sit around. For a while Nepal was the only country in the world where the lifespan of women was shorter than that of men but that is now longer the same (it is now 72 years for women and 69 for men).
One village woman was asked why she didn't take care of money. "Women can't handle money because they don't go to school," she said. She was then asked why women can't go to school. "There's too much work for them to do. There's not time for girls to go to school."
In many places women make daily trips to the forest to gather bundles of branches and grass that can weigh up to 30 kilograms and carry them to their homes on their backs. One survey in the 2000s found that 80 percent of Nepalese women in their 20s and 30s routinely gather firewood.
Mountain Life in Nepal
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “In the northern, mountainous regions of the country the Sherpa, Manangi, and others practice high-altitude agriculture. Their main crops are barley, wheat, buck-wheat, and maize, along with potatoes — and, recently, squash — grown as vegetables. In these areas there is only one growing season, so that supplemental resources from trade, herding, and wage labor are needed. Herding animals is an important and common economic activity in northern, Tibetan-oriented regions where people keep yaks, cows, and crossbreeds for butter, cheese, and meat. They also use ponies, sheep, and yaks as pack animals in their long-distance trading. In slightly lower elevations groups such as the Magar have a transhumant economy, and so they move seasonally between elevations for farming and herding. [Source: Alfred Pach III, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]
In most of Nepal there are nor roads, only footpaths that generally to go straight up and down rather than switching back at an easy grade. A great effort is made to make sure there is enough firewood, dung and fodder collected before winter,
The Nepalese don't use shoulder harnesses. They carry the weight with a strap wrapped around their forehead and a blanket on their backs to protect from chafing. And the don't just carry these things from one village to the next. Sometimes they carry loads that exceed their bodyweight for days. There are no roads in most of Nepal and hardly any wheels. Goods in these areas is either transported on the backs of people or on th backs of animals, usually the former.
On tourist treks, you see porters, hired for a few dollars a day, that carry almost everything on their back — bags of cement, baskets filled with coke and beer, tired and injured trekkers, goats and thick electrical cables. I once saw a small boy carrying five full trekkers backpacks in his basket and it is not unusual to see women carrying 25 foot long 6-x-6-inch posts.
Lifestyle of Himalayan Tibetan People (Bhotes)
Many groups like the Sherpas and the people that live in Dolpo and Mustang are of Tibetan origin. They are mostly Tibetan Buddhists and their culture is basically Tibetan. They look more like Tibetans and have lived in the high mountain valleys and have traditionally been looked down on by the Indian-looking Hindus that dominate the Kathmandu Valley and the middle hills region. The Tibetan Himalaya people and their language is sometimes referred to as Bhote, which has traditionally been a derogatory term meaning “bumpkin” used by Nepalis to describe them.
The Himalayan people generally practice a mix of Tibetan Buddhism and traditional Tibetan Bon religion. They often rely equally on shaman and lamas. They raise barley, potatos and buckwheat and herd yaks that provide them with milk and butter. Tea mixed with yak butter is their staple drink. Tsampa (smashed barley) is their staple food.
The women in the Himalayan region have a reputation for being very independent and feisty. It is not unusual for them to shout ribald jokes at men who walk past them in the fields where they are working. Many run businesses such as guesthouses while their husbands are away trading or portering.
In the homes of Tibetan people the hearth and cooking area is often a gathering place. This contrasts sharply with Hindu homes, were the kitchen is strictly off limit for caste and pollution reasons.
Mustang Daily Life
Mustang (pronounced moo Stong) is a remote, semi-autonomous kingdom in northern Nepal, where Tibetan Buddhism is practiced in one of its purest forms. Situated between the Annapurna range and Tibet, it is an isolated place where some people still believe the earth is flat, noblemen still keep serfs, sheep skulls are kept outside houses to keep out bad spirits and nomads sleep in yak hair tents. For a long time there were no telephones, no cars, roads, no airport, no banks. The post offices was often closed because there were no stamps. What Mustang does have is wonderful temples untouched since the 15th century.
The people of Mustang grow barley and raise goats and sheep for milk and butter and raise horses and yaks as beasts of burden. Many Mustang villagers keep large growling mastiffs chained near their front door. For a long time most people didn't have electricity or running water. Cooking is still largely done over a dung fire and oil lamps are used for lighting. Wood is scarce and burned only for special occasions.
Daily chores include milking goats, winnowing grain, stuffing grain into sacks, tending the fields and moving animals to pastures. Butter is made by churning yak or goat milk in a sheepskin bag. Rice, momos (Tibetan dumplings), tsampa (Tibetan barely porridge), yak milk cheese and fresh goat are common foods. Tibetan tea is brewed with an equal measure of salt and yak butter, giving it a consistency like soup. As a special treat for honored guests a raw egg is added. Westerners sometimes have trouble with the food. It often used to have dust and pebbles in it. Mustangese find it strange that Westerners eat fish. [Source: Michel Peissel, National Geographic, October 1965]
The modern world has brought its influences to Mustang, The walls of some homes are decorated with Metallica and Iron Maiden posters. People began watching Rambo and Bruce Lee videos when VCRs acquired in India and Kathmandu appeared. Chortens have crumbled; people ignore the king; few people help in the king’s harvest even though they are now paid; the crown prince lives in Kathmandu, where he owns a rug factory. "During my reign," the king told National Geographic, "I have tried to reinforce our culture. But it is not easy. The people are changing much. It's not that they aren't interested in their traditions anymore. but they are very poor. People have to survive."
Dolpo is a remote region northwest of the Annapurna region. Immortalized by the “Snow Leopard”, Peter Mathiessesn's account of Himalayan exploration,the Dolpo is inhabited by Bhotias who embrace the Bon-Po faith, an animist religion that predates and influenced Tibetan Buddhism. The people of the Dolpo region — the Dolpa-pa — are a Tibetan people who have lived pretty much the same way for the last 1,000 years. The food they grown in their valleys is only enough to feed them for half a year. The key to their existence is the yak caravan. From Dolpa they travel up to Tibet and trade barely and corn for salt. The salt is then taken to the south were it is traded for corn, beans and rice. [Source: Eric Valli and Diane Summers, National Geographic, December 1993 [☺] Most people of the few thousand people who live Dolpo reside in villages at 3,960 to 4,270 meters (13,000 to 14,000 feet). For a long time the region was virtually untouched by the Nepalese government or the modern world. There were virtually no teachers, officials or police in the area. Places didn't even have names on Western maps until English scholar David Snelgrove visited the region in 1956. Matthiesen visited the area with renowned wildlife biologist George Schaller, who came to the region to study bharal (Himalayan blue sheep).
In some parts the Dolpo fires are still started with flints, yak-dung is the only fuel, villagers worship gods of the mountains and the wheel is virtually non existent. Four month out of the year the valleys are closed off by snow in the passes and the nearest airport is a ten day walk. Until fairly recently children almost never went to school.☺
Dolpo hamlets consist for two-story houses with inward sloping walls made of mortared stones and air dried earthen bricks. Attached is a shed for tools, food and yak dung fuel. Men dress in short cloaks. Women wear long dresses made colorfully striped woven cloth fastened around the waist. Their hair is plaited and lopped into dozens of tight braids. The wear silver and turquoise earrings, and necklaces and bracelets made of coral, seed pearls and coral.
The Dolpo like to tell bawdy jokes. Many children are conceived outside marriages. They practice polyandry. When drinking alcoholic chang or tea, people in the Karnal and Dolpo regions have the custom of smearing rim of the cup with rancid butter and emptying the cup three times. ♬
Before a Dolpo horse race can begin the horses have to ride over a consecrated juniper fire. In the Karnali people say "When winter snows turn the Jumla white, the people turn black." In the chimneyless homes they burn pine logs which covers everyone and everything with oily soot. In the 1990s, a “japan panosanic” (cassette player) was worth three sheep and a “seeko” watch was worth two or three.☺ ☻
Sherpa Life, Food and Clothes
Sherpas are a Tibetan Buddhist people that are essentially Tibetans who have lived in Nepal long enough to develop some of their own unique traits and characteristics. They are quite different from Hindu Nepalese. The Sherpas of the Khumbu valley near Mt. Everest are famous mountaineers and guides.
Potatoes are the staple of the Sherpa diet. They are boiled, curried, fermented into chang and even chewed like gum. “Shakpa” (pungent potato stew) is a Sherpas favorite. Leftover meals prepared for trekkers are mixed into a big slop and fed to yaks. Sherpas have traditionally not eaten meat. (See Religion).
Sherpas drink Tibetan style tea with salt and yak butter and make homemade beer called chang from maize and other grains. Sherpa chang is sometimes brewed with potatoes.
Technology is still very basic. Children play catch with potatoes and use peddles as marbles. Water wheels power the stones that grind grain into flour. Sticks and rocks are used to make the channels that divert waters from streams. Some Sherpas like to throw and juniper and azalea into a fire and watch them erupt in crackle of sparks.
Many Sherpa women still wear traditional “angee” dresses. Many of the western clothes Sherpa's wear and the utensils and tools they use were given to them by the mountain climbing expeditions that have passed through the Khumbu valley. Like Tibetans many Sherpa men like to wear cowboy hats. Both men and women wear running shoes.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022