Nepal's mosaic of human geography consists of Hindu castes and more than 60 independent ethnic groups resulting from the mixture of the Indo-Aryan and the Mongoloid races. More than 100 languages and dialects are spoken across the country. The rites, rituals, festivals, processions, foods and drinks are unique and numerous in almost all the ethnic and religious groups. The distinct colors of this vast mosaic can be seen in Kathmandu valley not only because it has served as the nation’s capital since the 18th century, but also because the valley’s one million or so Newars have complex, varied, and peculiar cultural heritages, festivals, celebrations, and processions.
Nepal is by far a Hindu nation as more than 80% people follow Hinduism. It remained the official religion of Nepal as late as May 18, 2006 when the parliament declared Nepal a secular nation. The second biggest religion of Nepal is Buddhism. Nepal is the birthplace of Buddha (a.k.a. Gautama the Buddha), who was born in central southern terai region called Lumbini. These two religions have often blended so well in Nepal that it is sometimes hard to tell one from the other. This holds especially true in Kathmandu valley where the Buddhists and the Hindus worship in the same temples and to the same god or the deity. In fact Hinduism reveres Gautama the Buddha as one of 10 incarnations of one of its supreme gods -- the Vishnu. Consequently, there are a number of common deities of the Hindus and the Buddhists in Nepal.
Nepal takes pride in exhibiting exemplary racial and religious harmony, and the evidences of the latter are found as early as 250 B C, when the Buddism was first believed to have entered the Hindu dominated Kathmandu valley. Although it could not be a dominant religion, the Tantric form of Tibetan Buddhism made a tremendous influence in Kathmandu from the 8th century AD. Later on, many of the Malla kings of Kathmandu valley became the devout followers of tantric traditions and deities which are the indistinguishable mixture of Hindu and Buddhist sects. Many of the ethnic groups across the hills, Himalayas and plains have adapted these religions into their own animistic beliefs and traditions, producing unique customs, rites, and rituals.
Besides Hinduism and Buddhism, there are also a small number of people following Islam, Jain, Sikh, Bon and other religions. Recently there is a growing trend among some ethnicities to name their religious heritage after their own ethnic group. As an example, the Kirants call their religions Kiranti, although it is mainly Hinduism mixed with Buddhism.
Customs, Festivals, and Cultural Processions
There are numerous customs in Nepal, which spring from the mixed heritage of Buddhism, Hinduism and animism. Many of these customs are unique to the ethnicities across the nation. Commonly the elders, seniors, and guests are treated with deep respect. Different rites are performed at the birth, naming, marriage, and death.
Nepalese celebrate a number of festivals and occasions throughout the year. Read more about festivals of Nepal.
Foods, Drinks and Culinary Delights
The staple food of Nepalese is Dal, Bhat, Tarkari (which mean lentil soup, rice and vegetable curry). Pickle, milk, yoghourt, ghee and other items are also served with the daily course of dal, bhat and tarkari. Nepalese eat this set twice a day, usually as brunch and dinner. But the set of dishes served in festivals and celebrations vary considerably. Special items are prepared by different ethnic groups in their festivals and celebrations. A variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks are also available in Nepal. Most of the ethnic groups in the hill and mountains prepare their own alcoholic drinks in home. Look out for chhyang when you go on the trek in the Annapurna and Everest regions.