The history of Nepal centers and begins from Kathmandu. Nepal remained engaged with neighboring India and China (Tibet) to have its boundary extended for centuries. During the course of time, Kathmandu developed as a center of power in politics and art and culture in social life.
The civilization started from Kathmandu along with the origin of Gopal (the cow keepers), Mahispal (the buffalo keepers), Kirats, Lichhavis, Mallas and Shas. Buddhism is considered started in Kirat dynasty.
The age of Malla dynasty is considered as golden age to enrich Nepal in art and culture. The construction of Hanuman Dhoka palace, the Rani Pokhari (Pond), statues of the Kings facing the temples and several other pagoda style temples are the good examples of Mallas contributions. The Mallas also shaped the religious and artistic landscape by introducing the chariot festivals like Indra Jatra, Gai Jatra (Cow festival) and Machhendranath Jatra. The Mallas also established the living goddess ‘Kumari’ as reincarnation of Hindu god Vishnu to bless the Malla rulers for their long life.
Then the Shahs came in power. King Prithvi Narayan Shah from a small hilly Kingdom Gorkha established this dynasty. However, Shahs were ruling in Gorkha since years. Nepal was divided into several smaller kingdoms and Gorkha was one of them. King P.N. Shah decided to unify Nepal as a one Kingdom and he started to conquer Kathmandu. Many events happened in Shah Era. The Shahs were made powerless by a massacre called Kot Massacre and Jung Bahadur Rana became the Prime Minister of Nepal. JB Rana started the Rana regime for 104 years. After Ranas, Shahs came in power again and democratic system was established in 1950. However, it is felt that the system was incomplete. Shahs became more ambitious and King Mahendra started a system called ‘Panchayat’ and it was also abolished in 1990 from the people’s movement. In the meantime, there was an armed group called Maoists started the people’s war and it was settled with all party movement II in 2006. The important achievement of this movement is monarchy was totally abolished from Nepal. Nepal declared as People’s Republic. The election of Constituent Assembly happened and Nepal is going to have a new constitution with federal system.
Nepal is roughly rectangular in shape and sandwiched between two big Asian powers-China and India. It is sometimes said as "a yam between two hard rocks." The majestic Himalayas are the beauty of the country; in Sanskrit it means the house of snow. So, Nepal is very mountainous and hilly. Nepal is also described as the biggest natural museum in the world. It is about 850 kilometers long from the East to the West and about 200 kilometers wide from the North to the South that comprises a total of 147,181 square kilometers of land. Nepal is a landlocked country surrounded by India on three sides (East, West and South) and by China's Autonomous Region Tibet to the north.
Nepal has a great geographical diversity ranging from the Terai located at about 65 meters above sea level in the south to as high as 8848 meters, the famous Mount Everest in the north. Mt. Everest is known as 'Sagarmatha' in local Nepali language which means the top of the head. There are other high mountains in the north that are above 8000 meters such as Kanchenjunga, Annapunra, Dhaulagiri, Makalu, Manaslu, Cho Oyu and Lhotse.
Nepal is divided into three geographic areas such as the Mountain Region (15%), the Hilly Region (68%) and the flat Terai Region (17%). Terai region is the place where food grains are produced for the people of all Nepal. All three regions are parallel to each other from the east to the west. The country is also divided into 75 districts, 14 zones and 5 development areas. Nepal is now declared as a federal republican country so we all are hoping to have the new political border lines within the country.
Flora and Fauna:
There are about 6500 known species of plants found in Nepal. Among them, the most famous is perhaps Rhododendron Arboreum (Lali Gurans) flower. It is also the national flower of Nepal. It might better be explained as a tree with a height of 18m and forms whole forests in the Himalayan region. More than 30 other species of rhododendrons are found in the foothills of the Himalaya and the rhododendron forests burst into flower in March and April. The best time to see the wildflowers of the Himalaya in bloom is during the monsoon. Many of the alpine species found above the tree line bear flowers in autumn. Marigolds are grown in gardens and plantations across Nepal to provide the garlands offered at Hindu temples. Marigold flower has a special importance during the festival of Tihar (Deepawali). In the foothills of the Himalaya and plains, banyan and pipal trees are found forming the focal point of villages. The pipal tree has a special religious significance in Nepal such as the Buddha gained enlightenment under a pipal tree and Hindus worship pipal as symbol of Vishnu and Hanuman. Sal, a broad-leaved, semi deciduous hardwood, dominates the low-lying tropical forests of the Terai region. Sal leaves are used as disposable plates in local festivals and the wood is used for household purposes such as doors, windows, beds, furniture etc. On the flat plains, many areas are covered by a giant grass which grows up to 2.5m high and is used by villagers for thatching.
Nepal has an exceptional biodiversity with a unique variety of landscapes and climatic conditions. The diverse environments of the Himalaya and the Middle Hills provide a home for a remarkable array of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. There are best chances of spotting wildlife in the national parks and protected areas where the impact of human habitation is far away. About 26 mammal species, 9 bird species and 3 reptile species have been fully protected by strict laws in Nepal. There are altogether 27 mammal species, 22 bird species and 9 reptile species are listed in IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The most notable fauna among endangered species are The Greater One Horned Rhinoceros, Royal Bengal Tiger, Asian Elephant, Snow Leopard, Arna, Musk Deer, Red Panda, Black Buck, Swamp Deer, Gaur, Gharial and Dolphin. The preparation of species action plan for elephant, vulture, blackbuck, swamp deer, gaur is underway by the Nepal government. There are about 864 species of birds have been recorded in Nepal, 8% of the total bird species found worldwide. A total of 33 globally threatened species, 19 near threatened species and 15 restricted-range species of birds are recorded in Nepal. Spiny Babbler Turdoides Nipalensis is the only endemic bird of Nepal known so far.
Festivals of Nepal:-
Losar is known as the New Year of Sherpas of Nepal which falls in February. Sherpas live mostly in the upper Himalayan region of Nepal. Their cultures and traditions are quite similar to the Tibetans so it is also known as the Tibetan's New Year. The Buddhist monasteries in Kathmandu such as Boudhanath and Swoyambhunath are decorated with colorful prayer flags to mark this great day of the year. People perform their traditional dances and welcome their New Year with feasts and family gatherings. They also buy the new clothes and exchange gifts on this day.
Nepal is the land of Lord Shiva, Lord of the Lords is believed present everywhere. The sacred Hindu texts state that Mt. Kailash in the Himalayas is the abode of Lord Shiva. Shiva, the Destroyer of Evil is among the most praised and worshipped of all the gods by the Hindus. Shiva Ratri is the night of Lord Shiva that falls during February - March. One of the interesting aspects of Shiva Ratri is that people are free to smoke intoxicating substances such as marijuana and bhang as it is the only day when the use of marijuana is considered legal.
The popular Hindu festival called Holi falls in February - March. The festival is named after the mythical demoness Holika.The festival is also known as festival of colours. It is celebrated for a week. However, it is only the last day when people celebrate with colours. 'Phagu' is another name for Holi.
Buddha’s birth anniversary is celebrated every year during May in Nepal. Prince Siddharth Gautam was born in the southern Terai region of Nepal called Lumbini in about 543 BC. Till he was at the age of 29, the young prince was well sheltered in the royal palace of his father. He was completely unaware of the tragedies of everyday part of life. One day, while he crossed the boundary of his palace and was shocked to see the sight of an old man, a cripple and a corpse. After a long search, the Prince finally attained enlightenment while meditating under a pipal tree. Hence, the Prince was known as the "Buddha" or "the enlightened one". On this day, people gather in Swoyambhunath and Boudhanath to worship the Lord Buddha and also visit Buddha’s birth place in Lumbini and chant prayers and burn butter lamps. Buddhism is believed started in Nepal and spread all over the world after the Prince Siddhartha Gautam attained enlightenment as Buddha.
The festival of 'Gai Jatra' generally falls in the month of August - September. The festival of cows is one of the most popular festivals of Nepal and is celebrated in the Kathmandu Valley which is full of humor, satire and comedy. So, the festival has an ironical meaning and satiring on anybody is legal. This is considered for fun and it might help people to correct their ways if it is done unknowingly. As per the tradition, the family who has lost a relative during the past one year must take part in a procession by sending young boys in cow like appearance lead by a cow. In terms of historical evidences, when King Pratap Malla lost his son, the queen remained dumbstruck. The King tried to bring his wife out of the grief. Then the cow procession was brought before the grief-stricken queen. When the social injustice and other evils were highlighted and attacked mercilessly, the queen could not stop smiling. The queen laughed, and Pratap Malla, the King ensued as tradition of satires, jokes and mockery on the Gai Jatra days.
Teej is a popular fasting festival for Hindu women. It is celebrated for 3 days. The festival falls in the month of August or early September. Through the course of this rigid fasting, Hindu women pray for marital bliss, well being of their spouse and children as well as purification of their own body and soul. All the married Hindu women dress in red clothes as it is considered as sign of good luck. They like to wear their jewelries also and celebrate this festival with singing and dancing. The songs they sing during this festival won't be heard when the festival is over. However, they can sing this in the next year's Teej festival again.
Dashain is the biggest festival of the Nepalese Hindu people that falls in the month of late September and early October each year. The goddess Durga (the goddess of power) is worshipped and thousands of male animals only are sacrificed in every of her temples on this festival. People paint their houses and clean as a preparation for the festival. This festival has also made a significant role in reunion of distant and nearby relatives. The first nine days of Dashain are called 'nawa ratri'. The first day of Dashain is called 'Ghatasthapana'. A small rectangular sand block is made and seeded with grains. Day’s passes by regular rituals till the seventh day. The seventh day is called 'Fulpati'. The eighth day is called 'Maha Asthami'. Sacrifices are held in almost every house throughout the day. The night of the eighth day is called 'Kal Ratri' (the dark night). Hundreds of male goats, sheep and buffaloes are sacrificed at the goddess Durga's temples. Puja is being carried out and great feasts are held in the houses of common people. Many varieties of meat are prepared and eaten together in the families. The ninth day is called 'Maha Nawami'. The Taleju temple at Kathmandu Durbar Square is opened for the public once a year on this day only. All factories, vehicles and instruments are worshiped from which we make our living and to get the blessing from goddess Durga in the hope that she protects from accidents during the year. The tenth day is the 'Dashami' and also called ‘Vijaya Dashami’. On this day we take ‘Tika’ and ‘Jamara’ from our elders and receive their blessings. Younger visits the elders in their home and gets ‘Tika’ on forehead, ‘Jamara’ and blessings. Children are happy to wear new cloths and people wish a good luck to each other throughout the festival period. This function continues for four days. After four days, Dashain ends on the full moon day, the fifteenth day. In the last day people stay at home and relax from the rush. The full moon day is also called 'Kojagrata' meaning 'who is awake'. The Hindu goddess of wealth Laxmi is worshipped on this day. The goddess Laxmi is given an invitation to visit their houses.
Tihar is yet another great Hindu festival that happens in the month of late October and early November, also known as the festival of lights. The festival is dedicated to Goddess Laxmi (the goddess of wealth). The festival is celebrated by the Nepalese Hindus by decorating their houses with lit oil lamps. The nights in the entire village or city looks like a sparkling diamond, thus it is also called the 'Deepawali' festival. The festival is celebrated for five days. The festival has a meaning for life and prosperity. The first day of Tihar is known as 'Kag Tihar', dedicated to crows. Crow is considered as the messenger of death and honoured on the first day of the festival. The second day is called 'Kukur Tihar', dedicated to dogs. We pray to the dogs to look after our houses as they guard the gate of the underworld (Patal or Yamalok) and to avoid destructions that might overcome to our homes. On this day the dogs seem running around with garlands on their neck. The third day is the most important day of the festival. It is called 'Laxmi Puja', the day when goddess of wealth is worshipped. On this day, early in the morning cows are worshipped with 'Tika' on her forehead and a garland around her neck then she is served with delicious food. A cow also symbolises wealth and she is the most holy animal for Hindus. In the evening goddess Laxmi is worshipped. Houses are cleaned and decorated believing that she likes clean and tidy places. A small portion of the house outside the main gate is painted in red with red mud and an oil lamp is lit on it. A pathway is made from here to the ‘Puja room’ where a safe and valuables are kept. It is believed that on the third day midnight, goddess Laxmi makes a world tour on her owl (mode of transportation) checking how she is worshipped. The fourth day is dedicated to ox as 'Goru puja'. The ox is worshipped with ‘Tika’, garland and then a delicious meal is served because they help us in farming to plough and providing the cow dung as fertilizer. People build a small hill of cow dung and put some grasses on it then perform ‘Puja’ on it. This great Hindu festival is more eco-friendly that inspires to worship the living creatures in the world. The Newar community performs 'Mha puja' which literally means worshipping of you. The last day of the festival is called 'Bhai Tika’; sisters put seven colour 'Tika' on the forehead of their brothers and wish their long life from 'Yamaraj' (the god of the underworld). So, this festival is also known as the festival of brothers and sisters. Girls and boys forming a group or separately visit every houses in their locality in the evening and sing a special 'Tihar song'. They wish prosperity of the house members and they are offered with some cash and 'selroti' as gift.
The popular Sherpa festival Mani Rimdu is celebrated every year at Tengboche Monastery in the Khumbu region of Nepal. The famous Mt. Everest (8,848m) has crowned the monastery. Tengboche gompa or monastery is home to around 36 monks and 25 students. The Mani Rimdu festival is a three-day program starting right after October's full moon. During the festival, a dance drama is performed by the monks of Tengboche monastery.