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 POPULATION & PEOPLE

Nepal’s populace is more than 24 million individuals, and is developing at a disturbing rate of 2.3% every year. Half of the general population live in the Terai. also, a large portion of the rest are spread all through the nation in little slope towns. The brilliant lights and saw open doors for riches in the Kathmandu valley are pulling in numerous town individuals, and the valley’s populace has developed to an expected 2.5 million.

Since you will experience individuals living in little towns that cover the slopes all through the nation, trekking in Nepal is not a wild affair. Indeed, even in the high mountains, little settlements of stone houses and yak pastures dab each conceivable level space.People truly live off the land, using only a few manufactured items such as soap, kerosene, paper and matches, all of which arc imported in bamboo baskets carried by barefoot porters.
It is difficult for most Westerners to com­prehend this aspect of Nepal until they visit the kingdom. Our preconception of a road­less area is strongly influenced by our ideas of true wilderness, usually protected as a national park or forest. In the roadless areas of Nepal there is little wilderness up to an elevation of4000m. The average population density in Nepal is more than 142 people per square kilometre. Since much of the country is high mountains and steep hill­sides. the true population density is much higher. It is estimated that only about 12% of the population lives in cities. The size and type of rural settlements vary widely, but most villages have from 15 to 75 houses, a population of 200 to 1000 and cover an area of several square kilometre.

As opposed to take away from the delight in a trek, the slope individuals, especially their customary cordiality and captivating society, make a trek in Nepal an exceptionally extraordinary sort of mountain occasion. Anthropologists isolate the general population of Nepal into around 60 ‘ethnic gatherings’. This is a convenient term to encompass the various categories of tribe, clan, caste and race. Each ethnic group has its own culture and traditions. Everyone is proud of their heritage and there is no need for embarrassment when asking someone about their ethnicity (thar or jaat in Nepali). Often it’s not even necessary to ask, as many people use the name of their ethnic group, caste or clan is a surname.

While some groups are found only in specific regions, many groups are spread throughout the country, as a result of Nepal) history of extensive travel and resettlement. The caste system has many ‘occupation! castes’ and these groups have also spread throughout the country. Potters (Kuhmalej butchers (Kasain), blacksmiths (Kami), tai­lors (Damai), cobblers (Sarki), goldsmiths (Sunar), clothes washers (Dhobi) and many others have traveled throughout Nepal ta ply their trade. Most ethnic groups have their own lan­guage and at least 49 mother tongues hate been identified. Almost everyone speaks Nepali as a second language.

As the hill population has increased, many hill and even Himalayan people hate migrated to lower elevations and the Tend in order to improve their lot. The following regional classification is, therefore, a hi artificial, but it does represent the tradition environment of each group.

People Found throughout Nepal

Brahmans The Brahmans (or Bahuns in Nepali) are the traditional Hindu priest cast and speak Nepali as their first language They are distributed throughout the country in both the Terai and Middle Hills and trad­itionally plaster their houses with red earth. Many Brahmans are influential business- people, landowners, moneylenders ad government workers. They are extremely conscious of the concept of jutho, or ritual pollution, of their home and food. Always ask permission before entering a Brahms house and never enter a Brahman hitches Brahmans traditionally do not drink alcohol.

Chhetris

The other major Hindu group K the Chhetri caste. In villages Chhetris are farmers, but theirs is the warrior caste. They are known for being outstanding soldiers, and a large part of the Nepal army is made up of Chhetris. Thakuris are a group of Chhetris descended from the Rajputs in India and have the highest social, political and ritual status among Hindus. The Chhetri clans include the Ranas; the hereditary kings of Nepal, the Shahs, are Thakuris.

Newars

The original inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley are the Newars. To this day they remain concentrated in the valley in the cities of Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur and in smaller towns. Newars have a rich cultural heritage and are skilled artisans; a lot of the traditional art of Nepal and Tibet is Newar crafted. There are both Buddhist and Hindu Newars. In the hills you are likely to meet Newars as government officers and merchants.

Musalman

Nepal’s Muslim populace is known as Musalman. They live in the Kath­mandu valley, the eastern Terai and through­out the western slopes. They migrated to Nepal from India, predominantly from Kashmir and Ladakh. Musalman are traditionally traders and dominate Kathmandu’s trade in handicrafts, souvenirs, shoes and bangles.

Tibetans

Tibetans are found mostly at Boudhanath and Jawalakhel in Kathmandu and in the Himalayan border regions. Often called Bhotia, this group includes both recent migrants and Tibetans who settled here long ago. The Sherpas, Dolpo people and other groups were originally from Tibet, but settled in Nepal so long ago that they have built up their own traditions and culture. There are significant Tibetan settlements in the hills in Solu Khumbu, Jumla, Dhorpatan, Dolpo, Hile and Pokhara.

People of the Middle Hills

Tamangs

You will encounter Tamangs, one of the most important groups in the hills, on almost every major trek. Tamangs speak a Tibeto-Burman language among themselves and believe they originally came from Tibet. They practise a form of Tibetan Buddhism and there are Buddhist temples in many Tamang villages, although they have no monks, nuns or monasteries. Tamang priests are usually married and participate in regular day-to-day activities. Most Tamangs are farmers and live at slightly higher elevations than their Hindu neighbours, but there is a lot of overlap. Tamang women wear gold decorations in their noses and the men tra­ditionally wear a bokkhu (sleeveless woolen jacket). The rough black-and-white blan­kets, called rari, that you see in homes in the hills and in shops in Kathmandu are a Tamang specialty.

Tamang literally means ‘horse soldier’. Tamang legend says they migrated to Nepal at the time of Genghis Khan as cavalry troops. Although they are primarily hill people, many Tamangs have moved to Kathmandu, where they are employed as weavers of Tibetan rugs and as painters of high-quality thangkas (Tibetan religious paintings). They also often work as rick­shaw drivers and porters; the ‘sherpa’ on your trek is more likely to be Tamang than Sherpa.

Rais

Like the Tamangs and Sherpas, Rais speak a Tibeto-Burman language of their own and have a very unusual culture. They practise an indigenous animistic religion that is neither Buddhist nor Hindu, although a fair amount of Hindu influence is evident. Rais have characteristic Mongoloid features.

Some Rai villages are extremely large and boast 200 to 300 households. Ordinarily, towns are spread out over the slope with trails driving toward each path. Finding the correct course in these towns is dependably a chal­lenge. Rais are gifted in utilizing bamboo for various purposes, including the con­struction of houses, wicker bin, fences and water funnels.

Rai individuals are exceptionally autonomous and indi­vidualistic. The 200,000-or-so Rais in the eastern slopes of Nepal talk no less than 15 distinct dialects, which, albeit seem­ingly firmly related, are commonly unintelli­gible. At the point when Rais of various territories meet they should speak in Nepali. Rais (alongside Limbus, Magars and Gurungs) are one of the ethnic gatherings that supply a substantial extent of the enlisted people for the Gurkha regiments of the Indian and British armed forces.

An uncommon sight, to Western eyes, in re­gions of Rai impact is the dhami, a shaman who is a soothsayer, soul medium and medication man.Occasionally you will see dhamis in villages, but more often you will encounter them on remote trails, dressed in elegant regalia and headdresses of pheasant feathers. The rhythmic sound of the drums that a dhami continually beats while walking echoes throughout the hills. Most Rais live between the Dudh Kosi and Arun rivers. You will meet them on treks to Everest, Makalu and between Solu Khumbu and Hile.

Limbus

The Rais and Limbus are known collectively as Kiranti. The Kiranti are the earliest known population of Nepal’s eastern hills, where they have lived for at least 2000 years. Early Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata refer to the warlike Kirantis of the eastern Himalaya. From the 7th cen­tury CE (the Common Era or AD), the Arun valley was the site of fierce fighting between Tibetan and Assamese warlords. The Kiranti only joined the Gurkhali kingdom in 1774.

Numerous Limbus have received Subba as a surname and numerous men serve either in Gurkha regiments or in the Nepal armed force. Limbus are the innovators of tongba, a top notch, yet extremely intense, millet brew that is tasted through a bamboo straw.Their religion is a mixture of Buddhism and shamanism and they have their own dhamis. Most Limbu people live in the region east of the Arun River. You will be in Limbu country during a trek to Kanchenjunga.

Gurungs

The Gurung people often serve in the Nepal army and police, as well as in the Gurkha regiments of both the British and Indian armies. It is not unusual to meet ex­-soldiers on the trail who have served in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UK. The stories of their exploits, told in excellent British-accented English, provide fascinating trail side conversation. An import­ant source of income in Gurung villages is the salaries and pensions of those in military service. The remaining income is from herd­ing, particularly sheep, and agriculture – rice, wheat, com, millet and potatoes. Access to many high pastures, including the Anna- puma Sanctuary, is possible because of trails built by Gurung sheep herders.

Gurungs are Mongoloid in feature and trace their ancestry to Tibet. The second storey of Gurung houses is usually white­washed. Many men still wear the traditional short blouse tied across the front and the short skirt of white cotton material, or often a towel, wrapped around their waist and held by a wide belt. In the Ghandruk area near the Annapurna Sanctuary, Gurung men fashion a backpack out of a piece of coarse cotton looped across the shoulders.
The Gurung funeral traditions and dance performances (the latter are staged at the slightest excuse) are particularly exotic, and it is often possible to witness such aspects of Gurung life during a trek in Gurung country. You will find Gurungs throughout the Annapurna region as well as at major settlements in the east, including Rumjatar, south of Jiri.

Magars

Although generally living south of their Gurung neighbours, Magars live throughout Nepal. Traditionally they are farmers and stonemasons, but many serve as soldiers in Gurkha regiments and in the Nepal army. Magars can be either Hindu or Buddhist. Hindu Magars practise the same religion as the Brahmans and Chhetris and employ Brahmans as priests. Magar women often wear necklaces of Indian silver coins. Magars constitute the largest ethnic group in the country and you will encounter them on most treks in Nepal. They are often integrated into villages dominated by other groups.

Sunwars

One of the dominant groups in the region east of Kathmandu, particularly in the villages of Ramechhap, Charikot and Okaldhunga, is the Sunwars.The ladies wear gold trimmings in their nose and ears and the men frequently join the Nepal armed force. They live in whitewashed stone houses with dark window outlines. They worship their own gods, but often employ Brahmans as priests. You will be in Sunwar country at the start of the trek from Jiri to Everest.

Jirels

A small subgroup of the Sunwars who live in and near Jiri are known as Jirels. Unlike the Sunwars, they use Buddhist lamas as their priests.

Thakalis

The Thakalis originally came from the Kali Gandaki (Thak Khola) valley, but they have migrated wherever business opportunities have led. They are tradition­ally excellent business people and hoteliers and have created hotels, inns and other businesses throughout Nepal. Their religion is a mixture of Buddhism, Hinduism and ancient shamanistic and animistic cults, but they claim to be more Hindu than Buddhist. Despite their history of trade with Tibet, the Thakalis are not of Tibetan ancestry. They are related to Tamangs, Gurungs and Magars.

Himalayan People

Sherpas

The most famous of Nepal’s ethnic groups is the Sherpas, even though they form only a tiny part of the total population and live in a small and inhospitable region of the kingdom. Sherpas first came to international prominence when the 1921 Mt Everest re­connaissance team hired them. The exped­ition started from Darjeeling in India and travelled into Tibet. Because many Sherpas lived in Darjeeling, it was not necessary to travel into then-forbidden Nepal to hire them.

The Sherpa economy has become highly dependent on tourism and many Sherpas have developed Western tastes and values. This influence has made wages and other costs higher and non-negotiable in areas of Sherpa influence. It has given Sherpas the reputation among many independent trekkers for being rather grasping and difficult to deal with. You will find, however, that once fees and conditions are agreed to, or a trekking company has done the negotiating for you, Sherpas are reliable, charming and helpful. Sherpa-run hotels have fixed prices and do not entertain bargaining.

Although the most famous Sherpa settle­ments are in Khumbu, near Everest, Sherpas are found throughout eastern Nepal. There are Sherpa villages from Helambu, north of Kathmandu, to the Indian border. Most Sherpa villages are above 2500m.

Sherpas frequently name their children after the day of the week on which they were bom. Sunday is Nima and the following days are Dawa, Mingma, Lakpa, Phurba, Passang and Pemba. They will often add the prefix ‘Ang’ to the name (similar to the English suffix ‘son’ or abbreviation ‘Jr’). You would call Ang Nima ‘Nima’ for short, but never ‘Ang’.

Manangis

The region north of Annapurna, called Manang, is the home of the Manangis. A decree by King Rana Bahadur Shah in 1784 gave Manangis special trading privil­eges, which they continue to enjoy. Their trade began long ago with the export of live dogs, goat and sheepskins, yak tails, herbs and musk. It soon expanded into the large- scale importation of electronic goods, cam­eras, watches, silk, clothing, gems and other valuable items in exchange for gold, silver, turquoise and other resources from Manang.

The trade network of the Manang people extends throughout South-East Asia and as far away as Korea. It is not uncommon to see large groups of Manang people jetting to Bangkok, Singapore and Hong Kong. Manangis call themselves Nye-shang, but many Manang people adopt the surname Gurung on passports and travel documents, even although they are more closely related to Tibetans than to Gurungs.

Dolpo People

The isolation of the Dolpo people in the remote region north of Dhaulagiri has made them one of the most undeveloped and traditional groups in the kingdom. They are traders, specialising in the exchange of sheep, yaks and salt between Nepal and Tibet. You will meet them in Dolpo, especially in Do Tarap and Ringmo villages. Dolpo people have a reputation for staying continuously occupied, particularly with spinning wool by hand as they walk.

Loba

The people of Lo live in the fabled and once forbidden region of Mustang. They compete with the Thakalis for trade in salt and wool, and keep yaks, donkeys, mules and herds of sheep. They have close ties with Tibet and travel extensively on horseback. The region was once run by the Lo Gyelbu, or raja of Mustang, but since 1952 his position has been only honorary. He has the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Nepal army.

Baragaunle

The upper Kali Gandaki valley, including Kagbeni and Muktinath, is the traditional home of the Baragaunle – the people of ‘ 12 villages’. They are of Tibetan ancestry and practise a kind of Tibetan Buddhism that has been influenced by an­cient animistic and pre-Buddhist Bon-po rituals. The elegantly dressed women you will see near Muktinath are from this group.

People of the Terai

Tharus

The largest and probably the oldest group in the Terai is the Tharu. Now mostly peasant farmers, the Tharu once lived in small settlements of single-storey thatched long houses within the jungle, which gained them a reputation for being immune to malaria. They have their own tribal religion based on Hinduism. Tharu women have a special dignity and play an important role in Tharu society. You will meet Tharus in Bi- ratnagar, Nepalgunj and Royal Chitwan National Park.

Dhanwar, Majhi & Darai

These three re­lated groups live along the river valleys of the Terai and are among the poorest and least educated of Nepal’s ethnic groups. The Majhi people traditionally live by fishing and operate dugout canoe ferries throughout the country.

Other Groups

The Satar, Dhangar, Koche, Rajbansi, and Tajpuri are other Terai groups. You are not likely to meet these people on a trek.

Nonethnic Groups

Sherpa Guides Since the first expedition to Mt Everest in 1921, Sherpas have been employed on treks and mountaineering ex­peditions. Their performance at high altitude and their selfless devotion to their jobs im­pressed members of early expeditions. Later expeditions continued the tradition of using Sherpas as high-altitude porters, usually in Datjeeling, and the practice continues, with trekking organisations hiring Sherpas either as permanent employees or on a per-trek basis. The emphasis has shifted away from Darjeeling to Kathmandu and the Solu Khumbu region.

It is confusing to discuss the role of Sherpas on an expedition or a trek because ‘sherpa’ can refer both to an ethnic group and to a function or job on a trek. Sherpa with a capital ‘S’ refers to members of that ethnic group, while on a trek or expedition the word sherpa (lower-case ‘s’) usually refers to a trekking guide or mountaineer. Traditionally, sherpas are Sherpas, but there are many exceptions. In this book, ‘Sherpa’ always refers to a member of that ethnic group, while the words sherpa and guide are interchangeable.

Generally a sherpa is reasonably experi­enced in dealing and communicating with Westerners and can speak some English. The job of sherpa comprises several roles: sirdar (trail boss), cook, kitchen boy, guide or high-altitude porter. The head sherpa on a trek or expedition is the sirdar and he is responsible for all purchases and for hiring porters. In the lowlands a sherpa acts as a trekking guide, asking directions from the locals, as necessary, to find the best trail to a destination. Cooks and kitchen boys can produce amazing trailside meals. The term ‘kitchen boy’ is used for an assistant cook or kitchen hand, but women and men of all ages can fill the position.

Gurkhas

Nepalis who enlisted in the British and Indian armies became known as Gurkhas. The name is derived from the an­cient town of Gurkha, near the Annapurna region, which was the home of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder king of Nepal. The British army applied the name Gurkha to all people in Nepal and coined the name Gurkhali for the Nepali language.

In the old British army there were 10 Gurkha rifle regiments, but when India gained independence in 1947 it took six of the regiments and the UK retained four. The UK still maintains Gurkha recruiting centres at Pokhara and near Jawalakhel in Kath­mandu. Most Gurkhas are Rais, Limbus, Gurungs and Magars in roughly equal number, although Gurkha regiments also accept recruits from other ethnic groups. The Nepali word for Gurkha soldier is lahure.
Sahibs Nepali people in the hills tend to call Western (or Japanese) men sahib (pro­nounced like ‘sob’). A Western woman is a memsahib and a porter is a coolie. These terms no longer hold the derogatory impli­cations that they did during the British Raj, although many Nepalis now use the more polite term bhaaria (load carrier) to refer to a porter. In a peculiar turnabout, the locals call a lone trekker a ‘tourist’ and someone with a trekking group a ‘member’.