Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Land of Many Faces, Nepal Is a Junction Between the Peoples of Asia

As reported by OhmyNews International, South Korea; 2006.08.30

By Rupa Kharel

Nepal is not only host to many different varieties of flora and fauna, it is also the home of a great variety of people.

Nepal lies between India and Tibet, and the ancestors of many modern day Nepalese migrated in from both directions. Since Nepal is more accessible from the Indian side, a large proportion of Nepalese look similar to their Indian neighbors.

As there is religious tolerance inside the country, disparate immigrants feel free to live within the kingdom.

Among the Nepalese 90 percent are Hindu, 5 percent Buddhist, and the rest are Muslims or members of other religions.

These proportions are not due to any conversion campaigns, but the simple fact is that waves of Hindu migrants came in from India, and a vast number of Buddhist migrants crossed the Himalayas from Tibet.

The southern belt of flatland in Nepal is called Terai. The Indo-Nepalese dominate this area. It is here that Buddha was born, in the village of Lumbini. Terai is on the border of India and its people share many similarities and customs with their Indian neighbors.

Outside Nepal the best known Nepalese of Tibetan appearance are the Sherpas. They are popular as porters and guides on high-altitude mountain climbing expeditions. Mostly, Sherpas live in the Solo Khumbu and Helambu areas, and they are also close to Tibetans in culture and appearance.

The Tamangs and the Sherpas were originally from Tibet, but they came to Nepal centuries ago. Thakalis are also of Tibetan appearance.

To sum up, it can be said that Nepal sits at a junction between two groups of people of very different appearance.

Those who migrated in from India were mostly Hindu, with some Muslims among them, and of Indian appearance. Those who came in from Tibet were Buddhists and of Tibetan appearance.

In addition to the two groups I have described there are also people descended from immigrants from central Asia, and more recently, refugees from Bhutan.

People of different origins often intermarry.

Thanks to Nepal's culture of religious tolerance, the diversity of its people persists as one of its more outstanding, and pleasing aspects.