Nepalese Customs, culture , hinduism, daily life, are needless to say incredibly interesting. Nepal definitely has a way of tugging at your heart.
Life is never dull here and you never know what is going to happen! By this I mean, there may be electricity or there may not , there may be fuel or you may have to wait in a queue for 2 hours to fill up , you may have water or you may not, you may be able to access public transportation or you may not, due to impromptu strikes.
It has been most fascinating for us to learn about life here. The political situation is still unstable although they are working very hard towards peace. The eastern Terai region of Nepal has been having difficulties and there has been continuous conflict and killings through out our time here. The Maoists are finally in the government and just the other day the leader of the party made a public speech to the people, for the first time in 25 years. There were about 500,000 people there and yes, us three Regiers walked right through this part of Katmandu, witnessing all the people gathering. It was pretty wild!!!
During the rainy season there is enough water to create electricity but then Nepal sells the extra power to India (I guess to make money). However, in the winter/dry season, there is not enough electricity and the Nepal has to buy back electricity from India. It seems strange to us but I guess we are not completely informed of all the intricacies of hydro management.
Anyways, right now, the electricity goes out for 6 hours a day (in efforts to load shed, which means people have to take turns to get power) and some stores/hotels (not usually individual homes) have generators but there has also been a problem getting gas to operate the generators. The eastern Terai region is where all the gas lines exist that transport fuel from India and because they are upset with the government they have stopped the passage of fuel. So there is limited supply of gas and one friend of ours had to wait two hours to get 2 litres (you can’t fill up completely) of fuel for his motorcycle. Patience is an absolute virtue here!!!!!
You have to learn to go with the flow and always expect the unexpected and then you will be totally fine. Easy peasy, right!!!!
We just have to share with you the quirks and quarks that we have learned about Hinduism and the Nepalase culture.Some of them are so hilarious and we have had a few good laughs. Even the Nepalese people don’t understand, or know the reasons why, they do the things they do. I guess it all comes down to tradition and having done these things for generations. They are in random order and are a mix of things that are either directly related to Hinduism or general Nepalese customs.
1. If a foreigner touches a cooking untensil, it is considered contaminated and needs to be washed immediately. Tor has had first hand experience with this one.
2. Nepalese Doughnuts- This is a most delicious local treat and we were lucky that Ranjana took the time to make for us , cause it takes several hours to create these.We learned that if someone dies in your family you are not able to MAKE these tasty treats but you can eat them in your house. Hence, Ranjana was going to bring a whole bunch to her auntie who is in a time period during which she cannot make doughnuts. Why this is the case we do not know. Very strange though!
3. Another custom around death is that if your father or mother die, the son has to wear a white tunic and pants for one year. Since Jaagu’s father passed away within the last two years, Jaagu just finished wearing his white clothes this past November.
4. Before anyone is allowed to eat, the cow and goats are given a food offering which is served on a mustard leaf. It usually contains a bit of rice.
5. Everyday an offering of red and yellow powdered paint and flowers are plastered against several walls in the house and on the sacred pole and on several , what look like tombstones outside of the house. Sometimes the cows forehead and horns also get plastered. We think that this is all for good luck and to please the gods.
6. If a woman has her periond she is not allowed to cook or even be in the kitchen at all. she can not touch any cookware or utensils because this is bad luck. In the past women were not even allowed to enter the house but modern Hindus allow the woman to at least sit by the doorway and watch the husband cook the meal and eat.
7. After the plastering of the paint and flowers, a bell is through out the house and is rung just outside the doorway fo the house as well. So you often hear bells ringing through the village from all the differnt homes.
8. You cannot whistle inside the house because it makes the gods sad.
9. A large percentage of marriages are still arranged. The father or mother will talk to other people in the community in efforts to find a husband or wife for their son and daughter. In the past the couple may only meet a few days before there wedding but now they meet a couple of months before and do have an option to say decline or accept their future spouse. I had the opportunity to attend to Hindu weddings and the rituals that they have to go through to get married are unbelievable.
10. If a woman is married she wears a necklace and a red tika in the middle of her forehead and the mad wears and rectangular , multicoloured hat to identify that he is taken. The younger generation of men don’t tend to wear these.
11. After the wedding ceremony , there is no honeymoon, but the bride moves into the groom’s home to live with his parents and sisters and brothers and sister in laws if there are some and grandparents if they are alive. It is a communal affair let me tell you. The job of the new wife is to cook and serve the family. Yikes, am sure glad I live in a Western culture.
12. Every community has a temple or two or even three and in Bistachaap there is a huge rock by the temple that has a big crack in it. It is quite narrow but if you can squeeze through it, all your sins will be forgiven. Larger people are simply out of luck , I guess.
13. Although we eat and cook on the floor and over an open fire, the various pots and cookware are very important. All the women use ash from the fire to rub on their pots so that they will be sparkling clean. They also do this to their gold water jugs.
14. Every time you enter the house you must take off your shoes or sandals. This makes sense in that it would keep the floor clean and in fact we do this at home, right. However, the one difference is that they often walk barefoot around the dirt yard and then walk into the house with their dirty feet and then they peel vegies on the floor and leave the remains just lying their , so one time I stepped in the remains of tomato seeds. So for us it was just a bit weird to always have to take off our shoes.
15. When you take pictures of Nepalese people they rarely smile, I have had to work so hard to get them to smile because they have the most awesome smiles.
16. Before you eat a meal , you wash your hands outside the house and after the meal you
wash your hands again. You then use your right hand to wash your mouth and then you must wash the hand that you used to wash your mouth. This is all because you eat with your hands. We managed okay to eat with our hands but let me tell you we are quite glad to be using cutlery again.
17. It is quite okay to belch after a meal and it was quite common for us to hear a woman letting out a big one , without any sense of remorse or embarassament. It is also quite okay to hoark and spit anywhere and everywhere, for either women or men, which it so totally disgusting but they have no issues with this little habit at all. So Gross , yes, so gross!!!
18. Garbage! Compost,plastic bags, etc.etc., the streets of Thamel are quite clean usually but as soon as you walk out of this tourist area, refuse and garbage is everywhere. The Bagmati River is disgusting and just filled with litter. This is also so hard for us to understand. Why they don’t want to protect their water sources . Their vegetable gardens and farming areas are immaculate, beautiful, and clean but their rivers and streams they don’t seem to worry about. Although they recognize that pollution is a problem here, trying to maintain a stable peaceful government and getting enough shelter and food have higher priority.
19. Oh, I forgot to mention that there are about 3 million gods that exist in the Hindu religion, so I guess it is no wonder that they have to preform all these rituals to appease the gods. Some of the names are Shiva, Brahmin, Krishna.
20. Although the caste system is losing favour in Nepalese culture is still very much apparent about who is from which caste. There are four major castes and within these there are 30 plus other levels of the caste system. What this means is that if you are from the lowest caste , you are called an untouchable and are not allowed to enter the home or be friends with someone from a higher caste. Jaagu said that his father followed these guidelines but he no longer believes in the caste system and works and respects people from all caste levels.
21. For all my teacher friends out there , it is still appropriate practice to hit kids on the hand or on the back if they are not behaving or if they have failed to do well on a test. This is a pretty hard thing for me to accept and it drives me crazy that this is still going on.
22. For all of Tor’s friends, just wanna let you know that it is completely acceptable for boys and men , of all ages to walk arm in arm or hand in hand or to be hugging one another while sitting down. And truly this does not mean anything else other than that they are good buds. Can you imagine doing that in school or at the mall?
In Katmandu, the western influence is definitely apparent but Katmandu only contains 20% of the population and the other 80% live in similar conditions or worse to the community where we have been living. The debate of Nepalese people learning and accepting western culture and thinking and abandoning their own traditions and customs is and can be very controversial and one that is incredibly fascinating. Maybe when I get home, there will be some interested takers! Hahaha!
Well that about does it for this entry, we are off to do our three week trek around the Annupurna Circuit. I think it is about 300 kilometres in total and this is a dream come true for Ger. We are thinking that we might just be on top on the highest pass in the world, Thorong La, just around Ger’s birthday. I know that he can’t think of a better way to celebrate.
So will be a month or so before we chat again.
PS. No, no no Gerald does not have a new wife. I know, I know, I know, it was me having a moment or maybe as one person put asked me “Has Nepal gotten to you?” Yes, indeed I now have pitch black hair. And for all my friends who color their hair it only cost me 15 ruppees, which is about 25 cents. Cheapest color job ever. All the women in Bistachapp loved it but the men weren’t quite so sure including my own two. Oh well, it will eventually wash out.!!!!