According to the ancient Swasthani scriptures, one day Lord Shiva searched for a perfect place where he could holiday, away from his glittering palace on Mt. Kailasa. He came to live in the forest in Kathmandu Valley.
In Nepal, this means `Welcome’. Namaste with a merry smile is the traditional greeting of the Nepalese. People press their palms together in a prayer-like gesture and with a hospitable `Namaste’, they welcome everyone.
Nepal is an independent kingdom – – an enchanting kingdom – – that lies between China and India. It is said that to cross a street in Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, is to travel across centuries. And it is true. Kathmandu Valley itself is a living museum – -surrounded with ancient, legendary temples, fairy-tale palaces, palace squares, monastery courtyards, sculptures and gilded masterpieces. Every brick and stone tells a story of a magnificent and glorious past.
Our Nepalese friend Nirmal Duwadi, 38-year-old professor of Statistics and Computer Science, born in Dillibazar, Kathmandu, says,
“In Kathmandu, there are seven places that are certified by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. Other countries have much less. But Nepal has seven! This means the country is very culturally rich, very ancient, very historical.”
But the World Heritage Sites are only the tip of the iceberg. There are countless other monuments in Kathmandu Valley as there are shrines, statues and religious images in almost every alley. And only the gods know how old they are.
According to the ancient Swasthani scriptures, one day Lord Shiva searched for a perfect place where he could holiday, away from his glittering palace on Mt. Kailasa. He came to live in the forest in Kathmandu Valley. That country that charmed Lord Shiva in those times long forgotten, is the same country that today charms thousands of people in the world. That country is Nepal.
Outside the Kathmandu Valley, there are even lovelier places that capture the heart, such as the lakes of Phewa, Beguas and Rupa. And of course, one cannot mention Nepal without mentioning the highest mountain peak in the world, Mt. Sagarmatha (known as Mt. Everest). This beautiful snow-peaked; mountain draws adventurers, trekkers and expedition teams from all over the world. It is found in the majestic world-famous Himalayan mountain ranges, northeast of Kathmandu. Another famous stunning Mountain View is the spectacular Annapurna mountain ranges that stretch from east to west of Pokhara. Pokhara is a city nestled in a tranquil valley – – one of the most picturesque spots of Nepal.
Although Nepal is indeed breathtaking, there is more to it than trekking the snowy peaks of the Himalayas. The Nepalese’s basic vegetarian diet is something to be appreciated as well. It is one of the simplest yet highly nutritious diets in the world. Different regions have different variations but basically, the country’s food can be characterized by a combination of `Dal-Bhat-Tarkari’. Nirmal says, “`Dal’ means some kind of lentil or bean dish, ‘Bhat’ means rice and ‘Tarkari’ means vegetables (any combination of different vegetables prepared in various ways. It is often served with Achar, pickles usually made from tomatoes, coriander leaves or radish. If you eat in a typical, traditional Nepali house, you will most likely be given a plate of dal-bhat-tarkari along with achar. While eating, Nepalese people use their right hand only. There are no forks, spoons, knives and plates!
In Dillibazar, Nirmal’s hometown, traditional breakfast is cooked on clay stoves using firewood or charcoal. He recalls, “usually, we take breakfast early, around 7 o’clock in the morning. Breakfast consists of Roti (flat, round bread like Indian chapati), which is made from wheat. Each member of the family would be served about two pieces each but of course you could eat more if you want. Then there’s a vegetable dish – – made from any vegetable combination of mustard leaves, cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, fresh garden peas, okra and others. It is sautéed with oil, garlic, onion and tomatoes. Then gravy is added to it. Gravy is made up of onion, garlic, ginger, chilies, turmeric, coriander and cumin. Milk or tea is served as beverage.”
In some parts of Nepal, young, green coconuts are sold on the street. Coconut water is tasty and refreshing and is said to be good for upset stomach. Lassi is another popular and refreshing drink made of yoghurt, crushed ice and sugar. These drinks can be taken at any time of day. There are also fruits such as apples, peaches, oranges, mangoes, lapsis, bananas, guavas, junars, papayas and lemons. Nirmal says fruits are taken any time of the day but not for breakfast.
Dillibazar is a sprawling valley with its age-old flavor still intact. Lunch is traditionally cooked very simply: boiled rice, lentil (may be different kinds of beans), boiled with ginger, salt and jimbu (dried, aromatic herb), and vegetables. “Lunch is eaten at around ten in the morning, Nirmal says, “with ‘dal-bhat-tarkari’ – – no meat, no fish. In the afternoon at around four, Khaja (afternoon snacks) is served. For Khaja, usually we eat Chura (chipped or pounded rice eaten raw), roasted soybeans or again some vegetable dish. Dinner is the same but usually lighter- – lentil soup or vegetable and rice.”
Nepal is rich in farmlands, valleys and plains. The country’s staple food, rice, is planted along with corn (maize), wheat, millet, soybeans, oats, barley and other important grains. Fruits and vegetables are also grown abundantly. These important food crops serve as a source of nutrition for the people. We told our friend, “Your native vegetarian diet is actually very nutritious and healthy”. And he readily agreed. “Yes! That’s why we are strong! That’s why we can climb mountains!” Nirmal exclaims, raising both strong-muscled arms. “Our food provides us with a complete amount of protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. With Bhat (rice), there are carbohydrates. With Dal (lentils) there is protein; with Tarkari (vegetables) there are minerals and vitamins. What else do you need?”
True enough, the mountain people of Nepal, particularly the Sherpas are known for being strong, able-bodied, hardy and fearless. They can carry heavy loads both on normal treks and at high altitudes. The Sherpas live in the Khumbu region at the southern approaches to Mt. Everest. They have become synonymous with great mountain peaks. For more than 80 years now, the Sherpas have built up a mountaineering reputation as the most reliable and elite among the Himalayan expedition guides. They can climb far-flung places in the Himalayas. That is why they are often referred to as ‘Tigers’. And these ‘tigers’ feed on a simple dal-bhat-tarkari diet everyday!
Although Nirmal himself doesn’t belong to the mountain people of the north (Himalayan region) – -he belongs to the Hilly region – – his family’s diet nevertheless is healthy too. “My mother is pure vegetarian. My grandmother is 86 years old and still strong. My great grandmother lived up to 99 years. And they are also pure vegetarians”, he says. Nirmal therefore advises everyone, “Take vegetarian food. It is a complete food. When God created us, He didn’t provide us with fangs or teeth or intestines like those of carnivorous animals. It’s because we are not meant to eat animal food. We are meant to eat vegetarian food.” In a country like Nepal where there is strong Hindu and Buddhist influence, cows are likewise regarded as sacred, not meant to be eaten.
Aside from eating a meat-less, healthy diet, Nepalese are also a deeply religious people. Religion is a deep-rooted part of Nepali life. Both Hindus and Buddhists worship all deities. Feasts and festivals are shared. For centuries, both Hindus and Buddhists have respected each other’s tradition. In Nepal, Hindus and Buddhists have such religious harmony that Tibetan monks and Brahmin priests worship together in the same stupas (towers or domes)!
From this interesting glimpse into the ancient land of Nepal, we learn about many interesting places such as: Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha; Janakpur, the birthplace of Sita, the wife of Lord Rama and heroine of the great literature Ramayan; Krishna Mandir temple in Patan Durbar Square, built in honor of Krishna as He fought on the side of the Pandavas. His temple is the best example of stone architecture in Nepal. Nepal’s many forests are enchanted and full of wildlife, flowers and birdsongs. And most of all, we learn about a people who eats simply and healthfully.
And so with a merry smile and palms pressed together in a prayer-like gesture, we too say, `Welcome’ to the world of a healthy vegetarian diet!
Aside from eating a meat-less, healthy diet, Nepalese are also a deeply religious people.