Swayambhunath temple, Kathmandu, Nepal
A golden spire crowning a conical wooded hill, Swayambhunath Stupa is the most ancient and enigmatic of all the holy shrines in Kathmandu valley. Its lofty white dome and glittering golden spire are visible for many miles and from all sides of the valley. Historical records found on a stone inscription give evidence that the stupa was already an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination by the 5th century AD. Its origins however, date to a much earlier time, long before the arrival of Buddhism into the valley. A collection of legends about the site, the 15th century Swayambhu Purana, tells of a miraculous lotus, planted by a past Buddha, which blossomed from the lake that once covered Kathmandu valley. The lotus mysteriously radiated a brilliant light, and the name of the place came to be Swayambhu, meaning 'Self-Created or Self-Existent'. Saints, sages and divinities traveled to the lake to venerate this miraculous light for its power in granting enlightenment. During this time, the Bodhisatva Manjushri was meditating at the sacred mountain of Wu Tai Shan and had a vision of the dazzling Swayambhu light. Manjushri flew across the mountains of China and Tibet upon his blue lion to worship the lotus. Deeply impressed by the power of the radiant light, Manjushri felt that if the water were drained out of the lake Swayambhu would become more easily accessible to human pilgrims. With a great sword Manjushri cut a gorge in the mountains surrounding the lake. The water, draining away, left the valley of present day Kathmandu. The lotus was then transformed into a hill and the light became the Swayabhunath Stupa.
Swayambhunath's worshippers include Hindus, Vajrayana Buddhists of northern Nepal and Tibet, and the Newari Buddhists of central and southern Nepal. Each morning before dawn, hundreds of pilgrims will ascend the 365 steps that lead up the hill, file past the gilded Vajra (Tibetan: Dorje) and two lions guarding the entrance, and begin a series of clockwise circumambulations of the stupa (Newari Buddhists circle in the opposite, counterclockwise direction). On each of the four sides of the main stupa there are a pair of big eyes. These eyes are symbolic of God's all-seeing perspective. There is no nose between the eyes but rather a representation of the number one in the Nepali alphabet, signifying that the single way to enlightenment is through the Buddhist path. Above each pair of eyes is another eye, the third eye, signifying the wisdom of looking within. No ears are shown because it is said the Buddha is not interested in hearing prayers in praise of him.
The area surrounding the stupa is filled with chaityas, temples, painted images of deities and numerous other religious objects. There are many small shrines with statues of Tantric and shamanistic deities, prayer wheels for the Tibetan Buddhists, Shiva lingams (now disguised as Buddhist chaityas and decorated with the faces of the the Dhyani Buddhas), and a popular Hindu temple dedicated to Harati, the Goddess of smallpox and other epidemics.The presence of the Harati Devi temple signifies the intermingling of the pantheons of Hinduism and Buddhism in the development of the religious trends of Nepal. As Buddhists had no deity in their own pantheon to protect against the dreaded smallpox, they adopted the Hindu deity for assistance.
Atop Swayambhunath hill is another fascinating, though smaller and less visited temple. This is Shantipur, the 'Place of Peace', inside of which, in a secret, always locked, underground chamber lives the 8th century Tantric master Shantikar Acharya. Practising meditation techniques which have preserved his life for uncounted centuries, he is a great esoteric magician who has complete power over the weather. When the valley of Kathmandu is threatened by drought, the King of Nepal must enter the underground chamber to get a secret mandala from Shantikar. Soon after the mandala is brought outside and shown to the sky, rain begins to fall. Frescoes painted on the inside temple walls depict when last this occurred in 1658. The small temple has a powerful atmosphere; it is mysterious, stern and slightly ominous.
The complex of temples atop Swayambhunath hill is one of my most favorite sacred places in the world. It was here, in 1967, when I was thirteen years old that I first became enchanted with visiting and photographing ancient pilgrimage shrines. Swayambhunath stupa is also called the `Monkey Temple' because of the many hundreds of monkeys who scamper about the temple at night after the pilgrims and priests have departed. These monkeys and a hashish inspired yogi first introduced me to the magic of sacred places. Nearby the Swayambhunath hill are other important temples such as the Shiva Jyotir Linga temple of Pashupatinath, Boudhanath stupa, Changu Narayan, Dakshinkali, and Budhanilkantha. Readers interested in studying the sacred sites of the Kathmandu valley in detail are referred to the works of Bubriski, Majupuria and Moran listed in the bibliography.
Swayambhunath (Devnagari: स्वयम्भूनाथ स्तुप; sometimes romanized Swoyambhunath) is an ancient religious complex atop a hill in the Kathmandu Valley, west of Kathmandu city. It is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in parts of the temple in the north-west. The Tibetan name for the site means 'Sublime Trees' (Wylie:Phags.pa Shing.kun), for the many varieties of trees found on the hill. However, Shing.kun may be a corruption of the local Newari name for the complex, Singgu, meaning 'self-sprung'. Swayambhunath is one of the most sacred sites of Buddhist pilgrimage in Nepal, second only to Boudhanath.
The Swayambhunath complex consists of a stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, including a Tibetan monastery, a museum and a library. The stupa has Buddha's eyes and eyebrows painted on. Between them, there is something painted which looks like the nose - but is the Nepali symbol of 'unity', in the main Nepali language dialect. There are also shops, restaurants and hostels. The site has two access points: a long stairway, claimed to have 365 steps, leading directly to the main platform of the temple, which is from the top of the hill to the east; and a car road around the hill from the south leading to the southwest entrance. The first sight on reaching the top of the stairway is the Vajra. Tsultrim Allione describes the experience:
We were breathless and sweating as we stumbled up the last steep steps and practically fell upon the biggest vajra (thunder-bolt scepter) that I have ever seen. Behind this vajra was the vast, round, white dome of the stupa, like a full solid skirt, at the top of which were two giant Buddha eyes wisely looking out over the peaceful valley which was just beginning to come alive.
Much of Swayambhunath's iconography comes from the Vajrayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. However, the complex is also an important site for Buddhists of many schools, and is also revered by Hindus.
Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living in parts of the temple in the north-west. They are holy because Majusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raising the hill which the Swayambhunath Temple stands on. He was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice had transformed into these monkeys.
The Bodhisatva Manjushri had a vision of the lotus at Swayambhu and traveled there to worship it. Seeing that the valley can be good settlement and to make the site more accessible to human pilgrims, Manjushri cut a gorge at Chovar. The water drained out of the lake, leaving the valley in which Kathmandu now lies. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the flower become the Swayambhunath stupa.
However, Emperor Ashoka is said to have visited the site in the third century BCE and built a temple on the hill which was later destroyed. Legend has it that the Buddha himself visited Swayambhunath and gave teachings there two hundred years earlier.
Although the site is considered Buddhist, the place is revered by both Buddhists and Hindus. Numerous king Hindu followers are known to have paid their homage to the temple, including Pratap Malla, the powerful king of Kantipur, who is responsible for the construction of the eastern stairway in the 17th century - as 85% of Nepal's population followers of Hinduism. It is also the official religion of Nepal.
On each of the four sides of the main stupa there are a pair of big eyes which represent Wisdom and Compassion. Above each pair of eyes is another eye, the third eye. Saying goes that when Buddha preaches, cosmic rays emanate from the third eye which acts as message to heavenly beings, so that those interested can come down to earth to listen to the Buddha. The hellish beings and beings below the human realm cannot come to earth to listen to the Buddha's teaching, however, the cosmic ray relieves their suffering when Buddha preaches.
There are carving of Panch Buddhas (five Buddhas) on each of the four sides of stupa. Apart from this, idols of the Buddhas are at the base of the stupas. Panch Buddhas are Buddha in metaforical sense in Tantrayana. They are Vairochana (occupies the center and is the master of the temple), Akshobhya (faces the east and represents the cosmic element of consciousness), Ratna Sambhava (faces the south and represents the cosmic element of sensation), Amitabha (He represents cosmic element of Sanjna (name) and always faces the West) and Amoghsiddhi (He represents the cosmic element of conformation and faces the north).
Each morning before dawn, hundreds of Buddhist (Vajrayana) and Hindu pilgrims ascend the 365 steps from eastern side that lead up the hill, passing the gilded Vajra (Tibetan: Dorje) and two lions guarding the entrance, and begin a series of clockwise circumambulations of the stupa.
Kathmandu (Nepali: काठमांडौ, Nepal Bhasa: येँ) is the capital and the largest city of Nepal. The city is situated in Kathmandu Valley that also contains two other cities - Patan and Bhaktapur. Nepali is the lingua franca of the valley and is the most widely spoken language. Nepal Bhasa/Newari is the language spoken by native people, the Newars. English is understood by most of the educated population of the city. The city stands at an elevation of approximately 1400 m and is inhabited by about 700,000 people. Kathmandu has the most infrastructures among the cities in Nepal.
The city of Kathmandu is named after a structure in Durbar Square called Kaasthamandap. In Sanskrit, Kaasth (काष्ठ) is 'wood' and Mandap (मंडप/मण्डप) is 'covered shelter.' This unique temple, also known as Maru Sattal, was built in 1596 A.D. by King Laxmi Narsingh Malla. The entire structure contains no iron nails or supports and is made entirely from wood. Legend has it that the timber used for this two story pagoda was obtained from a single tree.
Kathmandu is also sometimes called 'Kantipur'. Kanti is an alternate name of the Goddess Laxmi, and Pur means the place where such a goddess resides; thus, the name Kantipur demonstrates the ancient belief that it is the place where Laxmi dwells. Newars, the native people of the Kathmandu valley use the original term from Nepal Bhasa, Yne.
The 'old' city is noted for its many Buddhist and Hindu temples and palaces, most dating to the 17th century. Many of these landmarks have been damaged by earthquakes and pollution. Kathmandu has two important Buddhist stupas, Swayambhunath and Boudhanath and a famous Hindu shrine, Pashupatinath temple. Since 2003 the sites have been added to the World Heritage List as being 'in danger' out of concern for the ongoing loss of authenticity and the outstanding universal value of the cultural property.
Kathmandu has been popular with western tourists since the 1960's when it became a key stop on the Hippy Trail. It has also been the subject of a popular Bob Seger song for the same reason. It is rumoured that many rock singers used to visit Jho: Cheen and downtown Kathmandu in search of tranquility and Nirvana.
Tribhuvan International Airport is located at the eastern edge of the city, about 5 km from the city center, offering domestic and international flights.
In addition, Kathmandu houses most of the banks, business houses, offices, organizations and share market of Nepal. The busiest economic centers are New Road of Kathmandu, Ason, Putalisadak and Darbar Marg. New Road is regarded as financial hub with presence of most of the banks in this street.
Numerous works of literature have been set in Kathmandu, including Kim Stanley Robinson's 1989 work, Escape from Kathmandu. Recently, the book ('Arresting God in Kathmandu') by Samrat Upadhyay has got international acclaim.
In some travelogues, the Kathmandu valley has been referred to as the 'Emerald Valley'.
The location is mentioned in the film Bewitched as the title of a fictional movie Will Ferrell's character stars in prior to his role in the Bewitched remake.
Nepal Nepali: नेपाल is a landlocked nation in South Asia. It is bordered to the north by the People's Republic of China, and to the south, east, and west by India. Kathmandu, the nation's capital, is its largest city.
Nepal had been a monarchy throughout most of its history. Prithvi Narayan Shah, a nobleman, unified the many small kingdoms in the Himalayan valley in 1768. Since then, the country had been ruled by a dynasty of kings, until a civil war between monarchist forces and the Communist Party of Nepal led to the abdication of King Gyanendra and the establishment of a federal democratic republic in 2008.
Nepal is a country of highly diverse geography, culture, and religions. The mountainous north contains eight of the world's ten highest mountains, including the highest, Mount Everest. The fertile and humid south is heavily urbanized. Although Hinduism is practiced by a majority of the population, the nation also has a strong Buddhist tradition, as the birthplace of Siddharta Gautama.
He used to perform religious ceremonies at Teku, the confluence of the Bagmati and Bishnumati rivers. He is said by legend to have selected a pious cowherd to be the first of the many kings of the Gopala Dynasty. These rulers are said to have ruled Nepal for over 500 years. He selected Bhuktaman to be the first king in the line of the Gopal (Cowherd) Dynasty. The Gopal dynasty ruled for 621 years. Yakshya Gupta was the last king of this dynasty. However,this mythology can be challenged as no such name as Ne exists in Nepali or other Sanskrit derived languages.
According to Skanda Purana, a rishi called 'Ne' or 'Nemuni' used to live in Himalaya. In the Pashupati Purana, he is mentioned as a saint and a protector. He is said to have practiced penance at the Bagmati and Kesavati rivers and to have taught his doctrines there too.
In the capital Kathmandu, Nepal Bhasa (the Newar language) and Nepali are the most widely used languages.
The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late eighth century and was followed by a Newari era, from 879, although the extent of their control over the entire country is uncertain. By the late 11th century, southern Nepal came under the influence of the Chalukaya Empire of southern India. Under the Chalukayas, Nepal's religious establishment changed as the kings patronised Hinduism instead of the prevailing Buddhism.
After centuries of petty rivalry between the three kingdoms, in the mid-18th century Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha King set out to unify the kingdoms. Seeking arms and aid from India, and buying the neutrality of bordering Indian kingdoms, he embarked on his mission in 1765. After several bloody battles and sieges, he managed to unify the Kathmandu Valley three years later in 1768. However, an actual battle never took place to conquer the Kathmandu valley; it was taken over by Prithvi Narayan and his troops without any effort, during Indra Jatra, a festival of Newars, when all the valley's citizens were celebrating the festival. This event marked the birth of the modern nation of Nepal.
Factionalism inside the royal family had led to a period of instability. In 1846 a plot was discovered revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Rana, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot Massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country. Jung Bahadur Rana emerged victorious and founded the Rana lineage. The king was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted them during the Indian Sepoy Rebellion in 1857 (and later in both World Wars). The decision to help British East India Company was taken by the Rana Regime, then led by Jang Bahadur Rana. Some parts of the Terai Region were given back to Nepal by the British as a friendly gesture, because of her military help to sustain British control in India during the Sepoy Rebellion. In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship, in which Nepal's independence was recognized by the UK.
Slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924.
In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) started a bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people's socialist republic. This led to the long Nepal Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths. On June 1, 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace; it left the King, the Queen and the Heir Apparent Crown Prince Dipendra among the dead. Prince Dipendra was accused of patricide and of committing suicide thereafter, alleged to be a violent response to his parents' refusal to accept his choice of wife. However, there is speculation and doubts among Nepalese citizens about the person(s) responsible for the Royal Massacre. Following the carnage, the throne was inherited by King Birendra's brother Gyanendra. On February 1, 2005, Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate their demands.
In response to the 2006 democracy movement, the king agreed to relinquish the sovereign power back to the people and reinstated the dissolved House of Representatives on April 24, 2006. Using its newly acquired sovereign authority, on May 18, 2006, the newly resumed House of Representatives unanimously passed a motion to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, abolishing its time-honoured official status as a Hindu Kingdom. On December 28, 2007, a bill was passed in parliament to amend Article 159 of the constitution - replacing 'Provisions regarding the King' by 'Provisions of the Head of the State' - declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy. The bill came into force on May 28, 2008 as a constituent assembly meeting in the capital, Kathmandu, overwhelmingly voted to abolish royal rule.
The Maoists had insisted on the abolition of the monarchy, with Nepal remaining democratic, but becoming a federal state with an elected head. The newly elected Assembly met in Kathmandu on May 28, 2008, and, after a polling of 564 constituent Assembly members, 560 voted to end Nepal's 240 year old monarchy, with the monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which had four members in the assembly, registering a dissent note. At that point, it was declared that Nepal had become a secular and inclusive democratic republic, with the government announcing a three-day public holiday from May 28 to 30. The King was thereafter given 15 days to vacate the Narayanhiti Royal Palace, in order to re-open it as a public museum. He did not, however, grant Royal Assent to the acts of either the interim parliament or the Constituent Assembly, especially that which declared a republic. Some have argued that as the interim constitution is repugnant to the 1992 constitution, which had never been legally abolished, making the republic – from either a de jure or royalist, divine right perspective – invalid, keeping Gyanendra as king.
Nepal is commonly divided into three physiographic areas: the Mountain, Hill, Siwalik region and Terai Regions. These ecological belts run east-west and are vertically intersected by Nepal's major, north to south flowing river systems.
The southern lowland Plains bordering India are part of the northern rim of the Indo-Gangetic plains. They were formed and are fed by three major rivers: the Kosi, the Narayani, and the Karnali. This region has a hot, humid climate.
The Hill Region (Pahad) abuts the mountains and varies from 1,000 to 4,000 metres (3,300–13,125 ft) in altitude. Two low mountain ranges, the Mahabharat Lekh and Shiwalik Range (also called the Churia Range) dominate the region. The hilly belt includes the Kathmandu Valley, the country's most fertile and urbanised area. Unlike the valleys called Inner Tarai (Bhitri Tarai Uptyaka), elevations above 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) are sparsely populated.
Nepal has five climatic zones, broadly corresponding to the altitudes. The tropical and subtropical zones lie below 1,200 metres (3,940 ft), the temperate zone 1,200 to 2,400 metres (3,900–7,875 ft), the cold zone 2,400 to 3,600 metres (7,875–11,800 ft), the subarctic zone 3,600 to 4,400 metres (11,800–14,400 ft), and the Arctic zone above 4,400 metres (14,400 ft).
Nepal experiences five seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. The Himalaya blocks cold winds from Central Asia in the winter and forms the northern limit of the monsoon wind patterns. In a land once thickly forested, deforestation is a major problem in all regions, with resulting erosion and degradation of ecosystems.
Nepal is popular for mountaineering, containing some of the highest and most challenging mountains in the world, including Mount Everest. Technically, the south-east ridge on the Nepali side of the mountain is easier to climb; so, most climbers prefer to trek to Everest through Nepal.
Until the Sugauli Sandhi (treaty) was signed, the territory of Nepal also included Darjeeling, and Tista to the east, Nainital to the south-west and Kumaun, Garwal and Bashahar to the west. However, today these areas are a part of India. As a result, Nepal shares no boundary with Bangladesh now and the two countries are separated by a narrow strip of land about 21 kilometres (13 mi) wide, called the Siliguri Corridor or Chicken's Neck. A huge majority of Nepalese still live there (almost 2 million). Efforts are underway to make this area a free-trade zone. The border dispute between India and Nepal has often been a cause of tension between the two countries.
Neotectonics of Nepal
The Indian plate continues to move north relative to Asia at the rate of ~50mm/yr. Given the great magnitudes of the blocks of the Earth's crust involved, this is remarkably fast, about twice the speed at which human fingernails grow. As the strong Indian continental crust subducts beneath the relatively weak Tibetan crust, it pushes up the Himalaya mountains. This collision zone has accommodated huge amounts of crustal shortening as the rock sequences slide one over another. Erosion of the Himalayas is a very important source of sediment, which flows via great rivers (Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra) to the Indian Ocean.
Structural and Neotectonic pattern of Nepal
The thrust faults trend generally 120°N in western Nepal, curving to 90°N in the eastern part of the country (Upreti & Le Fort 1999). These thrust faults, with generally southerly transport directions (Brunel 1986; Pecher 1991; Mugnier et al.,1999), are inferred to branch off the major basal detachment of the Himalayan thrust belt called the main Himalayan thrust (MHT) that localizes the underthrusting of the Indian lithosphere beneath the Himalayas and Tibet (Zhao et al., 1993). All the cross-sections made through the Himalayan belt advocate a mid-crustal ramp, below a large-scale antiformal structure of the Lesser Himalayas and to be north of a synformal structure(Schelling & Arita 1991; Srivastava & Mitra 1994; Pandey et al. 1990; DeCelles et al. 1998; Mugnier et al. 2003). Geological, geophysical and structural data indicate that there are lateral variations in the geometry of the MHT (Zhao et al.,1993; Pandey et al.1995,1999), but direct knowledge of the geometry of the MHT is sparse and therefore the validity of the profiles is still in debate. The thrusts are generally younger from north to south (24-21 Ma for the MCT, less than 2 Ma for the MFT) (Hodges et al. 1996; Harrison et al. 1997). On the basis of these faults, the structure of Nepal is generally subdivided into five tectonic zones:
1. Gangetic Plain (Terai) (area on the south of MFT)
Present-day deformation of Nepal
Conclusion: To summarise, the neotectonic deformation of Nepal is characterised by three major thrust faults (MCT, MBT and MFT) which are inferred to be the splay thrust of MHT that marks the underthrusting of the Indian lithosphere beneath the Himalayas. Likewise, there is a sudden change in geometry of the MHT between central and western Nepal, which is also marked in the Himalayan relief. The MHT is the main structure responsible for recent uplift and continuing deformation in Nepal. This hypothesis is reinforced by the observation that Quaternary displacement along the Main Frontal Thrust, southern emergence of the MHT and the convergence rate estimated across the Himalayas by GPS are both estimated at 18-20 mm/yr, which suggests that nearly all the displacement between India and Tibet is today transferred along the MHT (B. Antoine et al., 2004).
Government and politics
Nepal's legislature was bicameral, consisting of a House of Representatives called the Pratinidhi Sabha and a National Council called the Rastriya Sabha. The House of Representatives consisted of 205 members directly elected by the people. The National Council had 60 members: ten nominated by the king, 35 elected by the House of Representatives, and the remaining 15 elected by an electoral college made up of chairs of villages and towns. The legislature had a five-year term but was dissolvable by the king before its term could end. All Nepali citizens 18 years and older became eligible to vote.
The executive comprised the King and the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet). The leader of the coalition or party securing the maximum seats in an election was appointed as the Prime Minister. The Cabinet was appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Governments in Nepal tended to be highly unstable, falling either through internal collapse or parliamentary dissolution by the monarch, on the recommendation of the prime minister, according to the constitution; no government has survived for more than two years since 1991.
The movement in April 2006, brought about a change in the nation's governance: an interim constitution was promulgated, with the King giving up power, and an interim House of Representatives was formed with Maoist members after the new government held peace talks with the Maoist rebels. The number of parliamentary seats was also increased to 330. In April 2007, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) joined the interim government of Nepal.
On December 10, 2007, the interim parliament passed a bill that would make Nepal a federal republic, with the Prime Minister becoming head of state. The bill was passed by the Constituent Assembly on May 28, 2008.
On April 10, 2008, the first election in Nepal for the constitution assembly took place. The Maoist party led the poll results but failed to gain a simple majority in the parliament.
On May 28, 2008, lawmakers in Nepal legally abolished the monarchy and declared the country a republic, ending 239 years of royal rule in the Himalayan nation. The newly elected assembly, led by the former communist rebels, adopted the resolution at its first meeting by an overwhelming majority. King Gyanendra was given 15 days to leave the former Royal Palace in central Kathmandu by the Nepalese Constituent Assembly. He left the former Royal Palace on June 11.
On June 26, 2008, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala tendered his resignation to the Nepalese Constituent Assembly, which is also functioning as the Nepalese Parliament; however, a new Prime Minister has yet to be elected by the Nepalese Constituent.
On July 21, 2008, the second round of voting was held. Yadav received 308 of the 590 votes casted, securing his election as president.
On August 15, 2008, Maoist leader Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) was elected Prime Minister of Nepal, the first since the country's transition from a monarchy to a republic. Prachanda's election makes Nepal one of only three countries that currently have democratically-elected Communist state leaders, the other two being Cyprus and Moldova.
Military and foreign affairs
Nepal has close ties with both of its neighbours, India and China. In accordance with a long-standing treaty, Indian and Nepalese citizens may travel to each others' countries without a passport or visa. Nepalese citizens may work in India without legal restriction. Although Nepal and India typically have close ties, from time to time Nepal becomes caught up in the problematic Sino-Indian relationship. Recently, China has been asking Nepal to curb protests in Nepal against China's Policy on Tibet, and on April 17, 2008, police arrested over 500 Tibetan protestors citing a need to maintain positive relations with China.
Terai News writes, 'Being a Hindu Nation Nepal has a permanent relation, especially with the important religious places of the northern states of India. Religion has played a great role in the cultural relations between Nepal and India.'
The government's budget is about US$1.153 billion, with expenditures of $1.789 billion (FY05/06). The Nepalese rupee has been tied to the Indian Rupee at an exchange rate of 1.6 for many years. Since the loosening of exchange rate controls in the early 1990s, the black market for foreign exchange has all but disappeared. The inflation rate has dropped to 2.9% after a period of higher inflation during the 1990s.
Nepal's exports of mainly carpets, clothing, leather goods, jute goods and grain total $822 million. Import commodities of mainly gold, machinery and equipment, petroleum products and fertilizer total US$2 bn. India (53.7%), the US (17.4%), and Germany (7.1%) are its main export partners. Nepal's import partners include India (47.5%), the United Arab Emirates (11.2%), China (10.7%), Saudi Arabia (4.9%), and Singapore (4%).
Nepal remains isolated from the world's major land, air and sea transport routes although, within the country, aviation is in a better state, with 48 airports, ten of them with paved runways; flights are frequent and support a sizable traffic. The hilly and mountainous terrain in the northern two-thirds of the country has made the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and expensive. There were just over 8,500 km of paved roads, and one 59-km railway line in the south in 2003. There is only one reliable road route from India to the Kathmandu Valley. The only practical seaport of entry for goods bound for Kathmandu is Calcutta in India. Internally, the poor state of development of the road system (22 of 75 administrative districts lack road links) makes volume distribution unrealistic. Besides having landlocked, rugged geography, few tangible natural resources and poor infrastructure, the long-running civil war is also a factor in stunting the economic growth.
There is less than one telephone per 19 people. Landline telephone services are not adequate nationwide but are concentrated in cities and district headquarters. Mobile telephony is in a reasonable state in most parts of the country with increased accessibility and affordability; there were around 175,000 Internet connections in 2005. After the imposition of the 'state of emergency', intermittent losses of service-signals were reported, but uninterrupted Internet connections have resumed after Nepal's second major people's revolution to overthrow the King's absolute power.
Among the earliest inhabitants were the Kirat of east mid-region, Newar of the Kathmandu Valley and aboriginal Tharu in the southern Terai region. The ancestors of the Brahman and Chetri caste groups came from India's present Kumaon, Garhwal and Kashmir regions, while other ethnic groups trace their origins to North Burma and Yunnan and Tibet, e.g. the Gurung and Magar in the west, Rai and Limbu in the east (from Yunnan and north Burma via Assam), and Sherpa and Bhutia in the north (from Tibet).
In the Terai, a part of the Ganges Basin with 20% of the land, much of the population is physically and culturally similar to the Indo-Aryans of northern India. Indo-Aryan and East Asian looking mixed people live in the hill region. The mountainous highlands are sparsely populated. Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation's area but is the most densely populated, with almost 5% of the population.
Nepal is a multilingual, multireligious and multiethnic society. These data are largely derived from Nepal's 2001 census results published in the Nepal Population Report 2002.
According to the World Refugee Survey 2008, published by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Nepal hosted a population of refugees and asylum seekers in 2007 numbering approximately 130,000. Of this population, approximately 109,200 persons were from Bhutan and 20,500 from People's Republic of China. The government of Nepal restricted Bhutanese refugees to seven camps in the Jhapa and Morang districts, and refugees were not permitted to work in most professions.
Kathmandu, with a population of around 800,000 (metropolitan area: 1.5 million), is the largest city in the country.
A typical Nepalese meal is dal-bhat-tarkari. Dal is a spicy lentil soup, served over bhat (boiled rice), served with tarkari (curried vegetables) together with achar (pickles) or chutni (spicy condiment made from fresh ingredients).. The Newar community, however, has its own unique cuisine. It consists of non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian items served with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Mustard oil is the cooking medium and a host of spices, such as cumin, coriander, black peppers, sesame seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, methi (fenugreek), bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, chillies, mustard seeds, etc., are used in the cooking. The cuisine served on festivals is generally the best.
The Newari Music orchestra consists mainly of percussion instruments, though wind instruments, such as flutes and other similar instruments, are also used. String instruments are very rare. There are songs pertaining to particular seasons and festivals. Paahan chare music is probably the fastest played music whereas the Dapa the slowest. There are certain musical instruments such as Dhimay and Bhusya which are played as instrumental only and are not accompanied with songs. The dhimay music is the loudest one. In the hills, people enjoy their own kind of music, playing saarangi (a string instrument), madal and flute. They also have many popular folk songs known as lok geet and lok dohari.
The Newar dances can be broadly classified into masked dances and non-masked dances. The most representative of Newari dances is Lakhey dance. Almost all the settlements of Newaris organise Lakhey dance at least once a year, mostly in the Goonlaa month. So, they are called Goonlaa Lakhey. However, the most famous Lakhey dance is the Majipa Lakhey dance; it is performed by the Ranjitkars of Kathmandu and the celeberation continues for the entire week that contains the full moon of Yenlaa month. The Lakhey are considered to be the saviors of children.
Folklore is an integral part of Nepalese society. Traditional stories are rooted in the reality of day-to-day life, tales of love, affection and battles as well as demons and ghosts and thus reflect local lifestyles, cultures and beliefs. Many Nepalese folktales are enacted through the medium of dance and music.
The Nepali year begins in mid-April and is divided into 12 months. Saturday is the official weekly holiday. Main annual holidays include the National Day, celebrated on the birthday of the king (December 28), Prithvi Jayanti (January 11), Martyr's Day (February 18), and a mix of Hindu and Buddhist festivals such as dashain in autumn, and tihar in late autumn. During tihar, the Newar community also celebrates its New Year as per their local calendar Nepal Sambat.
Most houses in rural lowland of Nepal are made up of a tight bamboo framework and walls of a mud and cow-dung mix. These dwellings remain cool in summer and retain warmth in winter. Houses in the hills are usually made of unbaked bricks with thatch or tile roofing. At high elevations construction changes to stone masonry and slate may be used on roofs.
Nepal's flag is the only national flag in the world that is non-quadrilateral in shape, and one of only two non-rectangular flags in use (the other being the flag of the US state of Ohio). According to its official description, the red in the flag stands for victory in war or courage, and is also color of the rhododendron, the national flower of Nepal. Red also stands for aggression. The flag's blue border signifies peace. The curved moon on the flag is a symbol of the peaceful and calm nature of Nepalese, while the sun represents the aggressiveness of Nepalese warriors.
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