Delights of Nepal Culture & Traditions

posted in: Asia, Culture, Heritage, Nepal, Tips | 70

Experiencing the culture of a place is what makes your travel really immersive and as a traveler, this is something that I tend to actively seek. During my Indo-Nepal Road Trip, I found a lot of opportunities to discover Nepal Culture and traditions, one starting on day one itself. After my visit to the Pashupatinath temple and the Swayambhunath temple, the whole ScoutMyTrip team was treated to a gala dinner by Mr. Youb Raj Shreshta, the owner of Oyo Rooms, Kathmandu. This is where I left you the last post and this is where I start this one on Nepal culture and traditions.

Nepal Culture and Traditions
Nepal Culture and Traditions

With this dinner and over the next day, I was treated to 5 distinct aspects of Nepal culture and traditions – spanning all 5 human senses. From food to clothes to music and art, I managed to get a peek into them all. Here are my 5 picks to enjoy the delights of Nepal Culture & Traditions.

Nepal Culture through its Food & Drink

The first treat that we had at Utsav restaurant in Kathmandu was the traditional Nepali drink – Raksi. Made from rice, this traditional alcoholic drink made using wooden vessels. My fellow food connoisseurs equated the taste to the Japanese Sake and Vodka and since, I am a drinker of none, I will just take their word for it. I think more than the drink itself, I was completely taken in by the way they serve it. Poured from a jug from high up in a single stream, the Raksi fills up unique earthen containers called Bhatti glass. Check the video below to know what I mean!

 

The Nepali meals are quite similar to the Indian Thali with Rice replacing the Roti and Sabzi (Vegetables) and Daal (Lentils). In fact, I understand it is called Daal Bhaat Tarkari which is quite similar to what we say back home. The flavors too, were quite similar to the Indian food. In some ways, it was quite wholesome and satisfying for the vegetarian me.

Daal Bhaat Tarkari - a Nepali meal
Daal Bhaat Tarkari – a Nepali meal
Vegetable momos at Utsav in Kathmandu
Vegetable momos at Utsav in Kathmandu

The other dishes that I tried out were on the next day at the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. These were essentially, Chowmein, Vegetable momos and Thukpa. The Thukpa felt a little different from the Tibetan ones that I had earlier and while I enjoyed it, my fellow travelers had a good laugh at my expense as I found “Thukpa” a tongue twister and kept saying it as “Thupka“. Hey, don’t blame me – try it out yourself and you will realize how confusing it can get!

Vegetable Thukpa
Vegetable Thukpa

All in all, the Tibetan and Indian influence was evident in the food aspect of the Nepal culture and the blend is quite delightful!

Nepali Dances

I had not expected to be treated to this aspect of Nepal culture. Typically, unless you are headed to a cultural center or a festival, you do not really get to see any of the folk dances or songs. Utsav restaurant turned out to be a perfect destination not just for the food but for the fact that they treat you to the musical side of the Nepal culture. We missed the first and the last few performances but the ones that we did witness gave me a wonderful insight into the Nepali way of life.

Quite like India, Nepal is a land of music and dance. Our host explained that there are more than 20 odd traditional dances that prevail in Nepal, all typical of a particular tribe or sect. Among the ones I witnessed, there is evident similarity to the Indian folk dances. The terms used to describe the expressions – Bhavas and the Rasas are pretty much what is used to describe the classical dances in India. True that Nepal was an extension of India in the time that went by but seeing the vestiges of this, was indeed pleasurable. Here are the ones that I witnessed –

Tappa Dance

Tappa Dance - a Nepali dance with varying rhythms
Tappa Dance – a Nepali dance with varying rhythms

I missed the first dance called the Dhimal dance, which was essentially a Fisherman’s dance. However, whatever little of it I recall, to some extent, it reminded me of the Koli dance – the Maharashtrian Fishermen’s dance. The first dance that I did see at Utsav was Tappa Dance – called so as it is danced to the beats of the drum called Tappa. This definitely set us in the mood as the dance started with a slow beat and slowly the same peaked to a point where you could not help but join in with an applause.

Sakela Dance

Sakela Dance - A Nepali Dance performed in circles
Sakela Dance – A Nepali Dance performed in circles

The costumes in this dance were quite familiar and distinct. They reminded me of the tribal dances of the North East India. The Sakela dance is performed at various festivals and in a group. The dance is performed in circles quite like the folk dances of Gujarat. I suppose that is where the whole performance felt familiar to me. 😉

Lakhey Dance

Lakhey Dance - generally, performed at Indra Jatra festival
Lakhey Dance – generally, performed at Indra Jatra festival

For a minute, I thought I was in Bali with the Barong Dance. The dance had a demon that told its own story. From what I understood, Lakhey was a carnivorous demon who feasted on kids. He fell in love with a human and was then, compelled to leave his eating habits to become a protector of the same children he used to eat.Our host mentioned that this dance was typical of the Indra Jatra festival.

Sherpa Dance

Sherpa Dance - another dance from the Nepal culture
Sherpa Dance – another dance from the Nepal culture

This was yet another group performance that was typical of the mountainous tribe – Sherpa. Performed during festivals and celebrations like a wedding, this seemed to be quite a popular number.

Maruni Dance

Maruni Dance - a Nepali dance to celebrate the equivalent of Diwali in Nepal
Maruni Dance – a Nepali dance to celebrate the equivalent of Diwali in Nepal

A dance to celebrate the return of Ram from Lanka after 14 years, this one just felt as if it were from India. This I understand, is one of the most popular forms of dance in Nepal – so much that it is performed from house to house, on every possible joyous occasion in Nepal.

The performances continued as we finished our Nepali meal at Utsav and we moved back to retire for the day. A few of us did venture out to the Casino but me, I retired to relish the delights of the Nepal culture that I had witnessed here. I am glad that I did so for it prepared me for an amazing Day Two in Kathmandu – where I got more than just the cultural insights to Nepal. What was that extra I got, will follow in a later post. For now, let’s just stick to the cultural delights of Nepal.

Nepal Culture through Thangka Art

My Day Two was through the two kingdom squares of Kathmandu. It is here that I discovered the ancient art of Thangka. Thangka is a painting on a silk fabric that follows a particular design and pattern. The origin of this is attributed to Buddhists and is considered to be a teaching material for the monks and Buddhist disciples. Through my research on this art form, I figured that some form of the Thangka art exists even at the Buddhist caves of Ajanta, in India.

A Thangka Painting
A Thangka Painting

There are several themes that this art form project.  One of the most typical ones was The Circle of Life. This depicts the various values and beliefs of Buddhism. From how you are born to what you are expected to do, to realization and finally attaining Nirvana. While each of the Thangka paintings was beautiful, it was watching the artists at work that was really insightful. It is amazing how patiently, they sit on the floor, with their canvas, blending in the colors and creating those miniature details that form Thangka Art.

A Thangka Artist at work in Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Kathmandu

It was immensely satisfying to know that this art form still lives on and I definitely recommend that each of you spare some time to see and appreciate this – a step to keep it alive.

The Ancient Art of Pottery

Pottery as I understand, existed for a long time in Nepal and even today, as you visit the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, you are bound to stumble upon a colony of talented potters. Large displays of their wares greeted us as we turned into the street – some with their ancient, classical designs and some with the contemporary ones like the Angry Birds. Here and there you will encounter people drying their designs and if accompanied by a guide, you are bound to see them spinning the potter’s wheel.

The unique Singing bowl of Nepal

Saving one of my best for the last. The Singing Bowl of Nepal – a Tibetan influence. A metal bowl made by hand that rings melodiously when struck by a wooden mallet. The mallet is then rolled around the edge of the bowl to create the lovely sound that makes you feel as if you were in a monastery. Incidentally, these were my first thoughts when this bowl was displayed to me and then later, I got to know that this was indeed used in different monasteries to indicate the start and end of a meditation period. The Nepali people still use it to practice yoga. They also, claim that the vibrations caused by these are so positive that they heal the mind and body.

My Singing Bowl from Nepal
My Singing Bowl from Nepal

The various shops sell this traditional bowl in various sizes. There is machine made and hand made ones and I encourage you to buy the handmade ones for the sheer traditional art it preserves. I bought mine, especially after I saw a demo of it with water in it. It was quite a beautiful sight to see the water vibrate with the sonorous waves of the Singing Bowl of Nepal.

Is that all to Nepal?

Not at all! Coming up on my next post are my favorite parts of Nepal. Parts that I loved but was not satiated with and whenever I visit Nepal again, I am sure to go to these. For now, like me, immerse in the colorful Nepal culture and let me know if you also, found it as fascinating.

Getting here:

  • Flights into Kathmandu are quite easy and economical but for the ones who are looking at more of an adventure, try the road trip from India as we did with ScoutMyTrip.
  • Cabs are the best way to head to the various places in Kathmandu. To experience the cultural dances of Nepal, head to Utsav restaurant.

Travel Tips:

  • Thangka Art is available across Nepal in various stores. It is the best to buy it from a Thangka School, a lot of which I happen to see in the Durbar Squares. The prices for the same vary as per the design and size.
  • For the Singing bowl, the same as above is true.
  • All shops in Nepal accept cards and Indian currency.

P.S: I visited the various places in Nepal as a part of the Indo-Nepal road trip organized by ScoutMyTrip.com

 

 

 

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70 Responses

  1. I would like to see the notebook where you note down all the details! All I remember from the dinner that night was the Lakhey dance! There were four more? I should have paid equal attention to the cultural program, as I did with the food and Raksi (more to be blamed I think!)

    • Ha ha….Raksi is potent. And I did not have any :). I kept bugging our gracious host for details that I typed onto my Evernote :D. You might have missed that part of the conversation.

  2. The raksi was potent

  3. Nice to know more about Nepal’s culture.

  4. Sounds like a great, epic road trip! I think I would really love Nepal solely based on what you’ve included in this post, but I know that there is much more that this country can offer. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you so much for this wonderful post on the art and culture of Nepal, Ami. It looks like a country I would very much enjoy.

  6. A brilliant post about Nepal.

  7. Loved to read. Beautiful post.

  8. Thanks for letting me understand why India and Nepal share such a strong bond! I remember reading about Thangka art and I was glad to see it on your blog post! Even the other dance forms like Maruni, Lakey are so similar to the one’s we have in India!

    • I am glad you too, see the obvious connect between us and our neighbours. Fascinating right? I loved discovering it myself. Thanks for stopping by Ambuj

  9. Wow, this is also a kind of adventure I truly like. Immersing myself to the culture of the place, knowing their way of living and bonding with the locals of the community. I’m happy that you were able to experience this during your visit in Nepal. The food looks enticing and luscious. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post for the very reasons I set out to write on. It sure is quite satisfying to immerse into the local flavor of a place.

  10. Nepal is one of my dream destinations. How I wish I could travel there the soonest to experience their local culture.

  11. WOW! such comprehensive details about the Nepali culture. Goes to show how little I know about my neighbours! 🙂 The videos were awesome. Loved how you have discovered tiny nitty gritties of the vibrant culture through its food, song, dances and art! 🙂 Thangka paintings are amazing. Saw them in Bhutan and Sikkim 🙂

    • Nice to know that Thangka is across the neighbours. It is fascinating to discover all of these similarities. Enjoyed my discoveries, thanks to you.

  12. You really gave me the feeling of being there. I loved seeing they way they pour the drink.

  13. Nepali culture is so vibrant and alive. Always enthralled by the similarity of our Indian and Nepalese cultures. The food is something that I love, considering that it fits into our vegetarian ethos. The singing bowl of Nepal is something that had my attention riveted and I found reading about it really fascinating.

    • I am sure you will love the Singing bowl therapy. Google that one up. It is interesting!

  14. Omg the food looks so tasty! And the costumes of the dancers!! I love them. I’d love to go there once to meet people from there but also see the landscapes

    • Thanks Miriam. Pretty sure that you will find the people and the place interesting!

  15. The vegetarian food looks yummy – especially the Dal Bhaat Tarkari and the Thukpa.

  16. Hey, awesome site. I came across this on Google, and I am pleased. I will be definitely coming back here more often. Wish I could add the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.

    Keep Posting:)

  17. This is for sure one of my favourite post. I completely enjoyed reading it. The pictures and videos are beautiful. the picture of singing bowl is awesome. The mat below it is really very pretty and these dances look so much like Indian dances. The Thangka art looks special and worth purchasing. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks so much Suruchi. Though the mat below the bowl is an acquisition from Gujarat 🙂 .

  18. I would love to see the different Nepalese dances in person. Not only to hear the music but also to photograph the people in their unique Nepalese dresses.

    • This place gives you ample opportunity to do so. Pretty sure you will enjoy the experience, James. Thanks for stopping by

  19. Nepal is on our travel bucket list, along with Bhutan so the singing bowl has to be my favourite from your post. I can’t wait to plan the adventure!

    • You can buy a bigger one if you so fancy. They are awesome – those singing bowls. Hope you get there soon Jodie.

  20. This is a great post! I particularly loved the bits about the food. Also the paintings are so cool, I’d like to see more of them!

    • Thanks a ton. I am sure you will find a lot more when you visit there. I have given you just glimpses of the place.

  21. A great virtual tour that I did with this post Ami. Nepal is quiet close to home for us, be it the culture or the tradition. ‘tarkari’ is what vegetable is called in parts of Bihar, Bengal and UP in India too 🙂

    • I know what you mean. There is so much that is similar and yet not so. Stay tuned for more of these in my upcoming posts. Cheers Neha.

  22. The folk dances of Nepal looks quite intriguing! I loved the vibrant costumes of the dancers. Never heard of ‘Raksi’ before but I liked how it is served! It is quite fascinating! Glad that you got a chance to visit a different side of Nepal rather than all conventional touristy stuff!

    • Raksi was quite a hit among our team. I too, came across it for the first time but quite an interesting find. Thanks Anamika, glad you enjoyed the non-touristy part of the place. 🙂

  23. Quite an informative post. I find there are distinctly two cultures one from Kathmandu to lowlands and the other the Sherpa land. Raksi is , as you say, potent but Mustang coffee will definitely give a run for your money 🙂 🙂

  24. gokulr27

    Such a vibrant culture. I am planning to visit Nepal and Bhutan next year. This post was a motivation to explore our neighbors.

    • Thank you Gokul and what better way to explore beyond our boundaries than starting with our neighbours!

  25. Nepal seems like a country full of interesting cultures. From foods to even a bowl. I like the singing bowl. I should probably buy mine too once I got a chance to visit to one of my top destinations! X

    • Am sure you are going to love the Singing bowl therapy. Check that one out on google. And maybe you will be enticed to buy a bigger version of this bowl. Thanks for stopping by Cathy.

  26. Some great detailed insights into nepalese culture! I was there in april/may and you definitely got more involved than I did – I had no idea about the dancing! I did know about the singing bowl – I did a singing bowl treatment/therapy – it was excellent!

    • The singing bowl therapy was fun to watch alright. Glad you did that for the experience. I suppose time was short else I would have loved to do more. Thanks for stopping by.

  27. I love all of the culture in this post! It feels like you really got a great feel for the culture in Nepal and it’s enticing me to book a flight over there for my next holiday. Looks like so much fun

    • Not an expensive proposition at all. Go ahead and book your flights. Nepal is fun! Thanks for stopping by Tarah

  28. JaimeSays

    I had trouble with the tounge twister of thukpu/thupku! Looks like an amazing experience.

  29. Such a great experience.. Every nation has their own culture and most of them are unique in a way or another.. 🙂 Love this post!

    • Thank you. And discovering those nuances is what makes the whole experience fun…isn’t it?

  30. I would love to go there one day and try that delightful food!

  31. Ami, the Nepalese food looks like what I had in Pennsylvania. Guess it was authentic. Love the mask!

    • Hope you enjoyed the flavors and I hope you manage to get here to compare what you experience outside Nepal . 🙂

  32. . from where I can subscribe for newsletter at your site, the content is really awesome and would love to get updates. Thanks for such a nice post. Keep the nice posts coming.

    • Thank you. You will find the subscription link on the side bar or right at the bottom of the blog. Looking forward to your continued support.

  33. Wow! Looks like you learnt a lot about the culture of Nepal! The food all looks delicious! Cannot wait to go to nepal!

  34. Such a lovely post.Nice to see the similarities between India and Nepal.The singing bowl is an interesting piece of art!

  35. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Experiencing cultural nuances, including arts, festivals and traditions of a country is so important. It actually gives a completely different dimension to travel.

Would love to know what you think