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.
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.
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!
All in all, the Tibetan and Indian influence was evident in the food aspect of the Nepal culture and the blend is quite delightful!
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 an 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 –
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.
The costumes in this dance were quite familiar and distinct. They reminded me of the tribal dances of 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. 😉
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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