Sandwiched between two Asian Giants – China and India, Nepal has traditionally been characterized as “a yam between two rocks”. Nepal is surrounded by India on three sides and by China’s Xizang Autonomous Region (Tibet) to the north. Nepal is almost totally dependent on India for transit facilities and access to the sea – that is the Bay of Bengal – even for the majority of the goods coming from China.
Noted for its majestic Himalayas, which in Sanskrit means “the abode of snow”, Nepal is very mountainous and hilly, although still displaying physical diversity. Its shape is roughly rectangular and is 650 kilometers long and about 200 kilometers wide, and is 147,161 square kilometers in area. Three broad physiographic areas run laterally – the lowlands “Terai region” in the south; the lower central mountains and hills constituting “the hilly region”; and the high Himalayas with the 8,848 meters Mount Everest and other peaks forming “the mountain region” in the north.
Only twenty percent of the total land area is cultivable.
History and people of Nepal
Nepal has been a kingdom for at least 1,500 years. During most of that period, the Kathmandu Valley has been Nepal's political, economic, and cultural center. The valley's fertile soil supported thriving village farming communities, and its location along trans-Himalayan trade routes allowed merchants and rulers alike to profit.
Since the fourth century, the people of the Kathmandu Valley have developed a unique variant of South Asian civilization based on Buddhism and Hinduism. One of the major themes in the history of Nepal has been the transmission of influences from both the north and the south into an original culture. During its entire history, Nepal has been able to continue this process while remaining independent.
There were dozens of kingdoms in the smaller valleys and hills throughout the Himalayan region. It was the destiny of Gorkha, one of these small kingdoms, to conquer its neighbors and finally unite the entire nation in the late eighteenth century. The energy generated from this union drove the armies of Nepal to conquer territories far to the west and the east, as well as to challenge the Chinese in Tibet and the British in India.
The Sherpa people
The Sherpa people migrated from eastern Tibet to Nepal hundreds of years ago. Before the Western intrusion in the twentieth century, the Sherpa people did not climb mountains; they reverently passed by the high peaks of the Himalayas, believing them to be the homes of the gods. The Sherpa people eked out their livelihood from high-altitude farming, raising cattle, wool spinning, and weaving.
It was not before the 1920s that the Sherpa people became involved in climbing. The British, who controlled the Indian subcontinent at that time, planned mountain climbing expeditions and hired Sherpa as porters. From that time on, due to their willingness to work and ability to climb the world's tallest peaks, mountaineering became part of the Sherpa culture.
Though numerous expeditions made attempts, it was in 1953 that Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay managed to reach the 8,848-meter (29,028-feet), Mount Everest. After 1953, countless teams of climbers invaded the Sherpa’s homeland, making western snacks more familiar than traditional Sherpa food. In 1976, the Sherpa’s region and Mount Everest became protected as part of the Sagarmatha National Park. The park was created through the efforts not only of the government of Nepal but also through the work of the Himalayan Trust, a foundation established by Sir Edmund Hillary.
The transformation of the Sherpa’s culture and way of living make their income increase. The Sherpa people who work as guides, cooks or part of the Base Camp staff of an expedition, have an income far exceeding that of the average Nepalese. For the most part, the Sherpa people no longer serve as porters - they contract that job out to other ethnicities but retain positions such as head porters.
Through the Sherpa have experienced westernization, their income from climbers has helped them to preserve their society. They have managed to keep alive most of the important parts of their culture.