The incredible variety of religious rituals and meaningful traditions that are kept alive in all its regions and celebrated through periodical festivals is one of the reasons why numerous tourists visit Nepal every year.
The tradition that awakes the interest and the curiosity of all tourists is the election of a Kumari, the embodiment of the goddess Taleju in a young, virgin girl. Although the event is an official one, the access of the public is strictly forbidden, which makes people be even more curious about the selection criteria and the ceremonies that follow once a new Kumari has been chosen.
Criteria of Selection
- Family appurtenance - All the candidates have to belong to one of the Newari clans of Bajracharya or Shakya, known for being devoted Hindus and also skilled gold- or silversmiths.
- General state of health – A future Kumari must not suffer from any serious health condition, especially not from one that makes her lose blood. According to the Hinduist belief this tradition is based on, the blood of a young, virgin girl represents the essence of Taleju herself, and loosing blood means that the goddess leaves her body. The young girls entering the selection process must also have all their 20 milk teeth intact.
- Physical characteristics – Those who aspire to the Kumari position have to be the embodiment of all the “thirty-two perfections”. A poetic description presents the ideal candidate as having the “eyelashes of a cow”, “the chest of a lion”, “the body like a banyan tree”, “a neck like a conch shell”, “the thighs of a deer” and the “soft, clear voice of a duck”.
- Personality - A future Kumari has to be fearless and serene at the same time, these being two of the most important qualities attributed to the goddess Taleju and to her child version, Durga. To demonstrate the existence of these traits of character, a candidate undergoes a series of tests that she has to pass successfully.
The Life of a Kumari
Once elected, the candidate moves into a residence specially designed to host the living embodiment of Taleju, where she stays until she is replaced, moment that, usually, coincides with the young girl’s first menstruation. Throughout all this time, her relatives visit her only a few times, the meetings being extremely formal.
Besides attending the ceremonies and rituals dedicated to the goddess, the Kumari also receives visitors to her residence. These bring presents and food to her, waiting to see if she shows any emotions.
According to a belief, showing signs of sadness or even of joy in the presence of a visitor is considered a bad omen for this person. On the other hand, a serene, impassible attitude is seen as a sign of good luck.
A lot of tourists visiting countries from Asia or Africa try local foods and drinks in order to delight their senses and enrich their culinary experience. In Nepal, the local cuisine thrills tourists and is described by most as an always surprising, pleasant and rich experience, especially since as the tastes and foods differ significantly from one region or ethnic group to another.
The Many Facets of the Nepal Cuisine
- Himalayan cuisine – It is specific to most of the Tibetan populations, with barley and buckwheat being the cereals inhabitants consume on a daily basis. Potatoes are also included in the everyday meals of the locals, along with the meat of the yaks they raise. “Momo”, tasty spiced meat dumplings, and butter tea, a mixture of very strong tea and “ghee”, a type of butter, are some of the most commonly met dishes in the Himalayan area.
- Newa cuisine – This is specific to the farmers and urban population from the Middle Hills and Khatmandu Valley. The diet of the inhabitants includes buffalo meat and fish, fried or incorporated in different dishes based on vegetables or rice. For those who do not consume meat, cottage cheese and tofu are two tasty alternatives. A spice called “aachar,” extracted from the fruits of lapsi, is also specific to the area. The amateurs of exotic drinks can try a variety of rice beer specific to the region, called “tho”, or they can drink “aela”, liquor obtained through distillation.
- Pahari cuisine – It is mainly specific to Hinduists of the upper class who live in the Middle Hills. Vegetables, such as green beans, cabbage, tomatoes or potatoes are frequently consumed. Barley, millet or buckwheat are prepared as a porridge called “ato” or “dhido”, while other dishes such as “sinki” or “gundruk” are prepared from leafy greens or spinach left to ferment.
Popular Snacks and Beverages in Nepal
- Beverages – Millet and rice beer is very popular, being consumed all over the country. Several varieties are even produced in the household distilleries such as the one known as “jard”. When it comes to refreshments, “sarbat”, a juice obtained from sugar cane, is one of the most frequently consumed.
- Snacks – “Bhatmas”, soy beans that are dried and roasted, a specialty called “kaja” consisting in parched or popped maize, and candies made of the dried fruit of lapsi are only some of the traditional snacks in Nepal.
Many other tasty dishes are specific to this marvelous country, so, if you ever get here, give them a try.
Usually, the first thing people do when they hear the word “Nepal” is to associate it with the Himalayan Mountains and especially with Everest, the highest mountain peak of the world.
It is true that this Asian country gained its international fame thanks to these geographical formations, but a lot of other beautiful landscapes are waiting to be discovered, and there is a lot more to do in the region, not just attempting to conquer the untamed peaks of Himalaya.
Places to Visit in Nepal
- Changu Narayana – One of the oldest temples of the country, it is dedicated to Vishnu, one of the greatest gods worshipped by the Hinduists. Thousands of pilgrims come here every year to pray and bring gifts, the number of tourists who visit the temple being also significant. Its location inside a champak forest, surrounded by the Changu Village, represents a reason more for people to come here.
- Annapurna Range – This majestic place, from where you can see the imposing peaks of the surrounding mountains covered with snow all year long, has a relaxing effect on anyone, leaving visitors in awe.
- Chitwan National Park – Established in 1973, it is the first natural reservation of Nepal. The amazing diversity of fauna and flora species to be found here made UNESCO declare the park World Heritage Site in 1984.
- Pashupatinath Temple – It is considered one of the most important worship places by Hindu devotees, being dedicated to the Great God Shiva. The Temple of Pashupatinath is also included on the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Activities in Nepal
- Mountain biking – The routes have different levels of difficulty, meeting the needs of amateurs and professional bikers alike. Pokhara and the capital city of the country, Khatmandu, are the main departure points for mountain biking tours, the organizers providing you all the necessary equipment, bikes included.
- Trekking – If you are interested in this activity, you have a lot of circuits to choose from. One of them tours the Annapurna region and lasts 21 days, giving you the opportunity to admire breathtaking landscapes, but also to test your strengths and endurance as you try to conquer a peak with the height of almost 5400 meters.
Besides the mentioned activities, you can also practice kayaking and white water rafting on the twisted rapids of Tissuli or Kali Gandaki rivers, or you can try some yoga courses to free your mind and feel some positive vibrations. No matter what you choose, it is sure that your vacation in Nepal will be unforgettable.