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Look Inside: Nepal Culture in 2014

Two mountaineers navigating a glacier on a Gasherbrum II Expedition

Last weekend, our mountain guides left the United States en route to Nepal to prepare for our upcoming Ama Dablam expedition, which begins this Friday. Yesterday and today, our Ama Dablam climbers will also leave the United States for Nepal, taking two days to get there and hauling a plethora of climbing gear. While the team will spend a great deal of their time on the mountain, they’ll also spend time in different cities and villages in Nepal.

On the way to Ama Dablam, climbers travel through many Sherpa villages and towns. Sherpa culture is different from that of Kathmandu. There are also other regional traditions throughout Nepal. To keep it simple, I am only going to explain the broader traditions that our team can expect to experience in Nepal. I won’t be discussing Sherpa traditions in this blog post, but will focus more on arriving in Kathmandu and the food, architecture, language, and religions that dominate all of Nepal and infiltrate most cities and towns.

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If you’re like me (not Nepali), you probably wonder how you’d get by without speaking the language in Nepal. Well, you have a 1 out of total 123 shot in speaking a language spoken there. Out of the 123 languages, Nepali is the official, national language with over 47% of the population speaking it. English is a second language and is becoming more common; however, I’d try to learn some Nepali. Check out common English phrases translated to Nepali here (and bookmark this on your phone or tablet)! Nepali people write in a script called Devanagari, which is written left to right like English, but has no letter cases and is recognizable by a horizontal line that runs along the top of full letters. If you are planning to travel to Nepal with Alpenglow, don’t worry; we will help you translate via guides and local logistics operators.

Devanagari is a beautiful language, and to me, is aesthetically attractive on paper, somewhat resembling art. Used to write Hindi, Nepali, and many other languages, Devanagari is one of the most applied and adopted writing systems in the world. Since the 19th century, it has been the most common script for writing Sanskrit.

81% of Nepal’s population is Hindu. Walking down the street, you will see Hindu influence on many buildings, most apparent in temples and sacred structures. The Pashupatinath Temple, a very old and famous Shiva temple of the Hindus, is in Kathmandu and is an architectural landmark. Buddhism is also practiced by 11% of the population and Buddha was born at Lumbini, also a temple in Nepal. It’s important to note that many people labeled Hindu or Buddhist practice a syncretic blend of Hinduism and Buddhism – as both religions go back two millennia in Nepal.

Both Hindu and Buddhists alike celebrate a native Nepali festival called Dashain. Nepal has many festivals, but Dashain is the longest and is celebrated at the end of Monsoon season. This year, our guides arrived during the last few days of 2014’s Dashain festival (it ran from Sept 25 – October 7). Considered the most important festival in Nepal, Dashain celebrates the victory of good over evil, and the festival includes dancing, music, and many local foods.

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Trying local foods is one of the best parts of traveling no matter where you are. While Alpenglow brings many products from the USA (including coffee, chocolate, trail bars, and other meals to the mountains), we love local food and encourage our climbers to try as much of it as they can – which always results in dinners and nights out on the town! In Nepal, you can expect to try “Dhal Bhat,” a soup made of lentils, vegetable curry (“takari”) and rice, which is eaten throughout the country. Much of the food has hybrid Tibetan, Indian, and Thai origins. “Momo,” another traditional Nepali dish, can be filled with buffalo meat, goat, or chicken as well as veggies. You can still get loaf bread, cheese, ice cream, and even pizza in Nepal, as many restaurants began serving Western foods to cater to tourists, but also ended up feeding a happy local crowd. In the Himalaya, buckwheat, barley and millet are cold-tolerant grains, so they are often processed into noodles or “tsampa,” which is flour ground from toasted grain. Butter tea is common to the Himalaya and is made by mixing butter or ghee and salt into strong tea. This preparation is often mixed with tsampa to make food to eat while traveling. Kind of sounds like the Butter Coffee craze happening right now in the US right? Butter is certainly high calorie fuel, so it sounds about right that it would drive athletic performance in the Himalaya!

As our Ama Dablam 2014 team begins their expedition we will keep you posted about their experiences both on and off the mountain. Their families are going to love the stories they bring back of the sights and sounds of Nepal, because here in the office, it’s a daily topic and leaves us anticipating our return every year (especially for the buffalo Momo)!


*(Note: The Newar people, indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley also celebrate Dashain, but call it Mohani and there are slight differences in the rituals and significance).

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