Anyone who visits Nepal is always captivated by the Himalayas, but the Nepalese themselves are equally unforgettable. They are friendly, modest, extremely polite and cheerful, regardless of religion or roots. They dress for the most part in the traditional costume of their particular ethnic group, some of which being the Newari, the Magar and the Bhotia. Nepal is ruled by the gods, not by its inhabitants. The Nepalese hold numerous ceremonies to honour their gods, to celebrate victories over demonic forces, to bless the year’s harvests and to prevent earthquakes. The Nepalese seem to have more of an eye on the gods than on the world around them.
Nepal has a population of around 29 million, 6% of which live in the Kathmandu Valley. One-fifth of the population live in the Terai region and the rest are scattered amongst the mountainous regions. In whatever place you visit, the air is always filled with children’s voices. This gives Nepal a happy, optimistic vibe, although it is a sign of a catastrophically large population growth of around half a million people per year. This is not hindered by the rather low life expectancy of 54 and the high infant mortality rate (1 in 5 children die before the age of five). The population is estimated to be at least 40 million by the year 2020.
The fertile Kathmandu Valley was the source of the entire nation’s food around ten years ago, although nowadays much is supplied by the Terai. While the valley must supply food for the rapidly growing number of mouths, the amount of available farmland is decreasing due to the increased amounts of housing. In the mountainous regions, the population growth is not very pronounced (1.8% per year) in comparison to the Terai (4%). This is due to the migration of mountain folk to this region, which has only recently been made suitable for agriculture. A growing number of Nepalese are migrating to neighbouring countries such as India, Bhutan and Bangladesh. This has led to much conflict and deportation of tens of thousands of Nepalese back to their homeland. Nepal’s population has elements of the European and Mongolian races and can be traced back to a combination of Indian, Tibetan and Burmese roots. The majority of people are Hindu, and among them exists a hierarchical class (or caste) system. In the highland valleys of the Himalayas and on the Tibetan border there are many Buddhists, who constitute 10% of the population. Muslims are scattered here and there in the Terai. Besides the classification into different classes, people are also classified into ethnic groups, often with their own separate language. All in all, Nepalese society is rather complex and difficult for outsiders to grasp, especially as there are social rules about meetings between members of two different classes.