Everest Rocks Trekker Net
The following is a post I put together to prepare trekkers on the Love Hope Strength Foundation's Everest Rocks trek to Everest Basecamp this autumn to raise money for cancer support and research. The article gives some basic information and background on Nepal...enjoy!
Some basic Nepal information…
By now, all of you have most likely bought some guidebooks and done some reading on Nepal…this is good, and I’d encourage all of you to read as much as you can before the trip
Nepal is an amazing, diverse country, and one which has been a major part of my life since my first visit there in 1992. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to return nearly 20 times to trek, climb, study, and teach.
I won’t bore you all with anything too in-depth on the country, but thought it would be useful and interesting for you all to have a little background and information. So, here goes:
First, some books you might find interesting:
- Trekking in Nepal by Stephen Bezruchka
- Lonely Planet: Nepal
- Travelers’ Tales Nepal
- Portrait of Nepal by Kevin Bubriski - probably the best photo book on Nepal
- Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer - great travel tales from Nepal & elsewhere
- Himalaya: Personal Stories of Grandeur, Challenge, & Hope by Brot Coburn
- Shopping for Buddhas by Jeff Greenwald
- Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East by Gita Mehta
- And, finally, if anyone is really bored (or really interested), you can download and read a copy of my thesis, Newar Buddhism in Bhaktapur: Eleventh Century India in Contemporary Nepal
OK, now a brief bit about Nepal…
As I said earlier, Nepal is amazing and diverse. How amazing and diverse you ask? Get this: The country, at 54,000 square miles, is just over half the size of Colorado, or roughly the size of Illinois. Within those small borders:
* live nearly 25 million people from 36 distinct ethnic groups speaking 36 separate languages
* is geographic diversity ranging from the Indo-Gangetic Plains of the Terai region to the crest of the Himalaya
* lie 9 of the 14 peaks over 8000 meters or 26,247 feet
Historically, Nepal has been an amazingly peaceful place, a shared home for Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians as well as some other faiths such as Bon Po and shamanism. The country, comprised of independent tribes or ethnic groups, was first “united” by Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1786. A king from the Gorkha region of east-central Nepal, he invaded the Kathmandu Valley that year, subdued the small principalities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur (Patan), Kirtipur, and Bhadgaon (Bhaktapur), and declared himself king of Nepal.
Prithvi, wary of his larger neighbors (he once described Nepal as “an egg between two stones”) and from a traditionally warlike tribe, went out seeking new territory. His began a process of expanding his kingdom, taking land as far west as Ladakh, south into British India, west through Sikkim to Bhutan, and north onto the Tibetan plateau. Eventually, however, he ran into fierce opposition from the British East India Company and was forced to give up much of the land he had conquered. But, his influence is still evident today: most people in Sikkim speak Nepali, and a drive across southern Tibet shows the ruins of many a village from Prithvi’s armies.
In 1846, a new era began in Nepal when the xenophobic Rana’s staged a bloody coup, overthrew the Shah monarchy, and sealed off the country’s borders. For the next 104 years, very few outsiders would enter the kingdom although the Rana’s - lovers of the good life - imported Rolls Royces (carried by porters into the roadless capitol) and educated themselves at Eton and Oxford! (Kathmandu is full of old Rana palaces which look quite Victorian in style…we’ll visit some!)
Another era came about in 1950-51 when Prithvi Narayan Shah’s descendent, Tribhuvan Vikram Shah, overthrew the Rana’s and reinstated the Malla monarchy. The doors to Nepal were subsequently opened, and through them soon came a throng of tourists and trekkers, hippies and hawkers.
In the 1990’s, Nepal was host to some 500,000 tourists annually, and tourism became its chief earner of foreign capital. Businesses sprang up in Kathmandu and the major trekking areas and an affluent class of Nepali people was born. Unfortunately, though, wealth was not distributed very well through the corrupt government, and while some got rich, the vast majority of Nepalese eked out a living on about $180 per year.
In response to this inequity, Prachanda - a well-educated, upper-caste man - began a Maoist insurrection in the country in the mid-1990’s. While his complaints were indeed valid - most of the country was suffering under the yoke of extreme poverty while a few got rich - his means to change were less than ideal: violent revolution and a complete inversion of the social hierarchy.
For about 15 years conflict reigned in the countryside of Nepal. Affluent areas like the Solu-Khumbu (Everest) region and Kathmandu were largely untouched, but the hinterlands like Humla, Jumla, Rolpa, Mugu, etc., became epicenters of conflict between Maoist guerrillas and the Nepali Army. Landmines, pipe bombs, ground and air battles, became the norm for many areas and eventually the Maoist insurgency controlled the majority of the country. (Last autumn, as I crossed with a party from Humla into Tibet, our only Nepali customs was conducted by a Maoist commander.)
Fortunately, however, the insurgency never physically impacted foreigners, and tourism - the lifeblood of Nepal - continued.
Last year, after much talking and infighting, the Maoists and the political parties came together and pressured the beleaguered King Gyanendra to relinquish some power and begin the peace process in earnest. Today, the Maoists are an officially recognized political party in Nepal and have laid down their weapons. Nepal seems to be on the right foot, making progress.
So, that’s probably more history than you wanted or needed…but take it for what its worth!
For additional posts and information, I thought I would write about the following:
1. A rundown on Kathmandu, what to see, how to see it, etc.
2. A rundown on the Khumbu and our trek
3. A brief language lesson - just the basics
If you have specific things you would like to know or learn about Nepal, please write them in the comments or send me an email and I’ll do my best to answer.
Looking forward to meeting you all soon!