The people of Nepal are used to being on a high, with seven of the eight world’s tallest mountains either totally or partly within the country’s borders, and thus make by far the best porters when you have big packs to carry up big hills.
There is reasonable ethnic diversity here with several groups of people each with their own specialities and customs, like the Sherpas, a group who are specialists in living in the clouds and who originated from Tibet five hundred years ago – ‘sherpa’ means ‘from the east’.
Another famous ethnic group are the Ghurkas. Fearless fighters with amazing stamina, they enjoy beheading their enemies with their Khukris (heavy, curved bladed knives), and have been employed as a mercenery force by the British Army since Victorian times. .
The world’s tallest and most famous mountain, Mt. Everest (map top right) is 29, 028 feet high and the local Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary of New Zealand were first to reach the summit at 11. 30 on may 29th 1953. There is the possibility however that an earlier expedition which resulted in the deaths of the climbers may have been successful. The Sherpa name for the mountain is ‘Cho-Mo-Lung-Ma’ which translates as ‘Supreme Goddess of the Wind and Snow’.
Both the Nepalese and neighbouring Tibetans have a strong belief in the great hairy giant man of the Himalayas known as the ‘Yeti’. This is a Sherpa word derived from ‘Yah’ for rock and ‘Teh’ for animal, hence an ‘animal that lives in the rocks’.
Regardless of their undoubted strengths Sherpas and other high-climbing groups would struggle without yaks. These large and hairy beasts are many things to many people, with a multitude of uses which far outstrip the modern day western cow. Adept at climbing and walking on snow and ice, yaks were responsible for trade between Nepal and Tibet carrying hundreds of pounds of goods at a time. Used for food and drink (meat and milk), wool clothing, ropes, sacks, blankets and tents (hair), uitensils (bone) and fuel (dung) they have been indispensable to humans in this area for thousands of years.
Nepal is not just about the biggest rocks in the world. Its valleys and lowlands have hot, humid conditions including terrain that is home to varied and dramatic wildlife, such as tigers and rhinos. These animals have been poached to near extinction in order to provide the medicines and feed the beliefs of the Chinese people across the mountains.
So for colourfully diverse peoples in a politically bizarre country with strange religious beliefs and a ridiculous relief map, this Himalayan kingdom is high on our list of places worth your time and money as a traveler, and if a luxury holiday in Nepal is more your idea of a good time, they are available too!