Buddhist Festivals in Nepal

The culture of Nepal is synonymous with its festivals. Myriads of festivals pertaining to different ethnic groups and religions are celebrated throughout the year. Nepal government, in the recent times, has declared national holidays for the chief festivals of major and minor tribal groups of the country, which once was the privilege of those who celebrated Dashain, Tihar and other petty ‘exclusively’ Hindu observations.

Buddhism is adhered by around 11% of the country’s population, especially by the highlanders (Sherpa, Bhotia), Tamangs , Gurungs and Buddhist Newars. These 4 different ethnic groups have their own specific festivals, dissimilar to other groups. The festivals observed by Sherpa and Bhotiya are almost , if not totally, similar to that of Tibetan while Newars, Gurungs and Tamangs have their own unique ways – some derived from the Hindu tradition and some passed down from generations.

Lhosar: Lhosar (New year in Tibetan) is the major religious day for Tibetan peoples, including Sherpa, which marks the start of the new year. The festival usually falls during the month of February or March, which is decided according to the lunar calendar. The fête is actually celebrated for 15 days, first 3 days being the chief period of festivity. Donning new clothes, adorning with jewelries, feasting and dancing are some of the features of the festival. Special noodles called “guthuk” are prepared during Lhosar. In Baudhanath premises of Kathmandu, a portrait of Dalai Lama is exhibited and paraded around the shrine while a multitude of pilgrims swarm there. Tamangs celebrate Lhosar as “Sonam” Lhosar and Gurungs as “Tamu” Lhosar, but at separate times and diverse manners.

Buddha Jayanti: Buddha Jayanti which celebrates the birth of Lord Buddha falls on the day of the full moon of Baisakha (April or May). Some texts also claim that the Shakyamuni attained enlightenment and left his worldly soul on the same day. Major Buddhist shrines belonging to Tibetan Vajrayana sect are embellished with prayer flags. Thousands of pilgrims, both Buddhist and Hindu, from all over Nepal as well as India throng Lumbini during this day. Amazing fact is that some Hindus also revere Buddha as the 9th reincarnation of lord Vishnu, though Buddha himself was an agnostic.

Dalai Lama’s Birthday (June 6): This anniversary is mainly celebrated by the Tibetan refugees dwelling around Baudhanath and different refugee camps of Nepal. Prayers are invoked for the long life and health of His Holiness. This day, apart from patriotic significance, is marked with religious importance as HH is considered to be the incarnation of Aalokitesvara, one of the bodhisattvas.

Mani Rimdhu: This festival is observed by Sherpas in Khumbu (Everest region) of Nepal during the full moon of either December or November, which sometimes may be scheduled at a more specific time other than the mentioned months. The monks perform masked dances celebrating the victory of Buddhism over Bon-Po religion in the region. This festival is also marked with merriment by monks as well as laymen.

Tiji festival: This festival is somewhat similar to Mani Rimdhu but celebrated in the restricted area of upper Mustang by Lhoba peoples. Tiji usually falls during May and Lamas perform colorful masked dances depicting a tale of demon being vanquished by his own son who thus was able to save Mustang and its dwellers from the evil intentions of his father. Tourists and locals gather annually during the festival which is celebrated for three days.

Yartung: Yartung means end of summer in Tibetan and is reveled in Ranipauwa, the gateway to Muktinath. Villagers from as far as Dolpo in the west gather to observe and participate in this 3 days carnival, usually feted during july, which also includes an exciting horse race competition. The first day is royal day which features the (now-ex) king of Mustang, second day is chiefly celebrated by the monks and third day is for the gala by the laymen (locals and tourists).

If you would like to have your travel coincide with one of the festivals and closely observe the unique cultural traditions and rituals of different ethnic groups following Buddhism, please fill up the inquiry form and get free information.

A Short Introduction to Air Transport of Nepal

The air transport service in Nepal began with the establishment of Tribhuwan International Airport (TIA) in 1949, just two years before advent of democracy in the country. Since then more than 40 airports have been founded all over Nepal, though TIA is still the sole international airport here. As major portion of the road network of this recently declared federal republic is still in the primitive and insufficient state, air strips provide a comparatively safer and reliable, although bit expensive, mode of transportation. Those who can spend a little prefer short, cozy and secure journey to the whole-day long bumpy ride on poorly-maintained highways. The gateways to the chief tourist attractions in Nepal like Lukla, Johmsom , Dolpa, Pokhara had airdromes before they were linked into the road network. The remote tourist district of Solu Khumbu alone, which seats the Mount Everest, consists of 4 airports!

Nepal Airlines, formerly Royal Nepal Airlines, is the flag carrier of Nepal operating both national and international flights to Delhi, Quala Lampur, Dubai, Bangkok, Doha and Hong Kong. There are about 18 private companies which are granted the license to operate air services by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. Due to the extensive air network and additional aircrafts from private companies, flights are operated in almost regular basis to the major parts of the country. These airlines also provide additional services like mountain flights and charters (both helicopter and airplane). The popular and preferred private airline services of the country are – Buddha Air, Yeti Airways, Simrik Air, Tara airlines etc.

Getting to Nepal from Europe, Australia and America requires two different flights since there is no direct air connection to these places from Nepal. Some of the popular international airlines in Nepal are: Air Arabia, Air Asia, Air China, Bahrain Air, Biman Bangladesh, China Southern Airlines, Druk Air, Etihad, Qatar Airways etc. The places in Asia to where the regular flights from Nepal are carried out are Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore, Hongkong, Kwala Lampur, Doha , Karachi, Dhaka, Guanghzhao (China), Paro (Bhutan) , New Delhi and few other cities. If you are flying from America or Canada, you may choose to travel either westward or eastward over the globe. From Europe, you need to make first stop at one of the Gulf airports from where regular flights to Kathmandu are operated. In case of Australia or New Zealand, the four options are Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore or Hong Kong.

TIA is not yet well-equipped and sophisticated like the big names in the international airports. However, basic airport facilities are available with additional services like money exchange, tourist information center, instant photo booth and also a communication stall from where you can buy SIM cards easily. Most domestic airports of Nepal are below standards, the aviation sector in Nepal has a long way to go and we can expect at least some decades to pass before a properly managed and well-facilitated airways service comes into effect in Nepal. Nevertheless, journey on air is still the first option for tourists as well as local passengers prioritizing time, safety ,comfort and aerial views of the Himalaya.

Altitude Sickness – A Likely Yet Avoidable Trekking Complication

The excitement, thrill and beauty of trekking in Nepal are directly proportional to elevation. This is because as you ascend higher the nature starts to reveal her latent magnificence, relatively honest and candid natives are encountered and many forms of pollution start to almost disappear. However, there is a dark side of trekking at higher altitude, usually ignored, which may even claim the lives of trekkers. The culprit is known as “Altitude Sickness” which is to a great extent preventable and also curable if proper measures are taken as soon as the warnings show up. Every trekker traveling above 8000 ft. should be aware of the symptoms of the illness due to altitude.

According to netdoctor.co.uk, a leading health websie, at least seven cases of fatality due to altitude sickness occur each year among 50,000 trekkers into Nepal. Gokyo valley notorious as “death valley” is said to claim at least 3 lives per year. It is really unfortunate that such tranquil and spellbinding places under Himalaya where monks have meditated for centuries and where many yogis have acquired fortunes of wisdom turn into a place of misfortune. Though some hardy and “in-form” trekkers hold that altitude sickness attacks only the feeble and old people, nevertheless, data reveal that old people generally are at low risk of contracting altitude related problems than the young ones. This is probably because young trekkers are eager to rush as further as they can, compared to the matured travelers since the major causative factor of altitude sickness is ascending more than prescribed height in a day.

The altitude sickness can occur in 3 forms: mild altitude sickness or acute mountain sickness (AMS), high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE). The latter two complications are deteriorated conditions of AMS and also life-threatening. So, if proper attention is paid during the AMS stage then further complications can be avoided. Common symptoms of altitude sickness are difficulty in breathing, headache, nausea and vomiting but not limited to these as a statement by Dr. Shilm that has been quoted or paraphrased in many articles and books goes – “until proven otherwise, if you feel unwell in altitude it’s altitude sickness “. In case of HAPE and HACE, victims show much severe symptoms like severe headache, confusion, pink frothy sputum, bluish lips, elevated temperature etc. In such serious cases, emergency measures should be sought immediately like taking to the nearest health center via porter or horse or if possible, summoning rescue helicopters etc. Even though the symptoms are not severe to that extent in the mild form of altitude illness, it must not be taken lightheartedly which may eventually worsen if left untreated.

The first and foremost treatment to altitude related complications is descending down and halting your program of going up. Many modern treatments and herbs have been advertised in the market as prevention to the altitude sickness. BEWARE OF QUACKERY! The only drug known currently to prevent AMS is acetazolamide or Diamox. So administer the drug to the victim or yourself in case you observe any of the symptoms mentioned in the previous paragraph. Highland dwellers and some trekkers claim that garlic is panacea to altitude related problems but though it may be beneficial, it must not be taken as a substitute to the medicine though combination of the two won’t have any negative reaction.

Prevention is better than cure. AMS can be avoided simply by following the simple thumb rule: at height above 3000 meter, the difference in elevation between two consecutive overnight destinations should be less than 500 m. That is, if you stay at 3000 meter on Day 06 and go high up to 4000 meter on the 7th day, you should descend back to the place at or lower than 3500 m. for the night stay. Also, it will help to acclimatize few days in lower elevations before passing over high altitude. Plenty of water should be taken and it is better if you can avoid alcohol in higher altitude instead of emulating the Sherpas or Bhotias who are immune to the complications of altitude. To reiterate, if you sense any symptom of illness then do not go further up but rather descend as soon as possible. Take Diamox in case of headache or nausea, keeping aside the opinion on the medicinal side effects for some time.

Trekking is not an extreme adventure but an activity that can be undertaken by anyone healthy enough to walk. As pleasurable activity trekking can be, it can equally be dangerous if certain simple precautions are not followed. Altitude sickness is another such “danger” which can be prevented easily by simply following this basic advice- walk slower as you go higher!

Put Down Weight While Walking Up in Nepal

In today’s hectic and synthetic world, many people are suffering from obesity that eventually leads to physical diseases, stress and discomfort, apart from the unimpressive look. The ones wishing to get rid of a few pounds are spending thousands of dollars and even resorting to the unhealthy measures that are advertised in the popular media. While only a few are benefiting from such unnatural applications, 2-3 weeks trek along with the observation of finest views, sundry culture and a superfluity of tourists may be considered as a good alternative. The mountains of Nepal welcome such ‘health-motivated’ tourists in different seasons of a year. For this you need not go on any strict diet-control, sleep less or follow a harsh exercise routine. Instead, you will march few hours along the hills, take enough protein and calories consuming the staple cuisines, have a dreamless and enough slumber and free you from any worries.

Though a magical plummet as they show in infomercials is not to be expected, however, many people have experienced significant reduction in their weight after the trekking. So, this can also be a motivation factor to continue short hikes or simply daily walks after you return back to your place. But this comes at cost of something, your willingness to undertake an average 5 hrs walk/day. Don’t worry of the terrifying altitude figures since you will acclimatize and gradually move to your destination. The treks are of corse strenuous at times but the rewards are priceless.

Having said that, the ones with low weight need not discard it thinking “this is not for me”. Naturally, you will eat more to replenish the energy you lost. The only difference is those longing to lose their weight will prioritize proteins while the ones who need to gain weight will devour more fats and calories. Mind that, even in case there is no major difference in the weights previous and after the trek, you will no doubt have amplified energy, increased stamina and a renewed vitality.

There are scores of possible trekking options in the northern territory of Nepal, from the popular Annapurna and Everest trek to less popular but challenging treks of Manaslu, Dolpo region, Rolwaling etc. So if you are interested in artistic and cultural aspects of the Himalayas, can take few days off from the work, want to start weight management but confused how to begin, CLICK HERE and choose a trek that best suits your needs.

Rafting ventures in Nepal – Paddling down the rapids!

Nepal although a land-locked country avoided by the marine bodies boasts with an immense resource of water. As only a small percentage of this huge reserve has been utilized purposefully for hydel projects, water-supply or irrigation schemes, a majority of the rivers rove aimlessly. However, a few of them offer the opportunity of white-water exploit to the swashbucklers who enjoy maneuvering their rafts against the rapid of Himalayan streams. According to the Nepal Association of Rafting Agents, a union of the rafting entrepreneurs, 11 rivers in the country are open for rafting expedition. These rivers are categorized according to the international scale of river difficulty, expressed in Roman figure from I to VI, sometimes appended with a + or – to the figure. The grade for each river varies with the season. The rivers in Nepal permitted for the rafting are usually between the grades III and IV. Hence, rafting and kayaking can be enjoyed by the novices also with the help of a river guide.

Whitewater Rafting on the Bhote Koshi in Nepal.The most popular rivers for rafting in Nepal are: Trishuli and Bhotekoshi followed by Sunkoshi, Seti , Kali Gandaki and others. Trishuli and Bhotekoshi can be reached within 4 hours from Kathmandu. The start-point of Trishuli expedition lies somewhere in the middle of Kathmandu and Pokhara making it the most accessible river-trip. The trip can be completed within a day, is relatively easier than Bhotekoshi and is the most economical raft option. On the other hand, Bhotekoshi has a high gradient with steep rapids and is preferred by somewhat experienced rafters. It is also recognized as one of the best short raft trips found in the world (source: Lonely Planet). The other easier and cheaper alternatives are Sunkoshi and Seti while challenging river-routes are Marsyangdi, Kali Gandaki, Tamor and Karnali, the last two being located a bit farther from Kathmandu.

The season appropriate for rafting and Kayaking coincides with the tourist season of Nepal- between September to December. The river is gentle during the spring which is best time for beginning paddlers. For more audacious rafters, monsoon is favorable with the floods contributing to an adrenaline-surging challenge! The trips can be booked between 50 to 80 USD depending upon your requirements and the number of expeditors. The river guides provided with the payment of package price are usually well-experienced, most of them having overseas experience and/or license. There are also training centers or “Kayak Clinics” run by rafting companies that provide practical on-the-water instructions to the tyros on proper paddling, rescue and maneuvering according to river dynamics.

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