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Tim in Nepal

The Place

Nepal is a landlocked country, surrounded by India and China. India has always played a dominant role in everything Nepal does and virtually all that Nepal produces for export goes through India. They share an open border and traffic between the two countries never stops. Nepal relies on India for all its gas and oil, much of its manufactured goods, its vehicles, etc. Much of what Nepal produces is sold as "Indian." A good example is the tea of Nepal. It is grown just north of Darjeeling and the vast majority of it is sold to dealers in Darjeeling who sell it as Indian Darjeeling tea. Many people have been drinking tea from Nepal for years without knowing it.

Nepal has three distinct physical regions, all running east to west in nearly straight lines. The plains cover the bottom third of the country, and this is where the majority of the farm production is located. The middle of the country is the low mountains (from 1000 to about 10,000 feet). Kathmandu is located here, and many people herd animals and raise rice in small plots in this region. This is also the area where there tea is grown. The northernmost region is the Himalayas, which rise to over 29,000 feet and are quite awe inspiring. The divisions between the groups are severe. The mountains rise suddenly from the plains and the Himalayas rise suddenly from the mountains.

Infrastructure is almost non-existent in much of Nepal. Even a short trip can easily turn into an eight-hour drive because of the road conditions and roads become almost impassable during monsoon season. And other aspects of travel in Nepal are often difficult as well. The area I was staying in averaged about 100°F everyday with humidity around 100%. My hotel room would be at about 95 degrees when I returned to it at the end of the day. I had no hot water, limited power, no internet access and the bed was as unyielding as a piece of hardwood.

I do love one of their food delicacies, however -- Momos. These are basically dumplings, and I tried to eat them every day I was there. The usual Nepalese diet consists of rice and lentils, with some vegetables. The vegetable growing is somewhat new. Aid groups have been working with the agriculture department to increase production for the past 30 years and Nepal now exports vegetables. And they are a regular part of the diet. Thirty years ago when my brother worked in Nepal for three years, he got scurvy due to the lack of vitamins in the unvaried rice and lentil diet. Fruit production has also increased -- you now see bananas and other tropical fruits commonly for sale and apples produced in the higher country are sold on street corners in Kathmandu. There are Mango trees everywhere in the plains and I found mango juice was served in most restaurants.

Education is recognized as important to families in Nepal, and they usually spend a significant percent of their income on it. (One professional person I traveled with spent about 80% of his annual income on private school expenses (not college) for his children.)

The literacy rate in Kathmandu is well over 90% and in much of the country it is over 75%. In the poor parts of the west, as among the Tharu, the literacy rate is much lower.

There are few cars anywhere in the country and bikes are everywhere. The most common way to travel is via bicycle-rickshaw, which I did on several occasions. Bike repair shops appear to be the most common business -- along with motorcycle repair shops in Kathmandu.

They have two national sports in Nepal, soccer and cricket.

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