(Published in GralsWelt 18/2001)
Of the 14 mountains on our planet that are over 8,000 meters high, eight - including Sagarmantha (Everest) at 8,848 meters - are located in whole or in part in Nepal, the last Hindu kingdom, a country of some 25 million people, once the land of Buddha, now a magnet for trekkers.
Two continental plates collide in southern Central Asia. The Indian subcontinent hits the Eurasian plate and pushes up the highest mountains on earth: the Himalayas. From a geological point of view, this young mountain range is still in motion. The Indian subcontinent continues to move five centimeters per year, which is noticeable for the inhabitants of the mountainous regions in frequent landslides and periodically occurring earthquakes along the main fault lines. Here, between the Indian lowlands, with its malaria-infested swamps, and the highest peaks on earth, between India and China (Tibet), that lies
Kingdom of Nepal.
Apart from a narrow strip on the southern border with India, the Terai Plain with its famous game reserves, the whole country is mountainous. In the tropical latitudes of Nepal, potatoes and barley are grown on steep slopes in terraces up to 4,000 m a.s.l. The tribes living here, including the famous Sherpas, are adapted to the tough life in the high mountains.
A country in seclusion
Those who arrive by plane in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, are hardly aware of the remoteness of their travel destination. The airport in the city of a quarter of a million has nothing special. Taxis, buses, private cars are waiting for passengers. In the city traffic, many small motorcycles and motorized rickshaws are noticeable. With their two-stroke engines, they push blue clouds out of the exhaust pipe that compete with the diesel smoke from ancient trucks. Air pollution in Kathmandu is reportedly only surpassed by Mexico City.
The first impressions of Kathmandu also include old wooden houses with decaying, artistic carvings that are gradually being replaced by concrete structures.
Kathmandu cannot be reached by rail. The roads from India lead over mountains that are comparatively not particularly high, but difficult to pass, with steep and deep gorges. During the monsoon season, between June and September, these roads are often impassable for weeks. There is also an old cable car from the first years of the 20th century, which was built in feudal times to bring the most indispensable goods into the country at any time, but at exorbitant costs. And the way from the north, from China, leads over the highest mountains on earth, which can only be crossed at a few passes. A road from Tibet that is not always passable leads over a single pass.
Important trade routes ran through Nepal a millennium and a half ago, and its inhabitants stood out as skilled craftsmen and clever merchants. The most important center is the Kathmandu valley, which offers good settlement conditions and fertile soil at 1,500 m above sea level. The first kingdoms arose here, including the Malla dynasty (1200-1769).
A Malla ruler divided his land between his children, three brothers and a sister in 1482. Each received a city in the Kathmandu Valley: Kathmandu, Baktapur, Lalitpur (now Patan) and Banepa. The rivalries between these princely houses brought about a competition of the arts for over three centuries. Because everyone wanted to have the greatest capital.
This is how three enchanting cities emerged, which are a must-see for every tourist: Kathmandu, Baktapur and Patan. It is said that there is no other place on earth where so many art treasures are so close together. These wonderful historic cities are now in danger of decay. The wooden buildings with their artistic carvings, heavily stressed by the monsoon rain and the polluted air, require constant care, which the poor, overpopulated developing country cannot afford. The special culture of a border country, in which influences from India, Tibet and China combined to form a harmonious Nepalese style, threatens to perish despite the help of UNESCO.
The fragmentation of the country in the 15th century attracted predatory princes from the surrounding mountains. One of these eventually prevailed. After 25 years of war, Prithvi Narayan Shah united over 60 warring states and principalities under his rule in 1769 and established the Shah dynasty, which is still ruling today.
The conquests continued under his successors until a clash with the English East Indian company in 1814. A fierce war, in which the Nepali proved their fighting qualities, ended in 1816 with a treaty that established the borders that still exist today. In these battles the English also made their first acquaintance with the legendary Gurkhas, who then served in the English army during World War II.
The land of Buddha
Nepal, the country on whose soil the Buddha was born 2,500 years ago (in Lumbini in the Terai), has since been a Hindu kingdom that has long been closed to foreign influences.
In 1846 there was a bloody coup d'état by a general who secured the so-called Rana rule for himself and his family until 1951. Then the royal family came back to power.
Until 1949, Nepal was the largest inhabited country that Europeans had not explored. In 1950 the French were allowed to enter, who on June 3rd were the first eight-thousanders to climb Annapurna1 (8.091 m). Further expeditions and a steadily increasing number of trekkers followed.
Political parties were allowed to emerge under the king, and in 1991 a constitutional monarchy replaced the Hindu kingdom. As before, however, the king is revered as the incarnation of Wishnu.
Today Hindus and Buddhists live together peacefully in Nepal, and many Nepali feel connected to both religions. There are even temples where both Hindus and Buddhists celebrate their rituals. The ever-present influence of Tibetan Buddhism grew after the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet in 1959 and many of his followers followed him into exile in India and Nepal.
The population, made up of dozens of different tribes, appears peaceful and friendly. Even the Gurkhas, feared as warriors, are nice, hospitable people when you get to know them better.
The land of the highest mountains attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, who spend an inexpensive and exotic vacation there. In addition to royal palaces, temples and stupas in the Kathmandu valley, trekking on old trade routes that are not suitable for vehicles is an attraction. Far away from the centers, you feel transported back to the Middle Ages and enjoy the simple life. However, tourists avoid the rainy season with its tropical rainfall, during which aggressive leeches lurk in the trees.
For mountaineers there are a multitude of summit destinations: from the comfortably accessible viewing platform at 3,000 m above sea level, to 4,000 and 5,000 m, which are almost comfortably climbable, to the maximum of what is alpinistically possible.
We Europeans often have problems with the Hindu worship of cows, which is also practiced in the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal. India's population was growing 2,000 years ago, and space for cattle whose meat is not eaten by Hindu became scarce. Therefore, the highest caste of Brahmins declared the cows sacred to save them from extinction. Over time, a cult around the cow has developed since then. There are Hindu priests who see the cow as the only way to salvation. For them, the cow is a symbol of Hinduism and more important than man. Every part of the cow's body, except the tail, is considered sacred because it is said to be home to 300 million gods. Drinking cow's milk should make you wise and keep it pure. In Ayurvedic medicine, cow urine is an important remedy.
Even today cows are protected by state and religion in India and Nepal. Drivers would do well to watch out for the cows that roam unmolested, even on busy roads. When running over a cow in Nepal:
* If the driver is innocent, he has to pay for the funeral of the cow, which costs several monthly salaries for a normal wage earner.
* If the driver is guilty, he faces 15 years in prison.
In this country with left-hand traffic, I would prefer not to drive myself.
Economic problems cannot be overlooked. Due to its remote location, Nepal can hardly rise to an industrial country in spite of a long craft and commercial tradition in order to adequately supply the rapidly growing population. Tourism and manufacturing may alleviate the economic difficulties, but they worsen the ecological situation.
Hardly any tourist enters one of the factories in which more than 150,000 children, instead of attending school, weave carpets for export under inhumane conditions for a ridiculous wage, based on designs by western interior designers. Environmental protection and the most primitive work protection are not considered here; for export, from which merchants and manufacturers earn money, has priority. In-house raw material production is no longer sufficient either. Wool, chemicals for dyeing are imported, and the classic Nepalese carpet art is disappearing.
Agriculture in the easily accessible valleys, such as the Kathmandu valley, is constantly losing valuable fields to the growing cities.
Life is hard in the mountain regions, which are difficult to manage, and technical aids for farming and everyday life are lacking. The excessive population density forces overexploitation; For example, twice as much wood is used as can grow back. Because collecting firewood, bringing in leaves and twigs as fodder is daily farm work for which children are often responsible.
Yogis (masters of yoga), lamas (Tibetan Buddhist priests), sadhus (Hindu mendicants) have a legendary reputation and are credited with the most incredible magical feats in literature. At the Pashupatinath Temple, an important Hindu shrine, I was able to see for myself that sadhus can be hardened very well in Nepal. The Alpine Club mountain guide Siggi Rottlingshöfer, who had been stationed in Nepal for many years, told us about a Jogi he found standing in a crevasse at an altitude of 5,000 m, naked, only rubbed with ash. That sounds plausible when reading from Alexandra David-Neel how occult training makes it possible to keep the naked body warm in the winter cold on the plateaus of Tibet (1, p.182 f.).
Recently, even the ability of a Jogi to slow down his vital functions in cataleptic sleep and to survive in an airtight coffin has been scientifically investigated (2, p. 81). Asian masters of the occult seem to have skills unknown in the West. However, exaggerations should not be missing from the relevant literature. For example, to this day nobody has been able to demonstrate the fabulous “Indian rope trick”, although Queen Victoria of England (1819-1901) offered a price of £ 2,000 for it, and an English magician £ 5,000, and an Italian £ 10,000 for the demonstration Performed a feat. As a rule, a traveler to Nepal will only meet so-called “professional sadhus”, who are nothing more than beggars who abuse the image of the ascetic.
Most rural dwellings cook on primitive clay stoves, and even lack a chimney. Children in particular get respiratory diseases in smoky huts. School education, hospitals and other social facilities are underdeveloped because there is a lack of capital for the most necessary infrastructure everywhere. For example, large regions are inaccessible to vehicles. Trekkers enjoy hiking on mule and yak trails for days or weeks and relying on helicopters in an emergency. However, developing a country without roads is problematic.
Certainly there are also positive ecological approaches, such as the “Annapurna Conservation Area Project” (ACAP) around the model estate Ghandrung. International companies are working on the most necessary improvements, such as the construction of toilets and the reforestation of the Himalayan forests, but sustainable success on a broad front is hardly to be hoped for.
The prognoses for the uniquely beautiful mountain region with its lovable people cannot be particularly favorable: the laborious progress made, for example in the construction of small hydropower plants, is being eliminated by the tide of the growing population. It is to be feared that the population could double again within the next 30 to 40 years. We live in a time in which a rapidly growing population is more of a burden than of building the real wealth of the country. Even in developed countries the Bible phrase "... a worker is worth his wages" (Luke 10: 7) sometimes sounds like mockery.
The life of the overly large population becomes even more difficult in the high areas, and survival in the overcrowded cities without sewers, with inadequate electricity and water supplies has to become a difficult task for many.
Literature on Nepal:
Choegyal, Lisa. "Nepal", RV Reise- und Verkehrsverlag, Berlin, 1993.
Massonaud, Chantal: "Nepal", in "Asia", Benedikt Taschen Verlag, Cologne, 1994.
Nelles Guide "Nepal", Nelles Verlag, Munich 1995.
Literature on "Asian ascetics":
(1) David-Neel, Alexandra: "Saints and Witches", Brockhaus, Wiesbaden, 1981.
(2) raum & Zeit issue 93/1991, page 81
(3) Zwerenz, Gerhard: “Magic, Star Belief, Spiritism”, Fischer, Fankfurt, 1974.
Unfortunately, poor Nepal hit at the beginning of the 21st century severe disasters:
* In June 2001 there was an act of bloodshed within the royal family that killed King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah. His brother was initially his successor. But the kingdom could not recover from it.
There were Maoist uprisings and a bloody guerrilla war with numerous dead. In April 2007 a general strike forced the king to resign. Nepal became a republic. The Hindu Kingdom no longer exists.
* In April 2015, Nepal was hit by a major earthquake. There were more than 8,600 deaths and severe damage to historic structures. Poor, overpopulated Nepal can hardly restore them on its own.