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Nepalese People and Customs


People and Customs

Perched on the southern slopes of the Himalaya, state of Nepal is as ethnically diverse as its terrain of fertile plains, broad valleys, terraced hillsides and the highest mountain peaks in the world. The Nepalese are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and North Burma and Yunnan via Assam.

Among the earliest inhabitants were the Kirat of east mid-region, Newar of the Kathmandu Valley and aboriginal Tharu in the southern Terai region. The ancestors of the Bahun and Chetri caste groups migrated eastward from Kumaon, Garwal and Kashmir, while other ethnic groups trace their origins to North Burma and Yunnan and Tibet, e.g. the Gurung and Magar in the west, Rai and Limbu in the east, and Sherpa and Bhotia in the north.

In the Terai, a part of the Ganges Basin with 20% of the land, much of the population is physically and culturally similar to the Indo-Aryans of northern India. Indo-Aryan and East Asian looking mixed people live in the hill region. The mountainous region is sparsely populated above 3,000 meters, but in central and western Nepal ethnic Tibetans inhabit even higher semi-arid valleys north of the high Himalaya. Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation's area but is the most densely populated, with almost 5% of the population.

Nepal is a multilingual, multireligious and multiethnic society.

Nepal's diverse linguistic heritage evolved from four major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, Mongolian and various indigenous languages.

Nepal has 92 different spoken languages. The major languages of Nepal are Nepali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Newari/Nepal Bhasa, Magar, Awadhi, Rai, Limbu, Bajjika and Sherpa. The remaining 80 languages are each spoken as mother tongue by different ethnic groups.

Derived from Sanskrit, Nepali is considered the language closest to Sanskrit and written in Devanagari script. Nepali is the official, national language and serves as lingua franca among Nepalis of different ethnolinguistic groups. Hindi along with regional dialects Awadhi, Bhojpuri and Maithili are spoken in the southern Terai Region. Hindi is also widely understood by Nepalese who have worked, studied or traveled in India. Many Nepalese in government and business speak English as well.


Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Kirant Mundhum and Christian are the major religions practiced in Nepal. Although animist and shaman are considered minor religions, they are practiced by various ethnic groups regardless of their main religion or ethnicity. Nepal being a multiethnic and multi-religious county, people are very tolerant about religion and race. As a result, you will often find a Hindu and Buddhist shrine in the same courtyard.

Nepal is culturally a very festive country and has thousands of religious shrines throughout the country. The Kathmandu Valley alone has 2700 shrines. Moreover, there are many, rock, cave, hilltop and tree based shrines found in Nepal.


Nepal population is estimated to be about 29 million as of July 2008. Nepal has 103 different ethnic groups who speak more than a dozen multiple ethnic languages and about 92 different dialects. The ethnic make of Nepal and the mountain ranges are so very diverse and that is what makes Nepal an interesting mosaic of nature and people.

Regional distribution of major ethnic groups:

Gurungs and Magars live mainly in the western region; Rais, Limbus and Sunwars (believed to be descendants of the Kirantis) live in the eastern mid hills; Sherpas, Manangis and Lopas live in the upper hills and across the Himalayan valleys of the country; Newars live mainly in the capital valley of Kathmandu though they are found in major business towns across the country; Tamangs live central to eastern part of the country, Tharus, Yadavas, Satar, Rajvanshis and Dhimals live in the Terai region; Brahmans and Chhetris live in Terai and middle hills across the country; Thakuris live mostly in the far western districts nonetheless few are found in other parts of the country.

Please note that the above description of Nepalese who live where is mainly of the most talked population and is an example to give you an idea about the distribution of the population based on the old data. It is impossible to pinpoint where all the Nepalese live. Therefore, we have not mentioned about many other ethnic groups who make their home throughout Nepal. However, in today’s Nepal, the population has moved around and not everyone is confined to the above pockets of the country.

Nepalese Cultural Etiquettes of Dos and Don'ts:

The form of greeting in Nepal is "NAMASTE" and is performed by putting both palms together.

Before entering a Nepalese home, temple, and stupa remember to remove your shoes.

Be careful not to use your spoon, fork or a hand being used for your eating to touch other's food, plate, cooking utensil or the serving dish.

Do not eat from other people's plate and do not drink from other people's bottle or glass. It is considered impure by the Nepalese.

Never touch anything with your feet. This is considered an offence among Nepalese.

While traveling, you should dress appropriately. Women should specially avoid dressing in skimpy outfits.

Seek permission first before entering a Hindu temple. Many Hindu temples do not allow westerners or non-Hindus to enter.

Leather articles are prohibited inside the temple precinct.
Walking around a temple or stupa is traditionally done clockwise.

Take photographs only after receiving permission for the object or person being photographed.

Public displays of affection between man and woman are frowned upon. Do not do something that is totally alien to our environment.

Remember, many times, when a person shakes his head from left to right, he may mean "Yes".

Develop a genuine interest to meet and talk to Nepalese people and respect their local customs.



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P.O. Box 24947
Nil Saraswati Marg,

Kathmandu, Nepal
Telephone: (977-1) 444-2879

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