Anyone who is more than casually acquainted with Nepal will be able to testify that is not that easy to grasp what exactly constitutes being a Nepali. There are Nepalese whose features look highly Caucasian while there are others who would not look out of place among the Eskimos; and in between are millions whose looks are as indeterminate – from Japanese to South Indian. It is not only in physiognomy that the diversity of the Nepali people becomes evident. It is for reasons far more profound that Nepal lives up to its appellation of being the “melting pot of Asia”.
Down through history, Nepal was the meeting point of Asia’s great migrations: those of the Aryan and of the Mongolian peoples. The two races move into the Nepali hills mainly from two directions into the Nepali hills.
From the northeast swept in the Mongolians in their continuous movement down from the cold grasslands of Mongolia across the breadth of Asia and into the Subcontinent of South Asia. They moved steadily westward until they met the other great migration from the west – Aryans on a march that had begun in the Central Asian steppes.
A diagram showing the population – majority areas would hence show the two races, wedged into each other somewhere in Central Nepal, with solid bulks forming the rear to the east and the west.
This description of course, only gives a most superficial view of the rich cultural diversity of the country. For, just as there are so many different Nepali faces, there are many traditions that go a long time back into history – a result of centuries of internal migration along with still-ongoing arrival of people from both north and south.
At one level, the diverse religious beliefs of Nepalese echo this variety in Nepali life. There are communities whose shamanistic way of life is no different from those of Mongolian nomads, while there are others whose scruple in following the Manu Dharma (the Hindu canon dealing with the Hindu way of life) would earn them the admiration of even the most orthodox South Indian Brahmin. Similarly, Buddhists from the world over come seeking an uncorrupted religion as practiced for more then a millennium, and there are those that come to marvel at the synchronism of Buddhism and Hinduism in the inner cities of Kathmandu Valley.
Besides the so many religious practices, there is more to Nepal’s claim to a rich heritage. There is hardly a cultural tradition common to different parts of the country. Even people from the same ethnic background, although they share the same outward characteristics, will have evolved their own culture depending on where they live.
This is even truer for languages. Two examples stand out. The northern part of Nepal bordering Tibet is inhabited by the Bhotia people, who share many affinities with Tibetan speaker would feel comfortable using his native tongue in any communities would be able to communicate with each other, so differently have the languages developed.
Even more amazing are the Rais, an ethnic group of the eastern Nepal mid-hills. The Rais’ traditional homeland is crisscrossed by rivers, which, in earlier times, effectively, barred intercourse among them. As a result, 12 different languages developed. The Rais are, therefore, a community which, even as it possesses a homogeneity that runs throughout, cannot communicate within the group without resorting to the lingua franca, Nepali.
It is all these differences and varieties that have contributed to the entity that are a Nepali. Outward differences there may be many, but there is no underlying strain that is stronger than that comes of being a Nepali.