Project Nepal: Culture and Context

Project Nepal: Culture and Context

  • Humid afternoons of pre-monsoon

    Humid afternoons of pre-monsoon

    View from Jun Chiyabari's main office in Patan, Kathmandu Valley, Nepal. The pre-monsoon rain clouds are just starting to roll in for the afternoon. Along with tasting the season's harvest during our summertime visit, we took a deep dive into exploring the culture of Nepal, led by our local friends in tea. Such origin research is critical to our philosophy at Rishi Tea: To source tea through responsible and transparent practice and to honor the local culture of tea by telling their story.
  • Nepal Map

    Nepal has 5 Development Regions; the East region is where Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden is located, in the district of Dhankuta. This region directly borders Darjeeling to the east – only 65 kilometers from Jun Chiyabari- and the towering Himalayan Mountains to the north. Kathmandu, the nation's capital, is in the Central region.
  • Hills...or mountains?

    Hills...or mountains?

    Sunrise over the Kathmandu Valley. In the distance, you can make out peaks in the hazy early morning light. These are actually still just hills; while they seem quite tall to us, "mountain" takes on a completely different definition in Nepal!
  • Nepal in transition

    Nepal in transition

    Our exploration took us from the urban density of Kathmandu Valley, home to around 2.5 million people, to the rural farms and villages outside the valley. Nepal has been a sovereign nation for its entire history. However, in 2006, at the end of a decade long civil war, Maoist insurgency brought an end to the long-ruling monarchy in Nepal. Today, modern Nepal faces significant challenges to grow beyond the label of "fragile, developing country."
  • Challenge for modern Nepal: Unemployment

    Challenge for modern Nepal: Unemployment

    Among those challenges: The lack of opportunity for working people. Every day, hundreds of Nepalese men will leave home to work abroad. The Kathmandu airport is full of fathers and husbands, sons and brothers, instead of typical airport scenes of families, women and children. The men may only be able to come home every few years. This greatly skews the population balance in smaller cities and villages.
  • Challenge for modern Nepal: Unemployment

    Challenge for modern Nepal: Unemployment

    Many of these hopeful workers are quite young too, leaving their home for basic manual labor jobs. Top countries for Nepal migrant workers include India, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States. Unemployment in Nepal hovers around 46%, with higher numbers in the rural areas.
  • Challenge for modern Nepal: Unemployment

    Challenge for modern Nepal: Unemployment

    Signs advertising banks to process remittance payments (money sent from relatives working abroad) are everywhere inside the airport and throughout the cities. Nepal is among the poorest of Asian countries, with remittance counting for at least 30% of the economy. The 2013 Index of Economic Freedom from the Heritage Foundation notes:
    "The Nepalese economy continues to lack the entrepreneurial dynamism needed for broad-based economic growth and sustainable long-term development. With the statist approach to the economy holding development progress far below the country's potential, state interference continues to hurt regulatory efficiency, and there has been little effort to open the economy or engage in world markets. Nepal's scores for investment and financial freedom are among the lowest in the world."
  • Challenge for modern Nepal: Political stalemate

    Challenge for modern Nepal: Political stalemate

    General strikes, called by political parties, are frequent across the country. This creates shutdowns of businesses, schools and transportation. A strike occurred during our visit, too; normally, these shops would be open and the streets filled with people. Nepal has at least 139 registered political parties, and an estimated 40% of them are communist. The civil war ended in 2006; activists say in its wake is a constant political stalemate. After all these years, there is still no constitution in place, either. After much delay, voting for a new constitution is scheduled to take place this fall.
  • Challenge for modern Nepal: Health and sanitation

    Challenge for modern Nepal: Health and sanitation

    The political uncertainty and shuffle in leadership trickles down to every aspect of daily life – even water. Access to clean, healthy water and sanitation is a major issue. Here, locals are collecting rainwater from drainage pipes to carry home in large bottles. Typhoid, hepatitis and cholera are endemic in Nepal. The UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) ranks Nepal 157 out of 186 countries on the Human Development Index. 49% of Nepalese children are chronically malnourished; this puts Nepal among the 5 countries hardest hit with child malnourishment.
  • Challenge for modern Nepal: Pollution

    Challenge for modern Nepal: Pollution

    Along with sanitation, pollution in the urban areas is a major concern. In 2006, a report ranked Kathmandu as one of the most polluted cities in Asia. Face masks are commonly worn by many people in the city, especially those riding motor bikes, to provide some shield from air contaminants.
  • Challenge for modern Nepal: Reversing the statistics

    Challenge for modern Nepal: Reversing the statistics

    In spite of the heavy burden of such statistics and what has become a harsh daily reality in a post-civil war country, certainly not all is peril and suffering in Nepal. Venturing outside the intensity of the city, this is a view from one of Nepal's many hillside monasteries. Overall poverty is around 25% and has been improving slowly and steadily. Eradicating extreme hunger is one of the Millennium Development Goals established by the UNDP for developing nations; Nepal is on target to reach this goal by 2015, although rural areas in the far west still experience poverty as high as 45%.
  • Busy days for planters and farmers

    Busy days for planters and farmers

    The early summer pre-monsoon season, when the skies open periodically for brief downpours, is a very busy time in the fields. Houses and village shop owners stop all activity to head to the fields and plant rice.
  • Beautiful local produce!

    Beautiful local produce!

    The vegetables that grow in the villages are noted to be of exceptional quality. The diverse agricultural climate of Nepal supports a large variety of cultivated food and medicinal plants, and colorful produce stands can be found everywhere. For export, one of the largest buyers of Nepali vegetables is India.
  • Homemade Nepali meal

    Homemade Nepali meal

    What to do with so many beautiful vegetables? Being tea tasters and blenders, we're naturally drawn to all things culinary. Here's a vibrant home-cooked meal of traditional Nepali food, from our hosts at Jun Chiyabari Tea Garden.
  • Importance of agriculture

    Importance of agriculture

    Most of Nepal's 26 million people live in rural areas and agriculture is a key part of the economy. Two-thirds of the population survives through agricultural means.
  • Lonely village dog...

    Lonely village dog...

    Dogs in the cities and villages of Nepal are almost like pigeons in U.S. cities; they're everywhere and most belong to no one in particular. It takes a strong heart to not want to scoop them up and take them "home"; part of the wonder of traveling to such far away lands is that it makes you question your notion of such concepts.
  • Tibetan refugees in Nepal

    Tibetan refugees in Nepal

    Nepal is home to many Tibetan refugees. Kathmandu is about 4 hours away from the Tibetan border. At this Kathmandu handicraft center, these mothers are making yarn for beautiful carpets they will loom by hand, with the sales of their craft going to benefit the Tibetan community in Nepal. This craft has helped them pay for their children to go to school, and even to college in Nepal and abroad.
  • A culture of fine arts: Pottery

    A culture of fine arts: Pottery

    Nepal is known for many fine arts, including metalwork, painting, woodcarving, handloom and pottery. Here in Bhaktapur, potters are getting ready to fire their finished pieces. Instead of using kilns, they create one out in the open by layering the pottery in straw and ash, allowing it to smolder for several days.
  • A culture of fine arts: Woodcarving

    A culture of fine arts: Woodcarving

    Bungmati, in particular, has long been known for its highly ornate woodwork. Much of the work is not only done by hand, but through highly detailed carving techniques, using no machinery at all.
  • A culture of fine arts: Woodcarving

    A culture of fine arts: Woodcarving

    You can stroll through winding, narrow streets and visit artisans in their open-door shops as they are working, much like studio space.
  • A culture of fine arts: Woodcarving

    A culture of fine arts: Woodcarving

    This traditional woodcarving can still be found on windows and doorframes in the older city and village areas. We saw examples of modern buildings where the architect collected old hand-carved frames and used them in the new building, as a way of paying homage to this classic Nepali style.
  • Temples many centuries old

    Temples many centuries old

    Woodcarving is found extensively in temple areas. Notice the extremely detailed work around this temple doorframe, all carved by hand many centuries ago. This is done in teak wood.
  • Significance of the triangular flag

    Significance of the triangular flag

    This is a Hindu temple in Patan, the City of Fine Arts. Notice the yellow flags? Their shape and position is similar to Nepal's national flag – the only one in the world that's not rectangular or square. The shape of two stacked triangles also draws comparison to a pagoda roof. The modern pagoda is an evolution of the ancient stupas of Nepal; places where sacred texts and relics are kept.
  • Tradition of an ancient culture

    Tradition of an ancient culture

    Around 80% of Nepal is Hindu, and a large portion of the rest are Buddhist. A deeply religious country, everyday life is permeated with tradition.
  • Village temples everywhere

    Village temples everywhere

    Village temples are often just a sheltered statue on the corner, where you'll usually find flowers and food as offerings (puja), and the temple god is marked with red turmeric as a blessing. Such temples are seen with nearly the same frequency as fire hydrants in Western cities.
  • One of Nepal's holy trees

    One of Nepal's holy trees

    This sacred fig tree, a revered plant throughout Nepal and India, is also marked with red. It was under such a tree that meditating Buddha achieved enlightenment. That particular tree, and ones descended from it, are called Bodhi tree ("wisdom" or "enlightened").
  • Heart-shaped leaves of the Bodhi fig

    Heart-shaped leaves of the Bodhi fig

    The sacred fig (Ficus religiosa) is easy to spot all over Nepal with its distinctive heart-shaped leaves.
  • Colorful temple square

    Colorful temple square

    Nepal is home to a very large number of monasteries. In some areas, the entire village life seems to evolve around their existence, and the monks and nuns are active members in their communities. Village squares such as this one, with colorful prayer flags draped over every building, arch and flag pole, are common scenes.
  • Temple courtyard of Swayambhunath

    Temple courtyard of Swayambhunath

    Young Nepali people hanging out at the temple courtyard of Swayambhunath stupa. Notice the two walking in an embrace? People in Nepal are very kind and quite affectionate; it's not unusual to see friends and family of the same gender walking hand in hand, arm in arm.
  • Did you know? Buddha was born in Nepal

    Did you know? Buddha was born in Nepal

    Hindus and Buddhists exist side by side very peacefully in Nepal. Buddha himself was born Hindu, in Nepal, no less. He was born in Lumbini, Rupandehi District, and lived there until the age of 29. This photo is inside a large Tibetan Buddhist monastery, where young monks had just wrapped up their morning lessons.
  • A boy monk...

    A boy monk...

    One of our favorite moments of this sojourn; a young monk, being like any other boy for just a moment. He lives at a temple in Patan.
  • The City of Devotees

    The City of Devotees

    A serene water reservoir in Bhaktapur, the City of Devotees. This city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its ancient culture of temples and artwork. The Kathmandu Valley itself, which includes the city of Bhaktapur, is also a World Heritage Site. This designation is given to places on Earth "considered to be of outstanding value to humanity", and draws attention to their conservation and ongoing protection.
  • Project Nepal: Beautiful teas with a mission

    Project Nepal: Beautiful teas with a mission

    Celebrate the beauty of Nepal at home, with our Project Nepal offering of teas from Jun Chiyabari. $2 of every kilo of tea we purchase from Jun Chiyabari will go directly to FWEAN, a women's entrepreneurial organization working to improve the lives of underserved and at risk women across Nepal. Learn more about FWEAN this presentation. Namaste!

    For further reading:
    UNDP in Nepal
    IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis
    The Heritage Foundation
    Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
    FWEAN Nepal
    WEAN Nepal (district-level operations for FWEAN)