People, Religion and Culture


People: Nepal's population is made up of more than two crore of tribes, living in different regions, wearing different costumes and speaking different languages and dialects. The Sherpas live mainly in the mountains of eastern and central Nepal, in particular in the Solu Khumbu region. The Sherpas are probably the best known Nepalese ethnic group. Originally from Tibet, they first settled about 500 years ago. The Sherpas - also known as "the tigers of the snow" live in the Himalaya region up to an average altitude of 4,570m.

Bahuns and Chhetris are the two highest castes; and live throughout the Kingdom. The progeny of Bahun men and hill women were considered Chhetri and a number of high status families from other hill groups have also adopted Chhetri status, though some have Mongoloid ancestry. All Bahuns and Chhetris are Hindu. The Newars constitute and important ethnic group in the capital. The Newaris of the Kathmandu valley are a good example of the result of our Himalayan melting pot. The Gurung and Magars live mainly in the west and on the southern slopes of the Annapurna, Himalchuli and Ganesh Himal mountains. The Magars and Gurungs often find as soldiers in the famous Gurkha regiments.

The Rais, Limbus, and Sunuwars inhabit the slops and valleys of the eastern mid hills and many have migrated to the eastern Terai. Tamangs are one of the largest Tibet - Burman ethnic groups in Nepal. Around half the Himalayan zone of Nepal is inhabited by Tamangs.

Many Tamangs have been influenced in their dress by both western and Newari styles. Traditionally, women wear a colorful wraparound skirt, a blouse, jacket and scarf. On important occasions they wear chunky gold or brass ear and nose rings set with semiprecious stones. Men wear loincloths or the traditional Newari pants, short-sleeved jackets and topis. Both men and women wear several meters of cloth wrapped around the waist.

The Thakalis live mainly in the Kali Gandaki valley in central Nepal, and are a Tibeto Burman people who have become the entrepreneurs of Nepal. Originally Buddhist, many pragmatic Thakalis have now adopted Hinduism. The actual number of Thakalis is very small.

Tharus, Yadavs, Satar, Rajvanshis, and Dhimals are spread generally in the Terai region. Tharus are one of the largest ethic group in Nepal.

Language Nepali Bhojpuri Tamang Abadhi Magar Limbu Maithili Tharu Newari Rai Gurung Other
% of total population 58.4 7.6 3.5 1.5 1.4 0.9 11.1 3.6 3.0 1.5 1.2 6.3


Hinduism and Buddhism share between them some 86.5 and 7.8 percent of the total population respectively. Their sense of fellow- feeling and bonhomie is evident in their worship of common deities and the joint celebration of many festivals. Buddhism was introduced in Kathmandu valley by Emperor Ashoka of India around 250 BC. Later, around 8th century AD, the ancestors of the Sherpas emigrated from Tibet bringing with them a form of Buddhism known as Ningmapa.

Gurungs, Tamangs, Serpas and Newars in the Kathmandu valley also follow Mahayaa Buddhism and the famous temple of Swayambhu in Kathmandu and the "Golden Temple" or the Hiranya Varna Mahabihar in Patan are visited mainly by Buddhist Newars.

A few people have adopted a complex blend of both Hinduism and Buddhism known as Bajrayana, which is mainly practiced in the Kathmandu valley. Apart from the Hindus and Buddhists, Muslims (3.5%) form the third largest religious group. There has also been an increase in the number of Christians in Nepal in recent years, now around 40,000 - about 1% of the population and 1.2 percent of other religions.


Nepal is host to two main religions - Hinduism and Buddhism, two races, Caucasoid and Mongoloid and two civilizations, Indic and Sinic. Each ethnic group has its distinct identity. Although legislation banned it in the sixties, Polygamy is stilled practiced in some areas. 

On entering a Nepalese home it is polite to remove your shoes. Some westernized Nepalese might not do it, but it is much appreciated. Many Hindu temples do not admit westerners to enter. Always walk clockwise around Buddhist stupas, chortens or mani walls. Shoes and any other leather items such as belts and bags must be removed before entering a Buddhist or Hindu temple Public displays of affection are not considered polite. Nor should you think of swimming naked in our rivers and lakes. In the northern hill area, polyandry, the custom of a wife having more than one husband, was also practiced till recently. For a widow to re-marry was not socially acceptable in some groups. An ethnic group such as the Brahmins were prohibited from drinking alcohol and sometimes practice vegetarianism. Brahmins met their spouse for the first time on the day of the wedding.