May 282018

Today is Republic Day in Nepal commemorating the creation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal on May 28th, 2008. The establishment of the republic put an end to civil strife that had lasted for years. For some reason, today is (or was) a republican holiday in many nations. I’ve posted about 2 of them already:

Modern Nepal was created in 1768, when Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the Kathmandu Valley and formed a unified country from a number of small independent states (which continue to maintain separate ethnicities). In 1846, maharaja Jung Bahadur Rana founded the Rana dynasty that ruled the country until 1951. Prime Minister and other government positions were made hereditary and the monarch had no real power. Dissatisfaction with the Rana regime led to the 1951 revolution which ended the Rana oligarchy. Initially Nepal was a constitutional monarchy, but in 1960 King Mahendra suspended the constitution and became an absolute monarch. When his son Birendra ascended to the throne, he carried out some democratic reforms.

In 1991, the first elected government of Nepal in 32 years was formed. However, the new government’s policy led to an economic crisis. Civil strife of the early 1990s eventually transformed into a full-scale civil war. As a result of the war, Nepal was proclaimed a republic on May 28, 2008. This put an end to the 240-year-old monarchy.

To mark this day the government of Nepal declared the day a public holiday. The main Republic Day celebration is held in the national capital, Kathmandu, at the Sainik Manch in Tudikhel. There are parades and dancing, and the president gives a speech celebrating Nepal’s unity in diversity and rich cultural heritage.

I visited Nepal earlier this month and did take in the fact that it is an extraordinarily diverse nation in many key respects. It is a predominantly Hindu country, but there are plenty of Buddhist shrines and temples, as well as a sprinkling of mosques. I did not see any Christian churches, but I am sure they exist. The people I spoke to were perfectly tolerant of all religious views. They were equally proud of the ethnic diversity of the country, which may not seem especially obvious to tourists. It was obvious to me in the manner in which the people dressed (especially the women) which was quite markedly different from region to region, and also in regional foods (which was a key element of my visit). You can’t really speak of Nepali cuisine because it is so regionally diverse, and because there are many influences from other cultures. There is a great deal of overlap between the dishes of Nepal and both Tibet and northern India, for example. Here’s a small gallery of some of the dishes I had:

The most widespread dish throughout Nepal is dal baht (lentil-rice) Dal bhat is a staple in India, where it originates, and at its most basic is steamed rice and thick lentil soup — served separately, but you pour the lentils over the rice. Although the name is universal, it is certainly not one dish. The dal (lentils) can be cooked with onion, garlic, ginger, hot pepper, tomatoes, or tamarind, and it may contain herbs and spices such as coriander, garam masala, cumin, and turmeric. Recipes vary by season, locality, ethnic group and family. In some regions, dal bhat is served with roti or chapatis (flatbread). Dal bhat is often served with vegetable tarkari or torkari (तरकारी in Nepali), with yogurt, or with a curry made of chicken, goat meat or fish. You can expect a small portion of pickle (achar) as well. When I ate dal bhat in little local restaurants, I got whatever accompaniments were on hand at the time.

The trick here is to cook the lentils in Nepali style, which, itself is impossible to generalize about. However, I will say that Nepali lentils are commonly cooked with fewer spices than in India. Turmeric is very common, as are garlic, ginger, and onions. More pungent spices are less common, but I was always asked if I wanted my dal “spicy” (that is, with red peppers).