The human geography of Nepal is an interesting mosaic of populations, that more than integrate have learned to coexist. The inhabitants of Kathmandu , in particular, belong to different ethnic groups, among which Limbu, Rai, Newar, Sherpa, Tamang and Gurung.
Simplistically, it can be said that Nepal is the meeting point of Indo-Aryan peoples from India and of the Mongolian peoples of Himalaya
Originally from the Kali Gandaki Valley, in central Nepal, Thakali people are some of the best traders and businessmen in the country. They once came down from the passes of Tibet to settle along the major trading routes. Thakalis traditionally practiced Tibetan Buddhism and those who inhabit Mustang still do it, but many nowadays practice Hinduism.
The Tamangs are one the largest ethnic group of Nepal. The word tamang is made up of two words – ta which means horse and mang which means rider or trader. They live mainly on the hills north of Kathmandu and 90 per cent of them follow Buddhism as their religion. They are deeply influenced by Tibetan culture, as can be seen from their monasteries, called ghyang and from the mani walls that mark the entrance to their villages. They have their own language, culture, dress and social structure.
About 12.000 of the 120.000 Tibetan refugees scattered around the world live in Nepal. They are settled mainly in Kathmandu and Pokhara and own or manage hotels and restaurants.
The Sherpas who live in the mountains of eastern and central Nepal are probably the best known ethnic group of the country. These nomadic shepherds moved from Tibet to the Solu Khumbu region 500 years ago. They are devout Buddhists and their culture, rituals, festivals and customs are based on the Buddhist religion. Losar, the New Year, is their major celebration. Their thriving profession of today is tourism, trekking and mountaineering.
Rai and Limbus
It is believed that Rai and Limbus ruled Kathmandu Valley from the 7th century B.C. and that they were defeated around the 4th century A.C. They inhabit the hilly area of eastern Nepal, but many have migrated to Terai. They are excellent soldiers and a large number of them have been enrolled in Gurkha regiments.
They are the original inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley. Newars include people of both Mongolian and Caucasian extraction. They have their distinct culture, having a long history, which is heavily influenced by Buddhism as well as by Hinduism. They are very famous for their woodcarving skills. They have been urban oriented and made great success in politics, art and architecture.
The Gurungs, a population of Tibetan – Burmese origin, live mainly in the central area of the country, between Gorkha and Manang and on the southern slopes of Annapurna, around Pokhara, One of the main Gurung settlement is Ghandruk, from where you can enjoy a spectacular view of Annapurna and Machhapuchhare. The name gurung derives from the Tibetan word “grong”, which means farmers. The Gurungs call themselves “tamu”, which means inhabitants of the highlands. They are animists or followers of the Bon- religion, They are well renowned Gurkha soldiers.
The Magars are a very large ethnic group of Tibetan – Burmese origin, They live in the internal areasof central and western Nepal. They fought alongside Prithvi Narayn Shah to contribute to the unification of Nepal, even if their kingdom of Palpa (with capital Tansen) was one of the last to be incorporated in the united Nepal.
Bahuns and Chhetris
Bahuns and Chhetris are simply the two highest castes. They live mainly on the central hills of the country. All Bahuns and Chhetris are Hindu
The Tharus are one of the largest ethnic group and are considered the first inhabitants of Terai. Nobody knows exactly where do they come from, some claim that they are the descendants of the rajputs of Rajasthan, others claim that they descend from the royal Sakya clan, the family of Buddha, even if they are not Buddhists.
The numerous ethnic groups speak about 100 different languages and dialects. The official language of Nepal is Nepali, formerly called Khas-Kura, then Gorkhali.