Illinois Tech is a school rich with diversity. Students from a myriad of backgrounds come together to share their unique experiences with one another as they further their education. Many Illinois Tech students say they’ve learned a great deal about other cultures simply by making friends on campus. Because of the wide range of countries represented by the Illinois Tech community, TechNews will be regularly featuring a student and their home country.
This week, Shaswat Thapa took the time to share his love for of his home country of Nepal with one of our TechNews writers. When people think of Nepal, a couple things might come to mind, one of which being Mount Everest. If Thapa had a dollar for every time someone has asked him if he has climbed Mount Everest, he’d be rich. Although Thapa stated that he wishes the United States had mountains comparable to the astounding Himalayas that surround Nepal, he also mentioned much more about the country’s rich culture and history that people commonly overlook.
“Of course, every conversation about Nepal is incomplete without the topic of Gautama Buddha,” Thapa answered when asked about Nepali history. “He’s said to have gained enlightenment meditating under a tree in India. Someone once asked him the difference between liking and loving, and he replied, ‘If you like a flower you pluck it, but if you love the flower, you water it daily and nurture it.’ He was the founder of Buddhism, which preaches compassion towards humanity and other living beings.” This is an idea that many Nepali people have built into their lives, especially those in the rural areas. “The green beauty these areas provide is unparalleled on any other part of the planet.” Thapa remarked. He describes Nepali people as being very friendly and welcoming. He says that children are taught to respect elders, no matter what their social status or wealth may be.
Despite his love for the people and beauty in the rural areas of Nepal, Thapa is from the capital city of Kathmandu. The capital is filled with temples and religious areas that date back to when Nepal was a Hindu kingdom. “Some of the more prominent landmarks are the Pashupatinath temple and the three Durbar Squares: Kathmandu Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, and the Basantapur Durbar Square. Others were destroyed by an earthquake in May 2015,” Thapa stated. Not only can history be found within the capital city, but the entire country of Nepal used to be an assortment of kingdoms under many different rulers. This caused war for years, until a ruler from Gorkha came along. As Thapa explained it in his interview, “His name was Prithvi Narayan Shah, and he conquered all the different kingdoms of Nepal one by one and united them under his reign. The Shah rulers were the last sovereign family of Nepal, until recently, when the people of Nepal decided that democracy was the way forward.”
The long history of Nepal is also evident within the traditions and celebrations held within the country. Thapa remarked that the Hindu festivals of Dussehra and Diwali are celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm. He said that the celebrations commemorate a legend that is famous in Hindu folklore known as “Ramayana” or the tale of Rama. Thapa recounted the legend: “It is believed that when Prince Rama of Ayodhya was asking for the hand of the Sita, the princess of Lumbini, he picked up a bow and strung it. The other 11 men present could not even make the bow budge, let alone string it. Sita subsequently got married to Rama, and the couple, along with Rama’s brother Laxman, were sent to exile by their step-mother so that her son could be king. This led to Sita being kidnapped by Ravana, the evil king of Ceylon (presently Sri Lanka). This caused a battle of epic proportions, which culminated with the rescue of the princess. The return of the trio is celebrated every year.”
Thapa also recalls a yearly show called the “Ghode Jatra” or Horse Festival: “Horses groomed by the army parade around the military ground and perform acts. It is believed that the sound of the horses’ hooves keeps some sort of demon away.” Not only is tradition commonly found in the form of celebration, but also within the food Nepali people eat. When asked about Nepali food, Thapa responded by saying, “The staple diet of Nepal is mainly rice and pulses, and people eat some sort of meat and vegetable. There is also a ramen-like product that is famous in Nepal called Wai-Wai, which can be either eaten raw or cooked. A type of Nepali sweet called 'titaura' are generally made at home.” The food is only one of the many things Thapa said he misses about his home country. He also stated that although Nepal does not have any super competitive sports teams, the country’s people still show amazing support for the national teams when they have home games. Many people watch other major teams around the world. The sports played by the Nepali people include soccer, cricket, and basketball.
Nepal boasts so much more than just Mount Everest. From hospitable people and intriguing celebrations to historical landmarks and great food, Nepal may be a small country, but it sure has a lot to love.