At once a time machine and a magic carpet, Nepal sweeps you along crooked, timeworn streets flanked by irregular, multi-roofed pagodas, stupas and stone sculptures, and into rooms cluttered with horror-eyed masks, spinning prayer wheels, trippy thangka scrolls and Tibetan carpets. Muttered chants, esoteric tantric hymns and Nepalese music hang in the air, whether it be the twang of a four-stringed saringhi or the plaintive notes of a flute. Traditional folk musicians, or gaines, gather for an evening of singing and socialising; classical dancing and trance-like masked dances enliven the Kathmandu Valley and Bhaktapur regions; while no wedding would be complete without the raucous damais - Nepal's modern ensembles.
Religion is the lifeblood of the Nepalese. Officially it is a Hindu country, but in practice the religion is a syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs with a pantheon of Tantric deities tagged on. The remainder of the population that isn't Buddhist or Hindu are either Muslim, Christian or shamans.
Nepal's food is surprisingly dull given that it lies at the intersection of the two great gastronomic giants India and China. Most of the time meals consist of a dish called dhal bhat tarkari which is a combination of lentil soup, rice and curried vegetables - hardly the makings of a dynamic national cuisine. On the other hand, Nepal has adapted famously to Western tastes, markedly evident in Kathmandu's smorgasbord of menus: Mexican tacos; Japanese sukiyaki; Thai chocolate; Chinese marshmallows; onion and minestrone soup; borscht, quiche and soyburgers; and some of the best desserts - apple and lemon pies, almond layer cakes, fruit cakes - found anywhere in the world. To wash any (or all) of these offerings down, try a lassi (a refreshing mixture of curd and water), the locally produced beer or chang, a Himalayan home brew made from barley.
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