Best time to visit Nepal
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Nepal attracts visitors keen to explore its diverse scenery – from jungles to high mountain peaks, to discover its fascinating wildlife and delve into its rich cultural heritage.
The country has much to offer all year round. Differences in the seasons determine where’s good to go at any given time of year – meaning the best time to go to Nepal goes hand-in-hand with the activities on your wishlist.
Nepal is broadly temperate, with four main seasons centred around the summer monsoon from June to September. The build up to the monsoon is stiflingly hot with afternoon clouds and rain showers. The subsequent monsoon brings relief with a drop in temperatures and the heavy rains bring the countryside into bloom.
While winter is mostly clear and stable it can also be seriously cold in trekking areas. Spring sees warm weather, while the months of autumn are clear, dry and fresh after the recent rains.
Each season has its charms and each offers something different to travellers exploring this wonderful Himalayan country.
Nepalis welcome the monsoon, the timing of which may vary by a few weeks every year, but typically begins in mid-June and peters out in the last weeks of September.
During these months, expect to see heavy rains every day, especially in July and August. During June and September, rain is considerably lighter. The good news is that monsoon rains usually only last for a couple of hours and their timing is quite predictable. So it’s still possible to enjoy a great trip to Nepal during the monsoon – all you need to do is choose your destination and itinerary carefully, especially if trekking is top of the list.
The monsoon doesn’t affect all of Nepal equally. Areas in the Himalayan rain shadow, such as Dolpo and Humla in western Nepal and the Mustang region north of Annapurna, are spared the drenching other areas receive. The area of Pokhara is the wettest part of Nepal during monsoon.
The main thing to remember about the monsoon season is that you need to be flexible with your travel plans. In some areas, flights may be delayed or cancelled due to heavy rains. Landslides can happen, causing road closures. Always check with your hotel or guest house before heading on a road trip during monsoon season. They should be able to find the most up-to-date information about road conditions. Bring appropriate waterproof clothing and keep your electronics in waterproof bags if you’re out and about.
And bear in mind, when the rain stops it will still be hot and sunny, so you can still get out and discover the country during the monsoon season.
The best time to visit Nepal depends on what you plan to do while in the country. Fall/autumn and spring are the most popular times to visit for hikers, climbers and mountaineers. At this time, clear skies and pleasant temperatures create the ideal conditions for adventures in the mountains.
Low season (which coincides with the monsoon season) can be an option if you’re on a budget. Firstly, you’re likely to find discounts on accommodation and tours – plus, you won’t have to deal with crowds. Secondly, if you don’t plan on hitting the Himalayas, monsoon season can be a great time to visit.
Spring is a good time to visit Nepal’s valleys and forests. March marks the start of the blooming season in many parts of the country and large areas are covered in bright pink rhododendrons – Nepal’s national flower. This is also a great time to explore centres of Buddhist culture and architecture, such as Tengboche monastery.
You can have a fabulous travel experience in Nepal during the winter. Low humidity and minimal chances of rain make this season great for travel photography and low-altitude hikes.
Winter in Nepal is cold, but cold temperatures are balanced by brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies. It can be a wonderful time for the more experienced trekker to tackle the mountains. Winter weather in Nepal is also perfect for taking photos that capture the country’s stunning natural beauty.
In terms of the weather, winter is the perfect time to visit Chitwan National Park, a great destination for jungle walks and safari expeditions. The park is home to Bengal tigers, elephants, rhinos, and more than 500 bird species. For the best chances of spotting wildlife, plan your trip around January or February. It’s worth noting, however, that this is one of Nepal’s most popular destinations, so unless you opt for the rainy season for a trip to Chitwan, you’ll be rhino spotting with a whole lot of other visitors. Bardia National Park, northwest of Nepalgunj, is a quieter alternative and offers the best chance to see tigers in Nepal.
The cold season is also a good time to spend a few days exploring Bandipur. This charming town will catch your eye with its traditional wooden architecture, busy markets, and scenic trails. The town is a five-hour drive from Kathmandu, which makes it a convenient getaway if you get tired of the capital’s hectic pace.
Speaking of Kathmandu, winter is a great time to layer up and explore the old city. Low temperatures are the perfect excuse to sit at a café in Thamel and enjoy a glass of Nepali tea, which comes in many varieties, or a cup of Nepal’s own-grown coffee.
The winter months are generally dry and settled, so it can be a good time for trekking – although it is inevitably colder. There can be snow at 2500m – sometimes lower, while conditions can mean passes over 4000m are uncrossable. You’ll also need appropriate gear for cold temperatures and heavy snowfall if trekking at high altitudes. Challenging conditions aside, if you’re an experienced trekker this can be a wonderful time to be on the mountains, with far fewer trekkers venturing out. At lower altitudes it can feel more like spring already.
Spring is one of the most popular seasons to visit Nepal. Snowfall begins to die down around March and makes it easier to move along hiking trails, so this is a fairly busy time in Nepal’s high-altitude destinations, although not as busy as in autumn/fall. But hiking and climbing are not the only things to do in the spring. In general, this is a great time to discover nature in Nepal.
April is peak time for travellers heading to Everest base camp and the Annapurna circuit. These months are also a popular time to do short treks in the Nepalese countryside, for example at Ghorepani and Poon Hill or Mardi Himal.
But the options don’t end there: you can also explore lesser-visited destinations, such as the tea plantations in Ilam, in eastern Nepal. There’s also Panch Pokhari, a remote high-altitude wetland area home to five glacial lakes. Mountain scenery could also be your stunning backdrop at one of Nepal’s yoga retreats.
By May it is getting hotter and hazier and the weather is somewhat unsettled, with afternoon storms quite common. Go high if you’re trekking and expect rain, especially in the known wetter regions, such as Annapurna and the far eastern parts of the country.
Summer brings the monsoon rains to most of Nepal. At this time of the year, Nepal's climate is hot and humid, so the rains bring a refreshing break from the heat. But although Nepal is generally wet, the mornings are often clear and the countryside is bursting with colour – vivid green forests and rice terraces and bright wildflowers.
What’s more, summer is a pleasant time to go to Nepal if you want to avoid big crowds and peak season prices.
Early summer is a fantastic time of year to discover Kathmandu’s historical heritage, without the crowds. And if you get caught in the monsoon rain (mid-June to early Sept), you can always wait for it to pass at one of the many cafés and tea houses.
If you’re into landscape or wildlife photography, early June is the time to see the spectacular landscapes at Shey Poksundo (She-Phoksundo) National Park. This is the country’s biggest national park, and as such, it’s home to hundreds of animal and plant species. You may even be able to spot endangered species here, such as Himalayan black bears, snow leopards and blue sheep.
Most people who visit Nepal for its superb trekking opportunities avoid the monsoon. Downpours can render trekking paths too slippery and muddy – plus, there are leeches to contend with! Mountain views may be obscured and general travelling around can prove problematic.
That said, you don’t need to rule out trekking altogether. Avoid wet areas, such as Annapurna and the far east of Nepal and stick to parts where the monsoon is weaker instead. The far west and areas in the Himalayan rain shadow are relatively sheltered. These include Dolpo, Humla and the mystical Mustang region north of Annapurna.
Mustang, home to Kali Gandaki Gorge, which at 8,270 feet (2,520 metres) is the deepest gorge in the world. Other must-sees in the area include villages such as Marpha (also known as the Apple Capital of Nepal) and Kagbeni.
Just remember, if you are travelling to Nepal for trekking expeditions, allow for sudden changes to your itinerary. The rain can affect transport, with delays and cancellations possible. Check road conditions before you venture out and bring waterproof clothing.
It’s as well to bear in mind, when the rain stops it will still be hot and sunny, so you can still get out and discover the country during the monsoon season.
Fall or autumn is one of the best seasons to travel to Nepal. From October it’s generally dry and skies are clear, which is why climbers and hikers love this season.
Daytime temperatures during the day at high altitudes are pleasantly cool for walking, whereas it’s hotter lower down. At night it’s getting colder high up but it’s unlikely to be too severe.
You’ll also have the chance to enjoy some of Nepal’s biggest festivals, such as Dashain (Desain, or Dashera) and Tihar (Tihaar), important Hindu festivals.
The period after the monsoon, around September to early October can be unpredictable. If the rains have finished you’ll be blessed with mild temperatures and clear skies, which is why fall or autumn can be one of the best seasons to travel to Nepal. Trekking trails are also quiet – a joy for hikers and mountaineers. If you’re unlucky though, the monsoon may not have quite tailed off yet. In that case it could be hot and sticky and you may get caught in heavy showers – or even snow. Also those stunning mountain views could be shrouded in clouds.
Mid-October to mid-November is the best time for serious climbing and mountaineering in Nepal. But this also means that from September it’s the busiest time in the Himalayas. If you’d rather avoid the crowds, consider less popular destinations and activities:
Generally speaking, September to November is the best time to visit the city. At this time of the year, you’ll find dry weather, clear skies, and plenty of cultural events. But in fact, there’s no wrong time to visit the city.
Kathmandu weather is relatively mild compared to other parts of the country. The average annual temperature in Nepal’s capital city is a pleasant 18°C. January is the coldest month in Kathmandu (average 9°C). The hottest month is June with average temperatures of 23°C, and the wettest is July with more than 15 days of rain in the month. If you want to avoid rainy weather, November is your best bet.
The Kathmandu Valley is not as affected by monsoon rains as other parts of the country. Some flooding may happen here and there, but it shouldn’t affect your sightseeing plans. Remember that monsoon rains only last a few hours. Plan your activities around this, and you should have no problem visiting Kathmandu during the rainy season.
If you’re interested in high-altitude treks, it’s best to avoid the coldest winter months unless you’re experienced with cold weather conditions and have the necessary gear. Between December and February, heavy snowfall can make some trails and roads dangerous or impossible to cross.
Trekking in Nepal doesn’t always have to involve great heights. There are many short and lower-altitude hikes you can do around the Kathmandu Valley. A trek on the forested mountain of Phulchowki (Phulchoki) will take you from subtropical vegetation through Nepal chestnut, evergreen oaks and, of course, rhododendron. The unspoiled forest is one of the best places in Nepal for butterfly-spotting and birdwatching.
Or you can choose the Champadevi trek and go on a discovery journey of Tibetan monasteries.
These treks can be done all year round, except for the rainy season. For safety always go with a group when going on walks in the Phulchowki forest, as there have been robberies in recent years. And stick to the trails – anti-personnel mines were laid during the conflict in this region and you can't be 100% sure that they've all been removed.
Read more on trekking: where to go and when, accommodation, remote and restricted areas, organised treks and trekking independently, equipment, safety – and more.
The weather is not the only factor when thinking about when to go to Nepal. This Himalayan nation has a rich history, which can be discovered through its festivals. Nepal’s festival calendar fills every month of the year with colourful celebrations that offer interesting insights into the local culture. Here are some things you should know about festivals in Nepal:
Stumbling onto a local festival may prove to be the highlight of your travels in Nepal – and given the sheer number of them, you’d be unlucky not to. Though most are religious in nature, merrymaking, not solemnity, is the order of the day, and onlookers are always welcome. Festivals may be Hindu, Buddhist, animist or a hybrid of all three.
Hindu events can take the form of huge pilgrimages and fairs (mela), or more introspective gatherings such as ritual bathings at sacred confluences (tribeni) or special acts of worship (puja) at temples. Many see animal sacrifices followed by family feasts, with priests and musicians usually on hand. Parades and processions (jaatra) are common, especially in the Kathmandu Valley.
Buddhist festivals are no less colourful, typically bringing together maroon-robed clergy and lay pilgrims to walk and prostrate themselves around stupas (dome-shaped monuments, usually repainted specially for the occasion).
Many of Nepal’s animist peoples follow the Hindu calendar, but local nature-worshipping rites take place across the hills throughout the year. Shamanic rites usually take place at home, at the request of a particular family, although shamans themselves have their own calendar of fairs (mela) at which they converge on a particular holy spot. You’ll have to travel widely and sensitively to have the chance to witness a shaman in action.
Jubilant Nepali weddings are always scheduled on astrologically auspicious days, which fall in the greatest numbers during the months of Magh, Phaagun and Baisaakh. The approach of a wedding party is often heralded by a hired band baajaa or brass band and open-air feasts go on until the early hours. The bride usually wears red, and for the rest of her married life she will colour the parting of her hair with red sindur.
Funeral processions should be left in peace. The body is normally carried to the cremation site within hours of death by white-shrouded friends and relatives; white is the colour of mourning for Hindus, and the eldest son is expected to shave his head and wear white for a year following the death of a parent. Many of the hill tribes conduct special shamanic rites to guide the deceased’s soul to the land of the dead.
Knowing when and where festivals are held will not only enliven your time in Nepal, but should also help you avoid annoyances such as closed offices and booked-up buses. Unfortunately, as most are governed by the lunar calendar, festival dates vary annually, and determining them more than a year in advance is a highly complicated business best left to astrologers. Each lunar cycle is divided into “bright” (waning) and “dark” (waxing) halves, which are in turn divided into fourteen lunar “days”. Each of these days has a name – purnima is the full moon, astami the eighth day, aunshi the new moon, and so on. Thus lunar festivals are always observed on a given day of either the bright or dark half of a given Nepali month. The following list details Nepal’s most widely observed festivals, plus a few notable smaller events. For upcoming festival dates, check one of the online Nepali calendars (try visitnepal.com or nepalhomepage.com).
Magh (or Makar) Sankranti Marking a rare solar (rather than lunar) event in the Nepali calendar – the day the sun is farthest from the earth – the first day of Magh (Jan 14 or 15) is an occasion for ritual bathing at sacred river confluences, especially at Devghat and Sankhu. The day also begins a month-long period during which families do daily readings of the Swasthani, a compilation of Hindu myths, and many women emulate Parvati’s fast for Shiva, one of the Swasthani stories. For more information, see The Devghat Pilgrimage.
Basanta Panchami This one-day spring festival is celebrated on the fifth day after the new moon in most Hindu hill areas. The day is also known as Saraswati Puja, after the goddess of learning, and Shri Panchami, after the Buddhist saint Manjushri. School playgrounds are decorated with streamers and children have their books and pens blessed; high-caste boys may undergo a special rite of passage.
Losar Tibetan New Year falls on the new moon of either Magh or Phaagun, and is preceded by three days of drinking, dancing and feasting. The day itself is celebrated most avidly at Boudha, where morning rituals culminate with horn blasts and the hurling of tsampa. Losar is a time for families, and is the highlight of the calendar in Buddhist highland areas, as well as in Tibetan settlements near Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Shivaraatri Falling on the new moon of Phaagun, “Shiva’s Night” is marked by bonfires and evening vigils in all Hindu areas, but most spectacularly at Pashupatinath, where tens of thousands of pilgrims and sadhus from all over the subcontinent gather for Nepal’s best-known mela. Fervent worship and bizarre yogic demonstrations can be seen throughout the Pashupatinath complex. Children collect firewood money by holding pieces of string across the road to block passers-by. Nepalis say the festival is usually followed by a final few days of winter weather, which is Shiva’s way of encouraging the Indian sadhus to go home.
Holi Nepal’s version of the springtime water festival, common to many Asian countries, lasts about a week, and commemorates a myth in which the god Krishna, when still a boy, outsmarted the demoness Holika. During this period, anyone is a fair target for water balloons and coloured powder. It culminates in a general free-for-all on Phaagun Purnima, the full-moon day of Phaagun.
Chait Dasain Like its autumn namesake, the “little Dasain”, observed on the eighth day after the new moon, involves lots of animal sacrifices. The goriest action takes place at goddess temples, such as the one at Gorkha, and in the Kot courtyard near Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, where the army’s top brass come to witness the beheading of numerous buffalo and goats.
Ram Nawami The birthday of Lord Ram is observed on the ninth day after the full moon at all temples dedicated to Vishnu in his incarnation as the hero of the Ramayana, one of the great Hindu epics. By far the biggest and most colourful celebrations take place in Janakpur, where thousands of pilgrims flock to the Ram temple.
Seto Machhendranath Jaatra Kathmandu’s answer to Patan’s Machhendranath Rath Jaatra (see below), this sees a lumbering wooden chariot containing the white mask of the god Machhendranath pulled through the narrow lanes of the old city for four days, starting on Chait Dasain.
Nawa Barsa Nepali New Year, which always falls on the first day of Baisaakh (April 13 or 14), is observed with localized parades. Culminating on Nawa Barsa, Bhaktapur’s five-day celebration, known as Bisket or Biska, is the most colourful, combining religious processions with a rowdy tug-of-war (see Bishanku Narayan); the nearby settlements of Thimi and Bode host similarly wild scenes.
Machhendranath Rath Jaatra Nepal’s most spectacular festival: thousands gather to watch as the image of Machhendranath, the Kathmandu Valley’s rain-bringing deity, is pulled around the streets of Patan in a swaying, 18m-high chariot. It moves only on astrologically auspicious days, taking four weeks or more to complete its journey. For more information, see Raato Machhendranath’s big ride.
Buddha Jayanti The anniversary of the Buddha’s birth. Enlightenment and death is celebrated on the full-moon day of Baisaakh at all Buddhist temples, but most visibly at Swayambhu, where the stupa is decorated with thousands of lights, and ritual dances are performed by priests dressed as the five aspects of Buddhahood. Processions are also held at the Boudha stupa and in Patan. Curiously, observances at the Buddha’s birthplace, Lumbini, are rather sparse.
Janai Purnima The annual changing of the sacred thread (janai) worn by high-caste Hindu men takes place at holy bathing sites throughout the country on the full-moon day of Saaun. Men and women of any caste may also receive a yellow-and-orange “protective band” (raksha bandhan) around one wrist, which is then worn until Tihaar, when it’s supposed to be tied onto the tail of a cow. Mass observances are held at Gosainkund, a holy lake high in the mountains north of Kathmandu; Pashupatinath; and most prominently Patan’s Kumbeshwar temple, where priests tie strings and bestow tikas, and jhankri (hill shamans) perform sacred dances.
Gaai Jaatra Newari tradition has it that Yamraj, the god of death, opens the gates of judgement on the day of the full moon, allowing departed souls to enter. Falling on the day after the full moon, Gaai Jaatra honours cows (gaai), who are supposed to lead departed souls to Yamraj’s abode. Processions in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and other Newari towns are both solemn and whimsical: an occasion for families to honour loved ones who have died in the past year, but also for young boys to dress up in fanciful cow costumes or masquerade as sadhus. In Bhaktapur, where the festival is known as Gunhi Punhi and starts a day earlier (coinciding with Janai Purnima), men parade around town in humorous costumes. Satirical street performances are less common nowadays than they once were, but newspapers and magazines publish caustic Gaai Jaatra specials.
Nag Panchami On the fifth day after the new moon, Kathmandu Valley residents quietly propitiate the nag (snake spirits), who are traditionally held to control the monsoon rains and earthquakes, by pasting pictures of nag over their doorways with cow dung and offering milk, rice and other favourite nag foods to the images. Wells are cleaned only on this day, when the nag are believed to be away worshipping their ancestral deities.
Ghanta Karna On the fourteenth day after the full moon, residents of Kathmandu Valley towns celebrate the victory of the gods over the demon Ghanta Karna (“Bell Ears”) by erecting effigies and then burning or tearing them down.
Krishna Astami (also called Krishna Jayanti or Krishna Janmastahmi) Krishna temples such as Patan’s Krishna Mandir throng with thousands of worshippers celebrating the god’s birth on the seventh day after the full moon. Vigils are also held the night before.
Tij The three-day “Women’s Festival”, which starts on the third day after the new moon, sees groups of women clad in red singing and dancing through the streets. Letting their families fend for themselves for once, they start with a girls’ night out, feasting until midnight when they begin a day-long fast. On the second day they queue up to worship Shiva at the Pashupatinath temple outside of Kathmandu, and break the fast and ritually bathe to remove their sins on the final day.
Indra Jaatra A wild week of chariot processions and masked-dance performances in Kathmandu, held around the full moon of Bhadau. On the last day, which is also known as Kumari Jaatra, beer flows from the mouth of an idol in Durbar Square. For more information, see Indra Jaatra: eight days of pomp and partying.
Yartung A swashbuckling fair held at Muktinath, in the Annapurna trekking region, centred around the full-moon day and featuring horse racing, dancing, drinking and gambling.
Dasain (or Dashera) Although Hindu in origin, Nepal’s longest and greatest festival is enthusiastically embraced by members of almost all religious and ethnic groups. It stretches over fifteen days, from the new moon to the full moon of Asoj, with the liveliest action taking place on the seventh, ninth and tenth days. Normally falling just after the summer rice harvest is in, Dasain is a time for families to gather (buses get extremely crowded with homeward-bound passengers), children to be indulged (with kites, makeshift swings and miniature ferris wheels), and animals to be sacrificed (roads and markets all over the country are filled with doomed goats). On the first day, known as Ghatasthapana, people plant jamura (barley) in a kalash (sanctified vessel), representing Durga, Dasain’s honoured goddess; the seedlings will be picked and worn in the hair on the tenth day. Devotees congregate at local goddess temples throughout the next nine nights. A separate festival, Panchali Bhairab Jaatra, features late-night processions between the Bhairab’s shrine and the Kumari Ghar in Kathmandu, and coincides with the fourth and fifth days of Dasain. On the seventh day, Fulpati, a bouquet of sacred flowers (fulpati) is carried in a procession from Rani Pokhari to the Hanuman Dhoka Palace in Kathmandu. The ninth day, Navami, begins at midnight with tantric buffalo sacrifices inside the forbidden Taleju (a form of Durga) temples of the Kathmandu Valley; throughout the day, animals are ritually beheaded publicly in the Kot Courtyard near Kathmandu’s Durbar Square and in every village and city of Nepal; their blood is sprinkled on tools, vehicles and even aircraft to impart Durga’s shakti (power). These rituals commemorate Durga’s slaying of the demon Mahisasur, and more generally, the triumph of good over evil. Bijaya Dasami, the “Victorious Tenth Day”, celebrates Ram’s victory over the demon Ravana – with Durga’s help. Various processions and masked dance troupes ply the streets and families visit their elders to receive blessings and tika.
Tihaar (Diwali near India) Lasting for five days, starting two days before the new moon, the “Festival of Lights” is associated with Yamraj, the god of death, and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune. On the first day, Nepalis set out food on leaf plates for crows, regarded as Yamraj’s messengers; on the second, they honour dogs as Yamraj’s gatekeepers, giving them tika, flower garlands and special foods; and on the third they garland cows both as the symbol of Lakshmi and as the soul’s guide to Yamarj’s underworld. The festival’s most picturesque event, Lakshmi Puja, comes on the evening of the third day, when families throughout Nepal ring their homes with oil lamps, candles or electric lights to guide Lakshmi to their homes so she can bless them with prosperity for the year. Trusting in her, many Nepalis gamble on street corners, and student groups make the rounds singing “Diusire”, a form of musical fundraising. Firecrackers have also become a big part of the fun for kids. To Newars, the fourth day is known as Mha Puja (“Self-Worship”), an occasion for private rituals, and also their New Year’s Day, marked by banners, well-wishing and motorcycle parades in the Kathmandu Valley’s three main cities. On the fifth day, Bhaai Tika, sisters recall the myth of Jamuna, who tricked Yamraj into postponing her brother’s death indefinitely, by blessing their younger brothers and giving them flower garlands, tika and sweetmeats.
Chhath Coinciding with the third day of Tihaar, this festival honours Surya, the sun god, and is one of the most important for the Maithili-speaking people of the eastern Terai. Chhath is celebrated most ardently in Janakpur, where women gather by ponds and rivers to greet the sun’s first rays with prayers, offerings and ritual baths.
Mani Rimdu Held at Tengboche and Chiwong monasteries in the Everest region around the full moon of the ninth Tibetan month (usually Oct/Nov), this colourful Sherpa masked dance dramatizes Buddhism’s victory over the ancient Bon religion in eighth-century Tibet. A similar event is held in May or June at Thami.
Ram-Sita Biwaha Panchami As many as 100,000 pilgrims converge on Janakpur for this five-day gathering, beginning on the new moon of Mangsir. The highlight is the re-enactment of the wedding of Ram and Sita, the divine, star-crossed lovers of the Ramayana, one of the great Hindu epics. Janakpur’s stature as a holy city rests on its having been the location of the original wedding.
Nepali music is inseparable from dance, especially at festivals. Nepali dance is an unaffected folk art – neither wildly athletic nor subtle, it depicts everyday activities such as work and courtship. Each region and ethnic group has its own traditions, and during your travels you should get a chance to join a local hoedown or two, if not a full-blown festival extravaganza. Look out, too, for the stick dance of the lowland Tharus, performed regularly at lodges around Chitwan National Park. Staged culture shows in Kathmandu and Pokhara are a long way from the real thing, but they do provide a taste of folk and religious dances. Most troupes perform such standards as the dance of the jhankri (shaman-exorcists still consulted by many hill-dwelling Nepalis); the sleeve-twirling dance of the Sherpas; the flirting dance of the hill-dwelling Tamangs; perhaps a formal priestly dance, to the accompaniment of a classical raga (musical piece); and at least one of the dances of the Kathmandu Valley’s Newars.
Folk music (git lok) is an important aspect of life in Nepal, particularly during festivals and holidays. The maadal double-ended drum plays a focal role, often accompanied by the harmonium, murali (bamboo piccolo) or bansuri (flute). A group member will strike up a familiar verse, and everyone joins in on the chorus.
Folk music traditions vary among the country’s many ethnic groups, but the true sound of Nepal can be said to be the soft, melodic and complex music of the hills. Jhyaure, the maadal-based music of the western hills, is the most popular. Selo, the music of the Tamangs, has also been adopted by many other communities. Meanwhile, the music of the Jyapu (Newari farmers) has a lively rhythm, though the singing has a nasal quality.
The improvised, flirtatiously duelling duets known as dohori, traditionally performed by young men and women of the hill tribes, have become the soundtrack of modern Nepal. You’ll hear them on personal radios, mobile ringtones and bus music systems, as well as in the dedicated rodi ghars (nightlife restaurants), and will soon come to recognize the repetitive back-and-forth, him-then-her structure, with wailing flutes and unison choruses punctuating each verse.
While folk music is by definition an amateur pursuit, there are two traditional castes of professional musicians: wandering minstrels (gaaine or gandarbha) who play the sarangi (a four-stringed fiddle), and damai, members of the tailor caste who serve as wedding musicians.