Long known as itinerant traders, The Manangi people, who live in six villages of upper Manang Valley in northwest Nepal, call themselves Nyeshang. There are many speculations as from where the name originated. According to local sources, a long time ago, invaders who came over the southern mountains harassed the people of the northen valley. A lama, through some device made it impossible for the invaders to cross the high mountain passes. At the same time, the people of the northern valley were unable to get out.
Today, upper Manang is also referred to as the Nyeshang Valley. Research also indicates that there was a place called “shyang” in Tibet a long time ago. And “Nye” in linguistic research means “us”. More proable, say history books, is that Nyeshang was a tributary area to Se-Rib, then a political entity encompassing many villages in the neighbouring Kali Gandaki valley south of Lo or Mustang. Yet again, others say, the Nyeshang might have migrated from Tegar in Tibet.
Over the Himalaya is the hidden valley. Surrounded by the 8,000 m-plus Annapurna range and the greatest peaks of Pisang and Chulu, the valley is wild and wonderful. Nomadic Tibeto-Burman people, moving across the mountains hunting and gathering food, found and settled the valley centuries ago. Today, the Mannagi people, with support from the late King Mahendra, have become prosperous traders, hoteliers and businessmen. Many have moved down from the harsh and beautiful valley in north central Nepal to Kathmandu.
The weather is dry and desert-like. The Annapurna range creates a rain shadow that stops the monsoon clouds from crossing over. The harsh climate ensured that the Manangi people never lost their nomadic roots. Horse-riding and archery were the most popular tools used by these people for gathering food and these abilities continue to remain important for the community and are celebrated each year with festivals. The settlers did put down some roots, though, and took up agriculture, cultivating buckwheat, maize and oats. These were herbs in the jungles, and sheep and yak could give milk and meat and help transport goods from beyond the valley. The settlements grew more sophisticated and so did the culture, festivals and architecture. Buddhist, Bonpo, and animistic traditions created tradition unique to Manang ot Nyeshang, as locals like to call it. And yet the people remained simple, hardworking and generous even in hardship. Along with the yak and sheep caravans, harsh days, tough journeys, tales of the Nyeshang people also crossed the Annapurna.
Greatly interested, King Mahendra came to the valley in the late 1950s and seing the hard life of the settlers, as well as their strength and determination, declared that the people of Manang need not pay the government duties if they wanted to import and export goods from Nepal. The people of Manang prospered, but as always such prosperity is a double\edged sword, threatening the traditional ways of communities.
However, unlike many culture of the Himalaya, the Nyeshang people realized the need to preserve their wayd and fiercely protected their traditions. Today, deep within the mountains, in the hidden valley of Manang, survives a unique Himalayan culture fueled by horse riding, archery, yak and sheep caravans, trading and many other things else that similar worlds having long stopped weaving into their day to day lives.
Upper Manang is mainly Buddhist. Chortens or Buddhist monuments can be seen in and around the area. Built by Buddhist lamas, people believe the chortens protect them against natural calamities.
In lower Manang district, the majority of inhabitants are “Gurung” who speak their own dialect. Nepali is widely spoken in this area. While the majority of inhabitants are Buddhists, Hindu festivals are laso widely celebrated.
In upper Manang, elderly people above 60 years of age do not participate much in social gatherings. They are more inclined towards visiting gumbas and offering prayers. There are many Buddhist gumbas in Manang district – Tare gumba in Khangsar, Pocho gumba in Manang, Braga gumba in Braga, Tansilka gumba in Nar-Phu, Tanki gumba in Tanki Manang, Ngawal gumba, Ghyaru gumba,Pisang gumba, Chame gumba, Bagar-chhap gumba, Thoche gumba. The lamas reside in these gumbas. They perform various rituals and ceremonies including death rites. According to tradition, if a person dies at the time of growing crops, the lama cuts the body into pieces and feed them to vultures called through the power of his “mantra”. This practice, however, has been gradually replaced by cremations. The practice of burying is not common in this area. However, in case of death due to fatal disease, the body is buried.
A purification ceremony called “gyawa” id performed within 49 days of the cremation for eternal peace of the departed soul and for a good rebirth. People believe that the departed soul will reach heaven after this ceremony. During “gyawa” 1000 lights have to be lit and 1000 balls of wheat flour have to be made. On the last day of the rituals, rice is distributed to every house in the village according to the family’s size. There is a belief that this act ensures that the departed soul will not have to stay hungry.
“Bon” religion is also prevalent in this district. People still worship nature. They believe that natural calamities can be averted by worshipping big stones, trees, the wing and storms.
MANANG CULTURE MUSEUM
Situate on the main street of Manang Village, near the Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA) and almost opposite the Safe Drinking Water Station, the museum is typical Nyeshang house. With assistance from the Government of New Zealand, it was constructed by the people of Manang in 2004, to celebrate the Badhe Festival and to share Nyeshang culture and customs with visitors.
The house is constructed in the traditional style and manner, using demolition materials and traditional furnishings donated by residents all over Manang District. The special feature is the fine collection of costumes and masks worn at Manang’s unique festivals.
You will see the cattle stall and farm implements, the kitchen, living and sleeping quarters and the prayer room that is focal to Nyeshang family and community life. Manang Museum is a ‘must see’ attraction.
Entrance to the Museum is inexpensive and profit goes to community projects.