Traditional agriculture, herding and trading livelihoods are the mainstay of Manang people, but tourism has expanded the market available to them and these are no longer the only subsistence activities. In lower Manang, the staple crops are wheat, barley and corn, supplemented by a wide variety of green vegetables and root crops. Two crops can be raised in a year at lower altitudes. In the higher altitudes, only one crop can be raised each year. Buckwheat is widely grown in addition to wheat and delicious small potatoes.
Hardy vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, kale, carrot, pumpkin, bean, pea, onion and garlic are also raised in kitchen garden. Animals are used throughout the District for milk and means of transportation. They are less important for meat in Buddhist communities where many people are vegetarians. Many households keep chicken, goat and sheep at both higher and lower altitudes. Yak graze in the pasture of the highlands in summer time, and are brought down to lower altitudes in the autumn.
Clothes and Attire: People of Upper Manang wear red and black woolen “Bakkhu” due to the cold climate. This dress is called “pwey hwey” in the local dialect. These woolen bakkhus are quite expensive. The local women knit these bakkhu with great effort. They also wear cotton bakkhu which are called “Kutcha hwey”. Women wear woolen trousers inside and wear thick pajamas, blouse and black or green bakkhu. Men also wear trousers, “docha” (a knee-length boots), and a belt with a dagger. They also wear leather fur caps. People show much respect towards their elders in this society. Men of lower Manang wear shirt and trousers. They wear red and black woolen ‘bakkhu’ and fur caps in the winter. Women wear blouse and “lungi”. Men of this society mainly do business and women keep busy with household work. Homes are clustered together in upper Manang. Firewood is stocked on the topmost floor. Livestock are kept on the ground floor during winter. People live on the middle floor. Grains are dried on the roof where old folks often bask in the sun.
The majority of people living in Manang are Ghales and Gurungs. Tibetan refugees have also settled in the area. Regarding marriage, an alliance between first cousins is preferred. Widows also marry after consulting the elders. However, the tradition patterns of marriage are disappearing. Nowadays, if a young boy and girl like each other, they marry with god as their witness. The boy’s family goes to the girl’s home to ask her hand in marriage. They make an offering of alcohol, khata (white ceremonial scarf) and ghee, 2 rupees and 50 paisa. If the girl’s family reject the proposal the first time, the boy’s family ask for her hand again. The girl’s parents may consult with close male relatives. If they decide to accept the proposal, they sit together and drink the alcohol. If the alcohol is not sufficient, they bring more alcohol from the boy’s house. After consuming the alcohol, the girl’s family fixes the wedding date. In case the girl’s parents do not like the boy, they may refuse the offerings made by the boy’s family. However, the boy’s family may seal the engagement by abducting the girl and placing some ghee on her head. If they are successful, the boy can claim her as his bride. In case the girl is abducted, the boy’s families come to offer alcohol, khata and money to the girl’s parents as a form of apology. In upper Manang, when the bride is brought to the groom’s house, the young people sing and dance on the roof and they throw “khatatasi” cown the chimney where the bride and groom are seated. Then the bride and groom wrap some money in the khata, which is pulled up by the group.
Illegitimate children are looked down upon in Nyeshang society. Such children are called “Ngilu” in the local dialect. In Nar-Phu villages, if a woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock and she cannot name the father of her child, she can be ostracized by the society. To avoid being ostracized, the woman has to perform an expensive purifying “puja” according to custom. However, changes have taken place regarding various customs.
In upper Manang, when a boy completes 15 years, he has to make balls of wheat and ghee and eat them. This signifies that the boy has reached manhood and can take part in social functions. Young girls collect wheat from which they brew local beer. The girls give the beer to the boys so the latter will protect them from being abducted and married to boys from other villages.
While Hindu festivals like Dashain and Tihar are celebrated in the lower reaches of Manang district, the various festivals celebrated in upper Manang are mainly Buddhist and largely reflect a Tibetan Influence.
Archery Festival, Chame VDC (Metha)
This festival may have originated during the time when Nepal was divided into numerous kingdoms like Baise-Chaubise kingdoms. The kings used to fight among themselves, so they might have come up with the idea of organizing this festival in order to win over their enemies. This festival is celebrated in the month of April or May and lasts for four days. In lower Manang, metha is also known as “Dhachang”.
Villagers from either side of the village gather at the designated place, Chame VDC and divided into two groups. The Management Committee collects money from both the groups. The archery competition is held under the supervision of the main Lama. The group who loses pay more money. A competition (garlands of Rhododendron flowers) is also held among the young girls of both the groups. A cash prize is awarded to the winner.
The last day of the festival is followed by a ritual dance by the lamas. After the performance, they attach two pictures of demons, male and female on the planks. These demons are considered as the enemy of the village and he who hits them is bestowed with the title “The hero of the year”. He is carried off to the village chief who presents him with money and a Khata (a white ceremonial scarf). At the end of the festival, a dance known as “shabru” is performed by the villagers. The main objective of this festival is to wipeout the evil spirit and demons so that the people will be prosperous, healthy and happy.
Horse Race Festival, Manang (Yarthung)
The Yarthung festival is celebrated in Manang village during the month of June/July before harvesting of the crops. It is celebrated in the six villages of upper Manang but on different days. It begins with horse riders and fans attired in traditional costumes gathering at a place called Ta-Khill-Thang for a session of dance and music.They then proceed to the racing grounds at Ta-Khill-Thang. After the races, the revellers visit Kargyu gumba and Pocho gumba to light butter lamps, dance and sing songs of good fortune. There will be two boys called “Nandi” (who have to take the responsibilityies for all the arrangements). It is especially celebrated for merriment, where the villagers take rest and participate.
Badhe festival, Manang
Olser Manangi vividly remember how villagers used to gather once every three years in the fall to celebrate Badhe, a Nyeshang oral tradition and intricate performing art. Basically a play, where mother earth is the stage, with courtyards and terraced fields forming the backdrop, Badhe is full of sound, color and intense drama, which tells a story of two warring brothers. The villagers play the various characters.
A decade ago, the Badhe tradition started to decline, as Manangis migrated to Kathmandu and took with them economic and cultural resources and due to the lack of local interest too. Badhe was revived in 2004, the costumes and finery were brought out from gumbas and households, and the people of Nyeshang came from far and wide to experience this ancient tradition. An offering of the tips of goat ears today symbolizes the sacrifice of 12 virgins – believed to have taken place in ancient times. This year it will take place again with much fanfare.
Torkya is celebrated right after Badhe, when the crops are brought home. It is celebrated in early November after harvesting of the crops in Ngawal village. Buddhist lamas inaugurate the festival by performing various rituals. They play different instruments, blow conch-shells, chant hymns, do puja and dance. Young boys and girls play games during the festival. The boys hold the horns of deer, yak and sheep in their hands and tease the girls. In the end, the lamas bless the villagers. The locals present the lamas with milk and “aara’ or alcohol.
The young people eat various delicacies and make merry. The word Torkya originated from Torma and Khyapa. Torma is the offering which is made out of dough and Khyapa means to discard. So basically this is a festival of prayer and offering made to all the Buddhas and deities. It is practiced mainly to get rid of the evil spirits and negative powers and to bring about prosperity and good times not only to the villages but to the entire living creature.
Dhuna Lake Festival, Dharapani VDC
Dhuna Lake also known as Manaslu lake at an altitude of 4,700m. Apart from Tilicho, Dhuna lake is also one of the highest lake in Manang. Due to its beauty, the lake is gaining popularity amongst visitors day by day. It takes 2 days to reach Dhuna Lake. The journey t5o this passes through dense forest of blue pine and very colorful Rhododendron.
Beside Dhuna Lake there are similar other beautiful lakes like Ngyamcho, Pongker and Himlung. Ngyamcho is a seasonal pond and despite being situated near the forests, no sign of leaves can be seen around the surroundings, as the birds are seen picking up the floating leaves from it. These lakes provide excellent habitat for much of the wildlife like deer, bear, different pheasants, red panda and gazing herds.
Note: The trail passing to these lakes goes through wilderness area and has no tourist facility. Visitors are suggested to hire experienced local guide and be self supportive. July/August and April/May are the appropriate months to visit Dhuna Lake.
Tilicho Lake Festival, Khangsar VDC
At nearly 5000m above sea level, Lake Tilicho situated high up in the scenic Manang Valley is the collected glacial melt of the entire northern slopes of Annapurna and Throng Peak. Tilicho is not a prohibited area but by virtue of its remoteness and altitude, few tourists take off the popular Annapurna circuit to hike up to the lake which lies within the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP).
Those that do make the trip, roughly a day and a half walk from Manang Village, are treated to a spectacular view of the icy ramparts of Annapurna and Tilicho Peak, carved by glaciers which plunge down to the lake itself. The shores of this idyllic, crystal clear lake, dotted with wild flowers in spring are ideal for camping. Trekkers, coming in from Manang village, usually spend a night at Khangsar, a small village on the way, before they make their way along the rugged and picturesque route to the base of the lake where there are a couple of lodges.
Access to Tilicho is also possible from Jomsom, in Mustang. The route from Jomsom consists of a rugged two-day trek, through misty meadows, rugged terrain and finally the Mesokontala Pass. At present a track is being planned to connect Mustang and Manang via the same way. Local Manangi herders rarely venture up to the lake, except sometimes to look for straying yak.
In 2001, Hindu pilgrims from around the world flocked to the lake convinced it is a holy spot mentioned in Ramayana. They were flown in by helicopter to listen to a Indian baba recite the seventh chapter of the Ramayan, a holy book of the Hindus. The pilgrims believe that this is the lake that is referred to in the Ramayan where the crow recited the Ramayana to Garuda and where Shiva found solace after the death of his consort Sati. The Tilicho Lake Pilgrimage tour 2001 say they cannot prove it scientifically, but they are convinced it is indeed the Kak Busundi sarovar mentioned in the Ramayan. The Ramayan gives some clues and says the lake is south of the Annapurna and north of the Nilgiris.
Another of Manang’s festivals, Dawa Dhukpa falls in June. Villagers gather in the village centre and young people carry “Dukchhe” (the holy book of Lord Buddha) to the beat of drums. The lamas also beat the drums, blow conch shells and circle the village throughout the day. Villagers believe the festival ensures a bountiful harvest.
There is a remarkable cave in Ngawal village called “Nen”. The Nei festival is celebrated n relation to the “Nen” cave. According to Bon religions, big trees and stones are worshipped. The “Nen” cave has also been worshipped since time immemorial. The length of the turret inside the cave has not been determined so far. The elderly people of Manang say a rooster put inside the turret will emerge in Muktinath in the neighboring district of Mustang. Many tourists come to visit the cave.
Ong the Puja
It was held in Kera Gumba Dorje, which is a religious site about two hours walk from Braga. People from the Braga take all the responsibilities for the whole arrangements. Buddhist lama inaugurate the festival by performing various rituals as they blow conch shells, chant hymns, do Puja as the lamas were fully engaged in religious ceremony reciting the religious books, praying and meditation inside the gumba where all of them do offerings and praying. All the villagers from different places visit during the Puja where lama bless the villagers and the most important part of the festival is to visit the hanging bow on the cliff which is said to be more than 500 years old and to participate in the program lots of drinking and dancing occurs during the last day while returning back home.