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Culture Café: South Asia

Have you ever thought about visiting several countries only in a few hours? You know, there’s nothing impossible for us, so all your craziest dreams can become a reality. Our last Culture Café of this year was devoted to more than 2, and even more than 3 countries, it was dedicated to the whole region - South Asia. We have already made an acquaintance with some Asian countries and stayed really impressed by diversity of their traditions. Our international ESN students Bharatha Natyam, Priyanka Kumar, Mahrukh Bhur, Reza Habib, Vishmi Ranatunga, Sarita Lamsal and Hamisha Rizal prepared a very big presentation to widen our knowledge about this magical region, we’re truly thankful to them for making this adventurous trip for us.

Our first stop was enchanting India, and it was the biggest dream for every polyglot - we were discovering lush and branched language tree of India. Hindi and English are the two languages used by the central government, but there are also 22 officially recognized languages. Altogether, there are 122 major languages spoken by more than 10000 people. Besides that, 1599 languages have been identified, most of them are dialects, restricted to specific regions, many of them are on the verge of extinction. Due to such a wide variety of languages, people usually know 2 or more languages: Hindi, English and languages conforming their regional origin.

As a small tradition, we tried to learn some Indian words and phrases in order to facilitate our tourist life in this fascinating country. Instead of saying «hello», just greet someone with «namaste», it will be suitable for very formal party. «Kya haal hai?» will be good phrase for your conversation with your new Indian friends, it means «how are you?». If they respond «acchha», then there’s nothing to worry about because their life is good. If your vocabulary will completely run out, you can switch to English language  by pronouncing this long but very useful phrase: «Mujhe Hindi nahi aati. Kya aap angrezi bolte hai?». Then everyone will understand that you have some troubles with Hindi and need English translation. In the end of your dialogue you can say «dhanyawad», quite easy phrase, which can make Indian people smile of how thankful you are.

We continued our Culture Café exploring alluring Pakistan. Everybody knows how we are fond of learning different languages, that is why most of the presentations include brief description of country’s language. Pakistan isn’t an exception. Its national language is Urdu which along with English is also an official language. The number of individual languages listed for Pakistan is 74, all are living languages. Of these, 66 are indigenous and 8 are non-indigenous.

Now you are quite aware of its language! Let’s imagine you’re planning a trip to this exciting country with extremely beautiful landscapes and various kinds of wild animals. We highly recommend you to visit Hunza Valley, a mountainous valley in the extreme northern part of Pakistan. We haven’t been there, but only shown photos took our breath away. Another place to break your heart is second largest province by area – Punjab. Here you can visit the most popular sightseeing: the Sheesh Mahal, Minar-e Pakistan, Lahore fort. In addition, there is a nice place with a breathtaking view - Taxila, crucial archeological site of the ancient Indian subcontinent. Furthermore, one of Punjab cities is especially famous for its palaces - Bahawalpur. Another place of your Pakistan adventure is Quetta, the provincial capital and largest city of Balochistan. Here you can find lake Hanna with water of green and blue colors. Quetta is a city of national parks with rare species of animals. And if you’re not tired enough and still full of enthusiasm, the city Karachi is a real present for you! It’s known as «city of lights», the most populous city in Pakistan, industrial and financial center, cultural and political hub of the country. If you want to see Pakistan from different sides, then visit all these cities and their significant places and feel the atmosphere of the country.

The equator of our journey was Bangladesh. As you remember, only month ago we spoke about this wonderful country, but let’s refresh our memory and recall the most marvelous facts and stories about Bangladesh. It’s a South Asian country bordering with India and Myanmar. We talked a lot about different weather preferences, so if weather in your hometown is pretty cold and its permanent changeability has made you jaded, then we recommend you to visit Bangladesh in the period from October to March, as this time is characterized with the supremacy of tropical climate. If you’re rains lover, then the whole spring and June is the best time for you to feel hot humid days.

People’s Republic of Bangladesh is the most densely populated no island nation in the world! We still can’t believe it, as country’s territory not so big. Most of the population are Bangalies, and 2% of all the people are minorities. Last time we also mentioned historical and economical part, but we won’t go deeper now, it’s better remind you about colorful Bangladesh clothes. The dress preferences in Bangladesh are unique. Men casual wear in rural areas is the lungi with formal clothing being suits or shirts and trousers. On cultural and religious occasions, men have traditional wear called panjabi. Hindu religious people normally wear dhuti brought to the culture from the ancient Hindu ruler era. For women, the traditional and main dress is the sari with young females also wearing salwar kameez. If you want to fully immerse in exploring of Bangladesh, you can read our article about Culture Café committed to this splendid land.

We’re moving further, the next place where we stopped over was Sri Lanka. This is a country with extremely long history according to documents it spans 3000 years with evidence of pre-historic human settlements dating back to at least 125000 years. It has a rich cultural heritage and the first known Buddhist writings of Sri Lanka, the Pāli canon, date back to the Fourth Buddhist council in 29 BC. Its geographic location and deep harbors made it of great strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to the modern Maritime Silk Road. The island is a home to many cultures, languages and ethnicities. The majority of the population is from the Sinhalese ethnicity, the main religion followed by them is Buddhism.  

Sri Lanka people are very proud of their cultural heritage. For instance, they have a special celebration with many traditional local dancers such as fire-dancers, whip-dancers and various other cultural dancers. The Festival of the Tooth is a grand festival celebrated with elegant costumes and is held in July and August in Kandy, Sri Lanka. This historical procession is held to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha which is housed at the Sri Dalada Maligawain Kandy.

Now let’s light up some interesting facts about Sri Lanka. This is not the secret for anybody that tea is Sri Lanka’s main export. Next interesting fact must be not so known for you, but congratulations, after that moment you are familiar with the statement: «Colombo is Sri Lanka’s commercial capital». And we’re getting closer to the nature! Believe it or not, but one of the favorite Sri Lanka people hobbies is standing out the train while traveling in it. Very brave! And the last one, the most amusing, as we think, is catching the fish while chilling on the stilts. There is a special word for these people - stilt fishermen, they have a real superpower - multitasking. 

And our last country of this South Asian tour is Nepal. We started with basic introduction as discovering national flag, the only non-rectangular flag in the world, and national symbol. More than that, we learned about languages spoken in Nepal, and it may shock you, but there are total 123 spoken languages, including English as a second language. It’s multicultural country where live representatives of Hinduism, Buddhism, Kiratism, Islam and Christianity. As a result many festivals are on a religious basis, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. Let’s name the most popular and culturally important. Dashain is the 15-day-long festival and holidays of Nepal. It is the longest and the most auspicious festival in the Nepalese annual calendar celebrated by Nepalese Hindu people throughout the globe. Tihar is Nepal’s second most important festival after Dashain. In each of the three days, a different deity is worshipped: on the first day the crow, the messenger of Yama (the bringer of death); on the second, dogs which are believed to be Yama’s custodian; and on the third, the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped, the bringer of wealth. Lakshmi is worshipped by lighting houses with oil lamps, candles and colorful lights. And the most familiar to us is Holi festival. People smear colored powders on their friends, relatives and family members, and throw colored water and water balloons.

We are finishing our big trip with our favorite and the most delicious part - review on Nepal cuisine. You must be very hungry after our long adventure, so chicken curry is the thing you are looking for right now. What can be more nutritious than flavored chicken with species? If you want something more exotic, then you can try chataamari, kind of rice crepe. It is a traditional specialty of the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal and is eaten during festivals and other special occasions. Also, there is very traditional for Nepal cuisine dish called momo. It’s a type of South Asian dumpling with Indian spices and herb. Hope, you will try this exotic taste someday and get satisfaction!

 It’s hard to say goodbye after such a long way together! This Culture Café was special for us, it was last of the year, but still it was full of new bright emotions. We were glad to travel around South Asia with you. We are very thankful to every one of you who was always with us, who attended our Culture Cafés and explored this big world with us. It’s great pleasure! We’ve made good job this year, and it’s all because of you, this is all for you. We will continue to develop, to achieve new aims. Can’t wait to see you again in a new study year, we promise to have more unforgettable trips and memorable emotions!

Text: Svetlana Dzhafarova