Kathmandu: New Year celebrations began with gusto in Nepal on Thursday, two days ahead of the rest of the world, as the Gurung community ushered in the new Year of the Cat, as per their cultural tradition.
The Gurungs, a mountain people who migrated from Tibet in the sixth century, account for less than one percent of Nepal`s 28 million population but form a sizeable portion of the Nepali and British Armies and their New Year celebrations are held in Nepal as well as in Britain, Hong Kong and other parts of the world where the Diaspora is now scattered.
In India, festivities are being held in West Bengal, especially in Darjeeling, and Sikkim, as well as neighbouring Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan.
A land of astonishing cultural diversity, Nepal will continue to celebrate new years throughout 2011 with different ethnic communities ushering in their own new years in different months.
In mid-January, the Tamangs, another community with Tibetan roots, will celebrate their ethnic year 2087, while in February, it will be the turn of Tibetans to observe their new year Lhosar.
Come April and spring, and Nepal will embark on the traditional Nepali year in accordance with the Vikram Sambat calendar started by Hindu emperor Vikramaditya, that is also followed in parts of India. In 2011 April, Nepal will be celebrating beginning of Vikramaditya Sambat 2068.
Six months later, it will be the turn of the Newar community, the original residents of Kathmandu Valley, to welcome the new Newari year in accordance with the Nepal Sambat, a calendar founded by Sankhadhar Sakhwaa, an alchemist who became a national hero after paying off the debts of the entire Kathmandu Valley by transmuting sand from river banks into gold.
Then as 2011 nears its end around December, the Kirat community, people living in eastern Nepal, will rejoice at the start of the Kirat new year following the Yele Sambat, the calendar named after their first king Yelamber Hang.
While men, women and children on Thursday began gathering in a colourful procession at Tundikhel, the public grounds in the heart of Kathmandu, the government also kicked off its tourism campaign for 2011 with a motorcycle rally from Kathmandu to Nagarkot town.
In 2011, Nepal aims to draw one million foreign tourists.
But despite the innovative campaigns, like the first beauty pageant in the world for elephants, the effort has been marred due to a protracted political turmoil.
Six months after Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned, the political parties have failed to elect a new government and the opposition Maoists, former guerrillas, have warned of a new civil war if the UN agency monitoring their fighters exited Nepal from January 15.
There are also mounting corruption allegations in connivance with top political leaders and as the icing on the cake, the government began imposing an 11-hour daily power outage from Wednesday.