Say “Nepal”, and most people will go, “That’s where Mount Everest is, right?” But Nepal is also the land of the brave Gurkha soldiers, the birthplace of Lord Buddha and home to the world’s greatest mountaineers, the Sherpas. However, for the visitor, it’s the astounding natural beauty and diversity of the countryside as well as the heart-warming friendliness of the Nepalese people that is endearing.
This small Himalayan nation, Nepal is endowed by nature with an unimaginable diversity in topography resulting in a wide range of flora and fauna. From the massive Himalayan region in the north to the sweltering sub-tropical jungles of the tarai (plains) in the south, it is home to 2% of all flowering plants in the world, 848 species of birds, 167 species of mammals, 500 species of butterfly families, 600 indigenous plant families and 319 exotic species of orchids.
Rising from a mere 70m above sea level in Kanchan Kalan, to 8,848m above sea level, the world’s highest point – the summit of Mount Everest, the altitude changes rapidly within 200 Km. This amazing diversity has given Nepal a widely varied ecosystem comprising thick sub-tropical jungles swarming with diverse wildlife, the mid-Himalayas with a pleasant climate to the great Himalayan peaks with alpine conditions. The Nepal Himalaya comprises frozen valleys, deep gorges, mysterious canyons, fast and furious rivers, rolling hills and cool, placid lakes.
Nepal has a population of 28 million people, who speak 70 different languages and belong to more than 40 different ethnic groups. This Himalayan nation is a colorful tapestry of vibrant cultures, ancient traditions, fascinating festivals and wonderful, unique art and architecture. Add to this, the warm hospitality of the ever-smiling Nepalese people. All these have made Nepal a living museum that visitors find irresistible and feel a need to come back for more.
Namaste and Welcome to Nepal!
History of Nepal
Ancient historical data tell us that the first rulers of Nepal, which then comprised the Kathmandu valley, were the Gopalas, followed by the Mahishapals, succeeded by the Kirants, the Licchavis, the Mallas and finally the Shah dynasty. Prithvi Narayan Shah launched his integration campaign and brought under his rule most of the independent principalities. His successors completed the task and Nepal finally became one nation under the Shah dynasty. Unfortunately for them, the Rana Prime Ministers then usurped power from the ruling family and ran the affairs of the country for 104 years from 1846 to 1951. The monarchs of Nepal became mere figureheads, while the Ranas enjoyed all the power, wealth, pomp and ceremony. The Shah dynasty was powerless, but retained the status of a royal family. The Ranas then closed the country to all foreigners except for the few who entered the kingdom on their invitation. Finally King Tribhuvan escaped to India with most of his family and the people revolted, leading to the ouster of the Rana regime. In 1951, the king flew back to Nepal to a warm welcome from the citizens and introduced democracy. Since then the borders of Nepal have been open and tourism was introduced to Nepal
King Mahendra who succeeded King Tribhuvan, abolished democracy, banned all political parties and introduced the Panchayat system. After the major party leaders were jailed, King Mahendra’s appointees ran the autocratic Panchayat government. A more lenient ruler, King Birendra ascended to the throne in 1975, succeeding his father, King Mahendra. But although popular with his subjects, the winds of change blowing over from Europe forced King Birendra to give in to demands for a democratic government in 1990. An elected government took charge of the state’s affairs with the king as a constitutional monarch and head of state. Then followed the infamous palace massacre of 2001, that did away with the entire ruling family leaving behind only the family of the king’s brother, Gyanendra Shah, who was then crowned king of Nepal. But King Gyanendra soon took over absolute power by removing the Prime Minister and appointing his own hand-picked ministers. However, this wasn’t to last long, as all political parties including the Maoists joined hands to rise up against him. King Gyanendra was forced to step down and stripped of all his powers. A coalition government has been in place ever since, with the Prime Minister and his ministers ruling the country and the king’s future yet to be decided.
Geography of Nepal:
Nepal shares a border with China in the north and India in the south, east and west and its total area is 147,181 square kilometers. The length of Nepal from east to west is 885 km while its breadth, north to south varies from 145-241km. The country is divided into three topographical regions on the basis of their altitudes: the High Himalaya, Lesser Himalaya and the Tarai (plains). And the country is further divided into seventy-five districts and five development zones.
The High Himalayan region of Nepal occupies 15% of the total area of the country and the altitude varies from 4,000m above sea level to 8,848m above sea level. This region embraces eight of the fourteen highest peaks in the world exceeding 8000m. These eight thousanders are Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho-oyo, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna. The climate is extremely cold and windy and the land is less fertile. Thus, cultivation is very poor in this region. However, this is a very popular tourist destination in Nepal, both for trekking and mountaineering.
Middle Hills & Lesser Himalaya
This is the largest region of Nepal occupying 68% of the country and encompasses much of the country’s huge population. This region has a temperate climate and the land is fertile compared to the High Himalayan region. The altitude ranges from the Mahabharat range at 4000m above sea level to the lower level of the Churia range. This region boasts some of the country’s popular tourist destinations such as Pokhara, Tansen, Khaptad and others including the nation’s capital, Kathmandu.
The Tarai occupies 17% of Nepal’s land, with its plains stretching from east to west in southern Nepal. The lowest point is 70m above sea level. The climate is sub-tropical and the land, very fertile. It consists of sub-tropical jungles, Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park, which are home to many endangered species of mammals including the One-horned Rhinoceros and the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger.