Nepal

Nepal, officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is a landlocked country in South Asia. It is located mainly in the Himalayas, but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain.

Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and largest city.

The Himalayan branch of the ancient Silk Road was dominated by the valley’s traders.

Nepal is popular for mountaineering, having some of the highest and most challenging mountains in the world, including Mount Everest. Technically, the southeast ridge on the Nepali side of the mountain is easier to climb, so most climbers prefer to trek to Everest through Nepal.

Administrative Division

Nepal is divided into 7 provinces and 77 districts.

As Nepal is one of the developing countries, its cities, like other aspects, are growing. More than 20% of the population live in urban areas.

The capital, Kathmandu, is the largest city and is called the “City of Temples” for its numerous temples of Hindu and Buddhist gods and goddess.

One of the oldest cities of South Asia, Katmandu has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, palaces and historically important sites such as Singha Durbar.

The other large cities of Nepal are Pokhara, Biratnagar, Lalitpur, Bharatpur, Birgunj, Dharan, Hetauda and Nepalgunj.

Geography

It borders China in the north and India in the south, east, and west while Bangladesh is located within only 27 km of its southeastern tip and Bhutan is separated from it by the Indian state of Sikkim.

Nepal has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth.

Nepal is of roughly trapezoidal shape, 800 kilometres long and 200 kilometres wide, with an area of 147,181 square km.

Nepal is commonly divided into three physiographic areas: Himal, Pahad and Terai.

The southern lowland plains or Terai bordering India are part of the northern rim of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Terai is a lowland region containing some hill ranges.

The plains were formed and are fed by three major Himalayan rivers: the Kosi, the Narayani, and the Karnali as well as smaller rivers rising below the permanent snowline.

This region has a subtropical to tropical climate. The outermost range of foothills called Sivalik Hills or Churia Range, cresting at 700 to 1,000 metres, marks the limit of the Gangetic Plain. However broad, low valleys called Inner Tarai Valleys (Bhitri Tarai Uptyaka) lie north of these foothills in several places.

Pahad is a mountain region that does not generally contain snow. The mountains vary from 800 to 4,000 metres in altitude with progression from subtropical climates below 1,200 metres to alpine climates above 3,600 metres.

The Lower Himalayan Range, reaching 1,500 to 3,000 metres, is the southern limit of this region, with subtropical river valleys and “hills” alternating to the north of this range. Population density is high in valleys but notably less above 2,000 metres and very low above 2,500 metres, where snow occasionally falls in winter.

Himal is the mountain region containing snow and situated in the Great Himalayan Range; it makes up the northern part of Nepal.

It contains the highest elevations in the world including 8848 metres height Mount Everest (Sagarmāthā in Nepali) on the border with China.

Seven other of the world’s “eight-thousanders” are in Nepal or on its border with China: Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Kangchenjunga, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu.

The collision between the Indian subcontinent and Eurasia, which started in the Paleogene period and continues today, produced the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau.

Nepal lies completely within this collision zone, occupying the central sector of the Himalayan arc, nearly one third of the 2,400 km..

The Indian plate continues to move north relative to Asia at about 50 mm per year. This is about twice the speed at which human fingernails grow, which is very fast given the size of the blocks of Earth’s crust involved. As the strong Indian continental crust subducts beneath the relatively weak Tibetan crust, it pushes up the Himalayan Mountains. This collision zone has accommodated huge amounts of crustal shortening as the rock sequences slide one over another.

Based on a study published in 2014, of the Main Frontal Thrust, on average a great earthquake occurs every 750 ± 140 and 870 ± 350 years in the east Nepal region.

A study from 2015 found a 700-year delay between earthquakes in the region. The study also suggests that because of tectonic stress transfer, the earthquake from 1934 in Nepal and the 2015 earthquake are connected – following a historic earthquake pattern.

Erosion of the Himalayas is a very important source of sediment, which flows to the Indian Ocean via several great rivers: the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra River systems.

Environment

The dramatic differences in elevation found in Nepal result in a variety of biomes, from tropical savannas along the Indian border, to subtropical broadleaf and coniferous forests in the Hill Region, to temperate broadleaf and coniferous forests on the slopes of the Himalaya, to montane grasslands and shrublands and rock and ice at the highest elevations.

At the lowest elevations is the Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands ecoregion. These form a mosaic with the Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests, which occur from 500 to 1000 metres and include the Inner Terai Valleys. Himalayan subtropical pine forests occur between 1000 and 2000 metres.

Above these elevations, the biogeography of Nepal is generally divided from east to west by the Gandaki River. Ecoregions to the east tend to receive more precipitation and to be more species-rich. Those to the west are drier with fewer species.

From 1500 to 3000 metres, are temperate broadleaf forests: the eastern and western Himalayan broadleaf forests. From 3000 to 4000 metres are the eastern and western Himalayan subalpine conifer forests. To 5500 metres are the eastern and western Himalayan alpine shrub and meadows.

Demographics & Language

With an estimated population of 26.4 million, it is 48th largest country by population and 93rd largest country by area.

According to the 2011 census, Nepal’s population grew from 9 million people in 1950 to 26.5 million.

The citizens of Nepal are known as Nepali or Nepalese. The country is home to people of many different national origins. As a result, Nepalese do not equate their nationality with ethnicity, but with citizenship and allegiance.

Nepal is multicultural and multiethnic country because it became a country by occupying several small kingdoms such as Mustang, Videha (Mithila), Madhesh, and Limbuwan in the 18th century.

The oldest settlements in Mithila and Tharuhat are Maithil.

Northern Nepal is historically inhabited by Kirants Mongoloid, Rai and Limbu people.

The mountainous region is sparsely populated above 3000 m, but in central and western Nepal ethnic Sherpa and Lamapeople inhabit even higher semi-arid valleys north of the Himalaya.

The Nepali speaking Khas people mostly inhabit central and southern regions.

Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation’s area but is the most densely populated, with almost 5 percent of the nation’s population.

The Nepali are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and North Burma and the Chinese province of Yunnan via Assam. Among the earliest inhabitants were the Kirat of east mid-region, Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, aboriginal Tharus of Tharuhat.

Languages

Nepal is a multiethnic nation with Nepali as the official language.

Nepal’s diverse linguistic heritage stems from three major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, and various indigenous language isolates.

The major languages of Nepal according to the 2011 census are:

  • Nepali (44.6%)
  • Maithili (11.7%)
  • Bhojpuri (6.0%)
  • Tharu (5.8%)
  • Tamang (5.1%)
  • Nepal Bhasa (3.2%)
  • Bajjika (3%)
  • Magar (3.0%)
  • Doteli (3.0%)
  • Urdu (2.6%)
  • Awadhi (1.89%)
  • Sunwar

Nepal is home to at least four indigenous sign languages.

Derived from Sanskrit, Nepali is written in Devanagari script.

Nepali is the official language and serves as lingua franca among Nepali of different ethnolinguistic groups.

The regional languages Maithili, Awadhi, Bhojpuri and rarely Urdu of Nepali Muslims are spoken in the southern Madhesh region.

Many Nepali in government and business speak Maithili as the main language and Nepali as their de facto lingua franca.

Varieties of Tibetan are spoken in and north of the higher Himalaya where standard literary Tibetan is widely understood by those with religious education.

Local dialects in the Terai and hills are mostly unwritten with efforts underway to develop systems for writing many in Devanagari or the Roman alphabet.

Origin of the name & National Symbols

Local legends have it that a Hindu sage named “Ne” established himself in the valley of Kathmandu in prehistoric times, and that the word “Nepal” came into existence as the place was protected (“pala” in Pali) by the sage “Nemi”.

It is mentioned in Vedic texts that this region was called Nepal centuries ago.

According to the Skanda Purana, a rishi called “Nemi” used to live in the Himalayas. In the Pashupati Purana, he is mentioned as a saint and a protector. He is said to have practiced meditation at the Bagmati and Kesavati rivers and to have taught there.

The name of the country is also identical in origin to the name of the Newar people. The terms “Nepāl”, “Newār”, “Newāl” and “Nepār” are phonetically different forms of the same word, and instances of the various forms appear in texts in different times in history. Nepal is the learned Sanskrit form and Newar is the colloquial Prakrit form.

A Sanskrit inscription dated 512 CE found in Tistung, a valley to the west of Kathmandu, contains the phrase “greetings to the Nepals” indicating that the term “Nepal” was used to refer to both the country and the people.

It has been suggested that “Nepal” may be a Sanskritization of “Newar”, or “Newar” may be a later form of “Nepal”. According to another explanation, the words “Newar” and “Newari” are vulgarisms arising from the mutation of P to V, and L to R.

History & Timeline

Ancient

Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least eleven thousand years.

Nepal is first mentioned in the late Vedic Atharvaveda Pariśiṣṭa as a place exporting blankets, and in the post-Vedic Atharvashirsha Upanishad.

In Samudragupta’s Allahabad Pillar it is mentioned as a border country.

The Skanda Purana has a separate chapter, known as “Nepal Mahatmya”, with more details.

Nepal is also mentioned in Hindu texts such as the Narayana Puja.

Legends and ancient texts that mention the region now known as Nepal reach back to the 30th century BC. The Gopal Bansa were likely one of the earliest inhabitants of Kathmandu valley.

The earliest rulers of Nepal were the Kiratas (Kirata Kingdom), peoples often mentioned in Hindu texts, who ruled Nepal for many centuries. Various sources mention up to 32 Kirati kings.

Around 500 BCE, small kingdoms and confederations of clans arose in the southern regions of Nepal. From one of these, the Shakya polity, arose a prince who later renounced his status to lead an ascetic life, founded Buddhism, and came to be known as Gautama Buddha (traditionally dated 563–483 BCE).

By 250 BCE, the southern regions had come under the influence of the Maurya Empire of North India and later became a vassal state under the Gupta Empire in the 4th century CE.

There is a quite detailed description of the kingdom of Nepal in the account of the renowned Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk Xuanzang, dating from about 645 CE. Stone inscriptions in the Kathmandu Valley are important sources for the history of Nepal.

The kings of the Lichhavi dynasty have been found to have ruled Nepal after the Kirat monarchical dynasty. The context that “Suryavansi Kshetriyas had established a new regime by defeating the Kirats” can be found in some genealogies and Puranas.

It is not clear yet when the Lichhavi dynasty was established in Nepal. According to the opinion of Baburam Acharya, the prominent historian of Nepal, Lichhavies established their independent rule by abolishing the Kirati state that prevailed in Nepal around 250 CE.

The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late 8th century, and was followed by a Newar or Thakuri era. Thakuri kings ruled over the country up to the middle of the 12th century CE; King Raghav Dev is said to have founded the ruling dynasty in October 869 CE. King Raghav Dev also started the Nepal Sambat.

Medieval

In the early 12th century, leaders emerged in far western Nepal whose names ended with the Sanskrit suffix malla (“wrestler”). These kings consolidated their power and ruled over the next 200 years, until the kingdom splintered into two dozen petty states.

Another Malla dynasty beginning with Jayasthiti emerged in the Kathmandu valley in the late 14th century, and much of central Nepal again came under a unified rule.

In 1482, the realm was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.

Kingdom of Nepal (1768–2008)

In the mid-18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha king, set out to put together what would become present-day Nepal. He embarked on his mission by securing the neutrality of the bordering mountain kingdoms.

After several bloody battles and sieges, notably the Battle of Kirtipur, he managed to conquer the Kathmandu Valley in 1769.

The Gorkha control reached its height when the North Indian territories of the Kumaon and Garhwal Kingdoms in the west to Sikkim in the east came under Nepalese control.

A dispute with Tibet over the control of mountain passes and inner Tingri valleys of Tibet forced the Qing Emperor of China to start the Sino-Nepali War compelling the Nepali to retreat and pay heavy reparations to Peking.

Rivalry between the Kingdom of Nepal and the East India Company over the control of states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepali War (1815–16).

At first, the British underestimated the Nepali and were soundly defeated until committing more military resources than they had anticipated needing. Thus began the reputation of Gurkhas as fierce and ruthless soldiers.

The war ended in the Sugauli Treaty, under which Nepal ceded recently captured lands as well as the right to recruit soldiers. Madhesis, having supported the East India Company during the war, had their lands gifted to Nepal.

Factionalism inside the royal family led to a period of instability. In 1846, a plot was discovered revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Kunwar, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country.

Jung Bahadur Kunwar emerged victorious and founded the Rana dynasty, later known as Jung Bahadur Rana. The king was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted them during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (and later in both World Wars).

Some parts of the Terai region populated with non-Nepali peoples were gifted to Nepal by the British as a friendly gesture because of her military help to sustain British control in India during the rebellion.

In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship that superseded the Sugauli Treaty of 1816.

Legalized slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924.

In the late 1940s, newly emerging pro-democracy movements and political parties in Nepal were critical of the Rana autocracy. Meanwhile, with the invasion of Tibet by China in the 1950s, India sought to counterbalance the perceived military threat from its northern neighbour by taking pre-emptive steps to assert more influence in Nepal.

India sponsored both King Tribhuvan (ruled 1911–55) as Nepal’s new ruler in 1951 and a new government, mostly comprising the Nepali Congress, thus terminating Rana hegemony in the kingdom.

After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, King Mahendra (ruled 1955–72) scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a “partyless” Panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989, when the “Jan Andolan” (People’s Movement) forced King Birendra (ruled 1972–2001) to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament that took seat in May 1991.

In 1991–92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent, most of whom have been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal ever since.

In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal started a violent bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people’s republic. This led to the long Nepali Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths.

On 1 June 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace. King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family were killed.

The alleged perpetrator was Crown Prince Dipendra, who allegedly committed suicide (he died three days later) shortly thereafter.

This outburst was alleged to have been Dipendra’s response to his parents’ refusal to accept his choice of wife. Nevertheless, there is speculation and doubts among Nepali citizens about who was responsible.

Following the carnage, King Birendra’s brother Gyanendra inherited the throne. On 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement, but this initiative was unsuccessful because a stalemate had developed in which the Maoists were firmly entrenched in large expanses of countryside but could not yet dislodge the military from numerous towns and the largest cities.

In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate.

In response to the 2006 democracy movement, King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people.

On 24 April 2006 the dissolved House of Representatives was reinstated. Using its newly acquired sovereign authority, on 18 May 2006 the House of Representatives unanimously voted to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, ending its time-honoured official status as a Hindu Kingdom.

On 28 December 2007, a bill was passed in parliament to amend Article 159 of the constitution – replacing “Provisions regarding the King” by “Provisions of the Head of the State” – declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy. The bill came into force on 28 May 2008.

Republic of Nepal (2008–present)

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won the largest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly election held on 10 April 2008, and formed a coalition government, which included most of the parties in the CA.

The newly elected Assembly met in Kathmandu on 28 May 2008. At that point, it was declared that Nepal had become a secular and inclusive democratic republic, with the government announcing a three-day public holiday from 28–30 May. The king was thereafter given 15 days to vacate Narayanhity Palace so it could reopen as a public museum.

Nonetheless, political tensions and consequent power-sharing battles have continued in Nepal. In May 2009, the Maoist-led government was toppled and another coalition government with all major political parties barring the Maoists was formed.

In February 2011 the Madhav Kumar Nepal Government was toppled and Jhala Nath Khanal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) was made the Prime Minister.

In August 2011 the Jhala Nath Khanal Government was toppled and Baburam Bhattarai of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was made the Prime Minister.

In February 2014 Sushil Koirala was sworn in as the new prime minister of Nepal.

On 25 April 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. Two weeks later, on 12 May, another earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 hit Nepal, which left more than 8,500 people dead and about 21,000 injured.

In 20 September 2015, a new constitution, the “Constitution of Nepal 2015” (Nepali: नेपालको संविधान २०७२), was announced by President Ram Baran Yadav in the constituent assembly.

The constituent assembly was transformed into a legislative parliament by the then-chairman of that assembly. The new constitution of Nepal has changed Nepal practically into a federal democratic republic by making 7 unnamed provinces.

In October 2015, Bidhya Devi Bhandari was nominated as the first female president.

Tourism & What to do in Nepal

Nepal is popular for mountaineering, having some of the highest and most challenging mountains in the world, including Mount Everest. Technically, the southeast ridge on the Nepali side of the mountain is easier to climb, so most climbers prefer to trek to Everest through Nepal.

Traditions, Holidays & Festivals

Folklore is an integral part of Nepali society. Traditional stories are rooted in the reality of day-to-day life, tales of love, affection and battles as well as demons and ghosts and thus reflect local lifestyles, culture, and beliefs. Many Nepali folktales are enacted through the medium of dance and music.

Most houses in the rural lowlands of Nepal are made up of a tight bamboo framework and walls of a mud and cow-dung mix. These dwellings remain cool in summer and retain warmth in winter.

Houses in the hills are usually made of unbaked bricks with thatch or tile roofing. At high elevations construction changes to stone masonry and slate may be used on roofs.

Nepal’s flag is the only national flag in the world that is not rectangular in shape.

The constitution of Nepal contains instructions for a geometric construction of the flag. According to its official description, the red in the flag stands for victory in war or courage, and is also the colour of the rhododendron, the national flower of Nepal. Red also stands for aggression. The flag’s blue border signifies peace. The curved moon on the flag is a symbol of the peaceful and calm nature of Nepali, while the sun represents the aggressiveness of Nepali warriors.

Holidays and festivals

With 15 days a year, Nepal is the country that enjoys the least number of public holidays in the world.

The Nepali year begins in 1st of Baisakh in official Hindu Calendar of the country, the Bikram Sambat, which falls in mid-April and is divided into 12 months.

Saturday is the official weekly holiday.

Main annual holidays include the Martyr’s Day (18 February), and a mix of Hindu and Buddhist festivals such as Dashain in autumn, Tihar in mid-autumn and Chhath in late autumn.

During Swanti, the Newars perform the Mha Puja ceremony to celebrate New Year’s Day of the lunar calendar Nepal Sambat.

Being a Secular country Nepal has holiday on main festivals of minority religions in the nation too.

Gastronomy & Cuisine

The national cuisine of Nepal is Dhindo and Gundruk.

The staple Nepali meal is dal bhat. Dal is a lentil soup, and is served over bhat (boiled rice), with tarkari (curried vegetables) together with achar (pickles) or chutni (spicy condiment made from fresh ingredients). It consists of non-vegetarian as well as vegetarian items.

Mustard oil is a common cooking medium and a host of spices, including cumin, coriander, black pepper, sesame seeds, turmeric, garlic, ginger, methi (fenugreek), bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, chilies and mustard seeds are used in cooking.

Momo is a type of steamed dumpling with meat or vegetable fillings, and is a popular fast food in many regions of Nepal.

Transportation

Nepal remains isolated from the world’s major land, air and sea transport routes although, within the country, aviation is in a better state, with 47 airports, 11 of them with paved runways; flights are frequent and support a sizeable traffic.

The hilly and mountainous terrain in the northern two-thirds of the country has made the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and expensive.

In 2007 there were just over 10,142 km of paved roads, and 7,140 km of unpaved road, and one 59 km railway line in the south.

More than one-third of its people live at least a two hours walk from the nearest all-season road. Only recently all district headquarters (except for Simikot and Dunai) became reachable by road from Kathmandu.

In addition, around 60% of the road network and most rural roads are not operable during the rainy season.

The only practical seaport of entry for goods bound for Kathmandu is Kolkata in West Bengal state of India.

Internally, the poor state of development of the road system makes access to markets, schools, and health clinics a challenge.


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