Nestled away in the lap of the Himalayas, Nepal is home to eight of the world’s tallest mountains - including Mount Everest - the world's highest peak. Officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, it is a landlocked country, covering an area of 147,181 sq kms including water area of the country that is 3,830 sq. km. Bordered by India to the South, East and West and China to the North, it is precisely located in South Asia. Kathmandu is the nation's capital and largest city. Nepal is a multi-ethnic nation with Nepali as the official language.
The name "Nepal" is first recorded in texts from the Vedic period of the Indian subcontinent, the era in ancient India when Hinduism was founded, the predominant religion of the country. In the middle of the first millennium BCE, Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal. By the 18th century, the Gorkha Kingdom achieved the unification of Nepal. The Shah dynasty established the Kingdom of Nepal and later formed an alliance with the British Empire, under its Rajput Rana dynasty of premiers. The country was never colonized but served as a buffer state between Imperial China and British India. Parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1951, but was twice suspended by Nepalese monarchs, in 1960 and 2005. The Nepalese Civil War in the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the proclamation of a secular republic in 2008, ending the world's last Hindu monarchy. The Constitution of Nepal, adopted in 2015, establishes Nepal as a federal secular parliamentary republic divided into seven provinces. Nepal was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, and friendship treaties were signed with India in 1950 and the People's Republic of China in 1960. Nepal hosts the permanent secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which it is a founding member. Nepal is also a member of the Non Aligned Movement and the Bay of Bengal Initiative. The military of Nepal is the fifth largest in South Asia; it is notable for its Gurkha history, particularly during the world wars, and has been a significant contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations.
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.
The geographical coordinates are 28°00′N 84°00′E. Nepal falls in the temperate zone north of the Tropic of Cancer.Nepal’s ecological zones run east to west about 800 km along its Himalayan axis, 150 to 250 km north to south, and is vertically intersected by the river systems. The country can be divided into three main geographical regions: Himalayan region, mid hill region and Terai region. The highest point in the country is Mt. Everest (8,848 m) while the lowest point is in the Terai plains of Kechana Kalan in Jhapa (60 m).
Climatic conditions of Nepal vary from one place to another in accordance with their geographical features. In the north summers are cool and winters severe, while in the south summers are tropical and winters are mild. Nepal has five seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, autumn and winter. Good to know is that on average temperatures drop 6°C for every 1,000 m you gain in altitude. The Himalayas act as a barrier to the cold winds blowing from Central Asia in winter, and forms the northern boundary of the monsoon wind patterns. Eighty percent of all the rain in Nepal is received during the monsoon (June-September). Winter rains are more pronounced in the western hills. The average annual rainfall is 1,600 mm, but it varies by eco-climatic zones, such as 3,345 mm in Pokhara and below 300 mm in Mustang.
There is no seasonal constraint on traveling in and through Nepal. Even in December and January, when winter is at its severest, there are compensating bright sun and brilliant views. As with most of the trekking areas in Nepal, the best time to visit are during spring and autumn. Spring is the time for rhododendrons while the clearest skies are found after the monsoon in October and November. However, Nepal can be visited the whole year round.
Of the total number of species found globally, Nepal possesses 2.80 percent plants. Record from 2006 shows that Nepal has 6,391 flowering plant species, representing 1,590 genera and 231 families. Nepal’s share of flowering plant species is 2.76 percent of the global total compared to earlier records of 2.36 percent. Nepal’s share of pteriodophytes is 5.15 percent compared to earlier records of 4.45 percent. There are 2,532 species of vascular plants represented by 1,034 genera and 199 families in the protected sites. Some 130 endemic species are found in the protected sites. There are 399 endemic flowering plants in Nepal of which about 63 percent are from the high mountains, 38 percent from the mid hills, and only 5 percent from the Terai and Siwaliks. Nepal is endowed with an incredible variety of orchids scattered across the country. Dedrobium is the largest species, followed by Habenaria and Bulbophyllum. Anthogonium, Hemipilia and Lusia are some of the other varieties amongst the nearly two dozen single species families.
Of the total number of species found globally, 3.96 percent mammals, 3.72 percent butterflies and 8.9 percent of birds. Wildlife of Nepal is officially classified into two main categories: common and protected. The common category lists such species as common leopard, spotted deer, Himalayan tahr, blue sheep and others. These species are commonly seen in the wild. The protected species include 26 mammals, nine birds and three reptiles. These rare animals are confined to their prime habitats. Nepal has 185 species of mammals found in various parts of the country. Found in Nepal’s dense Terai jungles are exotic animals like the Asiatic elephant, the one-horned rhinoceros, the Royal Bengal tiger among others. Nepal even has its own variety of dolphins found in the fresh waters of Narayani and Karnali rivers. The Himalayan region is also home to the elusive snow leopard and the red panda. Nepal has two indigenous species of crocodile: the fish eating gharial with the long narrow snout and the marsh mugger which is omnivorous, eating anything it can catch. Nepal has more than 850 recorded species of birds. Amazingly, half of these birds can be seen in and around the Kathmandu valley alone. National parks like Chitwan and Bardia harbor a wide variety of birds too. In Chitwan, endangered vultures are being protected from contaminated food by establishing “Vulture Restaurant” which feeds them safe carcasses. The Koshi Tappu region is home to a large species of resident and migratory birds. It has about 26 varieties of ducks alone. Nepal’s national bird, the Danphe or impeyen pheasant, is also found in the Himalayan region. A rare bird known as jerdon’s baza was sighted in Nepal.
The population of Nepal was recorded to be about 26.62 million according to a recent survey done by the Central Bureau of Statistics, Nepal. The population comprises of about a 101 ethnic groups speaking over 92 languages. The distinction in caste and ethnicity is understood more easily with a view of customary layout of the population.Though, there exist numerous dialects, the language of unification is the national language, Nepali. Nepali is the official language of the state, spoken and understood by majority of the population. Multiple ethnic groups have their own mother tongues. English is spoken by many in Government and business offices. It is the mode of education in most private schools of Kathmandu and some other cities.
Customs and traditions differ from one part of Nepal to another. A conglomeration lies in capital city Kathmandu where cultures are blending to form a national identity. A prominent factor in a Nepali’s everyday life is religion. Nepal was declared a secular country by the Parliament on May 18, 2006. Religions practiced in Nepal are: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism, Bon, ancestor worship and animism. The majority of Nepalis are either Hindus or Buddhism. The two have co-existed in harmony through centuries. Buddha is widely worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus of Nepal. The five Dhyani Buddhas; Vairochana, Akshobhaya, Rathasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, represent the five basic elements: earth, fire, water, air and ether. Buddhist philosophy conceives these deities to be the manifestations of Sunya or absolute void. Hindu Nepalis worship the ancient Vedic gods. Bramha the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, are worshipped as the Supreme Hindu Trinity. People pray to the Shiva Linga or the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva in most Shiva temples. Shakti, the dynamic element in the female counterpart of Shiva, is highly revered and feared. Other popular deities are Ganesh for luck, Saraswati for knowledge, Lakshmi for wealth and Hanuman for protection. Krishna, believed to be the human incarnation of Lord Vishnu is also worshipped widely. Hindu holy scripts Bhagawat Gita, Ramayan and Mahabharat are widely read in Nepal. Vedas, Upanishads and other holy scriptures are read by well learned Brahmin Pundits during special occasions.
The diversity in Nepal in terms of ethnicity again makes room for various sets of customs. Most of these customs go back to the Hindu, Buddhist or other religious traditions. Among them, the rules of marriage are particularly interesting. Traditional marriages call for deals arranged by parents after the boy or girl come of age. Nepalis do not eat beef. There are several reasons for this, one being that the Hindus worship cow. Cow is also the national animal of Nepal. Another interesting concept among Nepalis is division of pure and impure. “Jutho” referring to food or material touched by another’s mouth directly or indirectly, is considered impure by Nepalis. Nepalis consider cow dung to be pure for cleansing purposes. Nepal is a patriarchal society. Men usually go out to work while women are homemakers. However, in cities, roles can differ. Most Nepalis abide by the caste system in living habits and marriage. Rural Nepal is mostly agrarian, while some aspects of urban life carry glitz and glamour of the ultra-modern world.
Nepal does not have a distinct cooking style. However, food habits differ depending on the region. Nepali food has been influenced by Indian and Tibetan styles of cooking. Authentic Nepali taste is found in Newari and Thakai cuisines. Most Nepalis do not use cutlery but eat with their right hand.The regular Nepali meal is dal (lentil soup), bhat (boiled rice) and tarkari (curried vegetables), often accompanied by achar (pickle). Curried meat is very popular, but is saved for special occasions, as it is relatively more expensive. Momos (steamed or fried dumplings) deserve a mention as one of the most popular snack among Nepalis. Rotis (flat bread) and dhedo (boiled flour) also make meals in some homes..
Tourism is the largest industry in Nepal and its largest source of foreign exchange and revenue. Possessing eight of the ten highest mountains in the world, Nepal is a hot spot destination for mountaineers, rock climbers and people seeking adventure. The Hindu and Buddhist heritage of Nepal and its cool weather are also strong attractions. The beautiful mountain nation has much to allure the tourists. Katmandu, the capital city has many Buddhist Temples, shrouded in mystic aura. The ornate royal palaces and temples that are built in traditional pagoda style function as open administrative centres, thus, allowing tourists to explore their elegance. From the soaring heights of the mountain peaks to its spiritual grandeur, Nepal has something for everyone. While Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha will not fail to swathe your senses in pure divinity, the Annapurna range will provide for an ultimate adrenalin rush. This breathtaking conservation area provides professional climbers and enthusiasts with an amazing opportunity to hike up to the gorgeous peaks. Another adventurous attraction is the Pokhra trekking tour that takes 25 days of travel. Famous for its stunning lakes and snowy mountain peaks, Pokhra is the third largest city of Nepal. Nagarkot, another popular attraction is famous for its panoramic views of the Eastern Himalayas. Glistering Himalayan peaks like the Everest, Manaslu, Ganesh Himal, Langan, Choba Bhamre and Gaurisankar can be spotted from Nagarkot.