Himalayas is one of the world’s richest countries in terms of bio-diversity due to its unique geographical position and altitude variation, the elevation of the country ranges from 60 m above sea level to the highest point on earth, Mt. Everest at 8,848 m, all within a distance of 150 km resulting into climatic changes from Sub-tropical-alpine to Arctic.
Himalayas Nepal-occupying only 0.03% of the earth-is home to:
2 % of all the flowering plants in the world;
8 % of the world’s population of birds (more than 857 species);
4 % of mammals on earth;
11 of the world’s 15 families of butterflies (more than 500 species);
600 indigenous plant families; 319 species of exotic orchids
Nepal at a Glance:
Area : 147, 181 sq. km
Geography : Situated between China in the north and India in the South.
Capital : Kathmandu
Population : 23 Million
Language : Nepali is the national language. However travel-trade
people understand and speak English as Well.
Political System : Republic with Multi- Party Democracy.
Climate` : Nepal has four major seasons, namely,
(1) Spring (2) Summer: June to August,
(3) Autumn: September-November,
(4) Winter: December-February.
Nepal can be visited the whole year round.
People : Nepal has more than 60 ethnic groups and 70
Native spoken languages
For centuries the Kingdom of Nepal was divided into many principalities. The Kirats ruled in the east, the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley, while Gurungs and Magars occupied the mid-west. The Kirats ruled from 300 BC and during their reign, emperor Ashoka arrived from India to build the pillar at Lumbini in memory of Lord Buddha. The Kirats were followed by the Lichhavis whose descendants today are believed to be the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley. During this period, art thrived in Nepal and many of the beautiful woodcarvings and sculptures that are found in the country belong to this era. With the end of the Lichhavi dynasty, Malla kings came to power in 1200 AD and they also contributed tremendously to Nepal’s art and culture.
However, after almost 600 years of rule, the kings were not united among themselves and during the late 18th century, Pirthvi Narayan Shah, King of Gorkha ( a small kingdom in the mid west Nepal) conquered Kathmandu and united Nepal into one kingdom. Recognizing the threat of the British Raj in India, he dismissed European missionaries from the country and for more than a century, Nepal remained in isolation. During the mid-19th century Jung Bahadur Rana became Nepal’s first prime minister to wield absolute power. He set up an oligarchy and the Shah Kings remained figureheads. The Ranas were overthrown in a democracy movement of the early 1950’s. Today, Nepal now enjoys a multi party democratic system as a Republic nation.
The Kingdom of Nepal covers an area of 147,181 square kilometers, and stretches 145-241 kilometers north to south and 850 kilometers west to east.
The country is located between India in the south and China in the north. At latitudes 26 and 30 degrees north and longitudes 80 and 88 degrees east, Nepal is topographically divided into three regions: the Himalaya to the north, the high hills consisting of the Mahabharata range and the Churia low hills, and the flat land of Terai range to the south. Elevations are varied in the kingdom. The highest point is Mt. Everest (8,848 m) in the north and the lowest point (70 meters above sea level) is located in the south east Terai region at Kechana Kalan of Jhapa District.
Altitude increases as you travel south to north. To the north temperatures are below -40 degrees Celsius and in the Terai, temperatures rise to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. During June, July and August, the kingdom is influenced by monsoon clouds.
Where is The Himalayas ?
The Himalayas range makes up the northern border of the country and represents 16% of the total land area of Nepal. Peaks like Mt. Everest (8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (8598 m), and Dhaulagiri (8137 m) are found here and sparse vegetation is found up to 4,500m. Some of Nepal’s most beautiful animal and plant life are also found here. Although rare, the snow leopard and Daphne pheasant (national bird of Nepal also know as Impeyan Pheasant) are much talked about sights among the visitors. The people in this region produce and sell cheese besides working as porters and guides. Many also trade with Tibet and travel across the border to sell their goods.
This region covers 65% of the total land area of the country, Kathmandu; the capital of Nepal is located here. Elevation range from 500 to 3000m above sea level. During summer the temperature reaches an average of 32 degrees Celsius. Winters are cold, temperature reaching -1 degree Celsius sometimes.
Areas in the eastern hills receive more rainfall because of the monsoon clouds which come from the south-east.
The rivers in the west which do not receive much rainfall are dependent upon the melted snow that flow down from the Himalaya. Wild animals to be found here are the spotted leopard, barking deer, and Himalayan black bear.
The hilly region is also popular for different kinds of birds. Over four hundred species of birds are found here. The people in this region have gained from the growth in the tourism industry. The people here work as trekking guides and porters and also sell garments and carpets to add to their income.
The Terai covers 17% of the total land area of Nepal. It provides excellent farming land and the average elevation of flatlands is 100 to 300 meter above sea level. Sub-tropical forest areas, marshes, and wildlife which include the Royal Bengal tiger, one horned rhino, and the Gharial crocodile are found here.
After the eradication of malaria in the 1960s, many hill people migrated to the Terai in search of farming land. Today, about 48% of the country’s population occupies this region. Flat farmlands and the region’s flexible topography haven given rise to many industries. The main Industrial towns are Biratnagar, Butwal, Bhairawa, Birgunj and Janakpur. Calcutta, a metropolitan city in India is the closest sea-port. It lies 1.000 kilometers away from Birgunj in mid south.
People, Culture and Languages:
In Nepal, ethical cultural groups are diverse and many of them have their own languages and customs, However they can be geographically categorized according to their habitats.
The Sherpa of Tibeto-Burman stock mainly occupy the higher hills of eastern and central Nepal. The Solu Khumbu region, where the world’s tallest peak Mt. Everest stands, is inhabited by Sherpas. Generally they are Buddhist but some follow the Bon, the pre Buddhist religion of Tibet, and other religions.
The Sherpa are famed for their valor and mountaineering skills and are professionally involved in many mountain expeditions. Today, Sherpa have joined other occupations as well like business, administration and politics.
A wide variety of ethnic groups occupy the mid-hills. The Kirats or Limbus and Rais inhabit the east. During the 7th century BC, they established a dynasty in the Kathmandu Valley and ruled it for 1,000 years.
They are not originally Hindus or Buddhists but are ancestor worshipers. However, today, many embrace Hinduism. In the former days, they were warriors and skilled hunters. The population of the Kathmandu Valley consists mostly of Newars.
They speak Nepali -bhasa and practice Hinduism and Buddhism. Many families celebrate both Hindu and Buddhist festivals. Their culture also reflects tantrism and animism. Newars are accomplished in commerce and most enterprises in the heart of the Valley are run by them. Historically, they are well known for establishing the three artistically beautiful cities of Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu.
The inhabitants of the hill flanks surrounding Kathmandu Valley and other parts of Nepal from east to mid west and north to south are mostly Tamangs, nowadays also known as by their family name Lama, who make up one of the largest Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups in the Kingdom of Nepal. In Tibetan language, Tamang means “horse soldier” which gives us an idea about their past occupation. Today, they farm and work as mountain guides and porters and are second to Sherpa’s in mountaineering skill.
Tamangs practice Tibetan Lamaism or the Bon religion and speak their own language very similar to the language of the Sherpas and other hills tribes Gurungs and Thakali of the North West.
The Magars live in the western and central hills of Nepal. They had their own kingdoms until the 18th century and were closely associated with the Hindu Indo-Aryans in the west. Much of their cultural practices have been influenced by Chhetris, and today it is difficult to make any difference in the housing, dressing and farming practices of the two. Another ethnic group closely resembling the Magars in many aspects is Gurung.
They also live in the western and central hills of the country although further to the east. Of Tibeto-Burman stock and practices Tibetan Lamaism and have their own language and also practices shamanism. Apart from being farmers and Sheppard’s, many find employment in the British and Indian armies.
The Khas are the Bahuns (Brahmin) and Chhetris who formed their own kingdoms in the far west. They are Hindus and the language is Nepali, which is the country’s official language, was originally spoken by the Khas. Traditionally, the Bahuns are priests and are better educated than most ethnic groups. In fact, many occupy important government and educational posts in the kingdom today. The Chettries have traditionally been known as warriors. Those living in the higher hills in the far western region lead hard lives because of lack of fertile soil and farming is practiced in the river valleys and on the hill flanks.
The Tharus are one of the original ethnic groups to inhabit the Terai (flat low lands in the southern belt of Nepal) the Majhi, Danuwar, Rajbansi, darai, Satar, and Dhimal also occupy the flat lands. The Tharus have their own unique religion and practice animism. Their culture is especially suited for the hot plains and they are actually immune to malaria. They have Mongoloid features and speak their own language.
There is much migration going on in the country now and the cultural definition of the people by area is difficult. Urban population is increasing by 7% each year and most cultures have intermingled.
Religious practices are an important part of the lives of the Nepalese people. Mythologies of various Hindu gods and goddesses abound in this country and cultural values are based on the philosophies of holy books.
In Nepal, Hinduism and Buddhism are the two main religions. The two have co-existed down the ages and many Hindu temples share the same complex as Buddhist shrines. Hindu and Buddhist worshippers may regard the same god with different names while performing religious rites.
Though Nepal is the only Hindu Kingdom in the world, many other religions like Islam, Christianity, and Bon are practiced here. Some of the earliest inhabitants like the Kirats practice their own kind of religion based on ancestor worship and the Tharus practice animism. Over the years, Hinduism and Buddhism have been influenced by these practices which have been modified to form a synthesis of newer beliefs.
As a result, visitors to this country may often find the religious practices in Nepal difficult to follow and understand. But this does not prevent one from enjoying the different traditional ceremonies and rituals of Nepalese culture. It is indeed a totally new experience of religious fervor.
Thousands of gods and goddesses make up the Hindu pantheon. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are three major Hindu gods who have their own characteristics and incarnations. Each god has his own steed which is often kneeling faithfully outside that god’s temple. Symbolic objects are carried by the multiple hands of each deity which empowers them to perform great feats.
Sakyamuni Buddha is the founder of Buddhism who lived and taught in this part of the world during the sixth century BC. The great stupas of Swayambhunath and Bouddhanath are among the oldest and most beautiful worship sites in the Kathmandu Valley.
The spinning of prayer wheels, prostrating pilgrims, collective chants and burning butter lamps are some Buddhist practices often encountered by tourists. A slip of paper bearing a mantra is kept inside the wheels so that prayers are sent to gods when the wheel is spun. Scenes from the Buddha’s life and Buddhist realms are depicted on thangkas scroll paintings which are used during meditation and prayer ceremonies.
Many Buddhist followers are seen performing these practices in Swayambhunath, Bouddhanath, and other Buddhist sites around the Valley.
Nepal is a developing country with an agricultural and tourism economy. In recent years, the country’s efforts to expand into manufacturing industries and other technological sectors have achieved much progress. Farming is the main economic activity followed by manufacturing, trade and tourism. The chief sources of foreign currency earnings are merchandise export, services, tourism and Gorkha mercenaries’ and overseas working Nepali remittances. The annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is about US$ 7, 5 billion.
Eight out of 10 Nepalese are engaged in farming and it accounts for more than 40% of the GDP. Rolling fields and neat terraces can be seen all over the Terai flatlands and the hills of Nepal. Even in the highly urbanized Kathmandu Valley, large tracts of land outside the city areas are devoted to farming. Rice is the staple diet in Nepal and around three million tons are produced annually. Other major crops are maize, wheat, millet and barley. Besides food grains, cash crops like sugarcane, oil seeds, tobacco, jute and tea are also cultivated in large quantities.