Nepal is spread across the main heights of the Himalayas and has always been a land of fascination. Nepal is a land of great contrasts with high Himalayan mountains, vast and icy glaciers, tiny houses, ancient history, artistic monuments, exotic wildlife sanctuaries, greenery and diverse cultures. It is the land where Lord Buddha was born over 2,500 years ago. Nepal is rectangular in shape, landlocked and covers an area of 147,181 square km. The capital of Nepal is Kathmandu. About half a million people lives in Kathmandu. Every aspect of Nepali life can be seen in Kathmandu, which is the center of travel and adventure activities. The Kathmandu Valley is magnificent for its wealth of unique temples. Nepali is the official language of Nepal and is spoken by most of the people. Till 1951, Nepal was a closed book for foreign visitors. Till 1964, it was reserved only for hardy climbers and explorers. In recent years, the country has opened its doors to foreign and Indian tourists and millions of them visit this country every year. The experiences of the travelers who visit the Nepal for the first time are very different. Some of the tourists feels like stepping out of a time machine, some are thrilled by the pleasant atmosphere, while, some of them feel like living in a permanently air conditioned state. Nepal can be visited throughout the year and in any season.
History of Nepal
In the earlier days, Nepal was divided into small principalities which were fighting against each other. It was not till the arrival of the Mallas from north India that Nepal was launched into its first flowering of social and artistic creativity. The Mallas also took control of a major part of Nepal and Tibet. But, pattern of small, independent kingdoms continued and Nepal could not be unified. The Mallas had three separate kingdoms in the Kathmandu Valley itself, with their capitals at Kathmandu, earlier known as Kantipur, Patan, known as Lalitpur and Bhadgaon, known as Bhaktpur. The Mallas left their stone inscriptions in temples and carved them on the bases of statues. As the Mallas grew weaker due to family feuds, they were replaced by the Shahs. It was during the rule of King Prithvi Narayan Shah (1730-1775) that Nepal became more unified. He came from the Gurkha region. He was the first to use these tough fighters to strengthen his rule. The Gurkhas are still valued as great fighters and a large number of them are serving in the Indian and British armies. The King Prithvi Narayan Shah was responsible for the exclusion of European traders from the country. As the Shah dynasty became weak, the Ranas took over Nepal in 1846. The monarch only became a figurehead while the Ranas ruled the country. Nepal lost war to the British in 1857 and accepted their nominal allegiance. As a result, the Gurkhas fought several wars for Great Britain. They sided with them during the first War of Indian Independence in 1857. The British were so pleased with their loyalty that they returned some of the territories they had occupied after the defeat of the Nepalese. Subsequently, the Gurkhas fought other battles for Britain, including World War I & II. They fought in all parts of the World. After a popular revolution made by the ninth King Tribhuvan of Shah dynasty in 1950-1951, the Ranas were defeated. The King Tribhuvan died in 1955 and was succeeded by his son Mahendra. Nepal became a member of the United Nations in 1955. The King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev was the 10th king in the dynasty. The King Birendra abolished party system. In 1990, a popular democratic revolt, led to the re-establishment of a multi-party democratic system based on adult franchise. The new democratic Constitution of the kingdom was promulgated on November 9, 1990. The king remains the titular head of the government. In 1994, Nepal elected communist party to form the government which has since been replaced by coalition government.
Geography of Nepal
The Kingdom of Nepal is a landlocked country situated between India and a Tibet. The Himalayas fall within the boundaries of these countries, thus Nepal is well known for its mountainous and hilly topography. In fact, Nepal is home to the magnificent Mount Everest, believed to be the world’s tallest mountain. The fascinating geography of Nepal contributes greatly to the country’s wonder and touristic appeal. As we investigate Nepal’s geography you will quickly discover why it draws adventure seekers and those interested in exploring its ecological diversity.
Nepal encompasses 147 181 km of land in a rough rectangular shape and is comparable in size to Arkansas. As you travel from the south to the north of Nepal you will note that the altitude changes. Despite its small size, Nepal’s geography is very diverse from its lowest point in Kechana Kalan (Jhapa District) of 70 m above sea level to its highest point at Mount Everest of 8 848 m. Along this rise in altitude there are notable valleys. With the combination of mountains, rolling hills, ridges and valleys, Nepal has an eclectic mix of ecological zones. Nepal is made up of three regions defined by its topographical changes. In the north are the Himalaya, then the hills with the Mahabharat range plus Churia hills and finally Terai in the south with some flatter forested or cultivated areas. In the northern reaches of Nepal you will find the temperatures can be below 40 Degree Celsius. In the Terai region the summer temperatures can range up to 40 Degree Celsius, a large variation. Monsoon clouds cover Nepal in June, July and August.
The Himalayan mountain range, creates Nepal’s border to the north. This region incorporates 16% of the country’s land. Located in the region you will discover the world-renowned Mount Everest as well as Kanchenjunga (measuring 8598 m) and Dhaulagiri (measuring 8137 m). Vegetation in this area is limited and ends at 4 500 m.
The Hills region takes in 65% of Nepal’s land area and holds the country’s capital Kathmandu at (1350m). Elevations range greatly in the area from about 500 m above sea level to around 3000 m above sea level. Summer temperatures in the Hills averages at 29 Degree Celsius and winters reach a chilly 3 Degree Celsius.
The Terai makes up 17% of the country’s land area. The region is ideal for agriculture with the flat lands reaching between 100 m and 300 m above sea level. Within the Sub-tropical forest areas and marshes an abundance of wildlife can be found including rare species such as the Royal Bengal tiger, gharial crocodile and one-horned rhino.
The geography of Nepal is the country’s draw card. The appeal of Nepal’s physio-graphical and ecological diversity attracts people from around the world; your visit to Nepal will surely confirm the reality of this truth.
Nepal has several ancient pilgrimage sites. Each temple is attached to a legend or belief that glorifies the miraculous powers of its deity. Kathmandu Valley is home to the famous Pashupatinath Temple, Swayambhu Stupa and several other famous temples. Hundreds of famous temples are located in and around the Kathmandu Valley.
Some well-known pilgrimage sites are: Pathibhara, Tengboche in East Nepal; Manakaman, Gorkha, Lumbini, Muktinath, Gosainkunda, Tansen, Barah Chhetra, Halesi Mahadev, Janakpur Kathmandu Valley in Central Nepal; and Swargadwari, Khaptad Ashram in West Nepal.
Nepal is also the Gateway to Kailash Mansarovar, the mythical abode of Lord Shiva. Devotees from various parts of Nepal and India visits the temples during special festivals. Even though weak infrastructure renders some places hard to reach, efforts are being made on national level to develop and promote some popular sites.
Pilgrimage sites of Nepal like Muktinath and Gosainkunda make popular trekking destinations. Tours to these sites are encouraged for the novelty, they provide in terms of nature and culture.
Religious practices are an important part of the lives of the Nepalese people. Mythologies of various gods and goddesses abound in this country and cultural values are based on the philosophies of holy books of respective religions.
people visits the Temples and Monasteries at dusk and dawn to offer worship to the gods. Holding plates of rice, flowers, and vermilion powder, they perform puja by lighting incense, ringing the temple bell, and applying a tika (a red paste, on their foreheads). Passers-by stop at temples and show their reverence to the gods by spending a few minutes praying. Occasionally, groups of men sit near temples playing music and singing hymns until late night.
In Nepal, Hinduism and Buddhism are the two major 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 the three major Hindu gods who have their own characteristics and incarnations. Each god has his own steed which is often seen kneeling faithfully at the feet of the deity or sometimes 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 the gods when the wheel is spun. Scenes from the Buddha’s life and Buddhist realms are depicted on thangka scroll paintings which are used during meditation and prayer ceremonies. Many Buddhist followers are seen performing these practices in Swayambhunath, Bouddhanath and at other Buddhist sites around the Valley.