The first civilizations in Nepal, which flourished around the 6th century B.C.,
were confined to the fertile Kathmandu Valley where the present-day capital of
the same name is located. It was in this region that Prince Siddhartha Gautama
was born c. 563 B.C. Gautama achieved enlightenment as Buddha and spawned
Nepali rulers' early patronage of Buddhism largely gave way to Hinduism,
reflecting the increased influence of India, around the 12th century. Though the
successive dynasties of the Gopalas, the Kiratis, and the Licchavis expanded
their rule, it was not until the reign of the Malla kings from 1200–1769 that
Nepal assumed the approximate dimensions of the modern state.
The kingdom of Nepal was unified in 1768 by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who had
fled India following the Moghul conquests of the subcontinent. Under Shah and
his successors Nepal's borders expanded as far west as Kashmir and as far east
as Sikkim (now part of India). A commercial treaty was signed with Britain in
1792 and again in 1816 after more than a year of hostilities with the British
East India Company.
In 1923, Britain recognized the absolute independence of Nepal. Between 1846 and
1951, the country was ruled by the Rana family, which always held the office of
prime minister. In 1951, however, the king took over all power and proclaimed a
constitutional monarchy. Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah became king in 1955. After
Mahendra died of a heart attack in 1972, Prince Birendra, at 26, succeeded to
Nepal is located in South Asia between China in the north and India in the
south, east and west. While the total land area is 147,181 sq. km including
water area of the country that is 3,830 sq. km. 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).
The Terai region, with width of ranging 26 to 32 km and altitude ranging from 60
-305 m, occupies about 17 percent of total land area of the country. Kechana
Kalan, the lowest point of the country with an altitude of 60 m, lies in Jhapa
district of the eastern Terai.The southern lowland Terai continues to the Bhabar
belt covered with the Char Kose Jhadi forests known for rich wildlife. Further
north, the Siwalik zone (700 – 1,500 m) and the Mahabharat range (1,500 – 2,700
m) give way to the Duns (valleys), such as Trijuga, Sindhuli, Chitwan, Dang and
Surkhet. The Midlands (600 – 3,500 m), north of the Mahabharat range is where
the two beautiful valleys of Kathmandu and Pokhara lie covered in terraced rice
fields, and surrounded by forested watersheds.
Climatic conditions of Nepal vary from one place to another in accordance with
the geographical features. In the north summers are cool and winters severe,
while in south summers are tropical and winters are mild. Nepal has namely five
major seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, autumn and winter.An average temperature
drop of 6°C occurs for every 1,000 m gain in altitude. In the Terai, summer
temperatures exceed 37° C and higher in some areas, winter temperatures range
from 7°C to 23°C in the Terai. In mountainous regions, hills and valleys,
summers are temperate while winter temperatures can plummet under sub zero. The
valley of Kathmandu has a pleasant climate with average summer and winter
temperatures of 19°C – 35°C and 2°C – 12°C respectively.
Nepal’s 20 protected areas cover 23.23 percent of its land. Its 10 national
parks, three wildlife reserves, six conservations areas and one hunting reserve
cover various geographical locations from the sub-tropical Terai jungles to the
arctic Himalayan region. Two of Nepal’s natural areas are listed by UNESCO as
Natural World Heritage Sites. They are: Chitwan National Park and Sagarmatha
National Park.Comprising only 0.1 percent of the total land area on a global
scale, Nepal possesses a disproportionately rich biodiversity. Of the total
number of species found globally, Nepal possesses 2.80 percent plants, 3.96
percent mammals, 3.72 percent butterflies and 8.9 percent of birds. Of 6,391
species of flowering plants recorded in Nepal, 399 are endemic. Among the 399
endemic flowering plants in Nepal, 63 percent are from the high mountains, 38
percent from the mid hills, and 5 percent from the Terai and Siwaliks.
Similarly, the central region contains 66 percent of the total endemic species
followed by western (32 percent) and eastern regions (29 percent).
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. Also found here are
the leopard, monkey, langur, hyena, jackal, wild boar, antelope, wild cat, wolf,
sloth bear, chital or spotted deer and barking deer. Wild buffalo locally called
“Arna” is found in the Koshi Tappu region. The western Terai jungles of
Suklaphanta is home of the of swamp deer, while the endangered blackbucks are
found in the Bardia region. Nepal Government has made an effort to preserve
blackbucks by declaring an area of 15.95 sq. km. in Bardia as Blackbuck
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. A very successful breeding project has brought the gharial back from
extinction. Some of the snakes found in Nepal are: cobras, kraits, vipers and
the Indian python. Other reptiles found in the country are turtles and monitor
lizards. Some of these reptiles can be seen in the Chitwan National Park and
Bardia National Park.
Nepal has more than 850 recorded species of birds. Amazingly, half of these
birds can be seen in and around the Kathmandu valley alone. The hills around the
valley especially Nagarjun, Godavari and Phulchowki are popular birding areas.
Phulchowki at 2,760 m boasts about 90 bird species including the endemic spiny
babbler, which was thought to be extinct until it was spotted in Nepal. Another
rare species of bird, the red-headed trogan, was also sighted here in April
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
For ecology and vegetation purpose Nepal could be divided into four floristic
(c) central, and
(d) eastern, and bio-climatically these are broken down into twenty regions from
humid tropical climate to the arid, alpine regions.
The Himalayas are famous for medicinal plants and have even been mentioned in
the Aurveda. Many of the herbs and plants found in the Himlayas are used in
traditional healing systems like Ayurvedic, Homoeopathic, Amchi etc. Some of
these plants are even used for allopathic medicine. Medicinal plants are
abundantly found in: the Terai region of Nawalparasi, Chitwan, Bardia, Dhanusha,
mid hill region of Makhwanpur, Syangja, Kaski, Lamgjung, Dolakha, Parvat, Ilam,
Ramechhap, Nuwakot, and the Himalayan region of Dolpa, Mugu, Humla, Jumla,
Manang, Mustang and Solukhumbu.
In ancient Rome, Theophrastus, a student of Plato, was intrigued by the sight of
a plant with a pair of roots. Orchis was the name he gave them, the Greek word
for testicles. Worldwide, there are some 500 to 600 genera and some 20,000 to
35,000 names, the largest of all plant families, and out of this, Nepal has 57
genera (27 Terrestrials and 30 Epiphytic) with a few Lithophytes.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.
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.
Northern Himalayan People:
In the northern region of the Himalayas are the Tibetan-speaking groups namely
Sherpas, Dolpa-pas, Lopas, Baragaonlis, Manangis. The Sherpas are mainly found
in the east, Solu and Khumbu region; the Baragaonlis and Lopas live in the
semi-deserted areas of Upper and Lower Mustang in the Tibetan rain-shadow area;
the Manangis live in Manang district area; while the Dolpa-pas live in Dolpa
district of west Nepal.
Middle Hills and Valley People:
Several ethnic groups live in the middle hills and valleys. Among them are the
Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs, Brahmins,
Chhetris and Thakuris. There are also occupational castes namely: Damai
(tailor), Sarki (cobbler), Kami (blacksmith) and Sunar (goldsmiths).
Ethnic Diversity in the Kathmandu Valley:
Kathmandu Valley represents a cultural cauldron of the country, where, people
from varied backgrounds have come together to present a melting pot. The natives
of the Kathmandu Valley are the Newars. Newari culture is an integration of both
Hinduism and Buddhism. The Newars of Kathmandu Valley were traders or farmers by
occupation in the old days.
The main ethnic groups in Terai are Tharus, Darai, Kumhal, Majhi and other
groups. They speak north Indian dialects like Maithili, Bhojpuri. Owing to the
fertile plains of Terai, most inhabitants live on agriculture. There are,
however, some occupational castes like Majhi (fisherman), Kumhal (potter) and
Danuwar (cart driver).
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. Kathmandu Valley has served as the country’s cultural
metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the 18th Century.A prominent factor
in a Nepali’s everyday life is religion. Adding color to the lives of Nepalis
are festivals the year round which they celebrate with much pomp and joy. Food
plays an important role in the celebration of these festivals.
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. Mahakaala and Bajrayogini are Vajrayana Buddhist deities worshipped by
Hindus as well.
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. Mahadevi, Mahakali, Bhagabati, Ishwari are some of
the names given. Kumari, the Virgin Goddess, also represents Shakti.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. During menstruation women are considered impure and hence,
are kept in seclusion until their fourth day purification bath.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
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