Nepal is located in South Asia between China in the north and India to the south, east, and west. While the total land area is 147,181 sq. km including the water area of the country which 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: the Himalayan region, the mid-hill region, and the 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 a width of ranging 26km to 32 km and altitude ranging from 60m to 305 m, occupies about 17 percent of the total land area of the country. Kechana Kalan, the lowest point of the country with an altitude of 60 m, lies in the 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 (1,500m - 2,700m) 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.
The Himalayas (above 3,000 m) comprise mountains, alpine pastures, and temperate forests limited by the tree line (4,000 m) and snow line (5,500 m). Eight of the 14 eight-thousanders of the world lie in Nepal: Sagarmatha or Mount Everest (8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), Lhotse (8,516 m), Makalu (8,463 m), Cho Oyu (8,201m), Dhaulagiri (8,167 m), Manaslu (8,163 m) and Annapurna (8,091 m). The inner Himalayan valley (above 3,600 m) such as Mustang and Dolpa are cold deserts sharing topographical characteristics with the Tibetan plateau. Nepal holds the so-called “waters towers of South Asia” with its 6,000 rivers which are snow-fed or dependent on rain. The perennial rivers include Mahakali, Karnali, Narayani, and Koshi rivers originating in the Himalayas. Medium-sized rivers like Babai, West Rapti, Bagmati, Kamla, Kankai, and Mechi originate in the Midlands and Mahabharat range. A large number of seasonal streams, mostly originating in Siwaliks, flow across the Terai.
Of 163 wetlands documented, the nine globally recognized Ramsar sites are Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Beeshazarital (Chitwan), Jagdishpur Reservoir (Kapilvastu) Ghodaghodi Tal (Kailali) in the Terai, and Gokyo (Solukhumbu), Phoksundo (Dolpa), Rara (Mugu) and Mai Pokhari (Ilam) in the mountain region. There are more than 30 natural caves in the country out of which only a few are accessible by road. Maratika Cave (also known as Haleshi) is a pilgrimage site associated with Buddhism and Hinduism. Siddha Cave is near Bimalnagar along the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway. Pokhara is also known for its caves namely Bats’ Shed, Batulechar, Gupteswar, and Patale Chhango. The numerous caves around Lo Manthang in Mustang include Luri and Tashi Kabum which house ancient murals and shortens dating back to the 13th century.
History Of Nepal,
Records mention the Gopalas and Mahishapalas believed to have been the earliest rulers with their capital at Matatirtha, the southwest corner of the Kathmandu Valley. From the 7th or 8th Century B.C., the Kirantis are said to have ruled the valley. Their famous King Yalumber is even mentioned in the epic, ‘Mahabharat’. Around 300 A.D. the Lichhavis arrived from northern India and overthrew the Kirantis. One of the legacies of the Lichhavis is the Changu Narayan Temple near Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Culture), which dates back to the 5th Century. In the early 7th Century, Amshuvarma, the first Thakuri king took over the throne from his father-in-law who was a Lichhavi. He married off his daughter Bhrikuti to the famous Tibetan King Tsong Tsen Gampo thus establishing good relations with Tibet. The Lichhavis brought art and architecture to the valley but the golden age of creativity arrived in 1200 A.D with the Mallas.
During their 550-year rule, the Mallas built numerous temples and splendid palaces with picturesque squares. It was also during their rule that society and the cities became well organized; religious festivals were introduced and literature, music, and art were encouraged. After the death of Yaksha Malla, the valley was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu (Kantipur), Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon), and Patan (Lalitpur). Around this time, Nepal, as we know it today, was divided into about 46 independent principalities. One among these was the kingdom of Gorkha with a Shah ruler. Much of Kathmandu Valley’s history around this time was recorded by Capuchin friars who lived in the valley on their way in and out of Tibet.
An ambitious Gorkha King named Prithvi Narayan Shah embarked on a conquering mission that led to the defeat of all the kingdoms in the valley (including Kirtipur which was an independent state) by 1769. Instead of annexing the newly acquired states to his kingdom of Gorkha, Prithvi Narayan decided to move his capital to Kathmandu establishing the Shah dynasty which ruled unified Nepal from 1769 to 2008.
The history of the Gorkha state goes back to 1559 when Dravya Shah established a kingdom in an area chiefly inhabited by Magars. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, Gorkha continued a slow expansion, conquering various states while forging alliances with others. Prithvi Narayan dedicated himself at an early age to the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley. 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 relegating the Shah king to mere figureheads. He started a hereditary reign of the Rana Prime Ministers that lasted for 104 years. The Ranas were overthrown in a democracy movement of the early 1950s with support from the the-then monarch of Nepal, King Tribhuvan. Soon after the overthrow of the Ranas, King Tribhuvan was reinstated as the Head of the State. In early 1959, Tribhuvan’s son King Mahendra issued a new constitution, and the first democratic elections for a national assembly were held. The Nepali Congress Party was victorious and their leader, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala formed a government and served as prime minister. But by 1960, King Mahendra had changed his mind and dissolved Parliament, dismissing the first democratic government.
After many years of struggle when the political parties were banned, they finally mustered enough courage to start a People’s Movement in 1990. Paving way for democracy, the then-King Birendra accepted constitutional reforms and established a multiparty parliament with King as the Head of State and an executive Prime Minister. In May 1991, Nepal held its first parliamentary elections. In February 1996, the Maoist parties declared a People’s War against the monarchy and the elected government.
Then on 1st June 2001, a horrific tragedy wiped out the entire royal family including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya with many of their closest relatives. With only King Birendra’s brother, Gyanendra, and his family surviving, he has crowned the king. King Gyanendra abided by the elected government for some time and then dismissed the elected Parliament to wield absolute power. In April 2006, another People’s Movement was launched jointly by the democratic parties focusing most energy on Kathmandu which led to a 19-day curfew. Eventually, King Gyanendra relinquished his power and reinstated the Parliament. On November 21, 2006, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist chairman Prachanda signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) 2006, committing to democracy and peace for the progress of the country and people. A Constituent Assembly election was held on April 10, 2008. On May 28, 2008, the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared Nepal the Federal Democratic Republic, abolishing the 240-year-old monarchy. Nepal today has a President as Head of State and a Prime Minister heading the Government.
PEOPLE OF 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 about 101 ethnic groups speaking over 92 languages. The distinction between caste and ethnicity is understood more easily with a view of a 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 the 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 in 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, and Manangis. The Sherpas are mainly found in the east, Solu, and Khumbu regions; 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 the 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 and Bhojpuri. Owing to the fertile plains of Terai, most inhabitants live in agriculture. There are, however, some occupational castes like Majhi (fisherman), Kumhal (potter), and Danuwar (cart driver).
CULTURE OF NEPAL
Customs and traditions differ from one part of Nepal to another. A conglomeration lies in the capital city of 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 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 the centuries.
Buddha is widely worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus of Nepal. The five Dhyani Buddhas; Vairochana, Akshobhaya, Padmasambhava, 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. Mahakala 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, and 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 comes of age.
Nepalis do not eat beef. There are several reasons for this, one being that the Hindus worship the cow. The cow is also the national animal of Nepal. Another interesting concept among Nepalis is the division between 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 the 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 snacks among Nepalis. Rotis (flat bread) and dhedo (boiled flour) also make meals in some homes.