Nepal’s history dates back to the time of the Gopalas and Mahishapalas who are believed to have been the earliest rulers of the valley with their capital at Matatirtha, the southwest corner of Kathmandu Valley. The Kirantis around the 7th or 8th Century B.C ousted them. The Kirantis are said to have ruled the valley for many centuries following their victory. Their famous King Yalumber is even mentioned in the ‘Mahabharata’ as he is said to have led his troops to the epic battle. Then 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, their King Amshuvarma, 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 after the Mallas conquered them.
During their 550-year rule, the Mallas built remarkable temples and beautifully designed palaces with picturesque squares. It was also during their rule that the valley society and the cities became well organized; spectacular religious festivals were introduced and literature, music, art and drama were encouraged. After the death of King Yaksha Malla, the valley was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu (Kantipur), Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon) and Patan (Lalitpur). At the time, Nepal as we know it today was divided into 46 independent principalities. One among these was the kingdom of Gorkha ruled by a Shah king. Much of Kathmandu Valley’s history around this time was recorded by Capuchin friars from Italy 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, thus establishing the Shah dynasty which ruled unified Nepal from 1769 to 2008.
The Gorkha state dates back to 1559 when Dravya Shah established his kingdom in a land predominated by Magar people. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Gorkha kingdom was slowly expanding, conquering some neighbouring states while forging alliances with others. Eventually it was Prithvi Narayan Shah who led his troops to the Kathmandu Valley. After a long struggle, he defeated all the valley kings and established his palace in Kathmandu leaving Gorkha for good. Recognizing the threat of the British Raj in India, he banished European missionaries from the country and for more than a century, Nepal remained closed to the outside world.
During the mid-19th Century Jung Bahadur Rana rose to power as Nepal’s first Prime Minister, becoming more powerful than the Shah King he was supposed to serve under. The king became a mere figurehead and Jung Bahadur started a hereditary reign of the Rana Prime Ministers that lasted for 104 years. In 1950, the Ranas were overthrown in an uprising to bring democracy in the country with strong support from 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 (popularly known as B.P.) formed a government and served as Prime Minister. But this government didn’t last long as King Mahendra decided to dissolve Parliament in 1960, and introduced a one party ‘Panchayat’ rule.
The Panchayat system lasted until 1990, when a popular people’s movement led by the political parties that had been banned by the government which until then had been known as ‘His Majesty’s Government’, gave way to democracy. The long struggle paid off when King Birendra accepted constitutional reforms and established a multiparty parliament with himself as the Head of State and an executive Prime Minister under him. In May 1991, Nepal held its first parliamentary elections.
In February 1996, the Maoist parties declared a People’s War against monarchy and the elected government. Then on 1st June 2001, a horrific tragedy wiped out the entire royal family of Nepal including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya along with most of their closest relatives. With only King Birendra’s brother, Gyanendra and his family surviving, he was crowned king. King Gyanendra abided by the elected government’s rule for a short time, but then dismissed the elected Parliament to wield absolute power. In April 2006, another People’s Movement was launched jointly by the democratic parties focusing on Kathmandu, which led to a 19-day curfew imposed by the king. With the movement not cowering down and ignoring even the curfew, King Gyanendra eventually relinquished his power and reinstated Parliament. On 21st November 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. The king was removed and the decade long Maoist war on the state came to an end. A Constituent Assembly election was held on 10th April 2008. And on 28th May 2008, the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic, abolishing the 240 year-old monarchy. Nepal today has a President as Head of State and a constitutionally elected Prime Minister heading the Government.
Nepal is a landlocked country located in South Asia with China in the north and India in the south, east and west. The country occupies 147,181 sq. km of land and lies between coordinates 28°00′N and 84°00′E. Nepal falls in the temperate zone north of the Tropic of Cancer. The entire distance from east to west is about 800 km while from north to south is only 150 to 250 km. Nepal has vast water systems which drain south into India. The country can be divided into three main geographical regions: Himalayan region, mid hill region and the Tarai region. The highest point in the country is Mt. Everest (8,848 m) while the lowest point is in the Tarai plains of Kechana Kalan in Jhapa (60 m).
The Tarai region has a width ranging from 26km to 32 km and varies in altitude from 60m to 305 m. It occupies about 17 percent of total land area of the country. 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.
The mountainous region begins at 3000m leading up to the alpine pastures and temperate forests limited by the tree-line at 4,000 m and the snow line beginning at 5000 m. Eight of the world’s highest peaks (out of fourteen) that are above 8000m lie in Nepal: 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 Dolpo 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 either 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.
Of the163 wetlands documented, the nine globally recognized Ramsar Sites are: Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Beeshazarital (Chitwan), Jagdishpur Reservoir (Kapilvastu) Ghodaghodi Tal (Kailali) in the Tarai, and Gokyo (Solukhumbu), Phoksundo (Dolpa), Rara (Mugu) and Mai Pokhari (Ilam) in the mountainous 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 both Buddhism and Hinduism. Siddha Cave is near Bimalnagar along the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway. Pokhara is also known for caves namely Bats’ shed, Batulechar, Gupteswar, Patale Chhango. The numerous caves around Lo Manthang in Mustang include Luri and Tashi Kabum which house ancient murals and chortens dating back to the 13th century.
In northern Nepal summers are cool and winters are severe, while in the south summers are very hot while winters are mild to cold. Nepal has five seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, autumn and winter.
In the Tarai (southern Nepal), summer temperatures exceed 40° C and higher in some areas, while winter temperatures range from 7°C to 23°C. In mountainous regions, hills and valleys, summers are temperate while winter temperatures can plummet to sub zero. The Kathmandu Valley has a pleasant climate with average summer temperatures of 20°C – 35°C and 2°C – 12°C in winter.
Average temperatures in Nepal 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 form the northern boundary for monsoon rains, leaving some places like Manang and Mustang rain-free. 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 o bloom while the clearest skies are found after the monsoon in October and November. However, Nepal can be visited the whole year round.
Nepal’s wildlife 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.
Please click Protected Species for details.
The endemic fauna are: Himalayan field mouse, spiny babbler, Nepali kalij, 14 herpetofauna, and six types of fishes.
185 species of mammals are found in various parts of the Nepal. Nepal’s dense tarai jungles are home to 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 Tarai jungles of Suklaphanta is home to the swamp deer, while the endangered blackbucks are found in the Bardia region.
Gangetic dolphins are 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. Red panda, rarely seen because of its shy nature, are found around the Langtang region to Kanchenjunga. Other mammals that live at high altitudes are yak, blue sheep, Himalayan tahr and musk deer. While otters are found in the Rara region north west, the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve is home to the blue sheep and the Himalayan thar.
Reptiles:Nepal has two indigenous species of crocodile: the fish eating gharial with a 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. Among the snakes found in Nepal there are: cobras, kraits, vipers, the Indian python etc. 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 2000.
National parks like Chitwan and Bardia harbor a wide variety of birds. The Koshi Tappu region is home to an incredibly large species of resident and migratory birds. It has about 26 varieties of ducks alone. About 485 species have been sighted here, including black ibis, honey kites, ospreys, black headed orioles, peregrine falcon, partridges, ruddy shelduck, storks, vultures and eagles among others. The higher Himalayan region is home to many species of raptors and birds of prey. 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 as well while there is an effort to conserve Sarus cranes in Lumbini.
For more information about Nepal’s wildlife,
Please visit: http://www.dnpwc.gov.np/
(official web site of the Department of National Parks & Wildlife Conservation, Ministry of Forests & Soil Conservation).
PEOPLE OF NEPAL
The population of Nepal in 2019 is reportedly 29.7 million. There are about 101 ethnic groups speaking over 92 languages. The distinction in caste and ethnicity is understood better with a view of customary layout of the population. The official language of Nepal is Nepali which is spoken and understood by a majority of the population. The ethnic groups have their own mother tongues. English is taught in schools and many of them are English medium schools so a large portion of the population understands the language. Most private schools today teach in EngIish.
Northern Himalayan People
The mountainous regions of Nepal are inhabited by Sherpas, Dolpa-pas, Lopas, Baragaonlis, Manangays. 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 rain-shadow area; the Manangays live in Manang district 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, Rais, Limbus, Thamis, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs, Brahmins, Chhetris and Thakuris, Damai, Sarki, Kami and Sunar.
Ethnic Diversity in the Kathmandu Valley
Kathmandu Valley represents a cultural melting pot of the country, where, people from varied backgrounds have come together to form a diverse population. The natives of the Kathmandu Valley are the Newars. Although Newars are either Hindus or Buddhists, their culture is vastly different from the rest of the Nepali people. Their rituals, food and festivals are unique to them. Newars of Kathmandu Valley were traders or farmers by occupation.
The main ethnic groups in the Tarai are Tharus, Darai, Kumhal, Rajbangsi, Bote, Majhi and other groups. They speak north Indian dialects like Maithili and Bhojpuri. Owing to the fertile plains of the tarai, most inhabitants subsist on agriculture. There are, however, some occupational castes like Majhi (fisherman), Kumhal (potter) and Danuwar (cart driver).
Please visit: http://census.gov.np/
(official web site of the Central Bureau of Statistics).
CULTURE OF NEPAL
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.
Nepalese, mostly Hindu, do not eat beef. The cow, considered as Universal Mother, symbolizes motherhood, charity, and pity. To respect it is to put into practice the concept of Ahimsa, which in Sanskrit literally means “non-violence”, an important component of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Before entering a temple or a house, you will often be asked to take off your shoes, so as not to pollute pure interiors with your stained soles. Some temples are forbidden to non-Hindus. The right hand, considered pure, is used to eat, pay, give and receive. If rural Nepal is mostly agrarian, some aspects of the urban life carry the glitz and glamour of the ultra-modern world..
Food: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 Thakali 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.