Situated in South Asia, Nepal is bordered by China in the north and India in the east, west and south. The country is roughly rectangular in shape, with a total land area of 147,181 square kilometers, stretching 885 km from east to west and between 145 km and 241 km from north to south, with a mean width of 193 km.
Topographically, the country can be divided into three distinct regions from north to south: the mountainous region, the hilly region and the flat plains, known as the Terai. Lying at an altitude ranging from 4,877 to 8,848 metres above sea level (masl), the mountainous region includes the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain chain.
Nepal Himalayas comprises nine of the world’s highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest. The hilly region lies in the middle of the country, with altitude varying between 610 and 4,877 masl. Kathmandu Valley, where the country’s capital, Kathmandu, is situated, and many other scenic valleys, basins and pockets are located in this region. The Terai, which is an extension of the Gangetic plains of India, forms a low flatland along the southern border. It comprises most of the fertile land and forest areas of the country, and rich and big river basins.
Due to its diverse topography, almost all the climatic zones of the earth- tropical, subtropical, temperate, alpine and sub-arctic- are found in Nepal. The mean annual temperature is about 15 degrees Celsius; however, in some places in the Terai the summer temperature can rise above 40 degrees Celsius. Nepal experiences four seasons: spring (March-May), summer (June-August), autumn (September-November) and winter (December-February).
Kathmandu Valley has a pleasant climate, with average summer temperature of 19 to 27 degrees Celsius and winter temperature of 2 to 12 degree Celsius. Rainfall varies greatly from place to place, from 300 millimeters (mm) to 250 mm, about 80 percent of the precipitation occurring during the monsoon season, which typically lasts from June to September.
The period from October to May is generally dry in most parts of the country. In the winter, the western part receives the larger share of rainfall, and during the monsoon, which is from June to August, the eastern part receives more rainfall. Kathmandu Valley receives around 1300 mm of annual rainfall, with the heaviest concentration from June to August.
Monthly Average Temperature and Rainfall in Kathmandu
Note: Nepal officially follows Bikram Sambat calendar, which is based on the lunar calendar, hence the month begins in the middle of the Gregorian month.
Water is the most important natural resource in the country. There are about 6,000 rivers and rivulets, which add up to 45,000 km in length. The total drainage area of all the rivers consists of about 191,000 km, of which 74 per cent lies in Nepal. The total average run-off is estimated at about 170 billion cubic metres (m3), and theoretical hydroelectric power potential is estimated to be 83,000 megawatts (MW). This is one of the largest potential in the world, and about 50 per cent of this could be economically harnessed. However, about 2 per cent of this economically viable potential has so far been exploited.
Forests occupy 42.4 per cent (62,405 sq km) of the landmass, and account for 79 per cent of the country’s total energy consumption and more than 90 per cent of rural household energy consumption. Almost every known forest type, with the exception of the equatorial tropical rain forest, is found in Nepal. There are four major forest zones: tropical and subtropical (up to 300 masl); sub-tropical and riverine (301-800 masl); subtropical and sub- temperate hill (801-2,000 masl); temperate and alpine (above 2,000 masl). This diversity supports more than 100 mammal, 850 bird and almost 10 thousand plant species.
There are some deposits of mineral resources that can be economically exploited; some of these are of marginal tonnage and grade, while some others require further investigations. The country has large deposits of limestone. Other mineral deposits include magnesite, lead, zinc, talc, marble, iron ore, natural gas, silica, dolomite and semiprecious stones. Copper, cobalt, placer gold, etc of low grade and tonnage reportedly occur in many parts of the country. Preliminary surveys have also indicated occurrence of petroleum reserves in the Terai.
Ancient Nepal consisted of many small autonomous principalities. Late King Prithvi Narayan Shah unified Nepal by conquering these principalities and merging them into one single nation in 1769. After the Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-1816, Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana greatly augmented his power and established the Rana line of hereditary prime ministers, which ruled Nepal until 1951, when a popular revolution overthrew the family autocracy. In 1959, the country held its first general election and installed a parliamentary government. After about 18 months, Late King Mahendra abolished the popular government and replaced it by a party-less form of political system, called Panchayat, which lasted for three decades. Following a mass discontent with the Panchayat system and people's aspiration for modern democracy, a popular movement ushered in a new era of democracy in 1990. A new constitution, enshrining the sovereignty of the people, was adopted that year. A multiparty political system with constitutional monarchy and a bicameral parliamentary system of government with two houses, namely the House of Representatives and National Council, was established.
Nepal became the Federal Democratic Republic when the first session of the first Constituent Assembly declared so on May 28, 2008, abolishing the 240 year-old monarchy. Nepal today has a President as Head of State and Prime Minister heading the government.
The first Constituent Assembly was dissolved in May after four years without promulgating a New Constitution. However, the second Constituent Assembly election was held in November 2013, which subsequently promulgated the New Constitution on September 2015 replacing the Interim Constitution of 2007. Thereafter, the 2nd Constituent Assembly was turned into Legislature Parliament, which now governs the government of Nepal with an objective of implementing the new Constitution.
Social and Cultural Settings
Nepal is ethnically as diverse as it is geographically. It is home to several races and tribes, languages and religions. The majority of the Nepali people are Hindu (81.34%, Census 2011), followed by Buddhist (9.04%, Census 2011). There is a unique blend of Hinduism and Buddhism. The two religions have overlapped and harmonized to such an extent that Hindus and Buddhists worship the same gods and goddesses. The people are religious and have strong bonds with their cultures, which are as unique and as diverse as their backgrounds. There are also many tribal groups in Nepal. The coexistence of these ethnic groups and their cultures has been marked by tolerance and openness for centuries.
Nepali, written in Devanagari script, is the official language and lingua franca of slightly over 50 per cent of the population, while a number of other languages and dialects are spoken by specific ethnic and tribal groups. Some of these languages are Maithali, Bhojpuri, Newari, Gurung, Tamang, Tharu, Magar, Limbu, Rai, Urdu, Hindi, Sherpa and Awadhi and a host of other minor languages. English is spoken and understood by a large number of people in urban areas.
Nepal has maintained one of the world’s oldest and richest continuous cultures. Her culture finds exquisite expression in the religions, art, music, dance, social, cultural and religious festivals. Festivals are a prominent aspect of Nepalese life, in which all people take part enthusiastically. Dashain (or Durga Puja), Tihar (Festival of Light), Shiva Ratri (Lord Shiva’s Night), Indra Jatra (Festival of Indra the Rain God), Baisakh Purnima (Lord Buddha’s Birthday), Gai Jatra (Cow Festival), Chhath (Worship of the Sun), Ram Nawami, Krishna Asthami, Fagu (Festival of Colors) and a host of other festivals are celebrated every year.