Nepal, country of Asia, lying along the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountain ranges. It is a landlocked country located between India to the east, south, and west and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the north. Its territory extends roughly 800 kms from east to west and 140 to 240 kms from north to south. The capital is Kathmandu.
Nepal, long under the rule of hereditary prime ministers favouring a policy of isolation, remained closed to the outside world until a palace revolt in 1950 restored the crown’s authority in 1951; the country gained admission to the United Nations in 1955. In 1991 the kingdom established a multiparty parliamentary system. In 2008, however, after a decade long period of violence and turbulent negotiation with a strong Maoist insurgency, the monarchy was dissolved, and Nepal was declared a democratic republic.
Wedged between two giants, India and China, Nepal seeks to keep a balance between the two countries in its foreign policy—and thus to remain independent. A factor that contributes immensely to the geopolitical importance of the country is the fact that a strong Nepal can deny China access to the rich Gangetic Plain; Nepal thus marks the southern boundary of the Chinese sphere north of the Himalayas in Asia.
Nepal contains some of the most rugged and difficult mountain terrain in the world. Roughly 75 percent of the country is covered by mountains. From the south to the north, Nepal can be divided into four main physical belts, each of which extends east to west across the country. These are, first, the Tarai, a low, flat, fertile land adjacent to the border of India; second, the forested Churia foothills and the Inner Tarai zone, rising from the Tarai plain to the rugged Mahābhārat Range; third, the mid-mountain region between the Mahābhārat Range and the Great Himalayas; and, fourth, the Great Himalaya Range, rising to more than 29000 feet (some 8850 metres).
The Tarai forms the northern extension of the Gangetic Plain and varies in width from less than 16 to more than 20 miles, narrowing considerably in several places. A 10-mile-wide belt of rich agricultural land stretches along the southern part of the Tarai; the northern section, adjoining the foothills, is a marshy region in which wild animals abound and malaria is endemic.
The Churia Range, which is sparsely populated, rises in almost perpendicular escarpments to an altitude of more than 4000 feet. Between the Churia Range to the south and the Mahābhārat Range to the north, there are broad basins from 2000 to 3000 feet high, about 10 miles wide, and 20 to 40 miles long; these basins are often referred to as the Inner Tarai. In many places they have been cleared of the forests and savanna grass to provide timber and areas for cultivation.
The Great Himalaya Range, ranging in elevation from 14000 to more than 29000 feet, contains many of the world’s highest peaks—Everest, Kānchenjunga I, Lhotse I, Makālu I, Cho Oyu, Dhaulāgiri I, Manāslu I, and Annapūrna I—all of them above 26400 feet. Except for scattered settlements in high mountain valleys, this entire area is uninhabited.
The Kathmandu Valley, the political and cultural hub of the nation, is drained by the Bāghmati River, flowing southward, which washes the steps of the sacred temple of Paśupatinātha (Pashupatinath) and rushes out of the valley through the deeply cut Chhobar gorge. Some sandy layers of the lacustrine beds act as aquifers (water-bearing strata of permeable rock, sand, or gravel), and springs occur in the Kathmandu Valley where the sands outcrop. The spring water often gushes out of dragon-shaped mouths of stone made by the Nepalese; it is then collected in tanks for drinking and washing and also for raising paddy nurseries in May, before the monsoon. Drained by the Seti River, the Pokharā Valley, 96 miles west of Kathmandu, is also a flat lacustrine basin. There are a few remnant lakes in the Pokharā basin, the largest being Phewa Lake, which is about two miles long and nearly a mile wide. North of the basin lies the Annapūrna massif of the Great Himalaya Range.
Nepal’s climate, influenced by elevation as well as by its location in a subtropical latitude, ranges from subtropical monsoon conditions in the Tarai, through a warm temperate climate between 4000 and 7000 feet in the mid-mountain region, to cool temperate conditions in the higher parts of mountains between 7000 and 11000 feet, to an Alpine climate at altitudes between 1000 and 16000 feet along the lower slopes of the Himalaya mountains. At altitudes above 16000 feet the temperature is always below freezing and the surface covered by snow and ice.
In Kathmandu Valley, average temperatures range from 50°F (10°C) in January to 78°F (26°C) in July, and the lowest and highest temperatures recorded have been 27° and 99°F (-3° and 37°C). The average annual rainfall is about 55 inches, most of which falls in the period from June to September. At Pokharā the temperature ranges from 40°F (4°C) in January to approximately 100° F (38°C) in June, just before the monsoon. In winter, temperatures during the day rise to 70°F (21°C), creating pleasant conditions, with cool nights and warm days. Because warm rain-bearing monsoon winds discharge most of their moisture as they encounter the Annapūrna range, rainfall is quite heavy (about 100 inches) in the Pokharā Valley.