Nepal lies between China and India in South Asia. The country is slightly larger than the state of Arkansas. Nepal has the greatest altitude change of any location on Earth. The lowlands are at sea level and the mountains of the Himalaya are the tallest in the world. Mount Everest rises to 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) and is the world’s highest peak.
The Himalaya formed 10–15 million years ago when India collided with the continent of Asia and pushed the land into high mountains. Eight of the world’s ten highest mountain peaks are in Nepal.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Most people practice Hinduism, but some people practice both Hinduism and Buddhism. The caste system has been outlawed by the government but it still makes up the social structure of everyday lives.
Nepalese are from four main groups: the Hindu caste, the Bhotes, the hill tribes, and the Newar. The Hindus originally came from India and continue to follow the caste system. Hill people include the Sherpas and other tribes.
Sherpas are born way up in the mountains at elevations above 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) and are known for their ability to guide tourists in high altitude climbs. They teach visitors about Sherpa culture and Buddhism's love of the land.
The Bhotes live in mountains in the north and are originally from Tibet. The Newar are the original native people of the Kathmandu Valley.
Most Nepalese live in the central, hilly region, which embraces the Kathmandu Valley, and in the southern plain known as the Terai. The Ganges River floods this area and makes the land very fertile for growing crops. About 10 percent live in the mountains over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) and are traders, farmers, and herders.
People in Nepal rely on trees for most of their energy needs. Forests are rapidly being cut down and used as firewood in heating and cooking. The land has become fragile and erodes away when the trees have been removed.
Animal species are also becoming extinct due to population growth and deforestation. The Bengal tiger, the Asian one-horned rhinoceros, the snow leopard, and the Ganges freshwater dolphin are all endangered animals. Many tourists come to Nepal to see the exotic wildlife, so the Nepal economy depends on protecting these animals from extinction.
The yeti (or Abominable Snowman) is said to live in the mountains of Nepal. No conclusive evidence has been documented as to whether the yeti actually exists or not, but several explorers claim to have seen yeti footprints. No one has ever found one so the mystery goes on.
In June 2008, Nepal ended its monarchy. At that time King Gyanendra, who had come to power in 2001 stepped down from the throne. Nepal's parliament chose its first president soon after.
This government change came after nearly 20 years of political turmoil, including followers of Mao fighting for power from 1996 until 2005.
The Buddha, Siddartha Gautama, was born in 563 B.C. in Lumbini, a town near the border with India. In the 1800s, Nepal was a powerful country in South Asia. The British controlled India at the time and forced Nepal to sign treaties in 1816 giving land to Britain. The Nepalese signed the treaty, but they closed their borders to foreigners until 1951.
The mountain known to westerners as Mount Everest was named after British surveyor Sir George Everest in 1863. The local Sherpa call it Chomolungma, meaning "Goddess Mother of the World." The Chinese name is Qomolangma. The Nepali word for Everest, Sagarmatha, means "Forehead of the Sky."
Sir Edmund Hilary and a Sherpa guide reached the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Many of those who have tried to reach the top of Everest have failed.