Introduction to Nepal
Located between China and India, Nepal’s altitudinal transition between the lowlands and the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, is the largest on earth. Part of the expansive Himalayas, Nepal’s iconic mountain regions feature world-famous trekking destinations despite its long-time mythological inhabitant, the yeti.
Records of human life pre-date 7th century BC in Nepal and this history is apparent in the ‘royal cities’ of Kathmandu (Nepal’s capital), Patan and Bhaktapur. Lumbini, near India, also happens to be the birthplace of Buddhism founder Siddartha Gautama in 563BC. Hinduism dominates today as reflected in many of the country’s colourful and prominent religious festivals. Along with Hindus, hill tribes such as the Sherpas, the Bhotes from Tibet, and Kathmandu Valley natives the Newar also make up the 30-million strong population of Nepal, which is said to have 101 ethnic groups speaking 92 different languages.
The central region, including Kathmandu Valley and the Terai, is the most populous owing to its fertile land ideal for farming thanks to the Ganges River. A heavily reliance on trees for fuel has resulted in deforestation over time and extinction fears for some of the country’s most exotic animals and biggest tourism drawcards like the Bengal tiger, snow leopard and the Ganges freshwater dolphin are now apparent.
Nepal was a powerful state in the 1800s, but closed its borders to foreigners until 1951 after it was forced to sign treaties by the British. Two years later, a Sherpa and Sir Edmund Hilary would be the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Many still try this feat, but not everyone succeeds. Nepal was a monarchy until 2008 after King Gyanendra stood down. He was crowned king in 2001 after a tragic royal massacre. Tourist numbers to Nepal have been down in recent years owing to political tension, but this intriguing and remote nation continues to tempt the adventurous traveller.