Formerly the world’s last Hindu kingdom, Nepal (“Home of the Gurkhas”) is now a multi-party federal democratic republic of some 27.8 million people (2013 census) and a total land-locked area of 147,181 sq. km. with India in the south, east and west and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China in the north. It has some of the most rugged mountainous terrain in the world, with the Great Himalayan Range, including Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, in the central and northern parts. Altitude variation is 70 meters above sea level in the southern plains to 8,848 m in the extreme north (Mt. Everest), with oxygen rates varying from 88% to 33 % correspondingly. The climate also varies: tropical in the southern plains, temperate in the middle hills and lower mountains, to arctic cold in the extreme north (the real Himalayas.)
The people of Nepal are mostly of Indo-Aryan stock with various tribes of Mongol-Tibetan origin both of which resulted in numerous dialects and sub-dialects apart from the official language: Nepali. (Spoken and written English is quite widely common due to the last half-century’s stress on modern international-type education and increasing diplomatic and commercial relations with other countries.) Similarly, there exists an astounding mosaic of customs and traditional practices which result in Nepal being so colourfully diverse and interesting. Constitutionally a secular country, Hindus are in the majority followed by Buddhists (Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal), Moslems and Christians in the minorities. Various tribal groups practice animism and spirit worship.
The Nepali rupee is the official currency but the US dollar is always easily negotiable!
Transportation: Kathmandu’s Tribhuwan International Airport is served by some 16 international airlines while there are over a dozen domestic carriers which connect Kathmandu to airports throughout the country, some of them the highest and thrilling in the world. There are 12,493 kilometers of motorable (black-topped,graveled and dirt) roads criss-crossing plains, hills and mountains (but Mountain Legend carefully plans trek routes to avoid as much as possible dusty roads, sticking to virgin foot-trails wherever possible).
Nepal’s market economy is based largely on agriculture and it is a major producer of medicinal herbs which grow on the slopes of the Himalayas including “Yarshabumba”, the Himalayan version of “Viagra”. Tourism is a prime contributor to the national revenue, although the April and May 2015 earthquakes hit this industry critically. Due to centuries of geographic and self-imposed isolation, Nepal unfortunately remains one of the world’s least-developed nations but is striving to catch up.
A democratically elected government, guided by a nationally approved constitution and a secure parliamentary system strives to deliver good administration, law and order, economic upliftment and eradication of poverty, protecting universal human rights, women’s empowerment, children’s rights, freedom of speech and all other democratic civil institutions. Although, in its long history, Nepal has fought wars with British India and erstwhile imperial China, Nepal has never been conquered or occupied by foreign forces. Colonialist Britain, unable to subdue this country and suffering several serious setbacks in their campaign to defeat the Gurkhas, officially recognized Nepal in 1923 as a sovereign, independent nation, and so it has remained till today, a full member of the UNO. Nepal maintains excellent and balanced relations with both her northern and southern nuclear-armed neighbours, China and India.
Kathmandu (1324m) is the country’s political, commercial, religious, cultural and educational centre. Religious and cultural festivals go on practically throughout the year in the Valley of Kathmandu. Many visitors simply enjoy walking along the meandering streets and alleys with their numerous ornate and ancient temples, World Heritage Sites, shopping malls, arts and crafts shops, galleries, modern hotels and restaurants as well as small traditional tea shops that serve cheap local dishes. The endlessly throbbing tourist hub of Thamel, still reminiscent of the ‘60s hippies and flower children, is a big attraction.
Pokhara (“the Lake City”), situated in central Nepal west of Kathmandu, and the start-off point for the Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary trails and treks further north, has become a high-point for high-trek enthusiasts over the years. From here, gaze at the Annapurna Range , just 50 kms distance, Machhapuchhare or “Fishtail” mountain, 30 kms, Dhaulagiri, 140 kms and Himalchuli. The valley itself, with a sub-tropical climate good for citrus trees, bananas, rice and mustard, is home to 7 lakes, the most famous being Phewa and the most peaceful being Begnas.
Arguably, mountaineering and highland trekking are more linked to Nepal than any other country in the world. Mount Everest (8,848 m), situated in the extreme north of the Khumbu Valley, itself north-east of Kathmandu, stands on the border between Nepal and Tibet (China). Beginning from 1921, the British mounted a number of expeditions to reach the “Roof of the World” until a British-led expedition put New- Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal on the pinnacle in 1953, giving added glory to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953.