Nepal is a fascinating and mysterious land that awaits discovery. The country was almost completely closed off to the outside world until the 1950s. As a result, Nepal remains undiscovered and little known to most Westerners even today. Yet those visitors who have discovered this small country tucked away between India and China are overwhelmed by its physical grandeur and the charming diversity of its people. Packed within its borders are the planet’s most majestic mountains, the Himalayas. The range includes towering Mount Everest, which, with an elevation of more than 29,000 feet (8,840 meters), is the world’s highest peak. In fact, about one third of Nepal is dominated by the rugged, dramatic peaks of the Himalayas.
The Nepalese have a deep affection for their mountains. The peaks also serve as a magnet for adventurers and mountaineers who are lured by their awesome size and beauty. Culturally, few places in the world of comparable size can match Nepal’s diversity. It is a country in which multilingual and multicultural societies are as diverse as its varied natural landscapes. More than 40 different ethnic groups exist within its 56,827 square mile (147,181 square kilometer) territory, and about 70 different languages are spoken. These numbers become more meaningful when one realizes that Nepal is about the size of Alabama, or the combined area of Canada’s New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Nepal’s cultural diversity stems from several ancient migrations into the territory. They include Indo Aryans from the southwest, Tibeto Burmans from the north, and Dravidians from the south. The country also is the homeland of the Siddhartha Gautama (Gautama Buddha), the founder of Buddhism, one of the world’s great religions. This small and hospitable country has become a popular destination for people seeking spiritual enlightenment and peace. Of course, some adventurers also come in search of the elusive Yeti, the legendary “Abominable Snowman” that is said to prowl the high mountains. Geographically, Nepal is situated on the lap of the Himalayas, in southern Asia. It is bound by the Tibetan Autonomous Region (China) to the north, and by India to the east, south, and west. The country shares a 746-mile (1,200-kilometer) boundary with China and 1,119 miles (1,800 kilometers) with India. Roughly rectangular in shape, Nepal extends about 550 miles (885 kilometers) from east to west and about 120 miles (193 kilometers) north to south. It is one of the world’s land locked countries and lacks a water route to the sea. Despite being relatively small and completely landlocked, Nepal still has many unique characteristics. Few countries in the world, for example, can match its tremendous diversity in terrain, climate, people, and culture particularly within a comparable area. Whereas its land features include the world’s highest mountain peaks, terrain also plunges to an elevation of less than 200 feet (60 meters) in the far southeast. Because of location and differences in elevation, climatic conditions range from subtropical in the south to polar ice cap atop high mountain peaks. South Asia’s famous monsoons bring summer rains that account for about 90 percent of the country’s annual precipitation. Despite its relatively small size and rugged terrain, Nepal is home to nearly 29 million people. This gives the country a whopping population density of about 510 people per square mile (about 200 per square kilometer). With so much of the country unsettled because of terrain, the density is several times higher in those areas where people actually live. Nepal faces a number of challenges as it tries to meet the needs of its booming population.
The country’s economy is among the poorest in the world. There is little industry, and most people continue to practice subsistence agriculture in an economy that depends heavily upon barter. Nepal’s landlocked condition and rugged terrain combine to make transportation linkages inadequate and costly to build. A history of political instability and rampant corruption also are major constraints against development. Consequently, many of the country’s potential resources including abundant water and scenery that could attract tourists remain relatively undeveloped. Recently, Nepal experienced extreme political turmoil, including an attempted takeover by Maoists (Communists). Rapid population growth, a stagnant economy, and mounting frustrations combine to make Nepal a very difficult country to govern successfully. Currently, the country is undergoing a governmental transition. Regardless of the outcome, those in power will face many challenges. They must somehow meet the rising expectations of an increasingly impatient population.
Nepalese want adequate incomes, access to resources, better education and health services, and equal opportunity. As this book goes to press, an interim government is in control. It has scheduled elections (which have been delayed on several occasions) to form an assembly, and seeks to create a new and stable federal republic. People and culture in the northern and southern parts of Nepal tend to resemble those of neighboring regions China, Tibet, and India. The origin of the name Nepal depends on several ancient mythical and historical stories. Many people who inhabit northern Nepal are descendents of people from Tibet. The Tibetan people lived a nomadic lifestyle, herding sheep and producing wool for their livelihood. In the Tibetan language, ne means “wool,” and pal means “house.” Therefore, Tibetan people called the Himalayan region Nepal in recognition of its wool production. Similarly, however, the Newar (inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley) had the word Nepa, meaning “country of the middle zone.” Because their homeland was situated in the central part of the Himalayas, they called it Nepal. Lepcha people, on the other hand, use the word Nepal in reference to a “sacred or holy cave.” According to yet another story, Manjushri (a Buddhist deity) drained the water from Nagadaha (a mythical lake that is believed to have occupied the Kathmandu Valley). When drained, the valley became inhabitable. According to legend, the valley was ruled by Bhuktaman, a cow herder, under the guidance of a sage named Ne. Because the sage had taken care to rule the sacred country, the land was named Nepal. In this version, Ne recognizes the name of the sage, and pal refers to “taking care.” Clearly, the origin of the country’s name is subject to wild speculation and is anyone’s guess. Religion plays a very important role in Nepalese society. More than 80 percent of the country’s people follow Hinduism or Buddhism, and many Nepalese follow both faiths. Lumbini is the birthplace of Gautama Buddha; hence, it is the home of Buddhism. Hinduism also took root in Nepal long before the dawn of the Christian era. In addition, Christianity and Islam are widely practiced faiths. Thus, Nepal has great religious diversity. Nepalese respect all religions, and the country has never experienced a religious conflict. A caste system is a deeply entrenched trait of Nepalese culture. Each family in Nepalese society is a member (by birth) of a certain caste, and everyone has to abide by the rules of one’s own caste.
Today, Nepal is experiencing rapid and, in most respects, highly positive changes. Since 1990, the country has enjoyed a relatively stable democratic government. The result has been widespread improvements in education, communications, transportation, technology, the arts, and water resource development. Tourism also has experienced considerable development during recent years. In terms of international relations, Nepal has long played the geopolitical role of a strategic buffer zone that has contributed to trans-Himalayan political stability. Located between two antagonistic neighbors, China and India, Nepal has often had a difficult time balancing its relations with the two countries. This was particularly true during periods of conflict within the region. Outside pressures, for example, pressed upon Nepal like a giant vice during the China-India War (1962) and during the Cold War between the West and the Communist world during much of the latter half of the twentieth century. Diplomatic relationships between Nepal and the United States were established in April 1947, earlier than with either of its neighbors (India in 1947 and China in 1955). The relationship was strained much of the time, however, because of Nepal’s own political instability. After the attack on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001, things changed. The United States began to provide technical (military) and other support to the government of Nepal to fight the terrorism being inflicted on the country by Maoist insurgents. The U.S. secretary of state, Colin Powell, visited Nepal and offered his country’s sup port to Nepal’s own war against Maoist terrorism. They also discussed human rights, military activities, and development strategies. Relationships between the two countries continue to strengthen. In 2007, for example, Nepal ranked thirteenth among foreign countries with regard to the number of students studying in the United States.
Between 1996 and the signing of a “comprehensive peace agreement” in 2006, Nepal was nearly brought to its knees by a bitter civil conflict. An insurgency led by Maoists (Communist sympathizers) gave the government a list of 40 demands related to issues of nationalism, democracy, and livelihood. The government, of course, sought to put down the rebellion. The result was a very dark period in Nepalese history, one marked by terrible destruction and bloodshed. The “People’s War” did, however, have at least one positive effect: People began to think in terms of their well being and that of their country. Of particular importance, they began to become more aware of the need for greater human rights. They also began to speak out against corruption, feudalism, and monarchism, which had strangled the country’s potential for so long. During recent years, change has come fast and furiously. In 2006, the reinstated Parliament removed the king as the head of state and supreme commander in chief of the Royal Nepalese Army. It also shrank the annual budget and declared that the future status of the monarchy would be decided by the Constituent Assembly. The word royal was washed from all official signboards and letter pads across the country. Parliament declared Nepal a secular state, one recognizing the separation of organized religion and government. Unexpectedly, Nepal suddenly appeared a much different country to the rest of the world and even to the Nepalese. A new buoyancy and atmosphere of optimism began to spread throughout the country.
Physical features and conditions dominate the geography of Nepal, perhaps to a greater degree than any other elements natural or human. Among these features, none dominates in a more overwhelming way than the country’s spectacular mountains and valleys. Nepal’s terrain resembles a three step stairway. In the south, the land is dominated by a low lying, relatively flat plain. Farther north, the plains merge with hills and scattered valleys. The northern one third (roughly) of the country is dominated by the world’s mightiest mountain range, the majestic Himalayas. Geographically, Nepal can be divided into three broad regions: Terai, hill, and mountain (Himalayas). Each zone stretches in an east–west direction across the country and differs from the others in many ways. From south to north, they appear as a series of giant steps that rise toward the heavens. Because of marked differences in terrain and elevation, climatic conditions differ from zone to zone. With their different climates, they present a variety of ecosystems, including a wide range of plant and animal life, soils, and so forth. They also differ in terms of natural resources and land use practices. The government uses these regional divisions for planning and administration development. Doing so helps to ensure that all parts of the country are included in various development programs.
The Terai region is the southernmost strip of Nepal. It is bordered by India in the south and by the Mahabharat foothills to the north. Initially, this low lying plains region was covered with dense, subtropical forests. Today, much of the forest is gone. This is Nepal’s most densely populated region and also its most productive agricultural area. Malaria, which once made the Terai all but uninhabitable, has been nearly eradicated. This is the country’s breadbasket. Paddy rice, corn (maize), millet, potatoes, mustard, and wheat are major foods crops. Primary cash crops include sugarcane, jute, tea, and bamboo. Hill Region Moving northward, the central (east–west) strip is called the hill region. It is formed by the Mahabharat chain, a range of low, rounded hills that reach elevations of approximately 6,500 to 9,500 feet (2,000 to 3,000 meters). The hills are extensively terraced, giving them a striking staircase appearance. Rice is the primary crop raised on terraced land, although wheat, maize, and tea also are grown. Some animals are raised, in addition to crops, and the region also includes popular recreational centers. The south facing slopes are more densely populated and agriculturally productive than those with a northern exposure; this is because they receive more direct rays of the sun as well as more rainfall. The hill region includes several valleys and plateaus. Of the valleys lying within the Mahabharat range, none is more important than the Kathmandu Valley. Located in the central part of the country, the valley is the site of Nepal’s ancient, historic capital city, Kathmandu.
The mountain region, formed by the Himalayas, stretches across the northernmost part of the country. It is bordered by the Mahabharat range to the south and by the Tibetan Plateau the “Roof of the World” to the north. The mountain region, which ranges from about 6,500 to 29,035 feet (2,000 to 8,850 meters), includes 8 of the world’s 10 highest peaks. Most of the region is covered with permanent snowfields, resulting in very little vegetation, population, or economic activity. Hence, Nepal’s physiographic has been further divided into six regions based on the standard altitudinal divisions. Major portions of the trans Himalayan lie in the western part of the mountain region of Nepal. The Himalayas: Where Earth Meets Sky Himalaya means “abode of snow” in the Sanskrit language. According to the Hindu epic Mahabharata, the towering ice and snow-mantled range is a sacred and holy place. It is occupied by Lord Shiva, who married the princess of one of the Himalayan kingdoms. Many Hindu religious books mention visits from gods and goddesses to the Himalayan region on different occasions. This emphasizes the holiness of the Himalayas to those of the Hindu faith, and it strengthens the respect they hold for the mountains. Today, the range still holds mystical and sacred importance to various peoples. Yet it is the awesome dimensions and natural beauty of the Himalayas—range upon range, tier after tier of rocks with their sky-piercing, snowcapped peaks and deep canyons that most attract visitors from around the world. According to geologists, the Himalayas are Earth’s youngest folded mountains. In fact, they are still in the process of formation; the mountains continue to move northward, and they are still growing in height. To understand their origin, imagine a gigantic bulldozer slamming into southern Asia. What would be the result? You guessed it a huge pile of rock! Plate tectonics refers to the movement of huge chunks of Earth’s crust across the planet’s surface. Originally, the Himalaya range was uplifted due to the collision of a huge plate the land that is today the Indian “subcontinent” with what was then southern Asia. It started during the tertiary period of geologic history, which began about 65 million years ago, and ended at the beginning of the Ice Age, approximately 2 million years ago. This is a very recent event in geologic time, and the mountain building process continues today. The Himalayas that stretch beyond Nepal encompass territory of northern India, southern China, Bhutan, northern Pakistan, and northeastern Afghanistan. The total east–west length covers about 1,550 miles (2,400 kilometers) and an area of about 38,460 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) in South Asia. The Nepal Himalayas (about 750 miles, 1,210 kilometers) are located in the central portion of the range. Here, within the country, are seven peaks that reach above 26,246 feet (8,000 meters), including the giant of them all, Mount Everest. No other country can match this spectacular terrain. These magnificent Himalayan ranges have given Nepal a gift of splendid landscapes, where visitors can also explore not only the mountains but also ancient temples and other cultural resources.
Thousands are drawn to the country and its environmental riches each year. These riches include 10 World Heritage Sites (listed here), 8 of which are located at elevations above 2,000 feet (610 meters):
1. Sagarmatha National Park
2. Patan Durbar Square
3. Kathamandu Durbar Square
4. Bhaktapur Durbar Square
5. Pashupatinath Temple
6. Changu Narayan Temple
7. Swayambhunath Stupa
8. Bouddhanath Stupa
9. Chitwan National Park
10. Lumbini (birthplace of Lord Buddha)
The last two sites are located in southern Terai, or the low land belt, at an elevation below 2,000 feet (610 meters). The sites include both natural and cultural features of importance. Sagarmatha and Chitwan national parks are natural heritage sites, whereas the other eight are sites based on the country’s rich cultural heritage. Conveniently, 7 of the 10 sites are located in or near (within about 20 miles, or 32 kilometers) the Kathmandu Valley.
The Khumbo Region
The Khumbu Region and Mount Everest Mount Everest called Sagarmatha in the Nepali language (Chomolungma in Tibetan) rises 29,035 feet (8,848 meters) above sea level. The magnificent peak certainly earns the title “Goddess of the Sky.” Many of its secrets remained shrouded in mystery until 1953. In that year, a Nepalese Sherpa named Tenzing Norgay and New Zealand adventurer, explorer, and mountaineer Edmund P. Hillary became the first people to scale Everest. They reached the summit on May 29 of that year, climbing their way into history and immortality. Once scaled, Mount Everest soon became a popular challenge for trekkers and mountaineers from around the world. Many visitors, of course, came simply to view the snow- and ice capped peaks that resemble sparkling white pyramids reaching for the heavens. The Khumbu region, home of the Sherpa people, is also a popular Himalayan destination that welcomes the trekkers with its Sherpa hospitality. Sherpa known as the “Snow Leopards” are the world’s best-known mountain climbers. They also are the skilled guides who accompany mountaineers seeking to conquer Everest’s treacherous slopes. The beauty of the soaring Himalayan peaks, the region’s rich cultural heritage, and the fascinating local biodiversity are now part of Sagarmatha National Park. The park, created in 1976, is the world’s highest. It covers an area of 443 square miles (1,148 square kilometers) and includes many peaks that rise above 19,685 feet (6,000 meters). They include Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Nuptse, Amadablam, and Pamori. The United Nations designated the park a World Heritage Site in 1979 for its unique geology, flora and fauna, people and culture, and spectacular landscape. The Mount Everest (Khumbu) region is the backbone of Nepal’s growing tourism industry. Most tourists who come to Nepal do not want to miss an opportunity to see Mount Everest, a once in a lifetime experience. The majority of visitors take a flight from Kathmandu to an airport in the Khumbu region. Others take buses, or even walk part of the way. Mountain flight sightseeing is another option for those who are unable to reach base camp physically. Some, of course, want to climb. Expedition fees in Nepal vary based on the height of the peak. The fee to climb Mount Everest is about $50,000 for a team of up to 5 members, and an additional $10,000 for each additional member (up to a maximum of 10). The fees are smaller for other low elevation peaks. An additional fee must be deposited for the clearing of garbage by each team; the cost of garbage management for Mount Everest is $4,000 per team, but fees drop to $2,000 for peaks under 26,250 feet (8,000 meters). Many scaling records and statistics are kept for Mount Everest. Perhaps the darkest is that, for every five people who successfully reach the summit and return, one person dies.
Most records are held by Sherpas, including the first ascent, the fastest climb, and the longest time spent standing naked on the summit (three minutes in subzero temperatures!). In 1963, Jim Whittaker became the first American to reach Everest’s summit. Moments later, the late Barry Bishop, an American geographer who worked for the National Geographic Society, followed Whittaker to the top. The mountain has been climbed by an American with an artificial leg (Thomas Whittaker) and another who was blind (Erik Weihenmayer). In 2005, two Nepalese Ms. Moni Mulepati and Mr. Pem Dorjee were even married on top of the mountain! Another attraction of the Everest region is the Everest Marathon, which is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the marathon conducted at the highest elevation. The Everest Marathon begins at Gorak Shep (17,000 feet; 5,184 meters) and finishes at Namche Bazaar (11,300 feet; 3,446 meters). This amazing footrace began in 1987. By late 2007, it had been conducted 12 times over the rugged course that covers mostly downhill mountain trails. The grand success of the Everest Marathon inspired other such races in the region, including the Tenzing Hillary Everest Marathon. Kanchenjunga Region Mount Kanchenjunga Mount Kanchenjunga the “Five Treasures of the Eternal Snows” takes its name from its five distinct peaks, which are located at the eastern edge of Nepal and extend into neighboring Sikkim. The peaks are believed to represent a repository for the five holy items essential for life: gems, grain, salt, weapons, and holy books. Rising to 28,169 feet (8,586 meters), the mountain is the second highest in Nepal and the third highest in the world. It was first climbed in 1955, two years after Mount Everest was initially scaled. Local people consider the peaks of Kanchenjunga to be the holy place of a patron deity who protects them from possible harm. Kanchenjunga is one of the most famous trekking regions in Nepal for mountain adventurers and climbers. Hiking to the Kanchenjunga area was opened in 1988, making it possible to visit wonderful and unexplored tracts in the eastern Nepalese Himalayas. The absence of roads requires visitors to hike. Their efforts are richly rewarded, however, by the area’s beautiful scenery. The Kanchenjunga area is rich in biodiversity. In 1998, the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area Project (KCAP) was launched by Nepal’s government and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to conserve the area’s flora and fauna. The project has focused attention on encouraging local people to manage their natural resources and improve their livelihood opportunities. The KCAP includes more than 2,000 species of plants. It is also home to 252 species of birds, 22 kinds of mammals, 82 types of insects, 5 varieties of fish, and 6 species of amphibians.
Mount Annapurna Annapurna, the “Goddess of the Harvests,” rises to an elevation of 26,545 feet (8,091meters). Lying in the central part of the country, the Annapurna region is another very popular trekking route known as the “classic trek.” This region provides a superb panorama of the Himalayas, including the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri ranges. Furthermore, the region offers a vast variety of landscapes and diverse ecological zones. Along the classic trek, one encounters such features as the subtropical Pokhara Valley, extensively terraced hillsides, alpine forest, and even a semi desert near the Tibetan border. The east–west trending ranges are situated just to the north of Pokhara. They include Annapurna, Annapurna II (26,000 feet; 7,925 meters), Annapurna III (24,787 feet; 7,555 meters), and others. Above all, Machhapuchhre (22,943 feet; 6,993 meters) gives an astonishing and unsurpassed panorama to all visitors. The shining peak of Machhapuchhre has never been climbed, out of respect for the belief that it is a holy and sacred place to the local people. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP), established in 1986, is the first and largest conservation project in Nepal. It encompasses the entire Annapurna range, an area of 2,946 square miles (7,629 square kilometers). The ACAP also has involved local people in the conservation and management of the protected area. The region is recognized as a natural paradise and is rich in biodiversity. As a result, it is the primary destination of more than 60 percent of all foreign hikers visiting Nepal. The ACAP collects fees from visitors and uses the funds for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection. The project is home to more than 1,200 plant species, 100 mammals, 478 types of birds, 39 reptiles, 22 amphibians, and many types of butterflies.
Weather and climat
Nepal’s conditions of weather (day to day atmospheric conditions) and climate (long term average of the weather) are the result of two primary controls: elevation and the seasonal change in moisture resulting from the South Asian monsoon. On average, temperatures drop about 3.5°F with each 1,000-foot increase in elevation (6.5°C/1,000 meters). For example, if the temperature on a summer afternoon in Kathmandu were 80°F, it would be about 35 degrees colder atop a mountain rising 10,000 feet above the city. Weather conditions and the resulting climatic zones therefore correspond to Nepal’s land regions. Narrow east–west trending bands of climate change abruptly within very short north–south distances. In fact, within fewer than 100 miles, one can travel from steaming tropical conditions to sparkling snowfields and glaciers. As is the case throughout the United States and Canada, Nepal enjoys four distinct seasons spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Inasmuch as the country is in the Northern Hemi sphere, the seasons occur during the same months as they do in North America. In general, spring and autumn are the most pleasant seasons. The low lying Terai enjoys a mild, subtropical climate. In the lowlands, summers can be hot and steamy, with temperature and humidity similar to those of the southeastern United States. Temperatures have risen as high as a sweltering 116°F (46.4°C) in the lowland region. Northward, the hill region has a moderate climate. The Kathmandu Valley, at an elevation of 4,500 feet (1,370 meters), experiences a mild climate that ranges from 70°–100°F (20°–30°C) during the summer, and from 30°–64°F (1°–20°C) in the winter. In the mountains, conditions are frigid year round, dropping to well below zero at high elevations. Mountain valleys, many of which are inhabited, are somewhat warmer; temperature extremes depend on their elevation. The second primary control of Nepal’s atmospheric conditions is the monsoon that affects much of Asia. Fundamentally, the monsoon (which means “season”) is a seasonal shift in the wind that is accompanied by a marked change in precipitation. During the late fall, winter, and early spring, the wind blows mainly from the north. Because it comes from the interior of Asia, it is very dry. Little precipitation occurs during this time of year.
Toward the end of June, however, the wind changes, blowing from the south off of the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean. Between late June and mid September, Nepal receives about 90 percent of its annual precipitation. Much of the rain falls as torrential showers that can cause local flooding, mud flows, and landslides. Because of the almost constant summer cloud cover, temperatures are somewhat milder than during the drier spring and early autumn.
Nepal is rich in water resources. Many streams begin in Tibet and flow southward into Nepal, where they join tributaries that begin in the country’s own snowcapped Himalayas. All streams eventually join the mighty Ganges (Ganga) River in India. Major drainage systems, from west to east across the country, include the Karnali, Gandaki, and Kosi rivers. The western part of Nepal is drained by the Karnali river system. Major tributaries include the Bheri and Seti rivers. The Gandaki River, which flows through central Nepal (also called the Narayani in Nepal and the Gandak in India) is one of the country’s major streams. It, too, has a number of tributaries. The river has been harnessed to produce hydro electric energy and also is an important source of water for irrigation. It has scoured one of the world’s deepest canyons, the Kali Gandaki Gorge (also called Andha Galchi). The Gandaki flowed across the area before the Himalayas began to form. As the mountains gradually rose, the river was able to cut its way downward through the rock. In this way, over a period of millions of years, it was able to create the spectacular canyon. (The same physical process is responsible for Arizona’s Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. As the Colorado Plateau gradually rose over a period of millions of years, the river cut through the rock to form the canyon.) The Kosi river system drains the eastern part of Nepal; its main tributary is the Arun. Nepal’s rivers are very fast flowing. Within fewer than 100 miles (160 kilometers), they cascade down thousands of feet of steep terrain. This presents several economic opportunities. First, few countries in the world have greater potential to develop hydroelectric resources. Today, about 80 percent of Nepal’s electricity comes from hydro sources, but only 2 percent of the country’s hydroelectric potential is harnessed. Future development of this resource, including the sale of energy to India, could give Nepal’s economy a much needed boost. Second, Nepal has become a destination for rafting. This is particularly true for those visitors who seek world class whitewater streams. Finally, the country’s rivers offer spectacular scenery that could become a major tourist attraction.
Nepal is subject to a number of natural hazards. Severe thunderstorms that occur during the summer monsoon season can cause flooding, mudflows, and landslides. At the opposite extreme, a weak monsoon can cause severe drought and famine. In the mountains, snow avalanches pose a threat in inhabited areas. A wall of snow can cascade down a mountain slope with the speed of a race car and sweep away or bury everything in its path. Earthquakes, although infrequent, pose a major threat to life and property in Nepal. The country lies astride an active seismic zone, created by the clashing of the Indo Australian and Eurasian plates. The collision created the Himalaya Mountains and movement continues to occur at a rate of about one third of an inch (0.8 centimeter) each year. Nepal’s last major earthquake occurred in 1934; as many as 20,000 people lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of this devastating event, and up to a quarter of the country’s homes were destroyed. Most deaths occurred when people’s homes collapsed on them during the tremor. Historically, Nepal experiences a severe earthquake approximately every 75 years. On April 25, 2015, a violent 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal followed weeks later by a 7.3-magnitude aftershock killing almost 9,000 people, injuring 22,000, and damaging or destroying nearly 800,000 homes.
According to Hindu mythology, Nepalese civilization traces its roots to the “Age of Truth.” As legend has it, Manu, the world’s first human being and king of the world, is believed to have ruled Nepal during this time. The territory over which he ruled was known as the Land of Truth. It was a place that became famous for spirituality, meditation, and penance during the Silver Age. During the Copper Age, Nepal was a popular place for seekers of eternal freedom and salvation. Today, this territory is known as Nepal. The present time is referred to as the Iron Age, a period highlighted by developments in science and technology. Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley prove that humans have existed here since before 9,000 b.c. It is possible, of course, that humans have occupied the region for a much longer period of time. Other than as a point of interest, the antiquity of humans in Nepal has little geographical significance.
The Nagas are considered the first known people to settle in and around the Kathmandu Valley. According to legend, their king, Banashur, was defeated by Lord Krishna, who established the Gopala Dynasty. The Gopala were cattle herders who are believed to have introduced agricultural activities, including animal husbandry, in the Kathmandu Valley. Bhuktaman (first) and Yakshya Gupta (last) were the popular kings of this dynasty. Another group the Ahiras lived in this region. The Ahiras were buffalo herders (Asian buffalo, not to be confused with the American bison). Many historians believe that they defeated the Gopala’s king, Yakshya Gupta, after which they ruled for about 200 years. The Kirat ruled for approximately 1,225 years, from the eighth century b.c. to about a.d. 300. The powerful tribe came to Nepal from the Tibeto-Burman ethnic region of the eastern Himalayas. Several Hindu religious books have described the Kirat Dynasty and their people; they were known to be fierce fighters who were experts at guerrilla warfare. Yalamber, the first king of the Kirat Dynasty, rose to power by defeating the Ahiras Dynasty. Aryans, who had migrated northward into Nepal from India, ruled the country from about a.d. 300 to 1200. The Licchavi Aryans became one of the most renowned dynasties in ancient Nepalese history. The first Licchavi king, Susupta, came into power by defeating the Kirat king, Gasti. These Aryans ruled the region until perhaps the eighth century. They are recognized for their elitism, prosperity, and the flourishing of culture during their era of control. Advancements were made in language and writing, and they introduced many social reforms. The last record inscribed in Sanskrit of the Licchavi Dynasty is dated a.d. 733. According to some historians, however, they continued to hold power until around 1200. Agriculture was the basis of the economy during this era. The Licchavi kings, however, established both political and business ties with kingdoms to the north and south of Nepal. Business links were strengthened and flourished with the spread of Buddhism and religious pilgrimages. The Shakyas were a group that took their name from a region in the foothills of the Himalayas. Their distinguished dynasty flourished in the Kapilbastu district of Nepal. Gautama Buddha, a son of King Suddhodhana, was the prince of the Shakya Dynasty. Following the death of Gautama Buddha, the dynasty was threatened by Bidhhusak, the king of Kosal, India. As a result, the Shakyas fled to the northern hill part of Nepal and Kathmandu Valley. This region lay among the foothills of the Himalayas, in the farthest northern regions of the Indo gigantic plains in Nepal.
The medieval period of Nepal is poorly documented. Few manuscripts or inscriptions exist that provide a glimpse of the people or of the time. Most available artifacts and manuscripts are of a religious nature. From them, we know that it was a period of little territorial and administrative expansion. It also saw the gradual decline of the Licchavi Dynasty. Evidently, the period experienced the emergence of a new power, the Newars, who became established by 879. One thing that is known about the period is that it witnessed a profound change in religious practices, with a shift from Buddhism to Hinduism. With the downfall of the Lichhavis, the Malla Dynasty came to power a position it held from about 1200 to 1769. The Malla came to the Kathmandu Valley from the Malla Kingdom of Gorakhpur in northern India. Under the Malla, the valley rose in importance as a regional center of economy and politics. It continued to benefit from a variety of social, cultural, and economic reforms. The Nepali calendar, Bikram Sambat (B.S.), was developed during this period, but with a beginning date 57 years earlier than the Christian calendar (57 b.c. on the Western calendar). However, the period suffered from several raids by Mughal empires located to the south, in India. The worst blow occurred in 1345–1346. A raid under the direction of Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas of Bengal devastated all major religious shrines and resulted in the widespread looting of properties and jewels. Jayasthiti Malla, a popular king of the Malla period, unified the major principalities in the valley by 1374. Furthermore, he contributed greatly to the shaping of Nepalese culture, including its society, religion, and political administration. So influential were his deeds that today’s Nepalese continue to follow many of the practices he introduced. He is credited with having established Nepal’s first complete codification of law. It was based on dharma, the “right way to live” or “proper conduct” concept that is the foundation of several South Asian faiths. Jayasthiti Malla also is credited with having introduced the caste system into Nepal. After 1482, Nepalese history took several sharp turns. Sons of the last Malla ruler, Yakshya Malla, divided the valley into three separate kingdoms and ruled separately. During the medieval period, people of the Khasa jati (tribe) had settled in the western part of Nepal. They migrated from central Asia and settled in the Karnali region. Later, under the leadership of Nagaraj, they established the Khasa Kingdom there. Nagaraj rapidly expanded his territory. The Khasa also made many contributions to Nepal’s history and culture. Perhaps the greatest was their language, which served as the parent tongue for the present day Nepali language.
Modern Nepal Emerges(1742–1816)
By 1559, the Gorkha Kingdom was established in western Nepal by Dravya Shah. This new kingdom further enforced the unification of small principalities. The Shah kings were descendents of a noble family of the Chandrabansi Rajput Dynasty of Chitor, India, who had migrated to Nepal during the fifteenth century. Dravya Shah became king of a Magar (ethnic group)-dominated kingdom by winning a marathon. Later, King Ram Shah (1606–1633) continued expanding the Gorkha state by making allies of various quarrelling kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley. He introduced several noteworthy reforms, and people still remember him for the saying, “Go to Gorkha (if you are deprived of justice).” Ram Shah’s major reforms included abolishment of witchcraft customs and the death penalty. He also introduced new measurement standards for distance and weight, as well as irrigation technology to many remote villages. Following the death of Narabhupal Shah in 1742, his son Prithvi Narayan Shah became king of the Gorkha Kingdom. He was the first great figure in the history of “modern” Nepal.
Prithvi Narayan Shah used supreme power wisely, and he launched an ambitious program to unify many small and often quarrelsome kingdoms. At an early age, he visited Kathmandu, the Makawanpur District, and northern India. His visit to India helped him realize the possible danger of a northward expansion into Nepal by Britain’s Indian Empire. Seeking to strengthen his own hand, he set out to conquer the Kathmandu Valley and merge the region into a single kingdom. Prithvi Narayan Shah visited Varanasi (a holy city on the Ganges River) to purchase modern weapons. While in India, he also examined the condition of states in northern India and the activities of the British East India Company. In Nepal, he established a number of military barracks, increased troop numbers and strength, and trained them in the use of modern weapons. Finally, he was ready to implement his plan to expand the Gorkha Kingdom. Initially, he attempted to develop an alliance with neigh-¬ boring states. If that failed, he went to war against them. The Gorkhas applied a blockade strategy, in which they closed all trade routes into a state. Thus cut off, their enemies were left with little choice: starve or surrender. After a six month blockade, Gorkha troops finally captured Kirtipur, a city located about six miles from Kathmandu, in 1767. This set the stage for the dramatic capture of Kathmandu. Prithvi Narayan Shah and his troops invaded the city while people were celebrating a religious festival, and they were able to capture it without loss of life. In fact, after being crowned as the king of Kathmandu, Prithvi Narayan Shah continued the festival in 1768. The previous king of Kathmandu, Jayaprakash Malla, fled the region. Soon, the Gorkhas added other kingdoms, such as the Patan and Bhaktapur. Thus, the king of Gorkha became ruler of the entire Kathmandu Valley and beyond. He declared Kathmandu the capital of a greater and increasingly unified Nepal. Prithvi Narayan Shah’s work was not yet finished. He continued his campaign of territorial expansion his Kathmandu victory was little more than a rehearsal of the Gorkha’s military power in the region. By 1773, Gorkha troops controlled several western and almost all eastern Kirat states and had invaded neighboring Sikkim. The Gorkha campaign of territorial expansion suffered a temporary blow when Prithvi Narayan Shah died in 1775. However, it was not long before Gorkha expansion continued, including the establishment of strategic and diplomatic ties with the Palpa Kingdom. Furthermore, Gorkha troops took control of Almora by 1790 (in India, to the west of Nepal) and Kangara (located still farther to the west and the most distant area ever conquered by Gorkha troops) in 1809. Historically, Prithvi Narayan Shah is best known for the invaluable guidelines on statesmanship that he put forward for his descendants. His divyopadesh (divine counsel) is a set of sayings that remains valuable today. The sayings provide guidance for those involved in crafting foreign policy and addressing national development issues. A very popular saying is that “Nepal is a yam between two stones.” Prithvi Narayan Shah realized that Nepal’s location between two large and powerful countries British India and China placed his land in peril. He advised that balanced and friendly relations between Nepal and its neighbors would be essential if national sovereignty were to be saved. The death of Prithvi Narayan Shah led to an unfortunate power struggle in the royal court. Palace politics led Nepal to a disastrous situation, in which military power faded, the expansion campaign was halted, and the country’s economy was in shambles. Meanwhile, Nepal faced pressure from both China and British India. The latter conflict would result in the greatest shock in Nepalese history. Nepalese troops invaded Tibet in 1788 and 1791, closed the trade routes, and claimed control of several mountain passes along the border. To further bolster their buffer against China, the Nepalese government signed a trading treaty with British India. Unfortunately (for the Nepalese), Nepal was betrayed by the British. British India did not want to antagonize China, a sleeping giant. In 1792, Nepal was forced to sign a treaty with China to stop Chinese forces that resulted in the loss of territory to, and trading privileges with, Tibet. To the west, Nepalese troops had claimed territories on the southern plain, including Kumaon, Kangara, and Butwal. However, the southern campaign to acquire these lands had been long and costly for Nepalese troops. Ultimately, a bitter dispute between Nepal and the British East India Company over lands in the Terai erupted into a full blown war between the two. The conflict raged from 1814 to 1816, but ultimately the Nepalese troops were no match for the British East India Company. They were outmanned and lacked the modern weapons that the British could provide to its East India Company troops. In 1816, Nepal was forced to sign a unilateral treaty with the British East India Company. However, it was a historic and, in some ways, glorious war for Nepalese troops. True, Nepal lost part of its territorial claims in the western hills, a few areas to the east, and some of its very productive southern lands. Yet, the treaty increased the British Indian presence (including trade) in Kathmandu, and fierce Nepalese mountain warriors were included in the British Indian force. These Gorkha fighters became famous for their strength and bravery in the British army’s brigade of Gorkhas and the Indian army’s Gorkha regiments.
Following the events of 1816, Nepal once again descended into political chaos. Eventually, however, an ambitious young man, Jung Bahadur, emerged as a leader. He had joined the army in 1832 at the age of 16. By 1841, he had become a bodyguard for the king, and his influence continued to grow. As an opportunist, Jung Bahadur was lying in wait; his opportunity soon arrived. A meeting between Bahadur and Queen Rajendra Laxmi became violent when the queen’s supporters turned against Bahadur. Bahadur, however, slaughtered many of his opponents and emerged victorious. Eventually, he rose to the position of supreme army leader in the royal court. In this role, he immediately took control of the government and exiled more than 6,000 of his perceived enemies to India. By the mid nineteenth century, Jung Bahadur had established a hereditary regime that would place Nepal in the grips of a family dictatorship for more than 100 years. As a result of his dictatorial leadership, writers of Nepalese history have not treated him kindly. He remains, however, a well known figure in his country’s past. Jung Bahadur is famous for his bravery, intelligence, command, and many of his deeds, and he took a number of positive and innovative steps toward improving Nepal. For example, he attempted to make government less bureaucratic and the courts more accountable. He also attempted to modernize the country. Jung Bahadur is also recognized for another important deed his historic trip to Great Britain from April 1850 to February 1851. This event marked the first time in history that a powerful Nepalese leader had ventured far from his homeland. The tour helped to solidify relations between Nepal and British India and further secured Nepal’s sovereignty. He realized that good relations with the British East India Company could help to maintain Nepal’s independence. The trip also afforded him a broad view of the outer world, modern developments, industrialization, and the European lifestyle. In 1854, Jung Bahadur drafted and launched the Muluki Ain, a series of administrative procedures and legal frameworks that addressed a variety of issues. With the help of the Muluki Ain, Jung Bahadur took control of all state power. Jung Bahadur also tried to repair the broken relations with Tibet. In 1856, a treaty was signed that gave Nepal duty free privileges on trade and permitted a resident (business office) in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. In 1857, Jung Bahadur personally headed a military campaign that crushed the Sepoy Revolt in northern India. His leadership role earned him firm British support for his government. For his effort, Jung Bahadur received the honorary title of Rana (a title of martial glory bestowed on Rajput princes in northern India). This honor made him Jung Bahadur Rana, followed by all his descendants. Thereafter, their century long rein of power was called the “Rana regime.” He ruled the country until 1877 and died during a hunting campaign in the Terai. Following Jung Bahadur Rana’s death, Nepalese politics again fell into disarray. There were, however, a few subsequent prime ministers who are recognized positively for their contributions to social, political, or economic reform. One such prime minister was Dev Shamser, who was forced to resign and seek exile in India. His mistake? He introduced progressive reforms such as the release of female slaves, the establishment of schools, and the publication of Gorkhapatra, Nepal’s first newspaper. Under Prithvi Narayan Shah, Nepal was unified. He also established that the king had the supreme power to rule the country. Jung Bahadur, on the other hand, snatched complete power from the king. His Muluki Ain codes gave him the power to make any and all political decisions for the country. Thus, the monarchy held little political power, and the position of king or queen was mainly ceremonial for more than a century. There were, however, some important reforms introduced during the Rana regime. They include the abolishment of Sati Pratha, the practice of a wife throwing herself onto her dead husband’s funeral pyre; the abolishment of slavery in 1920; the establishment of Tri Chandra College and several high schools; the development of a hydroelectric plant; the creation of the Nepal Industrial Board; and the building of several mills and factories. During World War I (1914–1918), thousands of Nepalese people served in the military, on the side of the Allies. As a result, in 1923, a Treaty of Perpetual Peace and Friendship was signed between Nepal and the British government, which guaranteed Nepal’s independence. This historic event was one of the most important milestones in Nepalese history; it was the first time Nepal had been involved in a conflict far beyond its own border. Of course, it also helped to solidify the Rana dictatorship in Nepal.
After India became independent in 1947, a new wave of political awareness appeared in Nepal and among Nepalese political figures. Newspapers strongly supported a move toward democracy and were very critical of the Rana regime. There were outbreaks of rioting. The government cracked down, resulting in hundreds of people being arrested and imprisoned. Many others fled the country, where they could continue their fight against the Rana dictatorship from a safer haven in India. India’s independence obviously had weakened the Rana dictatorship in Nepal. Soon, the exiled Nepalese began to unite. They formed the Nepali National Congress (NNC), a political party that was officially dedicated to the establishment of a democratic government in Nepal. To achieve this, of course, the Rana regime had to be destroyed. Reacting to the growing crisis in Nepal, Prime Minister Padma Shamser announced some reforms, such as Nepal’s first constitution in 1948. Such measures failed to silence critics of the government. Shamser’s successor, autocratic Prime Minister Mohan Shamser, banned political parties and suppressed progressive activities in the country. This led to the establishment of the Nepali Congress (NC), a party formed in 1950 by merging the Nepali Democratic Congress and the NNC. The Nepali Congress formally decided to conduct an armed struggle to overthrow the Rana government. Late in 1950, King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah, who him self was against the Rana regime, took asylum in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu. The Mukti Sena (Liberation Army) of the Nepali Congress began its attack in the Terai, thereby initiating revolution in Nepal. Mohan Shamser found himself in a critical situation, because he had lost much of his Nepalese support; in addition, the Nepalese rebel leaders had strong support from India’s leaders. By January 1951, the Mukti Sena controlled much of Nepal, and many of the government troops had surrendered to the rebels. On January 8, 1951, with assistance from the Indian government, a treaty was negotiated between the Rana family, the king, and the Nepali Congress. King Tribhuvan returned from exile to Kathmandu in February, and a new interim government was formed. It was headed by Mohan Shamser and included five Ranas and five Nepali Congress party members. The coalition government failed, however, for several reasons. The king exercised his power and appointed a new government that did not include any Rana members. The new government was headed by the Nepali Congress leader, Matrika Prasad Koirala. This arrangement placed the Nepalese government under the control of two major power blocs in 1951: the king and the political parties. In the mid twentieth century, Nepal faced many problems and challenges. The country was one of the world’s most isolated in terms of global linkages and awareness. Modern facilities were concentrated in Kathmandu; elsewhere, conditions were primitive. The country also suffered from a very poor infrastructure. It was difficult for the Nepalese to travel from place to place, or to ship goods. Communications, power, and other amenities that were commonplace in much of the world were largely lacking throughout much of Nepal. Political turmoil continued. The major target of the interim government was to hold an election for a constituent assembly (Parliament) under an interim constitution. However, the king continued to postpone the assembly election, preferring to wait for a “favorable political environment.” Following the death of King Tribhuvan, his son Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah took over as ruler in 1955. Finally, in February 1959, an election was held. The Nepali Congress won the majority of seats in the Parliament and formed the government. Bishweshor Prasad Koirala younger brother of Matrika Prasad Koirala and the popular leader of the NC—headed the government. He was the first elected prime minister of Nepal’s modern era. Unfortunately, the king sacked the NC government in 1961, with the help of the army. The situation turned chaotic as political party members began to protest. The king’s response was to ban all political parties and jail most of the party leaders.
Panchyat System (1961–1990)
King Mahendra introduced a new constitution and the panchayat (party less political) system in December 1962. The panchayat system claimed to be democratic, at least in Nepal’s sociopolitical context. In actuality, the king ensured that he held supreme power over the panchayat system, to which he gave full support. Thus, in reality, it was direct authoritarian rule by the king. Mahendra introduced the National Planning Council, which, in turn, introduced four administrative tiers throughout the country: national, regional, zonal, district, and village panchayat. Former leader Bishweshor Prasad Koirala was released from jail and traveled to India, where he continued the movement for democracy in his homeland. The panchayat system, mean while, did contribute to some progress. Under its direction, priority was given to malaria eradication, highway construction, hydropower development, and expansion of irrigation. It also promoted improvements in banking, foreign relations, industrial growth, and resettlement in the Terai. A land reform program eliminated the large Rana estates. Similarly, Muluki Ain was replaced by a new legal code in 1963. In 1972, Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev ascended to the throne. He was keenly aware of the dismal political situation in his own country, but he also recognized the growing impor tance of regional and global politics. Therefore, in 1980, he offered a referendum to choose between a multiparty system or a reformed democratic panchayat system. The referendum results were in favor of the panchayat system. Though this was a victory for the king, he quickly reestablished freedom of speech and political activities. Bishweshor Prasad Koirala, who had returned to the country in 1976, advocating reconciliation with the king, also accepted the result. For a time, it appeared that Nepalese politics were on the right track. The constitution was amended for the third time in 1980. Nepal was ruled by a king nominated government and Rastriya Panchayat, a Parliament comprising 111 members. Unfortunately, Bishweshor Prasad Koirala died in July 1982; it was a great loss to the Nepalese democratic movement and to the Nepali Congress. Despite constant political turmoil, some progress occurred in the economy during the panchayat era. Additionally, the king had achieved recognition in international affairs. For example, he earned widespread respect for his proposal to make Nepal a “zone of peace” and a member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. Unfortunately, the panchayat system received a great shock when India blocked all of the linkages between itself and Nepal once the treaty affecting trade and transportation expired. The blockade disrupted nearly every aspect of life within the country, and it served as a cruel reminder to the Nepalese people of the disadvantages of being landlocked. The country suffered a critical shortage of imported goods, including petroleum products for which it depended exclusively upon imports. During the blockade, Nepal’s economic growth plummeted from an annual rate of 9.7 percent in 1987–1988 to 1.5 percent a year later. In 1990, the Nepali Congress Party announced a new anti panchayat movement for the restoration of multiparty democracy. Thus, the people’s movement was launched, forming an alliance with the United Left Front parties under the supreme leadership of NC leader Ganeshman Singh. In response to the renewed call for democracy, a series of spontaneous and turbulent mass demonstrations occurred in major cities throughout the country. People took to the streets, demanding restoration of the multiparty democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. The grand success of the bandh (general strike) in Kathmandu spread rapidly to other cities, resulting in complete stagnation of the country’s economy. The people’s movement lasted fewer than two months and resulted in the loss of 50 lives and thousands of injuries. Unable to control widespread public marches, increasing casualties, and eroding support for the monarchy, King Birendra declared a multiparty democracy. This was accomplished by lifting the ban on political parties, which occurred in April 1990. The Rastriya Panchayat was dissolved. The president of the Nepali Congress, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, formed a cabinet comprising four members from the Nepali Congress, three from the United Left Front, two human rights activists, and two royal nominees. As the goal of the interim government, a new constitution was proclaimed on November 9, 1990. The following May, an election was held for members of a House of Representatives; the Nepali Congress once again won the majority of seats. Girija Prasad Koirala the youngest brother of Matrika Prasad and Bishweshor Prasad Koirala served as prime minister.
Democratic Multiparty System
In 1990, the interim government proclaimed the new democratic constitution, which established fundamental human rights, a parliamentary democracy, and a constitutional monarchy. The Nepali Congress Party won the majority of seats and formed the government in 1991. It was only the second elected democratic government in Nepal’s history. Unfortunately, the Parliament was dissolved due to internal conflict within the ruling Nepali Congress Party. The government conducted another general election in November 1994, in which no party gained a majority. As a result of the stalemate, the Nepal Communist Party, United Marxist and Leninist (UML), formed a minority government for the first time in Nepal. It was headed by Man Mohan Adhikary and was the world’s first Communist monarchy. Political instability continued, with the formation of several unsuccessful coalition governments during the next five years. During this period, a Maoist insurgency gained strength. In 1999, the NC won the majority of seats in Parliament, but it could not establish a stable government. Several short lived governments, one after another, were headed by Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, Girija Prasad Koirala, and Sher Bahadur Deuba. Maoists (Communists) began an insurgency in February 1996. Brutal killings, bombings, and torture were widespread, particularly in rural parts of the country. Peace talks were held, to no avail; by 2006, more than 13,000 people had lost their lives. On June 1, 2001, the country was shocked by a massacre of the royal family that remains a mystery to the Nepalese people. Many Nepalese do not believe the “official report” that blamed Crown Prince Dipendra for the slaughter. According to the report, he shot and killed all of his family members, including the king and queen, his brother and sister, and a number of relatives. Soon after, Prince Gyanendra ascended to the throne. In 2002, he suddenly dismissed the elected government, took over all executive power, and dissolved the Parliament. King Gyanendra then nominated several short lived governments, none of which were able to successfully govern the country. The outer world was shocked when King Gyanendra dismissed the government for a second time. On February 1, 2005, he declared a state of emergency. Many politicians were jailed, and others were placed under house arrest. Freedom of the press was ended. The country’s adverse political situation led the mainstream political parties closer to Maoist rebels, who sought to overthrow the monarchy. Ultimately, in November 2005, the various parties signed a 12-point letter of understanding designed to end the political instability. In April 2006, massive pro democracy demonstrations took place in Nepal. They were led by mainstream political parties, including the Maoist rebels, and were successful in ending the direct rule of King Gyanendra. Parliament was reinstated and quickly declared Nepal to be a secular nation, over which the king had little power. He no longer served as the head of state, or as commander of the Nepalese army. In November 2006, Nepal’s government and the Maoist rebels signed a landmark peace accord that ended the 10-year insurgency.
Constitution of Nepal
The Interim Constitution provides for a Constituent Assembly, which was charged with writing Nepal’s permanent constitution. Under the terms of the Interim Constitution, the new constitution was to be promulgated by April 28, 2010, but the Constituent Assembly postponed the promulgation by a year because of disagreements. On May 25, 2011, the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled that the 2010 extension of the Interim Constitution was not right. Since May 29, 2011 the Constituent Assembly repeatedly extended the Interim Constitution.
On May 28, 2012, the Constituent Assembly was dissolved after it failed to finish the constitution after the latest extension, ending four years of constitution drafting and leaving the country in a legal vacuum. New elections were held on November 19, 2013 to the Second Nepalese Constituent Assembly and political leaders pledged to draft a new constitution within a year. The new assembly expressly committed that the new constitution would be promulgated on January 22, 2015. However, due to continued differences on key issues including system of governance, judicial system and federation issues like number, name and areas of the states to be carved, the constitution could not be finalized and promulgated in time.
Basic features of the Constitution
The constitution is largely written in gender neutral term. Some of the important aspects of the constitution include the following:
The Constitution has restructured the Nation into a federal republic. The Constitution has divided the nation into seven states and finalized the march of the Nation towards republicanism from constitutional monarchy and federalism from unitary system.
Bicameral parliamentary system has been created with two houses at the Center and unicameral parliamentary system in each state.
Mixed electoral system has been opted for the elections of the lower house at the Center with both first past the post election system and proportional election system are used to elect members of the lower house.
Rights of gender and sexual minorities are protected by the new constitution with provisions of special laws to protect, empower and develop minority groups as well as allowing them to get citizenship in their chosen gender.
Recognizing the rights of women, the constitution of Nepal explicitly states that “women shall have equal ancestral right without any gender-based discrimination.”
Bans any acts leading to conversions from one religion to another. It also prohibits acts that undermine or jeopardize the religion of another. At the same time it declares the nation to be secular and neutral toward all religions.
Nepal also has continued to abolish the death penalty. Nepal had abolished death penalty in 1990 after the promulgation of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 1990.
The Constitution defines wide range human rights as fundamental rights.