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Introduction  |  Natural History

NEPAL

The land of rugged mountains, rhododendrons, yetis , riverine jungle and grasslands!

Great seas once rolled across what is now Nepal and fifteen million years later parts of that gigantic sea bed have become the Himalayas the highest region in the world.

Located beneath their southern slopes is the kingdom of Nepal sharing borders in the east, west and south with India and in the north with the Tibeten region of the Peoples Republic of China. At times Nepal has played the role of intermediary between these two great powers and at other times it has faced the threat of invasion. Nepal is a beautiful and diverse land with an amazing variety of wildlife and landscapes. Its cultural and religious mix and intriguing history have conquered the hearts and minds of visitors throughout time. This is a fascinating, beautiful and changing country.

There is little information about Nepal's early history. It is generally accepted the Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini in around 568 BC and when Buddhism began here the rulers of the Kathmandu Valley were the Kirats from the east. Later the Lichhavis from Northern India took control and ruled until the 7th century.

More reliable history arrives with the Malla dynasty who ruled in the Kathmandu Valley from the 13th Century for five hundred years. It is this family who are responsible for most of the very beautiful architecture and carvings characteristic of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan. King Yaksha Malla divided his kingdom into three parts one for each of his heirs, however, when threatened from outside they were unable to unite and defend their lands. In 1798 Prithvi Narayan Shah, ruler of the small Gurkha kingdom in central Nepal, conquered the valley and in doing so he founded the dynasty which still rules Nepal today.

King Prithvi united all the tiny principalities which together made the country we see today as Nepal. Eventually his territory extended into Tibet and India. He made commercial treaties with the British in India but encroached too far and the British declared war. The Nepalese conceded much of their territory and a British residency was established in Kathmandu. The British Army were so impressed with the fighting skills of the Gurkhas that it employed some as mercenaries, this began what is now a familiar military partnership. In gratitude for Nepal's help during the Indian Mutiny, Britain gave back most of the territory it had taken some years earlier. As a person interested in natural history, here we should not forget the famous Himalayan Naturalist, Brian H. Hodgson who was instrumental in having this relationship broadened.

For one hundred years of the Shah reign the power within the country was held by the Rana family. In 1846 the Prime Minister, Jung Bahadur, seized power and placed his family in every influential posts. In doing this he made his own office secure he also made it hereditary. The Shah kings remained figureheads and the Rana family ruled keeping almost all foreigners out of Nepal and cutting it off from the technological advances being experienced in the rest of the world. In 1951 King Tribhuvan was able to escape from Rana jurisdiction and travel to India where he gained support for a more modern style of government. His grandson, King Birendra rules the country today with a system of locally elected councils.

Geographically the country has many very interesting features which layer its length running west to east. The Terai in the south is a band of low lying fertile land where with the eradication of malaria more jungle has been cleared for agriculture. The Terai gives way to the Bhabar foothills followed by the Chure Hills, the first of Nepals' four mountain ranges. The Chure, also known as the Siwaliks are as high as 1350 m in some places. The Mahabharat Range are between 1500 m and 2700 m high, steep and with extensive terracing. Between the Chure and the Mahabharat Range is the Inner Terai, for example Chitwan Valley.

North again and into the Pahar Zone or midlands which include the fertile valleys of Kathmandu, Banepa and Pokhara. This area supports nearly half of Nepal's population - last estimated to be around 25,400,000.

The weather is divided pretty much into two seasons, a climate which is dry from October through until May and wet from June to September.

One third of the Himalaya is contained within Nepal's borders, including 10 of the 14 tallest peaks in the world. The valleys held within the Himalayan ranges are broad and worn through by great rivers like the Kali Gandaki and Arun. Between Dhaulagiri in the west and Kanchenjunga in the east the mountain chain is unbroken except for these. The Trans-Himalaya to the far North is a high desert region and similar to the Tibetan Plateau. The Tibetan border runs mostly in a line with the great peaks except for a small area which along with the ancient kingdom of Mustang lies within Nepalese territory.

The main religions of Nepal are Hinduism (practiced mostly in the south) and Buddhism (practiced mainly in the north) this is somethng of a generalisation, however, it broadly describes these in relation to the geography. Actually, in Nepal the two religions spill over into one another creating a complex blend which is sometimes difficult to separate. The social structure of Nepal is in many ways based on tribal and ethnic background, however, the caste system is more relaxed in some circumstance here than it is in India.

The ethnic groups are numerous and Sherpas living traditionally in the mountain areas and probably the best known to outsiders, however, there are many other groups located throughout the country from the Tharu people of the Lowlands to the Newars who are predominant in the Kathmandu Valley. There are also Thakalis, Tamangs, Tibetans, Rai, Limbu, Gurungs and Magars.

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