| Natural History
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.