Nepal General Information

Where is Nepal?

Nepal has a very interesting geography as it is a relatively small country which is sandwiched between the respectively larger countries of India and the Tibetan Autonomous region of China. It occupies an area of just over 145,000 square kilometeres.  There is no coast in Nepal, as it shares three quarters of its borders with India (south, east and west) and the remaining northern border with China.

The border geography for Nepal means that it is fairly dependant on India for access to the sea and for receiving imports into the country.

The geography of Nepal is very mountainous and as such, it is host to the Himalayas in the north of the country which contains Mount Everest; the tallest mountain in the world.  Mount Everest is just over 29,000 feet in height. The majority of the other Himalayan peaks exceed 8,000 meters in height. The most famous of these mountains include Kanchenjunga (8,598 meters) and Dhaulagiri (8,137 meters).

The lowest geographical point in Nepal is in the Jhapa region and measures 70 meters above sea level.

In addition to the Himalayas, the geography in Nepal is also host to two other physiographic regions known as the ‘Hills’ and the ‘Terai’. These zones are determined by the relationship of the land to sea level.  Whilst the Himalayas makes up approximately 15% of Nepal, the Hills makes up approximately 65% and the Terai makes up approximately 18%.

Unfortunately the Hills have been subject to an increasing number of environmental disasters which are due in likelihood to deforestation and intensive farming.  Kathmandu is situated in the Hills.

The geography of the Terai makes it excellent fertile land for farming.  This zone is host to marshes, forests and wildlife such as the rhino and crocodiles.

Due to the diverse land geography within these zones, the weather and climatic conditions are clearly very different.

History

The History of Nepal  is characterized by its isolated position in the Himalayas and its two dominant neighbors, India and China. Even though Nepal's heart land was independent through most of its long history, its territorial boundaries have varied greatly over time and internal mosaic of kingdoms restructured often: right from the period of Mahajanapadas, through Greater Nepal to the British Raj.

Due to the arrival of disparate settler groups from outside through the ages, it is now a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual country. Its population is predominantly Hindu with significant presence of Buddhists, who were in majority at one time in the past. Nepal was split in three kingdoms from the 15th to 18th century, when it was unified under a monarchy. The national language of Nepal is called 'Nepali', a name given - long after unification of Nepal - to the language called Khas Kura.

Nepal experienced a failed struggle for democracy in the 20th century. During the 1990s and until 2008, the country was in civil strife. A peace treaty was signed in 2008 and elections were held in the same year.

Many of the ills of Nepal have been blamed on the royal family of Nepal. In a historical vote for the election of the constituent assembly, Nepalis voted to oust monarchy in Nepal. In June 2008, Nepalis ousted the royal household. Nepal was formally known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, when it became a federal republic.

Toponymy

The word Nepal is derived from Nepa ; the old name of Kathmandu valley was Nepa in Nepal Bhasa, the language of Newars, who were the early inhabitants of the valley, long before the unification of Nepal. The fact that Nepal Sambat, one of the three main calendars of Nepal, existed long before the unification of Nepal proves this historical fact.

Other toponym theories include: -

    * "Nepal" may be derived from the Sanskrit nipalaya, which means "at the foot of the mountains" or "abode at the foot", a reference to its location in relation to the Himalayas. Thus, it may be an Eastern equivalent of the European toponym "Piedmont."
    * It has also been suggested that the name comes from the Tibetan niyampal, which means "holy land".
    * A third theory suggests that Nepal came from combounding the words NE, which means wool, and PAL, which means a tented house; long time ago, Nepal used to produce a lot of wool and the houses were used to store the wool - hence the word NE-PAL.
    * The name, Nepal, is also supposed to be derived from the Sanskrit word "NEP"(???), with the suffix "AL"  added to it; though still under controversy, NEP were the people who use to be cow herders - the GOPALS (  - who came to the Nepal valley for the first time from the Ganges plain of India.
    * According to Nepali scholar Rishikesh Shaha, the ancient chronicles report that, a sage (muni) named Ne became the protector (p?la) of this land and the founder of its first ruling dynasty. The name of the country, Ne-p?la, therefore originally meant the land 'protected by Ne.'

Prehistory

Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least 9,000 years. It appears that a people who were probably of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity lived in Nepal 2,500 years ago.

Legends and Ancient times

Though very little is known about the early history of Nepal, legends and documented references, like the following, reach back to the first millennium BCE:

    * The epic Ramayana, which dates from an era before the Mahabharata, states that Mithila, currently known as Janakpur in Nepal, is the birth place of the highly revered princess Sita, the virtuous queen of Hindu divine king Lord Rama.
    * Also, the presence of historical sites, e.g. Valmiki ashram, indicates the presence of Sanatana (ancient) Hindu culture in Nepal at that period.
    * The epic Mahabharata mentions the Kiratas among the inhabitants of Nepal. Kirati king Yalambar had the dubious honor of being slain in the battle of the Mahabharata, in which gods and mortals fought alongside each other. Legend credits him with meeting Indra, the lord of heaven, who ventured into the Valley in human guise.
    * According to some of the chronicles the successors of Ne were the gop?lava??i or "Cowherd family", whose names often end in -gupta and are said to have ruled for some 491 years. They are said to have been followed by the mahai?ap?lava??a or "Buffalo-herder Dynasty", established by an Indian Rajput named Bhul Singh.[2]
    * inscriptions found on archeological stoneworks, which list mostly the dates and commissioners of these constructions, also communicate royal edicts, religious mantras or historical notes sometimes and, through the corroboration of local myths with such evidence, a people prior to the Licchavi have been identified, known as the Kirata.

Kirat Period

Nepal's recorded history began with the Kiratis, who arrived in the 7th or 8th century BCE from the east. Little is known about them, other than their deftness as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. The Kirats ruled for about 1225 years (800 BCE-300 CE), their reign had a total of 28 kings during that time. Their first and best remembered king was Yalambar, who finds a reference in the epic Mahabharata.

In the chronicle of Bansawali William Kirk Patrick mentions that the Kirat rule existed from about 900 BC to 300 AD. During this long period altogether 29 Kirat Kings ruled over the country. The 29 Kirat Kings were;

1. Yalambar
2. Pari
3. Skandhar
4. Balamba
5. Hriti
6. Humati
7. Jitedasti
8. Galinja
9. Oysgja
10. Suyarma
11. Papa
12. Bunka
13. Swawnanda
14. Sthunko
15. Jinghri
16. Nane
17. Luka
18. Thor
19. Thoko
20. Verma
21. Guja
22. Pushkar
23. Keshu
24. Suja
25. Sansa
26. Gunam
27. Khimbu
28. Patuka
29. Gasti

First Kirat King

The 1st Kirat King Yalambar laid the foundation of the Kirat dynasty after defeating the last ruler of Abhir dynasty. When Kirats occupied the valley, they made Matatirtha their capital. The Kirat kingdom during the rule of Yalambar had extended to Tista in the East and Trisidi in the West. It is said Yalambar had gone to witness the battle of Mahabharata between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. He was so brave and powerful that Lord Krishna beheaded him prior to the battle suspecting he might fight for the Kauravas.


The 7th Kirat King 'Jitedasti'

During the rule of 7th Kirat King Jitedasti, Lord Gautam Buddha had visited the valley with his several disciples. He visited holy places of Swayambhu, Guheswari etc and preached his religious gospels. Kirats of the valley refused to follow his doctrine but welcomed Lord Buddha and his disciples.

The 14th Kiirat King 'Sthunko'

During the rule of 14th Kirat King Sthunko, the Indian Emperor Ashok came to the Kathmandu Valley with his daughter princess Charumati. During his stay in the valley, he had built four stupas in four directions and one in the centre of Patan. He had arranged his daughter Charumati's marriage with a local young prince named Devpal. Prince Devpal and his consort Charumati lived at Chabahil near Pashupati area. Later Charumati had built the stupas of Devpatan after the death of her husband in his memory. Charumati who had later on become a nun herself also got erected a convent where she resided and practiced Lord Buddha's doctrine.

The 15th Kirat king 'Jinghri'

During the rule of 15th Kirat King Jinghri, another religious doctrine Jainism was being preached by Mahavir Jain in India. In this regard, Bhadrabhau, a disciple of Mahavir Jain came to Nepal. But comparatively, Jainism could not gain popularity like Buddhism in Nepal.

The 28th Kirat King 'Paruka'

During the rule of 28th Kirat King Paruka, the Sombanshi ruler attacked his regime many times from the west. Although he successfully repelled their attacks, he was forced to move to Shankhamul from gokarna. He had built a royal palace called "Patuka" there for him. The 'Patuka' palace is no more to be seen now except its ruins in the form of mound. Patuka had changed Shankhamul into a beautiful town.

The 29th Kirat King 'Gasti'

The last King of the Kirat dynasty was Gasti. He proved to be a weak ruler and was overthrown by the Sombanshi ruler Nimisha. It brought to the end of the powerful Kirat dynasty that had lasted for about 1225 years. After their defeat, Kirats moved to the Eastern hills of Nepal and settled down divided into small principalities. Their settlements were divided into there regions, i.e. 'Wallokirat' that lied to the East of the Kathmandu, 'Majkirat' or Central Kirat region and 'Pallokirat' that lied to the far East of the Kathmandu valley. These regions are still heavily populated by Kirats.

Mediaeval history

Birth of Buddhism
Maya Devi Temple in Lumbini, Nepal.

One of the earliest confederations of South Asia was that of the Shakya clan, whose capital was Kapilavastu, Nepal. One of its princes was Gautama Buddha, Siddharta Gautama (563–483 BCE), who renounced his royalty to lead an ascetic life and came to be known as the Buddha ("the enlightened one"). By 260 BCE, most of North India and southern Nepal were ruled by the Maurya Empire. It was during this period that Buddhism first came to Nepal; it is claimed that Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the Kathmandu Valley and stayed for a time in Patan. Although not all of Nepal was under Maurya occupation, there is evidence of at least the influence of Maurya Emperor Ashoka the Great, the legendary Buddhist proselytiser and ruler from 273 BCE to 232 BCE. Ashoka was a visitor to Kathmandu in this period and, as a follower of Buddhism, he visited Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, and erected stupas in Kathmandu. His daughter married a local prince and further spread the religion. The remains of a Buddhist convent have been found in the Kathmandu Valley.

As the Kirat dynasty came to an end in the valley, parts still remained in the eastern mountains.  : History of Limbuwan where they are considered to be the forefathers of today's Limbu and Rai castes.

By 200 CE, Buddhism had waned, and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India and overthrew the last Kirati king. The Hindus also introduced the caste system (which still continues today) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture.

Licchavi rule

It is unclear when exactly the Licchavi kingdom began. From the findings at the ancient capital of Handigaun, it appears that Licchavi rulers were in power on two occasions: from about 200 CE to the 5th century, and from about 750 to 1200 CE. Archaeological evidence for the Licchavi period mainly consists of stonework inscriptions, reckoned on two separate, consecutive eras; the former era evidence, in the Åšaka or Saka era, has an epoch corresponding to 78 CE, whereas the latter, of A?shuvarm? or Manadeva-II's era, reckons from 576 CE.

In between, in the fourth century CE, the country fell under the influence of Indian Gupta Empire - considered to be a golden period of Hinduism in India - whose cultural diffusion is evident, despite their lack of direct control of Nepal.

First Licchavi rule evidence: A well-preserved life-sized sandstone sculpture of a king named Jaya Varman, discovered in Maligaon in the eastern part of Kathmandu, contains an inscription dating it to the 'samvat' year 107, which most probably is in the Shaka era and is, therefore, from 185 CE; this dating is also supported by the style of the sculpture which is clearly Kushan in origin. It is unclear whether Jaya Varman was a Licchavi or a pre-Licchavi monarch. However, most scholars are agreed that, Licchavi rule of the Kathmandu valley must have begun in the first or second century CE.

Second Licchavi rule evidence: Two known dated inscriptions, both Licchavi, are a broken pillar inscription from Pashupati dated 381 (459 CE), and the Changu Narayana pillar inscription of King Manadeva in 386 (464 CE).

There is a good and quite detailed description of the kingdom of Nepal in the account of the renowned Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk, Xuanzang, dating from c. 645 CE.

The Licchavi rulers arranged for the documentation of information on politics, society, and the economy in the region. Most of the Licchavi records—written in Sanskrit—are deeds reporting donations to religious foundations, predominantly Hindu temples; and the last such record was added in 733.
Map of Nepal

The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late eighth century and was followed by a Newari era, from 879, although the extent of their control over the entire country is uncertain.

Thakuri rule

By 879, the Licchavi era had petered out and was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty. A grim period of instability and invasions often referred to as the 'Dark Ages' followed, but Kathmandu Valley's strategic location ensured the kingdom's survival and growth.

Magar Empire

Magar is a warrior and martial people that first established it's kingdom in present day western Nepal. They were animistic and shamanic in their religious practices. The Kham Magar of upper Karnali basin and their brethren of mid hills of Nepal had a flourishing and empirical kingdoms. Much archaeological proof of their existence can be found in the western mid hills of Nepal.

Magar have a strong military and warrior traditions. However, their hospitality and concern for the fellow human being is also legendary. The two waves of immigrants became the undoing for Magar empire.

Firstly, the Khasas were welcomed and assimilated within Magar empire. Secondly, following the rout of fundamentalist Brahmin Hindus of the Gangetic plains of India by the advancing Mugal forces, the traditionalist Brahmin Hindus entered Magar empire as refugees. They brought with them Hindu religion.

It is the misfortune of Magar empire and the whole Magar people that these two groups were given sanctuary in Magar empire. The latter group of refugees started to impose their fundamentalist view of Hindu religion upon Magars in Magar kingdoms whereas the former group were given the status of Chettri by the latter group in accordance to their fundamentalist view of Hindu religion.

This left the Magar people to be boxed into the third tier of their own kingdoms. (The first being the fundamentalist refugee Brahmin, the second being newly elevated Chettri, previously the Khasas)

This meant that the once rulers of the Nepali mid hills became the ruled upon. Thus starts the degradation of Magar empire. The introduction of Hinduism in itself became the cataclysmic event in the undoing of the Magar empire.

Malla dynasty

Several centuries later, the Thakuri king, Arideva, founded the Malla dynasty, kick-starting another renaissance of Nepali culture. Despite earthquakes, the occasional invasion, and frequent feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under Yaksha Malla.

Chalukkya dynasty

By the late 11th century, southern Nepal came under the occupation of the Chalukaya Empire of southern India. Under the Chalukayas, Nepal's religious establishment changed as the kings patronised Hinduism instead of the prevailing Buddhism.

History of Limbuwan

In the mean time, History of Limbuwan covers much of the history and achivements of Kirant people of Eastern Nepal/Limbuwan from ancient period until the Limbuwan Gorkha War and the Gorkha Limbuwan Treaty of 1774 AD.

Newar Empire: Three medieval kingdoms

Hindu and Buddhist temples in Patan, the capital of one of the three medieval Newar kingdoms

Thirteenth-century Nepal was occasionally attacked by the rulers of Delhi Sultanate of northern India, and was consequently marked by increased Nepali militarisation. By the late 14th century, much of the country came under the rule of the king Jayasthitimalla, a Newar King, who managed to unite most of the fragmented power bases. This unity was short-lived; in 1482 the territory was carved into three kingdoms : Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhadgaon.

Most of the Nepalese architectural heritage such as temples, palaces including many UNESCO world heritage sites were built by Newars during the rule by Newar Kings. These include Kathmandu Old Palace (Kathmandu Durbar Square), Patan Palace (Patan Durbar Square), Bhaktapur Palace (Bhaktapur Durbar Square) etc.

Between 1717 and 1733, the Nepalese in the west, and also the Bhutanese from the east, attacked Sikkim many times, culminating with the destruction of the capital Rabdentse by the Nepalese. The Sikkim king fled to Tibet.

Modern period: Gorkha rule

The old king's palace on a hill in Gorkha

After decades of rivalry between the medieval kingdoms, modern Nepal was created in the latter half of the 18th century, when Prithvi Narayan Shah, the ruler of the small principality of Gorkha, formed a unified country from a number of independent hill states. Prithvi Narayan Shah dedicated himself at an early age to the conquest of the Kathmandu valley and the creation of a single state, which he achieved in 1768.

The country was frequently called the Gorkha Kingdom. It is a misconception that the Gurkhas took their name from the Gorkha region of Nepal. The region was given its name after the Gurkhas had established their control of these areas. Gurkha, also spelt as Gorkha, are people from Nepal who take their name from the legendary eighth century Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath. Gurkhas claim descent from the Hindu Rajputs and Brahmins of Northern India, who entered modern Nepal from the west.

After Shah's death, the Shah dynasty began to expand their kingdom into what is present day North India. Between 1788 and 1791, Nepal invaded Tibet and robbed Tashilhunpo Monastery of Shigatse. Alarmed, the Chinese emperor Qianlong dispatched a sizeable army that forced the Nepalese to retreat and pay heavy reparations.

After 1800, the heirs of Prithvi Narayan Shah proved unable to maintain firm political control over Nepal. A period of internal turmoil followed.

Rivalry between Nepal and the British East India Company - over the princely states bordering Nepal and India - eventually led to the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814–16), in which Nepal suffered a complete rout. The unequal Treaty of Sugauli was signed in 1816, ceding large parts of the Nepali territories of Terrai and Sikkim, (nearly onethird of the country), to the British, in exchange for Nepalese autonomy. As the territories were not restored to Nepal by the British, at the time of granting freedom to the people of British India, these have become a part of the Republic of India, although Sikkim was annexed by India later.

Rana Administration

Rani (Queen) of Nepal surrounded by her Ladies-in-Waiting, 1920

Factionalism among the royal family led to a period of instability after the war. In 1846, Queen Rajendralakshmi plotted to overthrow Jang Bahadur, a fast-rising military leader of Indian Rajput ancestry, who was presenting a threat to her power. The plot was uncovered and the queen had several hundred princes and chieftains executed after an armed clash between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen. This came to be known as the Kot Massacre. However, Bahadur emerged victorious eventually and founded the Rana dynasty; the monarch was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary, held by a Rana.

The Rana regime, a tightly centralized autocracy, pursued a policy of isolating Nepal from external influences. This policy helped Nepal maintain its national independence during the British colonial era, but it also impeded the country's economic development and modernisation. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted the British during the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and later in both World Wars.

20th century

In 1923 Britain and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship, in which Nepal and India (which was under British Rule at that time) negotiated and ended up exchanging some of the cities (independence: THIS IS NOT A APPROPRIATE WORD IN THIS CONTEXT).

Slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924.

Democratic Reform

Main article: Democracy movement in Nepal

Popular dissatisfaction against the family rule of the Ranas had started emerging from among the few educated people, who had studied in various Indian schools and colleges, and also from within the Ranas, many of whom were marginalised within the Ruling Rana hierarchy. Many of these Nepalese in exile had actively taken part in the Indian Independence struggle and wanted to liberate Nepal as well from the internal autocratic Rana occupation. The political parties like The Prajaparishad and Nepali Congress were already formed in exile by the leaders like B.P. Koirala, Ganesh Man Singh, Subarna Sumsher Rana, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai,Girija Prasad Koirala and many other patriotic minded Nepalis, who wanted to stage both the military and popular political movement in Nepal, to overthrow the autocratic Rana Regime. Among the prominent martyrs to die for the cause, executed at the hands of the Ranas, were Dharma Bhakta Mathema, Shukraraj Shastri, Gangalal Shrestha and Dasharath Chand. This turmoil culminated in King Tribhuvan, a direct descendant of Prithvi Narayan Shah, fleeing from his "palace prison" in 1950, to newly independent India, touching off an armed revolt against the Rana administration. This eventually ended in the return of the Shah family to power and the appointment of a non-Rana as prime minister. A period of quasi-constitutional rule followed, during which the monarch, assisted by the leaders of fledgling political parties, governed the country. During the 1950s, efforts were made to frame a constitution for Nepal that would establish a representative form of government, based on a British model.

In early 1959, Tribhuvan's son King Mahendra issued a new constitution, and the first democratic elections for a national assembly were held. The Nepali Congress Party, a moderate socialist group, gained a substantial victory in the election. Its leader, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala, formed a government and served as prime minister. After years of power wrangling between the Kings (Tribhuvan and Mahendra) and the government, Mahendra dissolved the democratic experiment in 1960

Royal Coup by King Mahendra

Declaring parliamentary democracy a failure, King Mahendra carried out a royal coup 18 months later, in 1962. He dismissed the elected Koirala government, declared that a "partyless" panchayat system would govern Nepal and promulgated another new constitution on December 16, 1962.

Subsequently, the elected Prime Minister, Members of Parliament and hundreds of democratic activists were arrested. (In fact, this trend of arrest of political activists and democratic supporters continued for the entire 30 year period of partyless Panchayati System under King Mahendra and then his son, King Birendra).

The new constitution had established a "partyless" system of panchayats (councils) which King Mahendra considered to be a democratic form of government, closer to Nepalese traditions. As a pyramidal structure, progressing from village assemblies to a Rastriya Panchayat (National Parliament), the panchayat system constitutionalised the absolute power of the monarchy and kept the King as head of state with sole authority over all governmental institutions, including the Cabinet (Council of Ministers) and the Parliament. One-state-one-language became the national policy and all other languages suffered at the cost of the official language, "Nepali", which was the king's language.

King Mahendra was succeeded by his 27 year-old son, King Birendra, in 1972. Amid student demonstrations and anti-regime activities in 1979, King Birendra called for a national referendum to decide on the nature of Nepal's government--either the continuation of the panchayat system with democratic reforms or the establishment of a multiparty system. The referendum was held in May 1980, and the panchayat system won a narrow victory. The king carried out the promised reforms, including selection of the prime minister by the Rastriya Panchayat.

People in rural areas had expected that their interests would be better represented after the adoption of parliamentary democracy in 1990. Nepali Congress with support of "Alliance of leftist parties" decided to launch a decisive movement agitational movement, Jana Andolan, which forced the monarchy to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament. In May 1991, Nepal held its first parliamentary elections in nearly 50 years. The Nepali Congress won 110 of the 205 seats and formed the first elected government in 32 years.

Civil Strife

In 1992, in a situation of economic crisis and chaos, with spiralling prices as a result of implementation of changes in policy of the new Congress government, the radical left stepped up their political agitation. A Joint People's Agitation Committee was set up by the various groups.[10] A general strike was called for April 6.

Violent incidents began to occur on the evening ahead of the strike. The Joint People's Agitation Committee had called for a 30-minute 'lights out' in the capital, and violence erupted outside Bir Hospital when activists tried to enforce the 'lights out'. At dawn on April 6, clashes between strike activists and police, outside a police station in Pulchok (Patan), left two activists dead.

Later in the day, a mass rally of the Agitation Committee at Tundikhel in the capital Kathmandu was attacked by police forces. As a result, riots broke out and the Nepal Telecommunications building was set on fire; police opened fire at the crowd, killing several persons. The Human Rights Organisation of Nepal estimated that 14 persons, including several on-lookers, had been killed in police firing.[11]

When promised land reforms failed to appear, people in some districts started to organize to enact their own land reform, and to gain some power over their lives in the face of usurious landlords. However, this movement was repressed by the Nepali government, in "Operation Romeo" and "Operation Kilo Sera II" which took the lives of many of the leading activists of the struggle. As a result, many witnesses to this repression became radicalized.

Nepalese Civil War

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In February 1996, one of the Maoist parties started a bid to replace the parliamentary monarchy with a so-called people's new democratic republic, through a Maoist revolutionary strategy known as the people's war, which led to the Nepalese Civil War. Led by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as "Prachanda"), the insurgency began in five districts in Nepal: Rolpa, Rukum, Jajarkot, Gorkha, and Sindhuli. The Maoists declared the existence of a provisional "people's government" at the district level in several locations.

Meanwhile, on June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra went on a shooting-spree, assassinating 9 members of the royal family, including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, before shooting himself. Due to his survival he temporarily became king before dying of his wounds, after which Prince Gyanendra (Birendra's brother) inherited the throne as per tradition. Meanwhile, the Maoist rebellion escalated, and in October 2001 the king temporarily deposed the government and took complete control of it. A week later he reappointed another government, but the country was still very unstable: because of the civil war with the Maoists; the various clamouring political factions; the king's attempts to take more control of the government; and worries about the competence of Gyanendra's son and heir, Prince Paras.

In the face of unstable governments and a Maoist siege on the Kathmandu Valley in August 2004, popular support for the monarchy began to wane. On February 1, 2005, Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers, declaring a "state of emergency" to quash the Maoist movement. Politicians were placed under house arrest, phone and internet lines were cut, and freedom of the press was severely curtailed.

The king's new regime made little progress in his stated aim to suppress the insurgents. Municipal elections in February 2006 were described by the European Union as "a backward step for democracy", as the major parties boycotted the election and some candidates were forced to run for office by the army.[12] In April 2006 strikes and street protests in Kathmandu forced the king to reinstate the parliament. A seven-party coalition resumed control of the government and stripped the king of most of his powers. As of 15 January 2007 Nepal was governed by an unicameral legislature under an interim constitution. On December 24, 2007, seven parties, including the former Maoist rebels and the ruling party, agreed to abolish monarchy and declare Nepal a Federal Republic..[13] In the elections held on April 10, 2008, the Maoists secured a simple majority, with the prospect of forming a government to rule the proposed 'Republic of Nepal'.

Recent Events

On May 28, 2008 the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic, abolishing the 240 years old monarchy. The motion for abolition of monarchy was carried by a huge majority; out of 564 members present in the assembly, 560 voted for the motion while 4 members voted against it.[14] Finally, on June 11, 2008 ex-king Gyanendra left the palace.[15] Ram Baran Yadav of Nepali Congress became the first president of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal on July 23, 2008. Similarly, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda, of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was elected as the first Prime Minister on August 15, 2008 defeating Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress.

 A chronology of key events
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Please improve this section if you can. (August 2008)

This section contains a chronology of events from the formation of unified Nepal.

    * 1768 - Gurkha ruler Prithvi Narayan Shah conquers Kathmandu and lays foundations for unified kingdom.
    * 1792 - Nepalese expansion halted by defeat at hands of Chinese in Tibet.
    * 1814-16 - Anglo-Nepalese War; culminates in treaty which establishes Nepal's current boundaries.
    * 1846 - Nepal falls under sway of hereditary chief ministers known as Ranas, who dominate the monarchy and cut off country from outside world.
    * 1923 - Treaty with Britain affirms Nepal's sovereignty.
    * 1950 - Anti-Rana forces based in India form alliance with monarch.
    * 1951 - End of Rana rule. Sovereignty of crown restored and anti-Rana rebels in Nepalese Congress Party form government.
    * 1953, May 29 - New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepal's Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
    * 1955 - Nepal joins the United Nations.
    * 1955 - King Tribhuwan dies, King Mahendra ascends throne.
    * 1959 - Multi-party constitution adopted.
    * 1960 - King Mahendra seizes control and suspends parliament, constitution and party politics after Nepali Congress Party (NCP) wins elections with B. P. Koirala as premier.
    * 1962 - New constitution provides for non-party system of councils known as "panchayat" under which king exercises sole power. First elections to Rastrya Panchayat held in 1963.
    * 1972 - King Mahendra dies, succeeded by Birendra.
    * 1980 - Constitutional referendum follows agitation for reform. Small majority favours keeping existing panchayat system. King agrees to allow direct elections to national assembly - but on a non-party basis.
    * 1985 - NCP begins civil disobedience campaign for restoration of multi-party system.
    * 1986 - New elections boycotted by NCP.
    * 1989 - Trade and transit dispute with India leads to border blockade by Delhi resulting in worsening economic situation.
    * 1990 - Pro-democracy agitation co-ordinated by NCP and leftist groups. Street protests suppressed by security forces resulting in deaths and mass arrests. King Birendra eventually bows to pressure and agrees to new democratic constitution.
    * 1991 - Nepali Congress Party wins first democratic elections. Girija Prasad Koirala becomes prime minister.
    * 1994 - Koirala's government defeated in no-confidence motion. New elections lead to formation of Communist government.
    * 1995 - Communist government dissolved.
    * 1995 - Radical leftist group, the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist), begins insurrection in rural areas aimed at abolishing monarch and establishing people's republic, sparking a conflict that would drag on for over a decade.
    * 1997 - Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba loses no-confidence vote, ushering in period of increased political instability, with frequent changes of prime minister.
    * 2000 - GP Koirala returns as prime minister, heading the ninth government in 10 years.
    * 2001, June 1 - King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and other close relatives killed in shooting spree by drunken Crown Prince Dipendra, who then shoots himself.
    * 2001, June 4 - Prince Gyanendra crowned King of Nepal after Dipendra dies of his injuries.
    * 2001 July - Maoist rebels step up campaign of violence. Prime Minister GP Koirala quits over the violence; succeeded by Sher Bahadur Deuba.
    * 2001 November - Maoists end four-month old truce with government, declare peace talks with government failed. Launch coordinated attacks on army and police posts.
    * 2001 November - State of emergency declared after more than 100 people are killed in four days of violence. King Gyanendra orders army to crush the Maoist rebels. Many hundreds are killed in rebel and government operations in the following months.
    * 2002 May - Parliament dissolved, fresh elections called amid political confrontation over extending the state of emergency. Sher Bahadur Deuba heads interim government, renews emergency.
    * 2002 October - King Gyanendra dismisses Deuba and indefinitely puts off elections set for November. Lokendra Bahadur Chand appointed as PM.
    * 2003 January - Rebels, government declare ceasefire.
    * 2003 May-June - Lokendra Bahadur Chand resigns as PM; king appoints his own nominee Surya Bahadur Thapa as new premier
    * 2003 August - Rebels pull out of peace talks with government and end seven-month truce. The following months see resurgence of violence and frequent clashes between students/activists and police.
    * 2004 April - Nepal joins the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
    * 2004 May - Royalist Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa resigns following weeks of street protests by opposition groups.
    * 2004 June - King Gyanendra reappoints Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister with the task of holding elections.
    * 2005, February 1 - King Gyanendra dismisses Prime Minister Deuba and his government, declares a state of emergency and assumes direct power, citing the need to defeat Maoist rebels.
    * 2005, April 30 - King lifts the state of emergency amid international pressure.
    * 2005 November - Maoist rebels and main opposition parties agree on a programme intended to restore democracy.
    * 2006 April - King Gyanendra agrees to reinstate parliament following weeks of violent strikes and protests against direct royal rule. GP Koirala is appointed as prime minister. Maoist rebels call a three-month ceasefire.
    * 2006 May - Parliament votes unanimously to curtail the king's political powers. The government and Maoist rebels begin peace talks, the first in nearly three years.
    * 2006, June 16 - Rebel leader Prachanda and PM Koirala hold talks - the first such meeting between the two sides - and agree that the Maoists should be brought into an interim government.
    * 2006 November - The government and Maoists sign a peace accord, declaring a formal end to a 10-year rebel insurgency. The rebels are to join a transitional government and their weapons will be placed under UN supervision.
    * 2007 January - Maoist leaders enter parliament under the terms of a temporary constitution. Violent ethnic protests erupt in the south-east; demonstrators demand autonomy for the region.
    * 2007 April - Former Maoist rebels join interim government, a move that takes them into the political mainstream.
    * 2007 May - Elections for a constituent assembly pushed back to November.
          o A US offer to resettle thousands of Bhutanese refugees in Nepal has raised hopes but has also sparked tension in the camps, says Human Rights Watch.
    * 2007 September - Three bombs hit Kathmandu in the first attack in the capital since the end of the Maoist insurgency.
          o Maoists quit interim government to press demand for monarchy to be scrapped. This forces the postponement of November's constituent assembly elections.
    * 2007 October - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urges Nepal's parties to sink their differences to save the peace process.
    * 2007 December - Parliament approves abolition of monarchy as part of peace deal with Maoists, who agree to re-join government.
    * 2008 January - A series of bomb blasts kill and injure dozens in the southern Terai plains. Groups there have been demanding regional autonomy.
    * 2008 April - Former Maoist rebels win the largest bloc of seats in elections to the new constituent assembly, but fail to achieve an outright majority.
    * 2008, May 28 - Nepal becomes a republic.
    * 2008 June - Maoist ministers resign from the cabinet in a row over who should be the next head of state.
    * 2008, July 21 - Two months after the departure of King Gyanendra, Ram Baran Yadav becomes Nepal's first president.
    * 2008, August 15 - The Constituent Assembly elects the Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' as the first Prime Minister of federal democratic republic Nepal.

People & Coustoms

The population of Nepal was recorded to be about 25 million as of July 2002. Eighty-six percent of Nepalis follow Hinduism, while eight percent follow Buddhism and three percent follow Islam. The population comprises various groups of different races which are further divided into different castes. The distinction in caste and ethnicity is understood more easily with a view of customary layout of the population.

Some of the main groups are such: Gurungs and Magars who live mainly in the western region; Rais, Limbus and Sunwars who live in the eastern mid hills; Sherpas, Manangpas and Lopas who live near the mountains of Everest, Annapurna and Mustang respectively; Newars who live in and around the capital valley of Kathmandu; Tharus, Yadavas, Satar, Rajvanshis and Dhimals who live in the Terai region; and Brahmins, Chhetris and Thakuris generally spread over all parts of the country.

Nepali is the official language of the state, spoken and understood by 100 percent of the population. Multiple ethnic groups speak more than a dozen other languages in about 93 different dialects. English is spoken by many in government and business offices. It is the mode of education in most private schools of Kathmandu and some other cities.

Ethnic Distribution

The Northern Himalayan People

In the northern region of the Himalayas are the Tibetan-speaking groups namely Sherpas, Dolpas, Lopas, Baragaonlis, Manangis. The Sherpas are mainly found in the east in the Solu and Khumbu region; the Baragaonlis and Lopas live in the semi-deserted areas of Upper and Lower Mustang in the Tibetan rain-shadow area; the Managis live in Manang district area; while the Dolpas live in Dolpa district of West Nepal, one of the highest settlements on earth at 4,000 meters.
The Middle Hills and Valley People

Several ethnic groups live together in harmony in the middle hills and valleys. Among them are the Magars, Gurungs, Tamangs, Sunuwars, Newars, Thakalis, Chepangs and majority of Brahmans and Chhetris. The Brahmans and Chhetris have long dominance in all pervading social, religious and political realms. There are also some occupational castes namely: Damai (tailor), Sarki (cobbler), Kami (blacksmith) and Sunar (goldsmiths). Though, there exist numerous dialects, the language of unification is the national language, Nepali.
Ethnic Diversity in the Kathmandu Valley

Kathmandu Valley represents a cultural cauldron of the country, where, people from varied backgrounds have come together to present a melting pot. The natives of the Kathmandu Valley are the Newars. Newari culture is an integration of both Hinduism and Buddhism. The Newars of Kathmandu Valley were traders or farmers by occupation in the old days.
The Terai People

The main ethnic groups in Terai are Tharus, Darai, Kumhal, Majhi and other groups that have roots in India. They speak north Indian dialects like Maithili, Bhojpuri. Owing to the fertile plains of Terai, most inhabitants live on agriculture. There are, however, some occupational castes like Majhi (fisherman), Kumhal (potter) and Danuwar (cart driver).

POPULATION OF MAJOR ETHNIC GROUPS

ETH. GROUP    POPULATION
    
     
Brahman                2896477
Chhetri                  3593496
Chepang                52237
Gurung                  543571
Limbu                    359379
Muslim                   971056
Magar                    1662241
Newar                   1245232
Rai                        635151
Raute                    658
Sherpa                   15462
Tharu                    1533879
Thakuri                  334120
Thakali                   12973
Tamang                 1282304

Religion

In Nepal, Hinduism and Buddhism are the two main religions. The two have co-existed down the ages and many Hindu temples share the same complex as, Buddhist shrines. Hindu and Buddhist worshippers may regard the same god with different names while performing religious rites.

Nepal has been declared as a secular country by the Parliament on May 18, 2006. Religions like Hindusim Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, and Bon are practiced here. Some of the earliest inhabitants like the Kirats practice their own kind of religion based on ancestor worship and the Tharus practice animism. Over the years, Hinduism and Buddhism have been influenced by these practices which have been modified to form a synthesis of newer beliefs.

For centuries the Nepal remained divided into many principalities. Kirats ruled in the east, the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley, while Gurungs and Magars occupied the mid-west. The Kirats ruled from 300 BC and during their reign, emperor Ashoka arrived from India to build a pillar at Lumbini in memory of Lord Buddha. The Kirats were followed by the Lichchhavis whose descendants today are believed to be the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley. During this period, art thrived in Nepal and many of the beautiful woodcarvings and sculptures that are found in the country belong to this era. With the end of the Lichchhavi dynasty, Malla kings came to power in 1200 AD and they also contributed tremendously to Nepal's art and culture. However, after almost 600 years of rule, the kings were not united among themselves and during the late 18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, King of Gorkha, conquered Kathmandu and united Nepal into one kingdom. Recognizing the threat of the British Raj in India, he dismissed European missionaries from the country and for more than a century, Nepal remained in isolation. During the mid-19th century Jung Bahadur Rana became Nepal's first prime minister to wield absolute power. He set up an oligarchy and the Shah kings remained figureheads. The Ranas were overthrown in a democracy movement of the early 1950s.

Religious Festivals

Most of the festivals celebrated in Nepal have religious significance. The dates of most festivals are fixed by famous astrologers after consulting the lunar calendar. The biggest and most popular festivals are: Dashain, a celebration of Goddess Bhagabati's victory over evil Mahisashur; and Tihar, a celebration of lights dedicated to Goddess Laxmi.

Pilgrimage Sites

Nepal has several ancient pilgrimage sites. Each temple is attached to a legend or belief that glorifies the miraculous powers of its deity. Kathmandu Valley is home to the famous Pashupatinath Temple, Swayambhunath Stupa and several other famous temples. Hundreds of famous temples are located in and around the Kathmandu Valley.

Some well-known pilgramage sites are: Barah Chhetra, Halesi Mahadev, Janaki Temple, Pathibhara, Tengboche in East Nepal; Manokamana, Gorkha, Lumbini, Muktinath, Gosainkunda, Tansen, Kathmandu Valley in Central Nepal; and Sworgadwari, Khaptad Ashram in West Nepal.

Nepal is also the Gateway to Kailash Mansarovar, the mythical abode of Lord Shiva. Devotees from various parts of Nepal and India throng the temples during special festivals. Even though weak infrastructure renders some places hard to reach, efforts are being made on national level to develop and promote some popular sites.

Pilgrimage sites of Nepal like Muktinath and Gosainkunda make popular trekking destinations. Tours to these sites are encouraged for the novelty they provide in terms of nature and culture.

Popular Divinities

Buddha is widely worshipped by both the Buddhists and Hindus of Nepal. The five Dhyani Buddhas Vairochana, Akshobhaya, Rathasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, represent the five basic elements earth, fire, water, air and ether. Buddhist philosophy conceives these gods to be the manifestation of Sunya or absolute void. Mahakaala and Bajrayogini are Vajrayana Buddhist deities worshipped by Hindus as well.

Hindu Nepalis worship the ancient Vedic gods. The much worshipped are Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, different manifestations of the Supreme Hindu Trinity. Shiva Linga or the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva represents the supreme power in most Shiva temples.

Female deities are revered and feared in this Himalayan Kingdom. Their Shakti cult aspires to appease the dynamic element in the female counterpart of Shiva. Mahadevi, Mahakali, Bhagabati, Ishwari are some of the names given to Shiva Shakti. Many temples in Nepal are dedicated to Shakti. Kumari, the virgin goddess, also represents Shakti.

Other popular deities are Ganesh for luck, Saraswati for knowledge, Lakshmi for wealth and Hanuman for protection. Krishna, believed to be the human incarnation of Lord Vishnu is also worshipped widely. Hindu holy scripts Bhagawat Gita, Ramayan and Mahabharat are widely read in Nepal.

Brahma , the self-created god of creation, is said to have created the cosmos. Brahma, in art forms, is depicted as a god having a long beard, radiant skin, wearing white robes, with four arms and at times mounted on a goose. Legend has it that this event urged him to create a new world for himself. After the world was created he started feeling unbearably lonely, so, he created a female partner for himself with whom he fell in love at the very first sight. The female (also identified as Savitri and Saraswati), who was extremely beautiful, was awfully embarrassed because of Brahma's passionate behavior towards her. She tried to run away from Brahma, but whichever direction she tried to escape from a new head of Brahma would spring up. The female finding no other alternative sprang up toward the sky and another head of Brahma sprung up. Brahma grabbed the helpless female who was his daughter as well as wife. In this way Brahma got his five heads but it is believed that his fifth head was cut off as a punishment for his sinful affair with his wife-daughter.

Indra , traditionally regarded as the god of heaven. The vedas describe him as the valiant fighter who destroys devils and drought and gives people rain and food. This could be the reason for his popularity. The Puranas too speak highly of Indra, often dramatizing his numerous battles against devils. Indra- Jatra is a very famous festival celebrated in to honor of Indra.

Saraswati , the goddess of knowledge and fine arts, is often portrayed having a pure white form seated on a full blown lotus or mounted on a hansa (swan). The hansa is often regarded as our inner-consciousness and is said to be capable of driving away Avidya or ignorance. Among her four arms the two lower arms are shown playing the veena and the upper hands are shown holding a book and a rosary. Manjushree, the Buddhist goddess of knowledge and inner-vision is also worshipped equally as Saraswati is worshipped among the Hindus. Saraswati puja is a festival celebrated during spring by students. According to an age-old tradition a young child is introduced to alphabets for the first time on this day.

Kumari , the virgin goddess, represents the state deity of Nepal known as Taleju and is said to be the incarnation of Kanya Kumari. A kumari candidate is selected for a highly honored Hindu temple from a Buddhist family of Shakya clan. Once she is selected, she is highly honored by both Hindus and Buddhists including the king. She is taken out of her temple to participate in several festivals. Once a Kumari attains puberty, she loses this divine status and the selection for another kumari begins and she is made to leave the temple. The famous Kumari temple is situated right across the historical Gaddi Baithak Hall at Basantapur in Kathmandu. There are different Kumaris in Patan, Bhaktapur, Bungmati, Thimi and other Newar towns.

Hanumana or the monkey god is worshipped as the god of protection. He is said to be full of shakti or strength, thus, his whole body is shown to be red. He symbolizes courage, strength and loyalty. The statues of Hanumana are found in most palaces. The images of the Hanumana always show him with closed eyes. It is said that he never married and does not like seeing females, especially unmarried female. People believe that he can destroy them if he catches sight of them.

The five Dhyani Buddha's - Vairochana, Akshobhaya, Rathasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, represent the five basic elements of which the world is made- earth, fire, water and ether. These Buddha's, described as the progenitors of the five kulas, or families, termed as Dvesa, Moha, Raga, Chintamani and Samaya, are associated with the fulfillment of desires as well as the attainment of Nirvana. Buddhist philosophy conceives these gods to be the manifestation of Sunya or absolute void. We often find the images of the Dhyani Buddha's in Stupas. Akshobhaya is placed facing the east, Amitabha facing the west, Amoghasiddhi facing south, Ratnasambhava facing north and Vairochana in the center. Except for Vairochana, which is considered to be the preciding deity of a stupa, all the other Dhyani Buddha's are seen in meditation. In most stupas the central Buddha is either hidden or seated next to Akshobhaya. Though there are only five Dhyani Buddha's, sometimes an additional Dhyani Budda- the Vajrasattva is also included. Vajrasattva is regarded as the priest among the Dhyani Buddha's and is seen holding a Vajra on his right hand and a ghanta(bell) on the left.

Ganesh , the god of good luck, wisdom and success, is a very popular deity worshipped by both Hindus as well as Buddhist's in Nepal. The figure of Ganesha is childlike and unique as it has an elephant head, a big round belly, an exceptionally short body and four or more hands. His upper right hand holds a hook, representing the right path to follow, and the lower hand is seen holding a noose, representing self-restrain. The rosary on his third lower hand represents concentration, which is very important for the development of spiritual knowledge, and his lower four hands are in a gesture that assures his devotees fearlessness, indicating that he is the protector. A religious text describes the bulky body of Ganesha as the cosmos and his elephant-like shape as the embodiment of cosmic intelligence. A legend has it that he even broke his most valued tusk so that Vyasa, a great Hindu Vedic writer, could write the Mahabharat.   

Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and the consort of lord Vishnu. Laxmi is among the most worshipped of all gods and goddesses in Nepal. One of the most important festivals, among the multitude of Nepali festivals, is Laxmi puja. Laxmi puja is significant for those who celebrate it for it gives them a reason to hope for financial progress in the years to come. The celebration is usually done with elaborate preparations. Lights play a huge role during Laxmi puja since it is celebrated at night. Oil fed clay lamps are kept burning throughout the night. Laxmi puja is also known as the festival of lights.

Mahakaala is one of the highly fascinating Vajrayana Buddhist deities. In art forms the deity is portrayed as dark, dwarfed and big bellied, with a mukuta or headdress with skulls set in and a garland of human heads. He holds a Kurtri (flaying knife) in his right hand and a kapala (a skull cup) on the other. He has three eyes, opened wide giving him a fierce look, and teeth dripping blood. He wears tiger skin as girdle and snakes as various ornaments. Though he looks fierce, he is said to be very kind hearted. According to Sadhanmala, a very old Buddhist text, the number of arms and heads Mahakaala would have depended on the nature of purpose he was called for. He could have one face with two, four or six arms or even eight faces with sixteen arms. It is popularly believed that his fierce look is not to scare every other person but to scare away evil.

Rato-Machhendranath or Bhunga dyo , the Buddhist rain-god, is also known as Karunamaya Lokeshwara (The most compassionate god of the universe). Bunga Dyo is worshipped in its male as well as female form like umaneshwara, Laxminarayan, Praynayopaya and so on. There are two temples of Machhendra, one is at Bungmati, which is about 8km away from Kathmandu and one is at Patan. The festival of Bhunga dyo begins every year on the first day of Baishakh (March- April) and continues for a month or so. Since Nepal is an agricultural country the monsoons are very important for the Nepali's. This festival frees the farmers from worries about not getting ample amount of rain as this festival implies the worship of the rain god. During this festival a chariot carrying the Machindra is pulled and thousands of people participate.

Bhimsen is one of the heroes of the Mahabharata and the god of trade and commerce. Bhimsen is portrayed in images as a red-faced deity with angry eyes and a thick black moustache. He is often shown lifting a horse in the air and pressing an elephant under his knee with a huge cobra and a lion watching in awe. This fierceness in his images is meant to symbolize his determination to kill Dushshasan, his enemy who had insulted Draupadi by trying to denude her in public. Bhimsen is worshipped widely by Nepali traders. Several guthi's (a sort of trust) are devoted to the regular service of this deity. One of the most remarkable statues of Bhimsen can be seen in Patan Bhimsen temple built by Shreenivas Malla in the early 18th century.

Vishnu , in his various forms of incarnation Vishnu Dharma Purana (an old Hindu text) describes him as the preserver of the universe and the upholder of Dharma. According to the Geeta, whenever lord Vishnu sees Dharma declining and the weak and innocent suffering He comes down in different forms of incarnation to undo the wrong. The different incarnations of Vishnu could be:
Matsya - The Fish : Manu, the first founder of human civilization, was saved from a terrifying flood by Vishnu in the form of a Fish. The flood is said to have been caused by Hayagriva, the most cruel sea-monster dwelling deep in the ocean with innumerable fierce marine animals.
Kachhap or Kurma - The tortoise : When Vishnu saw the sins of Danavas or devils weighing down the earth he assumed the form of a tortoise and dived deep into the sea to raise the earth on his back and changed the earth to its natural self.
Varaha - The Boar : When a demon named Hiranyakashyapa drowned the earth, Vishnu rushed to rescue the earth incarnated as a Boar (Varaha). He plunged into the water and rescued the earth by killing the demon.
Narasimha - Man-lion Vishnu, in this incarnation killed Hiranyakashyapa by tearing open his stomach for his attempt to kill his own son- Prahlad, the most sincere devotee of the Lord Vishnu.
Vamana - Dwarf Br ahman In this Avatar (incarnation) Vishnu reclaimed the earth from Mahabali, the lord of all the three worlds, by visiting Bali in this avatar and asking him to give the land measured by three steps. As soon as Bali agreed he got back to himself and in three steps covered the universe and won it.
Parashurama The heroic Brahmin with a militant personality Vishnu in this form, with an axe on his right hand and a bow on the next, is said to have annihilated all the "kshatriyas" (warrior class) in 22 battles.
Rama - The highly perfected human-god Vishnu incarnated as Rama, the ideal king and the hero of the Ramayana, killed the king of demons- Ravana.
Krishna - The most widely worshipped incarnation of vishnu. This incarnation of Vishnu killed the ogress Putna when she tried to kill him by feeding him poisoned milk when he was a child. Later, Krishna subdued the most fatal cobra- Kaliya.
Buddha - The supreme teacher Buddha, the enlightened one, was born in Lumbini of Nepal at about 563 B.C. This incarnation of Vishnu was born to guide suffering souls to the right direction. He has taught lessons of humanity, truth and peace.
Kalaki or Kali - The last incar nation The last incarnation of Vishnu has yet not come, but people believe that it will appear at the end of the Kaliyug. It is believed that this incarnation of vishnu will come mounted on a horse, killing all the evil and saving only pious souls.

Religious Symbol

Shree-Yantra

Different yantras, for tantric puja or meditation , are used by tantric pundits. Among the many yantras prevalent the shree yantra (shree stands for ' Laxmi ' the goddess of prosperity) is said to be the most important and is called the king of yantras by the tantric adepts. Shree yantra is composed of two sets of triangles one of which is composed of Shreekanthas (four male Shiva triangles denoting gradually involved energy) and the other set of triangles is composed of Shivayavatis (five female or shakti triangles denoting five senses of knowledge and action, and five subtle and gross forms of matter). These two triangles reflect the unison of Shiva and Shakti.

It is belived that Shakti is always in unison with Shiva, existing within each and every being as the inner self; the state of existence, consciousness and bliss. Shiva is the Ashraya (basis) of Shakti which in turn, being his creative faculty, is the basis of the whole universe. Hence, she is known as Shree the primordial energy existing within Shiva and yantra is her divine extension network. Without her operation, this visible cosmos would not be possible.

This universe and all it's contents are basically composed of panchtatva or five basic elements comprising of Prithvi (earth), Apas (water), Tejas (light), Maruta (wind) and Aakaash (sky). It is believed that our body is also composed of the same basic elements called pinda. The unison of Pinda, the individual body, with Brahmaanda, the cosmic body, is beautifully represented by this great yantra.

The objective of meditation on Shree-yantra is to unite with the universal mother, in her forms of mind, life and matter, to attain consciousness and divinity. The Yantra is therefore transformed from a material object of lines and curves into a mental state of union with the universe.

Satkon

The Satkon is composed of two sets of overlapping triangles. One is the symbol of Shiva, which stands for eternal being (static by nature), and the other is a symbol of Shakti, the most active female. This popular symbol of the union of Shakti and Shiva, that indicates the union of the two, is represented in several Nepali works of art like the Mandala paintings , windows and doors etc. The beautiful temple residence of Devi Annapurna Ajima, at Ason Tol in Kathmandu, has one of the most exquisite Satkon patterns in its windows. The Satkon signifies the five basic senses and the extra sensory perception, that significantly makes it the six pointed star. This symbol is believed to have originated from ancient tantric Hinduism. On the other hand the Buddhist believe that Satkon symbolizes the perfection of the highest form of wisdom (Pragya), however, the Mahayanists accept it as a great symbol of Pragya (knowledge or enlightenment) and Upaya (active force or the power of the female principal) united.

Swastika

Swastika, a Sanskrit word which means doing good for all, is a very ancient oriental symbol. This symbol can be seen in wood-carvings , bronze castings, thangka paintings and many other traditional forms of art. In Buddhism, the four hands of Swastika signifying Maitree (friendship), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (happiness) and Upershya (indifference), are four divine merits ortalents. This theory is very dominant in our culture. According to Sadhanmala (one of the most authentic Buddhist texts), the four merits represent four ideal ways to Nirvana every aspirant should mediate on. It is believed that the Mahayanists, in due course of time, developed an iconography based on all those four merits and soon created Swastika to proudly add to their pantheon of gods. The many deities were all given the same merit names like Maitree, Karuna, Mudita and Upekshya. Hindus as well Buddhists worship them in Nepal. Among many such deities of Nepal, the four most beautifully built bronze statues of these merit gods can be seen in Hiranyavarana Mahavihar (Golden temple) of Patan built by Vaskar Varma in 12th century.

Shiva Linga

The linga is the phallic symbol of lord Shiva and it displays supreme power generally identified analogue of cosmic deity. It occupies the "womb cell" in temples while the outer structure of this double sex diety signifies its determined creative function. Creation, in tantra is described as sexual self-relation. The Brihadaranyaka Upanisad says that one alone knows no delight and so the female partner was generated. According to the Puranas, Lord Shiva assumed the form of Lingam (the phallic symbol of universal pro-creation), on the night of Shivaratri, to save the universe from a big threat of destruction. It is said that when Lord Shiva swallowed the Halahala poison, which had emanated from the intensive churning of the milky ocean, the heat of the poison proved to be so unbearable that he could not wait for a Himalayan shower. Ganga, the river goddess, is said to have rushed to him and poured all the water she had in possession. This helped him and so, even today, holy water is offered through Jalahari (a copper cup that hangs above the Shivalinga). It is believed that Shiva was not cooled enough even after Ganga poured all the water she possessed over him. He was cooled only when the whole of the moon was tucked in the matted lock of his head. Shiva, after having cooled himself became ecstatic and started dancing the Tandava Nritya.

Sankha

Shankha is a Sanskrit word used to denote a sleek and smooth conch shell. It is believed that if the Shankha is blown with skill, it can scare away evil spirits and is described as a killer of germs and enemies. According to some scholars, it can also be used for preparing many kinds of Ayurvedic medicines and that a certain dose of its powder can cure jaundice, gall bladder, etc. The Hindus as well as the Buddhists drink water from a Shankha before they break a fast and almost all temple prayers are accompanied by the blowing of the Shankha. It is strongly believed that the Shankha had been shaped from the holy waters showered from heaven. Thus it is regarded as a divine jewel always held by Lord Vishnu on his right hand. It was also used as safety bands for young ladies to wear, around their hands, in the form of bracelets and its necklaces were worn to cast away evil eyes.

Chakra (The wheel of right action)

Chakra or the wheel of righteousness is an emblem or tool used as a holy symbol by Hindus and Buddhists. Lord Vishnu , the Hindu god of preservation, always holds a chakra to do away with demons and to protect his devotees and to make sure that Dharma (righteousness) does not retrograde. In Buddhism, some interpret the Chakra as the wheel of life and see it as the teachings of Buddha. We might as well say that it's purpose is similar in Buddhism and Hinduism because the first teachings of Buddha began with the turning of the wheel of Dharma.

Nature

Nepal covers a span of 147,181 sq. kilometres ranging from altitude of 70 meters to 8,848 meters. Mountains, mid hills, valleys and plains dominate the geography of landlocked Nepal that extends from the Himalayan range in the north to the Indo-Gangetic lowlands in south. Mt. Everest, the highest point of the Himalayas is in Nepal.

Physical features also include green paddy terraces, wind-swept deserts, dense forests and marshy grasslands. The country is well endowed with perennial rivers, lakes and glacial lakes that originate in the Himalayas. Twenty percent of the land in the country is used for agriculture, where 0.49 percent is used for permanent crops, mainly rice.

Climatic conditions of Nepal vary from one place to another in accordance with the geographical features. In the north summers are cool and winters severe, while in south summers are sub tropical and winters mild.

The variety in Nepal's topography provides home to wildlife like tigers, rhinos, monkeys, bears, yaks, leopards and different species of insects and birds. Nepal is a home to almost 10 percent of the world's bird species among which 500 species are found in the Kathmandu Valley.

The country has managed to preserve some endangered species of Asia in its extensive parks and protected natural habitats. The most abundant natural resource in Nepal is water. Other resources found here are quartz, timber, lignite, copper, cobalt, iron ore and scenic beauty.

Geography

The country can be divided into three main geographical regions:

Himalayan Region

The altitude of this region ranges between 4877 meters and 8848 meters with the now line running around 488848 meters. It includes 8 of the existing 14 summits in the world which exceed the altitude of 8000 meters. They are: (1) Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) - 8848 m (2) Kangchenjunga - 8586 m, (3) Lhotse - 8516 m, (4) Makalu - 8463 m, (5) Cho Oyo - 8201 m, (6) Dhaulagiri - 8167 m, (7) Manaslu - 8163 m, and (8) Annapurna - 8091 m.

Mountain Region

This region accounts for about 64 percent of total land area. The Mahabharat range that rises upto 4877 meters forms it. To its south lies the lower Churia range whose altitude varies from 610 meters to 1524 meters.

Terai Region

The lowland Terai region, which has a width of about 26 to 32 kilometers and an altitude maximum of 305 meters, occupies about 17 percent of total land area of the country. Kechanakawal, the lowest point of the country with an altitude of 70 meters lies in Jhapa District of the eastern Terai.

All this adds up one interesting fact that there is no seasonal constraint on travelling in and through Nepal. Even in December and January, when the winter is at its severest, there are compensating bright sun and brilliant views. Winter days often begin in mist, which can last until noon. Then suddenly, as if by magic, the fog disappears bringing in to views snowy peaks, glistening white and fresh against the large blue sky.

Climate

Nepal experiences 4 seasons :
spring (Mar - May),
summer (Jun - Aug),
autumn (Sep - Nov) and
winter (Dec - Feb).

The climate is varied ranging from the sub-tropical Terai to the cool dry temperate and alpine climate in the northern Himalayan ranges. In the Terai, the hottest part of the country, summer temperatures may rise as high as 40°C. The climate is hot and humid. In the midmountain region, the summer climate is mild with temperatures around 25°C - 27°C.

The winter temperatures range from 7°C to 23°C in the Terai and subzero to 12°C in the mountain regions and valleys. The northern Himalayan region has an alpine climate. The valley of Kathmandu has a pleasant equable climate with average summer and winter temperatures of 19°C - 27°C and 2°C - 12°C respectively.

Biodiversity

Nepal covers an area of 147,181 square kilometers, and stretches 145-241 kilometers north to south and 850 kilometers west to east. The country is located between India in the south and China in the north. At latitudes 26 and 30 degrees north and longitudes 80 and 88 degrees east, Nepal is topographically divided into three regions: the Himalaya to the north, the hills consisting of the Mahabharat range and the Churia Hills in the middle, and the Terai to the south. Elevations are varied in the kingdom. The highest point is Mt. Everest (8848 m) in the north and the lowest point (70 meters above sea level) is located at Kechana Kalan of Jhapa District. Altitude increases as you travel south to north. In the north temperatures are below -40°C and in the Terai, temperatures rise to 40°C in the summer. During June, July and August, the kingdom is influenced by monsoon clouds.

Bird Watching

About 850 species of birds are found in Nepal. With the opening of Koshi Tappu Reserve, bird watching is gaining grounds in Nepal. Koshi Tappu alone has recorded over 250 species of birds. Rare birds include Impeyean pheasant, the national bird, snow cock, snow pigeon, giant horn-bill, saras crane and babblers. The spiny babbler is a rare endemic variety found only in Nepal. Every year migratory birds from Tibet, Siberia and the northern mountains fly to the lowlands and Terai of Nepal. The Koshi Barrage is one of the most important migratory habitats. Bird watching is a very pleasant experience during late autumn and early spring when the migration occurs. Other parks and reserves also attract more birds and birdwatchers.
Flower Tour

Nepal is rich in vegetation. The country's diverse terrain provides ideal conditions for varieties from tropical to hill plants and flowers. Some orchids and certain varieties of rhododendron are very rare and found only in Nepal. Lali Guras or the red rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal. During the right seasons most visitors who come to explore the natural beauty of the country, are fortunate to have a glimpse of spectacular sights of hills covered with rhododendron flowers. Spring and autumn are the best seasons for flowers in Nepal.

Animals

The Asiatic Elephant is found in great numbers in the Royal Bardia National Park in western Nepal. This park is on a traditional elephant migratory route from the western Terai to Corbett National Park in India. The one horned Rhinoceros can be found in the parks along the Terai. There are very few buffalo left in the wild (unlike parts of Africa) although there is a small herd near the Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve in the eastern Terai. The tiger is an endangered species, and the leopard or panther is even more elusive. And again most elusive is the snow leopard the mammal of fables, stories and novels and rare sightings.
Other animals include sloth bear, monkeys, langur, lesser panda, chital or spotted deer, barking deer, and the musk deer (in small numbers in the middle hills). In the Royal Sukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve in the south west corner of Nepal there are herds of swamp deer, with the black buck found in the Bardia region. Near Lumbini the Blue Bull Antelope or Nilgai has made a comeback from 2-5 animals in the early 1990 s to nearly 200.

The wild dog, the golden jackal and the striped hyena are there too throughout Nepal. And the ubiquitous wild boar, a meat favoured by the Nepalese at festival time.

All the National parks of Nepal have a variety of these animals and it is possible to have specific journeys designed to sight some of these but as to whether you will see the more elusive felines, that will be a matter of luck.

Birds

Nepal boasts 848 recorded species of birds. An ardent bird watcher can travel the length and breadth of Nepal doing little else but bird watching. Birding is possible everywhere in Nepal from the hot plains in the south, the Kathmandu Valley in the mid hills, to the mountainous regions of the north.

The Kathmandu Valley has four major bird watching areas, and one can start on the banks of the Bagmati and Manohra rivers. Birds sighted along these rivers are the Egrets, Herons, Kingfishers, Ibisbill, Wood Sandpipers and Plovers. The Chobar gorge is particularly recommended as an area for birds as its isolation from human habitation has encouraged their presence.

hulchowki is another ideal site, with a Red-headed Trogan, a very rare bird sighted there in April 2000. (It was last seen in Nepal 44 years ago.) Phulchowki is 2760 metres and 18kms southeast of Kathmandu, and is reached via Godavari and the Botanical gardens. Walking can start from behind the gardens, with a combination of trails and roads. The hillside is covered with forest featuring outstanding flora as well as diverse birds. About 90 species have been recorded in this area including the endemic Spring Babbler, as well as the Cutia, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Rufous Bellied Pied Woodpeckers and the Black-throated Parrotbill, to name a few.

Two other areas of the valley are The Shivapuri Watershed and Wildlife Reserve, 12kms north of the city, and Nagarjun in the north west. Shivapuri can be reached two ways, either from Sundarijal or Budanilkaantha. The reserve is managed by the Nepalese Army and it costs NRs. 250/- for foreigners to enter. (NRs. 1,000/- is charged for a movie or video camera). Some of the birds in this area are the Laughing Thrush, Crested Serpent Eagle, Little Pied Fly Catchers, Ruby - Throats, and Babblers. At Nagarjun at 2105 metres pheasants, magpies, sunbirds and ruby-throats are found.

Koshi Barrage and Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve are in the eastern Terai, to the far east of Nepal. The Koshi is great for waterfowl and waders, with about 26 varieties of ducks alone. Here the method of viewing is by boat, gliding through the waters in the stillness of the early morning and evenings. Over 450 species have been sighted here, including Black Ibis, Honey Kites, Ospreys, Black Headed Orioles, Peregrine Falcon, Partidges, and storks.

Chitwan is in the lowlands of Nepal, known as the Terai. The Royal Chitwan National Park is the best known site in Nepal for bird-watching. Bird watching needs to be done from the safety of a chair, the back of an elephant or in a jeep (by far the last In Pokhara , 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu, the forests around the banks of Phewa Lake and Begnas Lake are ideal for bird watching, particularly in the less inhabited areas. In winter around Phewa Lake you find egrets, herons, pipits, buntings plus gulls, terns, ducks and falcons. Begnas Lake has slopes and wet fields surrounding it, where ducks, pheasant-tailed Jacana, Happie Grey Bellied Tesias, and bulbuls are seen.

Royal Bardia National Park is covered with Sal forest and riverine forest and grassland much like Chitwan, but Bardia has the mighty Karnali river flowing by the park. Boating on the Karnali is a great way to see the birds, and one would see the Ruddy Shellduck, Oriental Pied Hornbills, Night Herons and Purple Herons, plus many more. In the higher areas of Nepal the trek routes are good for birdwatching, including the Jomson Trek, the Annapurna Recently a rare bird known as Jerdon's Baza was sighted in Nepal.

Over the past few years a conservation group has worked specifically in the Lumbini area to conserve the Sarus Crane. Wetlands have been constructed in the Lumbini area to provide refuge for Sarus Cranes and other wetland birds.

Four hundred thousand saplings have been planted in the area of the crane sanctuary. The cranes are among the world s most endangered of birds, the world s tallest flying bird, it is thought there are fewer than 500 remaining in Nepal. In dedication to the Sarus Crane a thangka has been made called Wheel of Crane Conservation for use as educational material, with the art based on the Buddhist wheel of life philosophy.

Flora

In the years from 1950 onwards more than 200 new species of plants were discovered in Nepal. Prior to this the gathering and cataloguing was the prerogative of plant specialists such as Buchanan Hamilton, Wallich, Hooker and Burkill. In the 1920s two Nepalese collectors working for the British Museum amassed new plants for botanical science. Once Nepal opened its frontiers explorers and scientists carried out organised expeditions in the field of botany.

Prior to the 1950s Nepal's knowledge of its plants was limited mainly to local herbalists and medical practitioners (Ayurvedic Vaidhyas, Kabirajs) who collected plants in the wild for medicines. This practice and knowledge was passed down through the generations with little documentation.

In the 1960s a systematic study was prepared based on modern scientific methods by the Department of Medicinal Plants of His Majesty's Government of Nepal, with a herbarium started at the same time. Staff members were sent out for botanical collection and attached also to foreign expeditions engaged in botanical explorations. After this the herbarium had acquired over 60,000 specimens of vascular plants. Staff members were also sent to the famous herbariums of the world, such as Calcutta, Dehra Dun, Kew, Grenoble and Washington D.C. for training. By the 1970s there were 3121 species of Angrosperms, 24 species of Gymnosperms and 308 species of Pteridophytes, with 1,242 genera and 210 families of plants.

For ecology and vegetation purposes Nepal could be divided into four floristic regions i.e. (a) western (b) north-western (c) central, and (d) eastern, and bio- climatically these are broken down into twenty regions from humid tropical climate to the alpine arid regions. But for the purpose of identifying Nepal s flora for the special interest tourist, the following shows the zones from the point of view of altitude i.e. Tropical zone (below 1,000 m), Sub Tropical Zone (1,000 to 2,100 m), Temperate Zone (2,100 to 3,100 m), Sub Alpine Zone (3,100 to 4,100 m), the Alpine Zone (4,100 to 4,500 m), and the Alpine Steppe region.

In the Tropical zone, consisting of the Terai, Siwalik hills and the Dun valleys, with warm humid climate the natural vegetation is dominated by Shorea robusta, plus Dillenca, Terminalia, Adina, Careya, Eugenia and Salmalia to name a few.

In eastern Nepal still in the tropical zone there is Cycas pectinata, Gentum montanum, Calamis sp, Padamus sp, Cyathea spiolusa, and Podocarpus nereifolius.

In the Sub-Tropical zone in eastern and central Nepal there is Schima-Castanopsis, where as in western Nepal Pinusroxbugnii. Dry oak forest of Quercus incana, Q. lantana with certain quantities of Rhododendron arboreum, and Lyonia ovalifolia occur on southern aspects usually below the pines.

The Temperate zone contains evergreen oaks, Rhododendrons and laurels in eastern and central Nepal, while in western Nepal it is the zone of evergreen coniferous forest on the one hand and deciduous mixed forest on the other. In western Nepal quite a few west Himalayan plants like Cedrus deodara, Cupressus, torulosa, Picea smithiana, Abies pindron, Aesculus indicus, and Juglans regia occur frequently. East Himalayan trees like Quercus lamellosa, Daphnephyllum himalayanse, Magnolia campbellii, Talauma hudsonii, do not occur further west of central Nepal. The upper level of the temperate zone usually has a band of Tsuga dumosa and Rhododendron barbatum forest between the temperate broad-leaved forest and the sub-alpine conifer-oak forest. A distinct belt of deciduous forest consisting of Acer, Magnolia and Pentapanax, occurs in the montane zone of eastern Nepal.

In the Sub-Alpine zone coniferous forest of Abies spectabilis is found at the lower levels and Betula-Rhododendron carysanulatum forest at upper levels near the timber line. Many species of Rhododendron occur in eastern Nepal and their number falls as one travels towards central and western Nepal.

The Alpine zone consists of moist scrub vegetation above the timber line of mostly Rhododendron, Juniperus and Berberis. Beyond the alpine scrub meadows, rocks and screes, there are colourful herbs, grasses and sedges, namely Meconopsis, Primula, Gentiana, Croydalis and Saxifraga. Many new species of plants indigenous to Nepal have been discovered in the alpine and sub-alpine zones.

Alpine steppe vegetation lies north of the Dhaulagiri Annapurna massif and the heads of inner valley Himalayas - consisting of grasses and sedges with cushions of Cavagana, Lonicera, Juniperus and Berberis. First of all visit The Godavari Botanical Gardens in Kathmandu, then plan your journey from there.

Tropical Zone - Winter - November to March and Spring - The Terai, Royal Shukla Phanta Wildlife Reserve , Royal Chitwan National Park , Royal Bardiya National Park , Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve .

Sub-Tropical Zone - Winter and Spring - November to March - Royal Gardens, Godavari Nagarjun Royal Forests, Phulchoki Hills, Shivapuri Hills, Mahabharat and Chure Range of Hills

Temperate Zone - Spring and Autumn - Pokhara , Central west and eastern Nepal, Langtang National Park .

Sub-Alpine Zone - Spring and Autumn - Makalu-Barun National Park , Sagarmatha National Park , Dolpo, Jumla, Humla, Manang, Jomsom, Upper Mustang, Dhorpatan, Helambu

Alpine Zone - Monsoon - July, August and September - Higher Himalayan Belts, Gosaikunda, Annapurna Region, Everest Region, Upper Dolpo, Upper Makalu- Barun Area.

Butterflies

Butterflies have been studied in Nepal for over 150 years, with much of the original study and collection done by the British, including one or two British Residents (i.e. British Consuls of the day). After 1950 the Japanese became involved in collection through scientific expeditions, and this resulted later in the establishment by Tribhuvan University of the Natural History Museum at Swayambhu in 1974. Butterfly

The record books state that Nepal has 11 out of the 15 families of butterflies in the world, or over 500 species, and still today in the 21st century new species keep turning up. It is said that you never really know with Nepal's butterflies; they just may turn up unexpectedly . From 1974 to 1981, only a period of seven years, a further 24 specimens or sub-families were added to the records, and in 1981 two alone, the BLUE DUCHESS and the SIKKIM HAIRSTREAK were discovered, with this last one known only from a single specimen from Sikkim, with this one female found in 1981 in Godavari, Kathmandu Valley ; and later in 1986 an entirely new race of the CHINESE HAIRSTREAK turned up. The original collectors were not allowed outside the Kathmandu Valley, so much of their research documented only the valley. Only after 1950 when Nepal opened up to expeditions and limited tourism, did the butterfly collectors venture outside the valley.

Nepal is divided into 5 regions based on altitude, and the seasons are specified as Spring, Pre-monsoon, Summer-monsoon, Post-monsoon, Autumn and Winter. In winter below 3,000 metres.

Within the Kathmandu Valley, the climate which is quite mild with day temperatures reaching 18ºC in mid-winter, there are butterflies all the year round. The best seasons for butterfly watching are late March/April, mid May/ mid June, late August/September. There are forested areas in the valley which are still remarkable places for butterflies, and they include open country near Chobar and there is very little activity except for the very common Oriental Species, with the distribution of butterflies in Nepal being quite specific with about 10% of the butterflies being Palaearctic species above 3,000 metres, and about 90% Oriental species Swyambhu; the base of the hills and forest streams at Godavari, Nagarjun, Budhanilkantha and Sundarijal; the forested hilltops of Phulchowki, Jamachowk and Shivapuri, and the open scrubby bush areas of Nagarkot , Suryavinyak and Chandragiri.

There are about 20 Kathmandu Valley species on the endangered or vulnerable list. Outside the valley in the areas of the National Parks scattered throughout the country, the butterflies too are in profusion, and in undisturbed areas away from settlements are the ideal places to sit and watch. 

Fossils

Shaligram is one of the coiled chambered fossil shells of the extinct Cepalopod Mullusks that came into existence as a part of the initial emergence of the Himalayan heights from the depths of the Tethys-sea millions of years ago. To the Nepalese however, the Shaligram features very prominently in their religious lives because of its embodiment of Vishnu, one of the major manifestations in the Hindu Trinity. Puranas like Scanda, Padam and Baraha written around 2,000 years ago, give an exhaustive account of Shaligram, which are divided into a wide variety of colour, shape and size. They can be found in the north of the Nilgiri mountain range right up to Damodar Kunda, and also in the waters of the Kaligandaki river right up to Tribeni in Dolal Ghat. However, the most popular belt is on the banks of the Kaligandaki river at Jomsom where the pilgrims who pass through on their way to Muktinath  search for a wide variety of Shaligram. On the other hand, this belt also had a past in which non-Hindu tradesmen and local people, broke into pieces particularly the Shaligrams with golden streaks in them in their search for gold.

The tradition has it that the priest families particularly the ones that are involved in the ceremonies of a religious nature have been worshipping the Shaligram for aeons. Shaligrams do come in various forms and colours and one has to select a particular kind for worship depending upon what one wishes to achieve. The Shaligram is often placed on a copper plate over which water is poured, and then a Puja is performed. Later the water is drunk to purify the worshipper inside and outside. Under normal circumstances, it is believed that a sleek looking piece with a small mouth that fits within the fold of ones hand is ideal for worship.

In Riddi at Ruru Chhetra there is a Rishikesh temple in which the deity on a single huge piece of Shaligram measures nearly four feet in height.

In its legendary stories Nepal is a country where deities mingle with mortals and Shaligram is a symbol that has contributed to keep the glory and the sanctity of the sublime Himalayas intact.

Medicinal plants

Medicinal plants, Ayurveda and the Himalayas are intertwined in a very special manner and Nepal, right in the centre of the Himalayan region, has special significance. Medicinal plants are used in traditional rural remedies, Ayurveda medicines , Homoeopathic medicines, and many of them are also included in allopathic pharmacopeas.

The resource strained health services of Nepal, further complicated by an ever-unabated population growth, is said to serve only 15% of the 20 million population of the country giving only this small group access to modern health facilities. A large section of the population, mainly the rural people, still depend on primitive care such as traditional Ayurveda or herbal practitioners.

The use of locally available medicinal plants in the health care system of Nepal is a necessity, not a luxury.

The conservation, protection, cultivation and utilisation of this resource is a prime need of the country, of which thousands of species are available most of which are only available in the Himalayan Zone. The demand for these herbs is high and they can be cultivated on a large scale, but rare species of medicinal plants also need to be preserved.

Medicinal plants are an important component of the vegetation of Nepal, and the distribution pattern of medicinal plants has been found to be approximately 49.2% in the tropical zone (up to 1,000 meters), 53.96% in the sub-tropical zone (1,000 - 2,000 m), 35.7% in the temperate zone (2,000 - 3,000 m), 18.9% in the sub-alpine zone (3,000 - 4,000 m), and 7.14% in the alpine zone (4,000 m upwards). There are about 1,400 kinds of medicinal plants utilized by Ayurveda and traditional healers in Nepal.

Some of the important and wellknown medicinal plants follow: Alpine & sub-alpine medicinal plants: Aconitum Spp., Picrorrhiza scrophularaeflora, Swertia multicaulis, Rheum emodi, Nardostachys jatamansi, Ephedra gerardiana, Cordyceps sinensis, Dactylorhiza hatagirea.

Tropical and sub-tropical medicinal plants: Terminalias, Cassia fistula, Cassia catechu, Aegles marmelos, Rauwolfia serpentina, Phyllanthus emblica, Ricinus recemosus, Acorus clams, Acacia concinnity, Butte monster.

Temperate zone medicinal plants: Valeriana wallichii, Berberis, Datura, Solanum, Rubia, Zanthoxylum armatum, Gaultheria fragrautissima, Dioscorea deltoidea, Curulligo orchoidies.

Some of the regions where medicinal plants are abundantly found are, the Terai region of Nawalparasi, Chitwan, Bardiya, Dhanusha, Mid-hilly Region of Makawanpur, Syanja, Kaski, Lamgjung, Dolakha, Parvat, Ilam, Ramechhap, Nuwakot, and the Himalayan region of Dolpa, Mugu, Humla, Jumla, Manang, Mustang and Solukhumbu.

The institutions manufacturing Ayurveda medicinal products include Singha Durbar Vaidhya Khana Vikas Samiti, Kathmandu; Gorkha Ayurveda Company, Gorkha; Arogya Bhavan, Kathmandu; Siddha Ayurveda Pharmacy, Butwal; Pashupati Ayurveda Bhavan, Sarlahi; and Classical Herbal Group, Kathmandu Nowhere does nature manifest herself so vividly in all her playfulness as she does in the world of orchids. In their flowering pattern orchids are capable of mimicking a part of man as well as the animal world, at times, making us laugh. Monkey Face, Swan Neck, Little Bull, and The Velvet Bee are among the few names they have been given for their peculiar looks.

Orchids

In ancient Rome, Theophrastus, a student of Plato, was intriqued by the sight of a plant with a pair of roots. Orchis was the name he gave them, the Greek word for testicles.

The world abounds with some 500 to 600 genera and some 20,000 to 35,000 names, the largest of all plant families, and out of this, Nepal has 57 genera (27 Terrestrials and 30 Epiphytic) with a few Lithophytes. Wide spread into different ecological zones, from the foot hills of the Himalayas to the plains in the Terai, the orchid-world in Nepal is immensely interesting for nature lovers and horticultural experts.

Some terrestrial orchids which flower during July-August have a stem with only two leaves and purple flowers; another orchid from the same genera in west Nepal flowers during February-March and is orange-green.

In March-April in Godavari there are orchids with greenish fragrant flowers, and in Shivapuri and Kakani orchids with white or pale yellow flowers. During September-October Sundarijal has green orchids streaked with purple, and on the way to Daman in November pale mauve orchids line the banks of the road. All of the above areas are accessible in a couple of hours or less from Kathmandu, with Dhankuta and Hetauda a little further away sporting yellow flowers, and in Khandbari purple-brown with pale borders.

Nepal is indeed endowed with an incredible variety of orchids scattered all over the Himalayan kingdom. Dedrobium is the largest species, followed by Habenaria and Bulbophyllum. Anthogonium, Hemipilia and Lusia are some of the other varieties amongst the nearly two dozen single species families.

No destination in Nepal is devoid of orchids including most of the trekking routes, and near Kathmandu the areas to visit are the Godavari Botanical Gardens to the south, Sundarijal to the north, Nagarjun to the west and Dhulikhel to the east. You will find orchids at one or more of these areas all year round.

Rhododedrons

During Spring - March to May - Rhododendron blooms can be seen in all the hilly regions of Nepal above 1,200 m altitude. More specifically, the mid mountain vertical belt between 2,000 and 4,000 m serves as the 'wild' preserve of the Rhodododendron, or GURANS and CHIMAL, the two words used in Nepali.

There are four major areas for Rhododendron treks -

   1. Milke Danda-Jaljale Himal, a transverse mountain range which separates the two river systems of the Tamur and the Arun
   2. Upper Tamur River Valley
   3. Makalu-Barun National Park
   4. Closer to Kathmandu - the Langtang Valley inside Langtang National Park

Nepal has 30 indigenous species of Rhododendron, and one which is endemic to Nepal and not found elsewhere, is R. lowndesit. It has lemon or creamy yellow flowers, which are short well-shaped and are solitary or in pairs on the stem. It grows in the drier areas of western Nepal near Muktinath and Phoksundo.

A Rhododendron trek to the Upper Tamur River would consist of a flight to Bhadrapur then a drive to Ilam. Ilam is the well-known tea production centre and could include some interesting side trips to tea plantations. From Ilam a trek can start to the south-west side of the Kanchenjunga area and the upper side valleys of the Tamur River system. Very grand sightings of Rhododendron can be assured in this region.

And closer to Kathmandu, Dhunche at 2,000 metres is a 5/6 hour drive away. Trekking can start here to the upper areas of the Langtang Valley. Nine species of Rhododendron can be seen in this region.

The best time is late March to mid June, and in addition to the Rhododendron, spring blooms of wild poppy, magnolia and primrose will make the trek a memorable one. Botany or flora trekking requires the same equipment, guides, porters and fitness as normal trekking in Nepal. The usual precautions need to be taken, and respect for the environment needs to be uppermost in the minds of the trekkers.

Trees

Nepal has a variety of beautiful trees, of which the Banyan and the Peepul are associated with Hindu and Buddhist holy sites, frequently found beside temples and shrines. It is considered that the original tree under which Maya Devi gave birth to her son Gautama Siddhartha was not a peepul tree, but probably a Sal; it may have survived into the 6th or 7th century AD.

The Eucalyptus were introduced into Nepal from Australia in the 19th century, and in Kathmandu can be smelt as you walk along a street after rain has fallen. The Spruce, an evergreen, coniferous pine tree which took its name from Prussia where it traditionally came from; the Juniper another evergreen is a crucial ingredient in the flavouring of gin, and in medicines it is used as a diuretic. Laurel, or bay tree, is well known, and, The Cedar and Deodar are found throughout Nepal, with the cedar often used to make incense, and in west Nepal there is an indigenous Cypress called Himalayan Cypress. The treeline in Nepal is at 5,000 metres, and above this no trees are found.

In the Annapurna Conservation Area are Alpine Pasture, Alpine Meadow, Trans-Himalayan Steppe, Fire-Blue Pine Forest, Birch Forest, Rhododendron Forest, Sub-alpine Juniper Forest, Hemlock and Oak forest, Cypress Forest, East Himalayan Oak and Lauren Forest, Alder Forest, and Schima-Castanopsis Forest.

In the Kanchenjungha Conservation Area are Dwarf Rhododendron Scrub, Rhododendron shrubberies, Fir and Larch forest, Mixed broad leaved forest, East Himalayan Oak and Laurel, and Schim-Castanopsis Forest.

In the Khaptad National Park are Fir, Oak and Rhododendron Forest, West Himalayan Fir and Hemlock forest, Mountain oak, Mixed oak and laurel forest, Chir Pine and broad leaved forest.

In the Langtang National Park are Alpine pasure, juniper scrub, alpine meadow, dwarf rhododendron, juniper shrubs, fir and larch forest, mixed blue pin and oak forest, laurel and chir pine forest.

In the Makalu-Barun Conservation Area are alpine pasture, alpine meadow, and dwarf rhododendron scrub, fir and birch forest, and rhododendron shrubberies, temperate mountain oak, oak and laurel forest, Hill Sal Forest.

In Rara National Park are alpine mats and scrub, rhododendron and juniper shrubland, fire forest, mountain oak, upper temperate blue pine forest, and spruce. Mixed oak and laurel forest.

In the Shey-Phoksundo National Park are alpine pasture, alpine mats and scrub, trans- himalayan steppe, blue pine, birch, rhododendron forest, larch, mountain oak, cedar and cypress forest, deciduous walnut, maple, alder forest, steppe with Euphorbia, Royleana, Grasses and Artemisia