The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal (सङ्घीय लोकतान्त्रिक गणतन्त्र नेपाल — Sanghiya Loktāntrik Ganatantra Nepāl), is a landlocked central Himalayan country in South Asia. Nepal is divided into 7 provinces and 75 districts and 744 local units including 4 metropolises, 13 sub-metropolises, 246 municipal councils and 481 villages. The country is of roughly trapezoidal shape, 497 miles (800 kilometers) long and 124 miles (200 kilometers) wide, with an area of 56,827 square miles (147,181 km²). It lies between latitudes 26° and 31°N, and longitudes 80° and 89°E is the 93rd largest country by area. Bordering China in the north and India in the south, east, and west, it is the largest sovereign Himalayan state. Nepal does not border Bangladesh, which is located within only 17 miles (27 km) of its southeastern tip. It neither borders Bhutan due to the Indian state of Sikkim being located in between. Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and largest city. It is a multiethnic nation with Nepali as the official language. Nepal has a population of 26.4 million.
Nepal has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Technically, the south-east ridge on the Nepali side of the mountain is easier to climb; so, most climbers prefer to trek to Everest through Nepal.
Modern Nepal is a federal secular parliamentary republic. It has seven states. Nepal is a developing nation, ranking 144th on the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2016. The country struggles with the transition from a monarchy to a republic. It also suffers from high levels of hunger and poverty. Despite these challenges, Nepal is making steady progress, with the government declaring its commitment to elevate the nation from least developed country status by 2022. Nepal also has a vast potential to generate hydropower for export. The military of Nepal is the fifth largest in South Asia and is notable for its Gurkha history, particularly during the world wars, and has been a significant contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Local legends have that a Hindu sage named “Ne” established himself in the valley of Kathmandu in prehistoric times and that the word “Nepal” came into existence as the place was protected (“pala” in Pali) by the sage “Nemi”. It is mentioned in Vedic texts that this region was called Nepal centuries ago. According to the Skanda Purana, a rishi called “Nemi” used to live in the Himalayas. In the Pashupati Purana, he is mentioned as a saint and a protector. He is said to have practiced meditation at the Bagmati and Kesavati rivers and to have taught there.
The name of the country is also identical in origin to the name of the Newar people. The terms “Nepāl“, “Newār“, “Newāl” and “Nepār” are phonetically different forms of the same word, and instances of the various forms appear in texts in different times in history. Nepal is the learned Sanskrit form and Newar is the colloquial Prakrit form. A Sanskrit inscription dated 512 CE found in Tistung, a valley to the west of Kathmandu, contains the phrase “greetings to the Nepals” indicating that the term “Nepal” was used to refer to both the country and the people.
Neolithic tools found in the Kathmandu Valley indicate that people have been living in the Himalayan region for at least eleven thousand years. The oldest population layer is believed to be represented by the Kusunda people. According to Hogdson in 1847 the earliest inhabitants and properly of proto-Australoid origin.
Nepal is first mentioned in the late Vedic Atharvaveda Pariśiṣṭa as a place exporting blankets and in the post-Vedic Atharvashirsha Upanishad. In Samudragupta’s Allahabad Pillar it is mentioned as a bordering country. The Skanda Purana has a separate chapter known as “Nepal Mahatmya” that explains in more details about the beauty and power of Nepal. Nepal is also mentioned in Hindu texts such as the Narayana Puja.
Tibeto-Burman-speaking people probably lived in Nepal 2500 years ago. However, there is no archaeological evidence of the Gopal Bansa or Kirati rulers, only mention by the later Licchavi and Malla eras. The first inhabitants of Nepal were properly of Dravidian origin whose history predates the onset of the Bronze Age in South Asia (around 3300 BCE), before the coming of other ethnic groups like the Tibeto-Burmans and Indo-Aryans from across the border.
Around 500 BCE, small kingdoms and confederations of clans arose in the southern regions of Nepal. From one of these, the Shakya polity, arose a prince who later renounced his status to lead an ascetic life, founded Buddhism, and came to be known as Gautama Buddha (traditionally dated 563–483 BCE).
By 250 BCE, the southern regions came under the influence of the Maurya Empire of North India and parts of Nepal later on became a nominal vassal state under the Gupta Empire in the fourth century CE. Beginning in the third century CE, the Licchavi Kingdom governed the Kathmandu Valley and the region surrounding central Nepal.
There is a quite detailed description of the kingdom of Nepal in the account of the renowned Chinese Buddhist pilgrim monk Xuanzang, dating from c. 645 CE. Stone inscriptions in the Kathmandu Valley are important sources for the history of Nepal.
The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late eighth century, probably due to the Tibetan Empire, and was followed by a Newar or Thakuri era, from 879 CE (Nepal Sambat 1), although the extent of their control over the present-day country is uncertain. In the eleventh century it seems to have included the Pokhara area. By the late eleventh century, southern Nepal came under the influence of the Chalukya dynasty of South India. Under the Chalukyas, Nepal’s religious establishment changed as the kings patronized Hinduism instead of the Buddhism prevailing at that time.
In the early twelfth century, leaders emerged in far western Nepal whose names ended with the Sanskrit suffix malla (“wrestler”). These kings consolidated their power and ruled over the next 200 years, until the kingdom splintered into two dozen petty states. Another Malla dynasty beginning with Jayasthiti emerged in the Kathmandu valley in the late fourteenth century, and much of central Nepal again came under a unified rule. In 1482, the realm was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.
In the mid-eighteenth century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha king, set out to put together what would become present-day Nepal. He embarked on his mission by securing the neutrality of the bordering mountain kingdoms. After several bloody battles and sieges, notably the Battle of Kirtipur, he managed to conquer the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. A detailed account of Prithvi Narayan Shah’s victory was written by Father Giuseppe, an eyewitness to the war.
The Gorkha dominion reached its height when the North Indian territories of the Kumaon and Garhwal Kingdoms in the west to Sikkim in the east came under Nepal rule. At its maximum extent, Greater Nepal extended from the Teesta River in the east, to Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, across the Sutlej in the west as well as further south into the Terai plains and north of the Himalayas than at present. A dispute with Tibet over the control of mountain passes and inner Tingri valleys of Tibet forced the Qing Emperor of China to start the Sino-Nepali War compelling the Nepali to retreat and pay heavy reparations to Peking.
Rivalry between Kingdom of Nepal and the East India Company over the annexation of minor states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepali War (1815–16). At first the British underestimated the Nepali and were soundly defeated until committing more military resources than they had anticipated needing. They were greatly impressed by the valor and competence of their adversaries. Thus began the reputation of Gurkhas as fierce and ruthless soldiers. The war ended in the Sugauli Treaty, under which Nepal ceded recently captured portions of Sikkim and lands in Terai as well as the right to recruit soldiers. Madhesis, having supported the East India Company during the war, had their lands gifted to Nepali.
Factionalism inside the royal family led to a period of instability. In 1846, a plot was discovered revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Kunwar, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country. Jung Bahadur Kunwar emerged victorious and founded the Rana dynasty, later known as Jung Bahadur Rana. The king was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted them during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (and later in both World Wars). Some parts of the Terai region populated with non-Nepali peoples were gifted to Nepal by the British as a friendly gesture because of her military help to sustain British control in India during the rebellion. In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship that superseded the Sugauli Treaty of 1816.
Slavery was abolished in Nepal in 1924. Nevertheless, debt bondage even involving debtors’ children has been a persistent social problem in the Terai. Rana rule was marked by tyranny, debauchery, economic exploitation and religious persecution.
In the late 1940s, newly emerging pro-democracy movements and political parties in Nepal were critical of the Rana autocracy. Meanwhile, with the invasion of Tibet by China in the 1950s, India sought to counterbalance the perceived military threat from its northern neighbor by taking pre-emptive steps to assert more influence in Nepal. India sponsored both King Tribhuvan (ruled 1911–55) as Nepal’s new ruler in 1951 and a new government, mostly comprising the Nepali Congress, thus terminating Rana hegemony in the kingdom.
After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, King Mahendra (ruled 1955–72) scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a “partyless” Panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989, when the “Jan Andolan” (People’s Movement) forced King Birendra (ruled 1972–2001) to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament that took seat in May 1991. In 1991–92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent, most of whom have been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal ever since.
In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal started a bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people’s republic by violent means. This led to the long Nepali Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths.
On June 1, 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace. King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family were killed. The perpetrator was Crown Prince Dipendra, who committed suicide (he died three days later) shortly thereafter. This outburst was alleged to have been Dipendra’s response to his parents’ refusal to accept his choice of wife. Nevertheless, there is speculation and doubts among Nepali citizens about who was responsible.
Following the carnage, King Birendra’s brother Gyanendra inherited the throne. On February 1, 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed the entire government and assumed full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement, but this initiative was unsuccessful because a stalemate had developed in which the Maoists were firmly entrenched in large expanses of countryside but could not yet dislodge the military from numerous towns and the largest cities. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate.
In response to the 2006 democracy movement, King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people. On April 24, 2006, the dissolved House of Representatives was reinstated. Using its newly acquired sovereign authority, on May 18, 2006, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, ending its time-honored official status as a Hindu Kingdom. On December 28, 2007, a bill was passed in parliament to amend Article 159 of the constitution — replacing “Provisions regarding the King” by “Provisions of the Head of the State” — declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy. The bill came into force on May 28, 2008.
The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won the largest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly election held on April 10, 2008, and formed a coalition government which included most of the parties in the CA. Although acts of violence occurred during the pre-electoral period, election observers noted that the elections themselves were markedly peaceful and “well-carried out”.
The newly elected Assembly met in Kathmandu on May 28, 2008, and, after a polling of 564 constituent Assembly members, 560 voted to form a new government, with the monarchist Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which had four members in the assembly, registering a dissenting note. At that point, it was declared that Nepal had become a secular and inclusive democratic republic, with the government announcing a three-day public holiday from May 28-30. The king was thereafter given 15 days to vacate Narayanhity Palace so it could reopen as a public museum.
Nonetheless, political tensions and consequent power-sharing battles have continued in Nepal. In May 2009, the Maoist-led government was toppled and another coalition government with all major political parties barring the Maoists was formed. Madhav Kumar Nepal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) was made the Prime Minister of the coalition government. In February 2011, the Madhav Kumar Nepal Government was toppled and Jhala Nath Khanal of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) was made the Prime Minister. In August 2011, the Jhala Nath Khanal Government was toppled and Baburam Bhattarai of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) was made the Prime Minister.
The political parties were unable to draft a constitution in the stipulated time. This led to dissolution of the Constituent Assembly to pave way for new elections to strive for a new political mandate. In opposition to the theory of separation of powers, then Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi was made the chairman of the caretaker government. Under Regmi, the nation saw peaceful elections for the constituent assembly. The major forces in the earlier constituent assembly (namely CPN Maoists and Madhesi parties) dropped to distant 3rd and even below.
In February 2014, after consensus was reached between the two major parties in the constituent assembly, Sushil Koirala was sworn in as the new prime minister of Nepal.
On September 20, 2015, a new constitution, the “Constitution of Nepal 2015” (नेपालको संविधान २०७२) was announced by President Ram Baran Yadav in the constituent assembly. The constituent assembly was transformed into a legislative parliament by the then-chairman of that assembly. The new constitution of Nepal has changed Nepal practically into a federal democratic republic by making 7 unnamed states.
On April 25, 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal which killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000. The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing 21. The earthquake triggered another huge avalanche in the Langtang valley, where 250 people were reported missing. Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless with entire villages flattened, across many districts of the country. Centuries-old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley, including some at the Kathmandu Durbar Square, the Patan Durbar Square, the Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the Changu Narayan Temple, the Boudhanath stupa and the Swayambhunath Stupa. Geophysicists and other experts had warned for decades that Nepal was vulnerable to a deadly earthquake, particularly because of its geology, urbanization, and architecture.[
Two weeks later, on May 12, 2015, another earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 hit Nepal. The epicenter was near the Chinese border between the capital of Kathmandu and Mt. Everest. More than 200 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured by this aftershock.
In October 2015, Bidhya Devi Bhandari was nominated as the first female president.
In mid-May 2015, I received a small package from a friend in Kathmandu which was mailed just over a week following the April 25 earthquake. I was shocked that the postal service was still in operation. It bore the stamp pictured today, a 20-rupees denomination depicting the Patan Museum which was inaugurated in 1997 by the late King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah. The museum quadrangle, known as Keshav Narayan Chowk, takes its name from the temple in the center of the main courtyard and is best known for its beautiful facade framing the golden door and window. This and two adjacent palace courtyards have a long and important history as a palace of the Malla kings of Patan.
The palace is situated in Patan Durbar Square at the center of Lalitpur Metropolitan City (ललितपुर महानगरपालिका), historically Patan (पाटन in Sanskrit), which is the third largest city of Nepal after Kathmandu and Pokhara and it is located in the south-central part of Kathmandu Valley. The square, and the entire city, was heavily damaged by the April 25, 2015, earthquake.
The Durbar Square is a marvel of Newa architecture. The square floor is tiled with red bricks. There are many temples and idols in the area. The main temples are aligned opposite of the western face of the palace. The entrance of the temples faces east, towards the palace. There is also a bell situated in the alignment beside the main temples. The square also holds old Newari residential houses. There are various other temples and structures in and around Patan Durbar Square built by the Newa People.
The Patan Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and displays the traditional sacred arts of Nepal in an illustrious architectural setting. The exhibits cover a long span of Nepal’s cultural history and some rare objects are among its treasures. Most of the objects are cast bronzes and gilt copper repousse work, traditional crafts for which Patan is famous.