Records mention the Gopalas and Mahishapalas believed to have been the earliest rulers with their capital at Matatirtha, the south-west corner of the Kathmandu Valley. From the 7th or 8th Century B.C. the Kirantis are said to have ruled the valley. Their famous King Yalumber is even mentioned in the epic, ‘Mahabharat’. Around 300 A.D. the Lichhavis arrived from northern India and overthrew the Kirantis. One of the legacies of the Licchavis is the Changu Narayan Temple near Bhaktapur, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Culture), which dates back to the 5th Century. In the early 7th Century, Amshuvarma, the first Thakuri king took over the throne from his father-in-law who was a Lichhavi. He married off his daughter Bhrikuti to the famous Tibetan King Tsong Tsen Gampo thus establishing good relations with Tibet. The Lichhavis brought art and architecture to the valley but the golden age of creativity arrived in 1200 A.D with the Mallas.
An ambitious Gorkha King named Prithvi Narayan Shah embarked on a conquering mission that led to the defeat of all the kingdoms in the valley (including Kirtipur which was an independent state) by 1769. Instead of annexing the newly acquired states to his kingdom of Gorkha, Prithvi Narayan decided to move his capital to Kathmandu establishing the Shah dynasty which ruled unified Nepal from 1769 to 2008.
The history of the Gorkha state goes back to 1559 when Dravya Shah established a kingdom in an area chiefly inhabited by Magars. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, Gorkha continued a slow expansion, conquering various states while forging alliances with others. Prithvi Narayan dedicated himself at an early age to the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley. 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 relegating the Shah king to mere figureheads. He started a hereditary reign of the Rana Prime Ministers that lasted for 104 years. The Ranas were overthrown in a democracy movement of the early 1950s with support from the-then monarch of Nepal, King Tribhuvan. Soon after the overthrow of the Ranas, King Tribhuvan was reinstated as the Head of the State. 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 was victorious and their leader, Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala formed a government and served as prime minister. But by 1960, King Mahendra had changed his mind and dissolved Parliament, dismissing the first democratic government.
After many years of struggle when the political parties were banned, they finally mustered enough courage to start a People’s Movement in 1990. Paving way for democracy, the then-King Birendra accepted constitutional reforms and established a multiparty parliament with King as the Head of State and an executive Prime Minister. In May 1991, Nepal held its first parliamentary elections. In February 1996, the Maoist parties declared People’s War against the monarchy and the elected government.
Then on 1st June 2001, a horrific tragedy wiped out the entire royal family including King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya with many of their closest relatives. With only King Birendra’s brother, Gyanendra and his family surviving, he was crowned the king. King Gyanendra abided by the elected government for some time and then dismissed the elected Parliament to wield absolute power.In April 2006, another People’s Movement was launched jointly by the democratic parties focusing most energy in Kathmandu which led to a 19-day curfew. Eventually, King Gyanendra relinquished his power and reinstated the Parliament.On November 21, 2006, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and Maoist chairman Prachanda signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) 2006, committing to democracy and peace for the progress of the country and people. A Constituent Assembly election was held on April 10, 2008. On May 28,2008, the newly elected Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a Federal Democratic Republic, abolishing the 240 year-old monarchy. Nepal today has a President as Head of State and a Prime Minister heading the Government.
The population of Nepal was recorded to be about 26.62 million according to a recent survey done by the Central Bureau of Statistics, Nepal. The population comprises of about a 101 ethnic groups speaking over 92 languages. The distinction in caste and ethnicity is understood more easily with a view of customary layout of the population.Though, there exist numerous dialects, the language of unification is the national language, Nepali. Nepali is the official language of the state, spoken and understood by majority of the population. Multiple ethnic groups have their own mother tongue. 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.
Customs and traditions differ from one part of Nepal to another. A conglomeration lies in capital city Kathmandu where cultures are blended to form a national identity. Kathmandu Valley has served as the country’s cultural metropolis since the unification of Nepal in the 18th Century. A prominent factor in a Nepali’s everyday life is religion. Adding color to the lives of Nepalis are festivals year round which they celebrate with much pomp and joy. Food plays an important role in the celebration of these festivals.
Nepal was declared a secular country by the Parliament on May 18, 2006. Religions practiced in Nepal are: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism, Bon, ancestor worship and animism. The majority of Nepalis are either Hindus or Buddhism. The two have co-existed in harmony through centuries.
Buddha is widely worshipped by both Buddhists and Hindus of Nepal. The five Dhyani Buddhas; Vairochana, Akshobhya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, represent the five basic elements: Earth, fire, water, air and ether. Buddhist philosophy conceives these deities to be the manifestation of Sunya or absolute void. Mahakala and Bajrayogini are Vajrayana Buddhist deities worshipped by Hindus as well.
Hindu Nepalis worship the ancient Vedic gods. Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, are worshipped as the Supreme Hindu Trinity. People pray to the Shiva Linga or the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva in most Shiva temples. Shakti, the dynamic element in the female counterpart of Shiva, is highly revered and feared.
Mahadevi, Mahakali, Bhagabati, Ishwari are some of the names given. 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. Vedas, Upanishads and other holy scriptures are read by well learned Brahmin Pandits during special occasions.
The diversity in Nepal in terms of ethnicity again makes room for various sets of customs. Most of these customs go back to the Hindu, Buddhist or other religious traditions. Among them, the rules of marriage are particularly interesting. Traditional marriages call for deals arranged by parents after the boy or girl come of age.
Nepalis do not eat beef. There are several reasons for this, one being that the Hindus worship cow. Cow is also the national animal of Nepal. Another interesting concept among Nepalis is division of pure and impure. “Jutho” referring to food or material touched by another’s mouth directly or indirectly, is considered impure by Nepalis. Nepalis consider cow dung to be pure for cleansing purposes. During menstruation women are considered impure and hence, are kept in seclusion until their fourth day purification bath.Nepal is a patriarchal society. Men usually go out to work while women are homemakers. However, in cities, roles can differ. Most Nepalis abide by the caste system in living habits and marriage. Rural Nepal is mostly agrarian, while some aspects of urban life carry glitz and glamour of the ultra-modern world.
Climatic conditions of Nepal vary from one place to another in accordance with their geographical features. In the northern summers are cool and winters severe, while in the south summers are tropical and winters are mild. Nepal has five seasons: spring, summer, monsoon, autumn and winter.
In the Terai (South Nepal), summer temperatures exceed 37° C and higher in some areas, winter temperatures range from 7°C to 23°C in the Terai. In mountainous regions, hills and valleys, summers are temperate while winter temperatures can plummet under sub zero. The Kathmandu Valley has a pleasant climate with average summer and winter temperatures of 19°C – 35°C and 2°C – 12°C respectively.
Good to know is that on average temperatures drop 6°C for every 1,000 m you gain in altitude.
The Himalayas act as a barrier to the cold winds blowing from Central Asia in winter, and forms the northern boundary of the monsoon wind patterns. Eighty percent of all the rain in Nepal is received during the monsoon (June-September). Winter rains are more pronounced in the western hills. The average annual rainfall is 1,600 mm, but it varies by eco-climatic zones, such as 3,345 mm in Pokhara and below 300 mm in Mustang.
There is no seasonal constraint on traveling in and through Nepal. Even in December and January, when winter is at its severest, there are compensating bright sun and brilliant views. As with most of the trekking areas in Nepal, the best time to visit are during spring and autumn. Spring is the time for rhododendrons while the clearest skies are found after the monsoon in October and November. However, Nepal can be visited the whole year round.
Nepal is located in South Asia between China in the north and India in the south, east and west. While the total land area is 147,181 sq. km including water area of the country that is 3,830 sq. km. The geographical coordinates are 28°00′N 84°00′E. Nepal falls in the temperate zone north of the Tropic of Cancer.Nepal’s ecological zones run east to west about 800 km along its Himalayan axis, 150 to 250 km north to south, and is vertically intersected by the river systems. The country can be divided into three main geographical regions: Himalayan region, mid hill region and Terai region. The highest point in the country is Mt. Everest (8,848 m) while the lowest point is in the Terai plains of Kechana Kalan in Jhapa (60 m).
The Terai region, with width of ranging 26km to 32 km and altitude ranging from 60m to 305 m, occupies about 17 percent of the total land area of the country. Kechana Kalan, the lowest point of the country with an altitude of 60 m, lies in Jhapa district of the eastern Terai.The southern lowland Terai continues to the Bhabar belt covered with the Char Kose Jhadi forests known for rich wildlife. Further north, the Siwalik zone (700 – 1,500 m) and the Mahabharat range (1,500m - 2,700m) give way to the Duns (valleys), such as Trijuga, Sindhuli, Chitwan, Dang and Surkhet. The Midlands (600 – 3,500 m), north of the Mahabharat range is where the two beautiful valleys of Kathmandu and Pokhara lie covered in terraced rice fields, and surrounded by forested watersheds.
The Himalayas (above 3,000 m) comprises mountains, alpine pastures and temperate forests limited by the tree-line (4,000 m) and snow line (5,500 m). Eight of the 14 eight-thousanders of the world lie in Nepal: Sagarmatha or Mount Everest (8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), Lhotse (8,516 m), Makalu (8,463 m), Cho Oyu (8,201m), Dhaulagiri (8,167 m), Manaslu (8,163 m) and Annapurna (8,091 m). The inner Himalayan valley (above 3,600 m) such as Mustang and Dolpa are cold deserts sharing topographical characteristics with the Tibetan plateau.Nepal holds the so called “waters towers of South Asia” with its 6,000 rivers which are snow-fed or dependent on rain. The perennial rivers include Mahakali, Karnali, Narayani and Koshi rivers originating in the Himalayas. Medium-sized rivers like Babai, West Rapti, Bagmati, Kamla, Kankai and Mechi originate in the Midlands and Mahabharat range. A large number of seasonal streams, mostly originating in Siwaliks, flow across the Terai.
Of 163 wetlands documented, the nine globally recognized Ramsar sites are: Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Beeshazarital (Chitwan), Jagdishpur Reservoir (Kapilvastu) Ghodaghodi Tal (Kailali) in the Terai, and Gokyo (Solukhumbu), Phoksundo (Dolpa), Rara (Mugu) and Mai Pokhari (Ilam) in the mountain region.There are more than 30 natural caves in the country out of which only a few are accessible by road. Maratika Cave (also known as Haleshi) is a pilgrimage site associated with Buddhism and Hinduism. Siddha Cave is near Bimalnagar along the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway. Pokhara is also known for caves namely Bats’ shed, Batulechar, Gupteswar, Patale Chhango. The numerous caves around Lo Manthang in Mustang include Luri and Tashi Kabum which house ancient murals and chhortens dating back to the 13th century.
Nepal is a one-stop spiritual destination. Every activity here revolves around finding yourself, seeking your roots, whether it be practicing yoga or going on a mighty trek or just visiting a temple.
According to sacred texts, Nepal is a place where the Hindu gods and ancient rishis have been coming to meditate and relax for thousands of years.
For todays visitors there are plenty of opportunities to experience meditation sessions in Nepal. You can join a retreat in a monastery or private center and practice the teachings that have enlightened so many or find a peaceful spot near one of the famous holy places like Boudhanath or Swayambhunath.
It is believed that meditation rejuvenates one’s energy level and zeal, hence its popularity. It has gained a following worldwide and is taught in many parts of the world. A meditation course will help you relax and explore the spiritual side within yourself. There are many specialized centers offering meditation courses. Some of these institutions provide accommodation and food along with the classes while others only provide classes. One of the most popular classes on meditation that is attended by a large number of foreigners is at Kopan Monastery not very far from Boudha. There are courses that last for months and accommodations are provided as apartments below the monastery.
Meditation has gained immense popularity in the last decade. There are many meditation centers in and around Kathmandu.
Nepal Vipassana Centre runs ten-day courses on meditation. A strict regimen is followed here throughout the course. Daily meditation begins at 4:30 am, and silence is kept for the entire ten days. To register or pick up a pamphlet on the course, visit the centre's Kathmandu office (Sun-Fri 10 am-5.30 pm) in the courtyard of Jyoti Bhawan, in Kantipath. All courses are funded by donations.
Vipassana is one of the most ancient meditation techniques. Long lost to humanity, it was rediscovered by the Buddha more than 2,500 years ago. Vipassana means 'to see things as they really are'. It is the process of self purification by self observation. One starts by observing the natural breath as a means to concentrate. With this sharpened awareness, one proceeds to observe the changing nature of the body and mind and experience the universal truths of impermanence, suffering and attain a state of egolessness.
The entire path (Dhamma) is a universal remedy for universal problems and has nothing to do with any organized religion or sectarianism. For this reason, it can be practiced freely by all without conflict with race, caste or religion; in any place, and at any time and will prove equally beneficial to all.
Vipassana is the ‘art of living’ which frees the individual from all the negativity of the mind, such as anger, greed and ignorance. It is a practice which develops positive, creative energy for the betterment of the individual and society. The Vipassana Center is located in Budhanilkantha near the entrance to the Shivapuri National Park.
If you are looking for Ayurvedic diagnosis, mental or physical healing, Nepal offers a bevy of practices that specialize in natural treatments. Come to learn, be treated or discover this centuries-old natural treatment for holistic health.
Ayurveda dates back to the Vedic period. Vedas are the oldest recorded documents of human civilization. Ayurveda is the life science and also the oldest authentically recorded science in existence today. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word, and when translated means “the science of life” or “a natural way of living”.
The objective of Ayurveda is to achieve the highest goal of life: the inner and outer dynamic harmony. The dimensions of health are defined as bodily, sensory, mental, and spiritual health. Traditional and indigenous knowledge has been used for centuries by indigenous and local communities following local laws, customs and traditions.
Nepal has a great tradition of Ayurveda, and it is considered to be part of the cultural and scientific heritage of the country. Traditional makers of Ayurvedic medicines still carry on their practice using ancient tools. There is an Ayurvedic hospital in Nardevi in the heart of Kathmandu. For researchers, there is a huge amount of data on Ayurveda preserved on leaves and manuscripts in the national archives. There is a wealth of knowledge here that has long been ignored and neglected.
Excursions can be organized to visit practitioners, to meet rural people who collect herbs, and to meet traditional healers such as Shamans or Jhankris as they are known in Nepal.