Nepal is a rectangular country that stretches over a distance of 530 miles from the north-west to the south-east and has a maximum breadth of 136 miles. It has an area of 57,000 square miles, which is slightly more than England. The country is bordered by Chinese-occupied Tibet to the north-east and on all other sides by India. Nepal is dominated by the largest mountain range in the world, the Himalayas. The border with Nepal is marked by the tallest chain of mountains in the Himalayas, with peaks such as Mount Everest ('Sagarmatha' in Nepalese, 5.5 miles high), Manasu (5 miles) and Lhotse (5.3 miles). The Mahabharat mountain range runs parallel to the Himalayas on the southern side of Nepal, and has smaller peaks, the largest being around 1.9 miles tall. Between these two mountain ranges lies the Pahar, a hilly region intersected by many rivers and several small valleys, including the Kathmandu valley which is the beating heart of the country. The youngest and smallest area of hills, known as Sivalik, is further along from the Mahabharat, and has peaks of around three quarters of a mile high. In between these two is lower ground, with thick areas of jungle that is increasingly being cut down to make way for rice fields. Beyond this area, Nepal extends into the Terai, part of the lowland plains of the River Ganges. A strip 12 to 25 miles wide is part of Nepal, yet extends into India. The three mountain ranges that run parallel to this area are intersected in several places by deep river gulfs. Current scientific thought is that the Himalayas came into existence around 30 million years ago, when the Indian landmass crashed into Eurasia as a result of unimaginably immense tectonic activity in the Earth’s cooling crust. The Indian landmass began to slide under the Eurasian plate, and as a result the Himalayas were formed. Before this time, the land that now forms Nepal, lay under what was then the Mediterranean Sea. Ammonites found high in the mountains are sold for a few pounds to tourists. The immensely powerful force that created the Himalayas is still active today, and the mountains grow at a rate of around half an inch per year. Due to this activity, earthquakes regularly hit Nepal, and hot springs have been found along the fault line to the south of the mountain range. These springs are a very welcome attraction for both natives and weary hikers.
The range of nature in Nepal is huge as a result of many different climate zones being situated very close to one another. These very varied climates are a result of the very varied altitudes of the land. There are large areas where ice and snow dominate the landscape, and animals such as the snow leopard flourish, while right next door there are jungles and grassy plains that can reach a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. Rhinos and wild buffalo roam this terrain. In between these extremes you can find alpine meadow and pine and rhododendron forests that are home to wild goats. Just a fifth of the country is suitable for farming, and is usually used for growing rice. A large percentage of Nepal is practically inaccessible due to the huge mountains and can only be reached on foot or by light aircraft. The Northwest is particularly thinly populated and mostly untouched by human hand.
At one time Nepal was a collection of small feudal states, squeezed between Tibet and Mogul India. In 1324, a ruler from Rajput, who had escaped the Muslims, crushed these small states. His descendents would rule over Nepal until 1768, when the Ghurkhas conquered the country, a people of Tibetan-Mongolian origin. The Ghurkhas were known to be excellent warriors and attempted to occupy Tibet, but the Chinese who also occupied Nepal for a short time defeated them. In 1791, the Ghurkhas made a treaty with the British in India, but in 1814, there was a dispute about the borders, which led to a war between Great Britain and Nepal. During the involuntary armistice in 1816, Nepal was forced to give up a large part of its border regions to British-India.
In 1923, Nepal became officially independent. In order to safeguard this independence, which was not easy as Nepal was a small, isolated kingdom stuck between two superpowers; King Birendra tried not to disrupt relations between India and China. In 1990, the ban on political parties was terminated and not much later, a new constitution was established. At present Nepal is a constitutional monarchy with a multi-party system. King Birendra was murdered in 2001 by a family member and has now been succeeded by his brother. At the moment Nepal is no longer a monarchy.
Annapurna region: In the middle of Nepal, north of Pokhara, lays one of the Himalaya’s most accessible and stunning parts. The mountain chains of the Manaslu, the Annapurna and the Dhaulagiri stretch from east to west. Dozens of densely populated valleys and a network of roads and pathways, connecting the villages, are nestled in among the eight thousand metres high peaks of these Himalayan giants. Though the Nepalese authorities are doing their best, up until now, only a couple of roads have been adapted to motorised traffic, thus leaving the character of the valleys, for the greater part, intact. The region is perfect for trekking. Since 1977, foreigners are admitted into the valleys surrounding the giant mountains and meanwhile, each year some 40.000 hikers visit the Annapurna area. The Nepalese meet the demand by building hotels, lodges and teahouses all over the route. Tourism can also cause negative effects, i.e. deforestation and pollution; in 1986 the Nepalese authorities established the region as a National Park and assigned supervision to the ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) at Pokhara. This organization attempts to confine the damage to the landscape by drawing up rules of conduct for tourists and residents. ACAP is also financed through the profits of the entrance fees for the region.