officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal (Nepali: सङ्घीय लोकतान्त्रिक गणतन्त्र नेपाल Sanghiya Loktāntrik Ganatantra Nepāl), is a landlocked country in South Asia with a population of 26.4 million. It is a multiethnic nation with Nepali as the official language. Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and largest city. Modern Nepal is a secular parliamentary republic.
Nepal is bordered by China to the north and India to the south, east, and west. It is separated from Bangladesh by a narrow Indian corridor and from Bhutan by the Indian state of Sikkim. Nepal is located in the Himalayas and is home to eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Its southern Madhesh region is fertile and humid. The country has an area of 147,181 square kilometres (56,827 sq mi), making it the world’s 93rd largest country by area. It is also the 41st most populous country.
Nepal has a diverse ancient cultural heritage. The name Nepal is first recorded in texts from the Vedic Age, the era that founded Hinduism, the country’s predominant religion. Nepal was the world’s last Hindu monarchy. Siddharta Gautama, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal. The main minorities are Tibetan Buddhists, Muslims, Kiratans and Christians. The Nepalese are also known as Gurkhas. They have been reputed for their valour in World War I and World War II.
Established in the 18th century, the early modern Kingdom of Nepal was led by the Shah dynasty, after Prithvi Narayan Shah unified many principalities in the region. Nepal is one of the few Asian countries which was never colonized. Following the Anglo-Nepalese War and the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816, Nepal became an ally of the British Empire. A multiparty democracy evolved from 1951 to 1960, when King Mahendra enacted the panchayat system. In 1990, parliamentary government was restored by King Birendra. Nepal faced a decade-long Communist Maoist insurgency and mass protests against the authoritarian King Gyanendra in 2005, which led to the abolition of the monarchy in 2008. Its 2nd constituent assembly promulgated a new constitution in 2015. Today, the main political blocs in Nepal are communists, social democrats and Hindu nationalists.
The Nepali government works in the framework of a representative democracy with seven federal provinces. Nepal is a developing nation, ranking 145th on the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2014. 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 in 2022.
Nepal has friendship treaties with India and the United Kingdom. It is a founding member and hosts the permanent secretariat of SAARC. It is also a member of the United Nations and BIMSTEC. Nepal is strategically important due to its location between Asia’s great powers, China and India. It is also important for its hydropower potential.
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 “Ne”. It is mentioned in Vedic texts that this region was called Nepal centuries ago. According to the Skanda Purana, a rishi called “Ne” or “Nemuni” used to live in the Himalayas. In the Pashupati Purana, he is mentioned as a saint and a protector. He is said to have practised 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.
It has been suggested that “Nepal” may be a Sanskritization of “Newar”, or “Newar” may be a later form of “Nepal”. According to another explanation, the words “Newar” and “Newari” are vulgarisms arising from the mutation of P to V, and L to R.
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.
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 archaeologic evidence of the Gopal Bansa or Kirati rulers, only mention by the later Licchavi and Malla eras.
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 patronised Hinduism instead of the Buddhism prevailing at that time.
Nepal is of roughly trapezoidal shape, 800 kilometres (497 mi) long and 200 kilometres (124 mi) wide, with an area of 147,181 km2 (56,827 sq mi). See List of territories by size for the comparative size of Nepal. It lies between latitudes 26° and 31°N, and longitudes 80° and 89°E.
Nepal is commonly divided into three physiographic areas: Mountain, Hill and Terai. These ecological belts run east-west and are vertically intersected by Nepal’s major, north to south flowing river systems.
The southern lowland plains or Terai bordering India are part of the northern rim of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. They were formed and are fed by three major Himalayan rivers: the Kosi, the Narayani, and the Karnali as well as smaller rivers rising below the permanent snowline. This region has a subtropical to tropical climate. The outermost range of foothills called Sivalik Hills or Churia Range cresting at 700 to 1,000 metres (2,297 to 3,281 ft) marks the limit of the Gangetic Plain, however broad, low valleys called Inner Tarai Valleys (Bhitri Tarai Uptyaka) lie north of these foothills in several places.
The Hill Region (Pahad) abuts the mountains and varies from 800 to 4,000 metres (2,625 to 13,123 ft) in altitude with progression from subtropical climates below 1,200 metres (3,937 ft) to alpine climates above 3,600 metres (11,811 ft). The Lower Himalayan Range reaching 1,500 to 3,000 metres (4,921 to 9,843 ft) is the southern limit of this region, with subtropical river valleys and “hills” alternating to the north of this range. Population density is high in valleys but notably less above 2,000 metres (6,562 ft) and very low above 2,500 metres (8,202 ft) where snow occasionally falls in winter.
The Mountain Region (Himal), situated in the Great Himalayan Range, makes up the northern part of Nepal. It contains the highest elevations in the world including 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) height Mount Everest (Sagarmāthā in Nepali) on the border with China. Seven other of the world’s “eight-thousanders” are in Nepal or on its border with China: Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Kangchenjunga, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna and Manaslu.
Nepal has seen rapid political changes during the last two decades. Up until 1990, Nepal was a monarchy under executive control of the King. Faced with a communist movement against absolute monarchy, King Birendra, in 1990, agreed to a large-scale political reform by creating a parliamentary monarchy with the king as the head of state and a prime minister as the head of the government.
Nepal’s legislature was bicameral, consisting of a House of Representatives called the Pratinidhi Sabha and a National Council called the Rastriya Sabha. The House of Representatives consisted of 205 members directly elected by the people. The National Council had 60 members: ten nominated by the king, 35 elected by the House of Representatives, and the remaining 15 elected by an electoral college made up of chairs of villages and towns. The legislature had a five-year term but was dissolvable by the king before its term could end. All Nepali citizens 18 years and older became eligible to vote.
The executive comprised the King and the Council of Ministers (the cabinet). The leader of the coalition or party securing the maximum seats in an election was appointed as the Prime Minister. The Cabinet was appointed by the king on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. Governments in Nepal tended to be highly unstable, falling either through internal collapse or parliamentary dissolution by the monarch, on the recommendation of the prime minister, according to the constitution; no government has survived for more than two years since 1991.
The movement in April 2006 brought about a change in the nation’s governance: an interim constitution was promulgated, with the King giving up power, and an interim House of Representatives was formed with Maoist members after the new government held peace talks with the Maoist rebels. The number of parliamentary seats was also increased to 330. In April 2007, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) joined the interim government of Nepal.
In December 2007, the interim parliament passed a bill making Nepal a federal republic, with a president as head of state. Elections for the constitutional assembly were held on 10 April 2008; the Maoist party led the results but did not achieve a simple majority of seats. The new parliament adopted the 2007 bill at its first meeting by an overwhelming majority, and King Gyanendra was given 15 days to leave the Royal Palace in central Kathmandu. He left on 11 June.
On 26 June 2008, the prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, who had served as Acting Head of State since January 2007, announced that he would resign on the election of the country’s first president by the Constituent Assembly. The first round of voting, on 19 July 2008, saw Parmanand Jha win election as Nepali vice-president, but neither of the contenders for president received the required 298 votes and a second round was held two days later. Ram Baran Yadav of the Nepali Congress party defeated Maoist-backed Ram Raja Prasad Singh with 308 of the 590 votes cast. Koirala submitted his resignation to the new president after Yadav’s swearing-in ceremony on 23 July 2008.
On 15 August 2008, Maoist leader Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal) was elected Prime Minister of Nepal, the first since the country’s transition from a monarchy to a republic. On 4 May 2009, Dahal resigned over on-going conflicts with regard to the sacking of the Army chief. Since Dahal’s resignation, the country has been in a serious political deadlock with one of the big issues being the proposed integration of the former Maoist combatants, also known as the People’s Liberation Army, into the national security forces. After Dahal, Jhala Nath Khanal of CPN (UML) was elected the Prime Minister. Khanal was forced to step down as he could not succeed in carrying forward the Peace Process and the constitution writing. On August 2011, Maoist Babu Ram Bhattarai became third Prime Minister after the election of constituent assembly. On 24 May 2012, Nepals’s Deputy PM Krishna Sitaula resigned.  On 27 May 2012, the country’s Constituent Assembly failed to meet the deadline for writing a new constitution for the country. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai announced that new elections will be held on 22 November 2012. “We have no other option but to go back to the people and elect a new assembly to write the constitution,” he said in a nationally televised speech. One of the main obstacles has been disagreement over whether the states which will be created will be based on ethnicity.
Nepal is one of the few countries in Asia to abolish the death penalty. Nepal is the only Asian country where the possibility of same-sex marriage has been proposed in the high court and in the legislature although same-sex marriage currently does not exist in Nepal (see also LGBT rights in Nepal and Same-sex marriage in Nepal). The decision was based on a seven-person government committee study, and enacted through Supreme Court‘s ruling November 2008. The ruling granted full rights for LGBT individuals, including the right to marry and now can get citizenship as a third gender rather than male or female as authorized by Nepal’s Supreme Court in 2007.