nepal flag sun moon red but white triangular pennant

Nepal Country Profile

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’ve arrived in small country nestled in the Himalayas. Famed around the world as a beacon for mountaineers and alpine enthusiasts everywhere, we’ll take a look beyond the peaks at life inside of Nepal.

  • Nepal Capital: Kathmandu
  • Largest City in Nepal: Kathmandu
  • Nepal Population (2016): 28,431,500 (45th)
  • Total Area of Nepal: 147,181 km² (95th)
  • Official Language of Nepal: Nepali
  • Nepal Currency: Nepalese rupee (रू) (NPR)

nepal country mountain field buildings view himalaya

History of Nepal

Ancient and Medieval Nepal

Ancient civilization in Nepal goes back several millennia, though it wasn’t until 500 BCE when more concrete examples of settlement and society began to take shape. During this time there was a prince who forsook his birthright and founded a different way of life – he would later be known as the Gautama Buddha (and I’m sure you can infer the rest from there). Through the next millennium and a half, there were a variety of groups that claimed power over Nepal, including a few Indian Empires (Maurya and Chalukya) as well as domestic dynasties such as the Licchavi.

By the mid to late Middle Ages, the Malla Dynasty had seized power. Their reign lasted two centuries before Nepal was divided into several kingdoms. While there were efforts to consolidate power once more, it resulted in three separate kingdoms by the end of the 15th century: Patan, Bhaktapur, and Kathmandu.

The Kingdom of Nepal

It wasn’t until the 1700’s when another effort began to unify Nepal. The leader, Gorkha king Prithvi Narayan Shah, recaptured much of the country and expanded outwards. This brought Nepal into direct conflict with China, India, and the British East India Company. During the war against the Company, the fearsome Gurkhas of Nepal surprised the British with their tenacity and skill in battle. It wasn’t until additional resources were pumped into the war effort that the British pushed them back – though the Gurkhas reputation was forever solidified. The Nepalese royal family had its own problems during this time, with courtroom and military plots aplenty. After a chaotic period, the Rana dynasty emerged in 1846 to take control.

Unrest in Nepal

During the 20th century there were increasing murmurs of unrest against the autocratic and decadent crown. In the 50’s, the Rana power structure was dismantled and power was transferred to a congress – for a few years at least, until King Mahendra took over and established a partyless system. Though it would later be amended to include multiple parties, the unrest was still there. It all came to a head in 1996, when the Maoist Communist Party launched an armed conflict against the government after being forced out of elections. This began the Nepalese Civil War which lasted over a decade.

The Nepalese Civil War

The War was brutal, with nearly 18,000 killed during the conflict. One particularly bloody incident occurred in 2001 when the Crown Prince allegedly massacred 9 members of his own family (including his parents, the King and Queen) before killing himself, which was believed to relate to his choice of wife and parents refusal.

Gyanendra (the former king’s brother) took power and continued to struggle against the Maoists. By 2005, the opposing forces had reached a relative stalemate with the communists controlling the countryside and the government forces in the larger towns and cities. As the democratic movement came to a breaking point in 2006, Gyanendra agreed to step down. Two years later, a formal federal republic was established.

Modern Nepal

In the April 2008 election, the Maoist party won the most seats and formed a large coalition government. While the election was generally free and fair, there have been subsequent power struggles and tension in Nepal – though this is to be expected. One of the major issues was the creation of a stable constitution. Eventually a new Constitution was introduced in 2015. Outside of politics, Nepal has recently endured tragedy when two large earthquakes hit the country in spring of last year. Despite the devastation and loss of life, Nepal has worked hard to recover and is now looking firmly towards the future.

rice field man nepal farming

Nepali Culture

Nepali culture encompasses the many ethnic, religious, and tribal influences of society over the centuries. Folklore is hugely important in the everyday lives of many Nepalese, with stories constantly told and retold, and often converted into other cultural art forms like music and dance.

Flag of Nepal

The flag of Nepal is one of the most unique in the world thanks to its shape. Instead of a rectangle or square, the flag is a combination of two triangular pennons or pennants. It is red with a blue border, with a sun and crescent moon in white. The red symbolizes the bravery of the people (and is also the national colour) while the blue border denotes peace and harmony. The dual triangular shape represents the Himalayas while the sun and moon together represent the hope of a long lasting country. The moon alone represents calmness while the sun showcases the resolve of the people. There are additional meanings here, namely related to the cool weather of the mountains (the moon) and the heat of the lowlands (the sun), while other interpretations have been made.

Nepalese Cuisine

Nepalese cuisine takes influences from Indian as well as Tibetan and Thai food, creating a unique and thoroughly tasty combination. Dal bhat is the centerpiece of any Nepalese diet. It consists of lentil soup over rice with curried vegetables and  pickles or spicy chutney. These can be served in vegetarian or non-vegetarian varieties depending on preference. Dumplings known as momo are also commonly enjoyed in the country, and are a popular fast food.

Sports in Nepal

The most popular sport in Nepal is soccer. Despite its popularity, the national team has struggled to gain a foothold in international competition, though they have had some success in the South Asian Football Federation Cup. Cricket has also become more popular in Nepal as of late, with the national team making inroads towards some of the most prestigious global competitions.

buddhist monks temple monastery religion nepal

Geography of Nepal

Nepal is a landlocked country in South Asia, which borders China (by way of Tibet) and India, though it is only slightly separated from Bangladesh and Bhutan. There are three distinct geographical regions in Nepal: Terai, Hill, and Mountain. Terai refers to the lowlands plains that mostly border India and feature a tropical or nearly tropical climate. The Hill region is exactly what you’d expect; foothills that bridge the gap from the lowlands to the massive peaks of the Himalayas (or the ‘Mountain’ region). The Mountain area is the most renowned part of Nepal and contains some of the world’s highest elevations.

Cities in Nepal

By far the largest city in Nepal is the capital, Kathmandu, which is home to around 1 million people. It is often known as simply ‘KTM’ or the ‘tri-city’ and is the hub of the country’s government and economy.

nepal monkey temple kathmandu religion city

Facts about Nepal

  • Eight of the world’s fourteen highest mountains (all over 8000 metres) are found in Nepal – including Mount Everest
  • Tenzing Norgay (a Nepalese Sherpa) was one of the first two people to successfully climb Mount Everest (alongside New Zealander Edmund Hillary)
  • Lumbini is believed to be the birthplace of the Buddha
  • The country is home to both Bengal tigers and one-horned rhinos
  • The legendary ‘yeti’ is believed to come from Nepal
  • A Kumari is a young girl revered as a living goddess worshiped by some throughout Nepal
  • The Nepali word for Everest is Sagarmatha, which means ‘Forehead of the Sky’. Sherpa’s also call the mountain Chomolungma, which translates to ‘Goddess Mother of the World’
  • The majority of the population is Hindu
  • The recent video game Far Cry 4 took place in the fiction Kyrat, a Himalayan kingdom heavily inspired by Nepal and the Nepalese Civil War
  • Greetings are done by putting palms together and bowing while saying “Namaste”, which means ‘I salute the God in you’

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Last Word

If you’d like to learn more about this beautiful country, we’ll be back later this week with a comprehensive Travel Guide and some insights into the currency!

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