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Nepal



Atlas Nepal

Country (long form)
Kingdom of Nepal
Capital
Kathmandu
Total Area
54,363.18 sq mi
140,800.00 sq km
Population
24,702,119 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
53,293,874
Languages
Nepali (official), over 20 other languages divided into numerous dialects
Literacy
27.5% total, 40.9% male, 14% female (1995 est.)
Religions
Hindu 90%, Buddhist 5%, Muslim 3%, other 2% (1981)
Life Expectancy
58.3 male, 57.35 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
parliamentary democracy
Currency
1 Nepalese rupee (NR) = 100 paisa
GDP (per capita)
$1,100 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 81%, services 16%, industry 3%
Industry
tourism, carpet, textile; small rice, jute, sugar, and oilseed mills; cigarette; cement and brick production
Agriculture
rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, root crops; milk, water buffalo meat
Arable Land
17%
Exports
carpets, clothing, leather goods, jute goods, grain
Imports
gold, machinery and equipment, petroleum products, fertilizer
Natural Resources
quartz, water, timber, hydropower, scenic beauty, small deposits of lignite, copper, cobalt, iron ore
Current Environmental Issues
deforestation (overuse of wood for fuel and lack of alternatives); contaminated water (with human and animal wastes, agricultural runoff, and industrial effluents); wildlife conservation; vehicular emissions
Telephones (main lines in use)
236,816 (January 2000)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
N/A
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
N/A

History
Nepal's recorded history began with the Kiratis, who arrived in the 7th or 8th century BC from the east. Little is known about them, other than their deftness as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. It was during this period that Buddhism first came to the country; indeed it is claimed that Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the Kathmandu Valley and stayed for a time in Patan. By 200 AD, Buddhism had waned, and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India and overthrew the last Kirati king. The Hindus also introduced the caste system (which still continues today) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture.

By 879, the Licchavi era had petered out and was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty. A grim period of instability and invasion often referred to as the 'Dark Ages' followed, but Kathmandu Valley's strategic location ensured the kingdom's survival and growth. Several centuries later, the Thakuri king, Arideva, founded the Malla dynasty, kick-starting another renaissance of Nepali culture. Despite earthquakes, the odd invasion and feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under Yaksha Malla.

The rulers of Ghorkha, the most easterly region, had always coveted the Mallas' wealth. Under the inspired leadership of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Ghorkha launched a campaign to conquer the valley. In 1768 - after 27 years of fighting - they triumphed and moved their capital to Kathmandu. From this new base the kingdom's power expanded, borne by a seemingly unstoppable army, until progress was halted in 1792 by a brief and chastening war with Tibet.

Further hostilities followed in 1814, this time with the British over a territorial dispute. The Nepalese were eventually put to heel and compelled to sign the 1816 Sugauli Treaty, which surrendered Sikkim and most of Terai (some of the land was eventually restored in return for Nepalese help in quelling the Indian Mutiny of 1857), established Nepal's present eastern and western boundaries and, worst of all, installed a British 'resident' in the country.

The Shah dynasty continued in power during the first half of the 19th century until the ghastly Kot Massacre of 1846. Taking advantage of the intrigue and assassinations that had plagued the ruling family, Jung Bahadur seized control by butchering several hundred of the most important men while they assembled in the Kot courtyard. He took the more prestigious title Rana, proclaimed himself prime minister for life, and later made the office hereditary. For the next century, the Ranas and their offspring luxuriated in huge Kathmandu palaces, while the remainder of the population eked out a living in medieval conditions.

The Rana's antiquated regime came to an end soon after WWII. In 1948, the British withdrew from India and with them went the Ranas' chief support. Around the same time, a host of insurrectional movements, bent on reshaping the country's polity, emerged. Sporadic fighting spilled onto the streets and the Ranas, at the behest of India, reluctantly agreed to negotiations. King Tribhuvan was anointed ruler in 1951 and struck up a government comprised of Ranas and members of the newly formed Nepali Congress Party.

But the compromise was shortlived. After toying with democratic elections - and feeling none too pleased by the result - King Mahendra (Tribhuvan's son and successor) decided that a 'partyless' panchaayat system would be more appropriate for Nepal. The king selected the prime minister and cabinet and appointed a large proportion of the national assembly, which duly rubber-stamped his policies. Power, of course, remained with only one party - the king's.

Cronyism, corruption and the creaming-off of lucrative foreign aid into royal coffers continued until 1989. The Nepalese, fed up with years of hardship and suffering under a crippling trade embargo imposed by the Indians, rose up in popular protest called the Jana Andolan or 'People's Movement'. In the ensuing months, detention, torture and violent clashes left hundreds of people dead. It all proved too much for King Birendra, in power since 1972. He dissolved his cabinet, legalised political parties and invited the opposition to form an interim government. The panchaayat system was finally laid to rest.

The changeover to democracy proceeded in an orderly, if leisurely, fashion, and in May 1991 the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal shared most of the votes.

Since then, Nepal has discovered that establishing a workable democratic system is an enormously difficult task - especially when it is the country's first such system. The situation has been further exacerbated by a wafer-thin economy, massive unemployment, illiteracy and an ethnically and religiously fragmented population that continues to grow at an alarming rate.

The fractured political landscape in Nepal was torn apart in June 2001 with the massacre of most of the royal family - including King Birendra - by Crown Prince Dipendra. Civil strife erupted again in Kathmandu, with a curfew imposed to quell street violence.

Prince Gyanendra, the brother of King Birendra, ascended to the throne. He has had to face many challenges, in particular the Maoist rebellion against the government, which has claimed many lives since it began in 1995. Numerous peace talks and ceasefires failed to hold.

Nepal's bumpy trek into democracy continued when in 2002 Gyanendra dissolved the government. The country has seen more than a dozen governments since 1991, and in 2003 prime minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand resigned, continuing the political uncertainty facing Nepal.

The most positive outcome has been a ceasfire negotiated between Maoist rebels and the government that has so far held. It is with renewed hope for lasting peace and greater prosperity that the Nepalese people look forward.

Nepal's recorded history began with the Kiratis, who arrived in the 7th or 8th century BC from the east. Little is known about them, other than their deftness as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. It was during this period that Buddhism first came to the country; indeed it is claimed that Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the Kathmandu Valley and stayed for a time in Patan. By 200 AD, Buddhism had waned, and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India and overthrew the last Kirati king. The Hindus also introduced the caste system (which still continues today) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture.

By 879, the Licchavi era had petered out and was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty. A grim period of instability and invasion often referred to as the 'Dark Ages' followed, but Kathmandu Valley's strategic location ensured the kingdom's survival and growth. Several centuries later, the Thakuri king, Arideva, founded the Malla dynasty, kick-starting another renaissance of Nepali culture. Despite earthquakes, the odd invasion and feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under Yaksha Malla.

The rulers of Gorkha, the most easterly region, had always coveted the Mallas' wealth. Under the inspired leadership of Prithvi Narayan Shah, the Gorkha launched a campaign to conquer the valley. In 1768 - after 27 years of fighting - they triumphed and moved their capital to Kathmandu. From this new base the kingdom's power expanded, borne by a seemingly unstoppable army, until progress was halted in 1792 by a brief and chastening war with Tibet.

Further hostilities followed in 1814, this time with the British over a territorial dispute. The Nepalese were eventually brought to heel and compelled to sign the 1816 Sugauli Treaty, which surrendered Sikkim and most of Terai (some of the land was eventually restored in return for Nepalese help in quelling the Indian Mutiny of 1857), established Nepal's present eastern and western boundaries and, worst of all, installed a British 'resident' in the country.

The Shah dynasty continued in power during the first half of the 19th century until the ghastly Kot Massacre of 1846. Taking advantage of the intrigue and assassinations that had plagued the ruling family, Jung Bahadur seized control by butchering several hundred of the most important men while they assembled in the Kot courtyard. He took the more prestigious title Rana, proclaimed himself prime minister for life, and later made the office hereditary. For the next century, the Ranas and their offspring luxuriated in huge Kathmandu palaces, while the remainder of the population eked out a living in medieval conditions.

The Rana's antiquated regime came to an end soon after WWII. In 1948, the British withdrew from India, and with them went the Ranas' chief support. Around the same time, a host of insurrectional movements, bent on reshaping the country's polity, emerged. Sporadic fighting spilled onto the streets and the Ranas, at the behest of India, reluctantly agreed to negotiations. King Tribhuvan was anointed ruler in 1951 and struck up a government comprised of Ranas and members of the newly formed Nepali Congress Party.

But the compromise was shortlived. After toying with democratic elections - and feeling none too pleased by the result - King Mahendra (Tribhuvan's son and successor) decided that a 'partyless' panchayat system would be more appropriate for Nepal. The king selected the prime minister and cabinet and appointed a large proportion of the national assembly, which duly rubber-stamped his policies. Power, of course, remained with only one party - the king's.

Cronyism, corruption and the creaming-off of lucrative foreign aid into royal coffers continued until 1989. The Nepalese, fed up with years of hardship and suffering under a crippling trade embargo imposed by the Indians, rose up in popular protest called the Jana Andolan or 'People's Movement'. In the ensuing months, detention, torture and violent clashes left hundreds of people dead. It all proved too much for King Birendra, in power since 1972. He dissolved his cabinet, legalised political parties and invited the opposition to form an interim government. The panchayat system was finally laid to rest.

The changeover to democracy proceeded in an orderly, if leisurely, fashion, and in May 1991 the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal shared most of the votes.

Since then, Nepal has discovered that establishing a workable democratic system is an enormously difficult task - especially when it is the country's first such system. The situation has been further exacerbated by a wafer-thin economy, massive unemployment, illiteracy and an ethnically and religiously fragmented population that continues to grow at an alarming rate.

The fractured political landscape in Nepal was torn apart in June 2001 with the massacre of most of the royal family - including King Birendra - by Crown Prince Dipendra. Civil strife erupted again in Kathmandu, with a curfew imposed to quell street violence.

Prince Gyanendra, the brother of King Birendra, ascended to the throne. He has had to face many challenges, in particular the Maoist rebellion against the government, which has claimed over 5000 lives since it began in 1996. Numerous peace talks and ceasefires failed to hold.

Nepal's bumpy trek into democracy continued when in 2002 (and again in 2003) Gyanendra dissolved the government and appointed his own cabinet. The country has seen more than a dozen governments since 1991, and in 2003 prime minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand resigned, heightening the political uncertainty facing Nepal.

The most recent ceasfire negotiated between Maoist rebels and the government ended on August 27, 2003, sparking renewed fighting and bomb blasts in Kathmandu. The lasting peace and greater prosperity that the Nepalese people yearn for remain distant, and the fighting continues.