Nepal (Nepali: नेपाल [neˈpal]), officially the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, is a landlocked country in South Asia. It is located mainly in the Himalayas, but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. With an estimated population of 26.4 million, it is 48th largest country by population and 93rd largest country by area. It borders China in the north and India in the south, east and west while Bangladesh is located within only 27 km (17 mi) of its southeastern tip and Bhutan is separated from it by the Indian state of Sikkim. Nepal has a diverse geography, including fertile plains, subalpine forested hills, and eight of the world's ten tallest mountains, including Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. Kathmandu is the capital and the largest city. Nepal is a multiethnic country with Nepali as the official language.
The name "Nepal" is first recorded in texts from the Vedic period of the Indian subcontinent, the era in ancient India when Hinduism was founded, the predominant religion of the country. In the middle of the first millennium BCE, Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in Lumbini in southern Nepal. Parts of northern Nepal were intertwined with the culture of Tibet. The centrally located Kathmandu Valley is intertwined with the culture of Indo-Aryans, and was the seat of the prosperous Newar confederacy known as Nepal Mandala. The Himalayan branch of the ancient Silk Road was dominated by the valley's traders. The cosmopolitan region developed distinct traditional art and architecture. By the 18th century, the Gorkha Kingdom achieved the unification of Nepal. The Shah dynasty established the Kingdom of Nepal and later formed an alliance with the British Empire, under its Rana dynasty of premiers. The country was never colonized but served as a buffer state between Imperial China and British India. Parliamentary democracy was introduced in 1951, but was twice suspended by Nepalese monarchs, in 1960 and 2005. The Nepalese Civil War in the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in the establishment of a secular republic in 2008, ending the world's last Hindu monarchy.
The Constitution of Nepal, adopted in 2015, affirms Nepal as a secular federal parliamentary republic divided into seven provinces. Nepal was admitted to the United Nations in 1955, and friendship treaties were signed with India in 1950 and the People's Republic of China in 1960. Nepal hosts the permanent secretariat of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), of which it is a founding member. Nepal is also a member of the Non Aligned Movement and the Bay of Bengal Initiative. The military of Nepal is the fifth largest in South Asia; it is notable for its Gurkha history, particularly during the world wars, and has been a significant contributor to United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Before the unification of Nepal, the Kathmandu valley was known as Nepal Rajya.[b] The precise origin of the term Nepāl is uncertain. A number of plausible theories are found in religious as well as academic texts. Nepal appears in ancient Indian literary texts dated as far back as the fourth century BC. However, an absolute chronology can not be established, as even the oldest texts may contain anonymous contributions dating as late as the early modern period. On the other hand, academic attempts to provide a plausible theory suffer from lack of a complete picture of history, and insufficient understanding of linguistics or of relevant Indo-European and Tibeto-Burman languages.
According to Hindu mythology, Nepal derives its name from an ancient Hindu sage called Ne, referred to variously as Ne Muni or Nemi. According to Pashupati Purana, as a place protected by Ne, the country in the heart of the Himalayas came to be known as Nepal.[c] According to Nepal Mahatmya,[d] Nemi was charged with protection of the country by Pashupati. According to Buddhist mythology, Manjushri Bodhisattva drained a primordial lake of serpents to create the Nepal valley and proclaimed that Adi-Buddha Ne would take care of the community that would settle it. As the cherished of Ne, the valley would be called Nepal. According to Gopalarajvamshavali, the genealogy of ancient Gopala dynasty compiled circa 1380s, Nepal is named after Nepa the cowherd, the founder of the Nepali scion of the Abhiras. In this account, the cow that issued milk to the spot, at which Nepa discovered the Jyotirlinga of Pashupatinath upon investigation, was also named Ne.
Norwegian Indologist Christian Lassen proposed that Nepala was a compound of Nipa (foot of a mountain) and -ala (short suffix for alaya which means abode), and therefore, Nepala meant "abode at the foot of the mountain". He considered Ne Muni to be a fabrication. Indologist Sylvain Levi found Lassen's theory untenable but had no theories of his own, only suggesting that either Newara is a vulgarism of sanskritic Nepala, or Nepala is Sanskritisation of the local ethnic. Levi's view has some support in later works. The idea that Nepal is a polished form of Newar, the name of the indigenous people of Kathmandu valley, may be gaining support, but it leaves the question of etymology unanswered. One theory proposes that Nepa is a Tibeto-Burman stem consisting of Ne (cattle) and Pa (keeper), which alludes to the fact that early inhabitants of the valley were Gopalas (cowherds) and Mahispalas (buffalo-herds). Suniti Kumar Chatterji thought that 'Nepal' originated from Tibeto-Burman roots- Ne, of uncertain meaning (as multiple possibilities exist), and pala or bal, whose meaning is lost entirely.
Nepal is mentioned in the late Vedic Atharvaveda Pariśiṣṭa and in the post-Vedic Atharvashirsha Upanishad. Nepal is also mentioned in Hindu texts such as the Narayana Puja and the regional text "Nepal Mahatmya" which claims to be a part of Skanda Purana. The Gopal Bansa were likely one of the earliest inhabitants of Kathmandu valley. The earliest rulers of Nepal were the Kiratas (Kirata Kingdom), peoples often mentioned in Hindu texts, who ruled Nepal for many centuries. Various sources mention up to 32 Kirati kings ruling over 16 centuries.
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 had come under the influence of the Maurya Empire of North India and later became a vassal state under the Gupta Empire in the 4th century CE. In Samudragupta's Allahabad Pillar it is mentioned as a border country.
The kings of the Lichhavi dynasty have been found to have ruled Nepal after the Kirat monarchical dynasty. The context that "Suryavansi Kshetriyas had established a new regime by defeating the Kirats" can be found in some genealogies and Puranas. It is not clear yet when the Lichhavi dynasty was established in Nepal. According to the opinion of Baburam Acharya, the prominent historian of Nepal, Lichhavies established their independent rule by abolishing the Kirati state that prevailed in Nepal around 250 CE.
The Licchavi dynasty went into decline in the late 8th century, and was followed by a Newar or Thakuri era. Thakuri kings ruled over the country up to the middle of the 12th century CE; King Raghav Dev is said to have founded the ruling dynasty in October 869 CE. King Raghav Dev also started the Nepal Sambat.
In the early 12th century, leaders emerged in far western Nepal whose names ended with the Sanskrit suffix malla ("wrestler"). These kings consolidated their power and ruled over the next 200 years, until the kingdom splintered into two dozen petty states. Another Malla dynasty beginning with Jayasthiti emerged in the Kathmandu valley in the late 14th century, and much of central Nepal again came under a unified rule. In 1482, the realm was divided into three kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.
In the mid-18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, a Gorkha king, set out to put together what would become present-day Nepal. He embarked on his mission by securing the neutrality of the bordering mountain kingdoms. After several bloody battles and sieges, notably the Battle of Kirtipur, he managed to conquer the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. A detailed account of Prithvi Narayan Shah's victory was written by Father Giuseppe, an eyewitness to the war.
The Gorkha control reached its height when the North Indian territories of the Kumaon and Garhwal Kingdoms in the west to Sikkim in the east came under Nepalese control. A dispute with Tibet over the control of mountain passes and inner Tingri valleys of Tibet forced the Qing Emperor of China to start the Sino-Nepali War compelling the Nepali to retreat and pay heavy reparations to Peking.
Rivalry between the Kingdom of Nepal and the East India Company over the control of states bordering Nepal eventually led to the Anglo-Nepali War (1815–16). At first, the British underestimated the Nepali and were soundly defeated until committing more military resources than they had anticipated needing. Thus began the reputation of Gurkhas as fierce and ruthless soldiers. The war ended in the Sugauli Treaty, under which Nepal ceded recently captured lands as well as the right to recruit soldiers. Madhesis, having supported the East India Company during the war, had their lands gifted to Nepal.
Factionalism inside the royal family led to a period of instability. In 1846, a plot was discovered revealing that the reigning queen had planned to overthrow Jung Bahadur Kunwar, a fast-rising military leader. This led to the Kot massacre; armed clashes between military personnel and administrators loyal to the queen led to the execution of several hundred princes and chieftains around the country. Jung Bahadur Kunwar emerged victorious and founded the Rana dynasty, later known as Jung Bahadur Rana. The king was made a titular figure, and the post of Prime Minister was made powerful and hereditary. The Ranas were staunchly pro-British and assisted them during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (and later in both World Wars). Some parts of the Terai region populated with non-Nepali peoples were gifted to Nepal by the British as a friendly gesture because of her military help to sustain British control in India during the rebellion. In 1923, the United Kingdom and Nepal formally signed an agreement of friendship that superseded the Sugauli Treaty of 1816.
In the late 1940s, newly emerging pro-democracy movements and political parties in Nepal were critical of the Rana autocracy. Meanwhile, with the invasion of Tibet by China in the 1950s, India sought to counterbalance the perceived military threat from its northern neighbour by taking pre-emptive steps to assert more influence in Nepal. India sponsored both King Tribhuvan (ruled 1911–1955) as Nepal's new ruler in 1951 and a new government, mostly comprising the Nepali Congress, thus terminating Rana hegemony in the kingdom.
After years of power wrangling between the king and the government, King Mahendra (ruled 1955–1972) scrapped the democratic experiment in 1959, and a "partyless" Panchayat system was made to govern Nepal until 1989, when the "Jan Andolan" (People's Movement) forced King Birendra (ruled 1972–2001) to accept constitutional reforms and to establish a multiparty parliament that took seat in May 1991. In 1991–92, Bhutan expelled roughly 100,000 Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent, most of whom have been living in seven refugee camps in eastern Nepal ever since.
In 1996, the Communist Party of Nepal started a violent bid to replace the royal parliamentary system with a people's republic. This led to the long Nepali Civil War and more than 12,000 deaths. On 1 June 2001, there was a massacre in the royal palace. King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya and seven other members of the royal family were killed. The alleged perpetrator Crown Prince Dipendra, who allegedly committed suicide shortly thereafter, was briefly declared king for three days while he was in coma. Following the carnage, King Birendra's brother Gyanendra inherited the throne. On 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed the elected government and legislature,assuming full executive powers to quash the violent Maoist movement. But this initiative was unsuccessful because a stalemate had developed in which the Maoists were firmly entrenched in large expanses of countryside but could not yet dislodge the military from numerous towns and the largest cities. In September 2005, the Maoists declared a three-month unilateral ceasefire to negotiate.
In response to the 2006 democracy movement, King Gyanendra agreed to relinquish sovereign power to the people. On 24 April 2006 the dissolved House of Representatives was reinstated. Using its newly acquired sovereign authority, on 18 May 2006 the House of Representatives unanimously voted to curtail the power of the king and declared Nepal a secular state, ending its time-honoured official status as a Hindu Kingdom. On 28 December 2007, a bill was passed in parliament to amend Article 159 of the constitution – replacing "Provisions regarding the King" by "Provisions of the Head of the State" – declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy. The bill came into force on 28 May 2008.
Following the declaration of the federal republic, an election was held for the Constituent Assembly that would draft a new constitution. A period of instability followed; with changing governments, and various nationalist movements and popular protests demanding for ethnic autonomy; the political deadlock meant the constituent assembly failed to adopt a constitution within the stipulated time. The Constituent Assembly was dissolved in May 2012. A second election for a new Constituent Assembly was held in 2013 under a non-partisan government led by former Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi. On 25 April 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal followed by a 7.3 magnitude aftershock two weeks later, causing a combined death toll of 8,500, about 21,000 injuries and material loss amounting to a third of the country's annual Gross Domestic Product. The Constitution of Nepal, passed with a 90% majority was announced in 20 September 2015 making Nepal a federal democratic republic divided into seven unnamed provinces. It was, however, rejected by the Madhesi nationalist parties, who intensified their protests, leading to an unofficial economic blockade by the Government of India. By February 2016, an amendment had been agreed between India and Nepal, and the Madhesis slowly backed down after it was passed by parliament. The elections for the local, provincial and federal levels of government were held in 2017 and Nepal Communist Party emerged as the ruling party with a strong majority at the federal level, as well as six of the seven provinces.
Nepal is of roughly trapezoidal shape, about 800 kilometres (500 mi) long and 200 kilometres (120 mi) wide, with an area of 147,181 km2 (56,827 sq mi). It lies between latitudes 26° and 31°N, and longitudes 80° and 89°E. Nepal's defining geological processes began 75 million years ago when the Indian plate, then part of the southern supercontinent Gondwana, began a north-eastward drift caused by seafloor spreading to its south-west, and later, south and south-east. Simultaneously, the vast Tethyn oceanic crust, to its northeast, began to subduct under the Eurasian plate. These dual processes, driven by convection in the Earth's mantle, both created the Indian Ocean and caused the Indian continental crust eventually to under-thrust Eurasia and to uplift the Himalayas. Immediately south of the emerging Himalayas, plate movement created a vast trough that rapidly filled with river-borne sediment and now constitutes the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Nepal lies almost completely within this collision zone, occupying the central sector of the Himalayan arc, nearly one third of the 2,400 km (1,500 mi)-long Himalayas, with a small strip of southernmost Nepal stretching into the Indo-Gangetic plain and two districts in the northwest stretching up to the Tibetan plateau.
Nepal is divided into three principal physiographic belts known as Himal-Pahad-Terai.[e] Himal is the mountain region containing snow and situated in the Great Himalayan Range; it 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. Pahad is the mountain region that does not generally contain snow. The mountains vary from 800 to 4,000 metres (2,600 to 13,100 ft) in altitude, with progression from subtropical climates below 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) to alpine climates above 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). The Lower Himalayan Range, reaching 1,500 to 3,000 metres (4,900 to 9,800 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 (6,600 ft) and very low above 2,500 metres (8,200 ft), where snow occasionally falls in winter. The southern lowland plains or Terai bordering India are part of the northern rim of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Terai is the lowland region containing some hill ranges. The plains were formed and are fed by three major Himalayan rivers: the Koshi, the Narayani, and the Karnali as well as smaller rivers rising below the permanent snowline. This region has subtropical to tropical climate. The outermost range of the foothills called Sivalik Hills or Churia Range, cresting at 700 to 1,000 metres (2,300 to 3,280 ft), marks the limits of the Gangetic Plain; however broad, low valleys called Inner Terai Valleys (Bhitri Tarai Upatyaka) lie north of these foothills in several places.
The Indian plate continues to move north relative to Asia at about 50 mm (2.0 in) per year. This makes Nepal an earthquake prone zone, and periodic earthquakes that have devastating consequences present a significant hurdle to development. Erosion of the Himalayas is a very important source of sediment, which flows to the Indian Ocean. Saptakoshi, in particular, carries huge amount of silt out of Nepal but sees extreme drop in Gradient in Bihar, causing severe floods and course changes, and is therefore, known as the sorrow of Bihar. Severe flooding and landslides cause deaths and disease, destroy farmlands and cripple the transport infrastructure of the country, during the monsoon season each year.
Nepal has five climatic zones, broadly corresponding to the altitudes. The tropical and subtropical zones lie below 1,200 metres (3,900 ft), the temperate zone 1,200 to 2,400 metres (3,900 to 7,900 ft), the cold zone 2,400 to 3,600 metres (7,900 to 11,800 ft), the subarctic zone 3,600 to 4,400 metres (11,800 to 14,400 ft), and the Arctic zone above 4,400 metres (14,400 ft). Nepal experiences five seasons: summer, monsoon, autumn, winter and spring. The Himalayas block cold winds from Central Asia in the winter and form the northern limits of the monsoon wind patterns.
Nepal contains a disproportionately large diversity of plants and animals, relative to its size. Nepal, in its entirety, forms the western portion of the eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, with notable biocultural diversity. The dramatic differences in elevation found in Nepal (60 m from sea level in the Terai plains, to 8,848 m Mount Everest) result in a variety of biomes. Eastern half of Nepal is richer in biodiversity as it receives more rain, compared to western parts, where arctic desert-type conditions are more common at higher elevations. Nepal is a habitat for 4.0% of all mammal species, 8.9% of bird species, 1.0% of reptile species, 2.5% of amphibian species, 1.9% of fish species, 3.7% of butterfly species, 0.5% of moth species and 0.4% of spider species. In its 35 forest-types and 118 ecosystems,[f] Nepal harbours 2% of the flowering plant species, 3% of pteridophytes and 6% of bryophytes.
Nepal's forest cover is 59,624 km2 (23,021 sq mi), 40.36% of the country's total land area, with an additional 4.38% of scrubland, for a total forested area of 44.74%, an increase of 5% since the turn of the millennium. In the southern plains, Terai-Duar savanna and grasslands ecoregion contains some of the world's tallest grasses as well as Sal forests, tropical evergreen forests and tropical riverine deciduous forests. In the lower hills (700 m – 2,000 m), subtropical and temperate deciduous mixed forests containing mostly Sal (in the lower altitudes), Chilaune and Katus, as well as subtropical pine forest dominated by Chir pine are common. The middle hills (2,000 m – 3,000 m) are dominated by Oak and Rhododendron. Subalpine coniferous forests cover the 3,000 m to 3,500 m range, dominated by Oak (particularly in the west), Eastern Himalayan fir, Himalayan pine and Himalayan hemlock; Rhododendron is common as well. Above 3,500 m in the west and 4,000 m in the east, coniferous trees give way to Rhododendron-dominated alpine shrubs and meadows.
Among the notable trees, are the astringent Azadirachta indica, or neem, which is widely used in traditional herbal medicine, and the luxuriant Ficus religiosa, or peepal, which is displayed on the ancient seals of Mohenjo-daro, and under which Gautam Buddha is recorded in the Pali canon to have sought enlightenment. Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal.
Most of the subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forest of the lower himalayan region is descended from the tethyan tertiary flora. As the Indian plate collided with Eurasia forming and raising the Himalayas, the arid and semi-arid mediterranean flora was pushed up and adapted to the more alpine climate over the next 40–50 million years. The Himalayan biodiversity hotspot was the site of mass exchange and intermingling of the Indian and Eurasian species in the neogene. One mammal species (Himalayan field mouse), two each of bird and reptile species, nine amphibian, eight fish and 29 butterfly species are endemic to Nepal.[g]
Nepal contains 107 IUCN-designated threatened species, 88 of them animal species, 18 plant species and one species of "fungi or protist" group. These include the endangered Bengal tiger, the Red panda, the Asiatic elephant, the Himalayan musk deer, the Wild water buffalo and the South Asian river dolphin, as well as the critically endangered Gharial, the Bengal florican, and the White-rumped Vulture, which has become nearly extinct by having ingested the carrion of diclofenac-treated cattle. The pervasive and ecologically devastating human encroachment of recent decades has critically endangered Nepali wildlife. In response, the system of national parks and protected areas, first established in 1973 with the enactment of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1973, was substantially expanded. Vulture restaurants coupled with a ban on veterinary usage of diclofenac has seen a rise in the number of white-rumped vultures. The community forestry program which has seen a third of the country's population directly participate in managing a quarter of the total forested area, has helped the local economies while reducing human-wildlife conflict. The breeding programmes coupled with community-assisted military patrols, and a crackdown on poaching and smuggling, has seen poaching of critically endangered tigers and elephants as well as vulnerable rhinos, among others, go down to effectively zero, and their numbers have steadily increased. Nepal has ten national parks, three wildlife reserves, one hunting reserve, three conservation areas and eleven buffer zones, covering a total area of 28,959.67 km2 (11,181.39 sq mi), or 19.67% of the total land area, while ten wetlands are registered under the Ramsar Convention.
Nepal is a parliamentary republic with a multi-party system. It has four political parties recognised in the federal parliament: Nepal Communist Party (NCP), Nepali Congress (NC), Samajbadi Party Nepal (SPN) and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN). While all major parties officially espouse democratic socialism, NCP is considered leftist while Nepali Congress is considered centrist, with most considering it center-left and some center-right. The minor party SPN is leftist and RJPN is center-right to right-wing. During most of the brief periods of democratic exercise in the 1950s as well as the 1990s, Nepali Congress held a majority in parliament. Following the entry of the Maoists into the political process, they were the largest party in the first constituent assembly and Nepali Congress was the largest in the second, with no party winning a majority. In the aftermath of the 2017 elections, the first one according to the new constitution, NCP has become the ruling party at the federal level as well as six out of seven provinces. While Nepali Congress has a significantly reduced representation, it is the only major opposition to the ruling communist party in all levels of government.
Early politics in the Kingdom of Nepal was characterised by factionalism, conspiracies and murders, including two major massacres.[h] After almost a century of power-wrangling among the prominent Basnyat, Pande and Thapa families, a fast-rising military leader Bir Narsingh Kunwar[i] emerged on top in the aftermath of the Kot massacre, and established the Rana autocratic regime which consolidated powers of the King as well as prime minister and reigned for another century, with a policy of oppression and isolationism. By the 1930s, Nepali expatriates in India had started smuggling in writings on political philosophies, which gave birth to a vibrant underground political movement in the capital, birthing Nepal Praja Parishad in 1939, which was dissolved only two years later, following the execution of the four great martyrs. Around the same time, Nepalis involved in the Indian Independence Movement started organising into political parties, leading to the birth of Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal. Following Indian Independence, Nepali Congress was successful in overthrowing the Rana regime with support from the Indian government and cooperation from the king. While communism was still trying to find its footing, Nepali Congress enjoyed overwhelming support of the electorate. Following a brief ten-year exercise in democracy, another partyless autocracy was initiated, this time by the King, who deposed the democratically elected government of Nepali Congress, imposed or exiled prominent leaders and issued a ban on party politics.
Many political parties and their leaders remained underground or in exile for the next 30 years of partyless politics in Nepal. BP Koirala was released from prison in 1968 and went into exile in Benaras, returning in 1976 only to immediately be put in house arrest. Although an armed insurgency launched by the major communist faction called the Jhapa movement had failed comprehensively by 1971, it formed the foundation for the dominant communist power, CPN ML, that was officially launched in 1978. A general referendum was held in 1980, which saw the CPN ML campaign for the option of multi-party democracy, along with Nepali Congress, but the Panchayat System was declared the winner to significant controversy. The Panchayat rule saw governments led by a group of monarchy loyalists taking turns, with Surya Bahadur Thapa, Tulsi Giri and Kirti Nidhi Bista becoming prime minister three times each, among others. It introduced a number of reforms, built infrastructures and modernised the country, while significantly curtailing political freedom, imposing the Nepali language and khas culture to the oppression of all others, and spreading Indophobic propaganda the effects of which are experienced to the present day.
In 1990, the joint civil resistance launched by the United left front and Nepali Congress was successful in overthrowing the Panchayat, and the country became a constitutional monarchy. The United Left Front became CPN UML. The Panchayat loyalists formed National Democratic Party which emerged as the third major party. While Nepali Congress ran the government for most of the next ten years of democracy that followed, democracy was mostly a disappointment owing to the immature democratic culture and political infighting in the capital, as well as the civil war that followed the guerrilla insurgency launched by the Maoist Party. Following a four-year autocratic rule by King Gyanendra that failed to defeat the Maoists, a mass civil protest was launched by a coalition of the maoists and the political parties in 2006, which forced the king to stepped down, brought the maoists to the peace process, and established a democratic republic by 2008.
Following the political consensus to draft the new constitution of the Republic via a constituent assembly, Nepali politics saw a rise of nationalist groups and ideologies. While the political power-wrangling caused continuous instability, maintaining the established average of nine months per government, this period saw two constituent assembly elections and the rise of Madhesi nationalist parties, especially in the Eastern Terai region. By 2015, the new constitution had been promulgated and Nepal became "a federal democratic republic striving towards democratic socialism". In 2017, a series of elections were held according to the new constitution, which established Nepal Communist Party (NCP) (formally united after the election) as the ruling party at the federal level as well as six of the seven provinces, Nepali Congress as the only significant opposition in federal and provincial levels, while the Madhesi coalition formed the provincial government in Province No. 2, but boasts negligible presence in the rest of the country.
Nepal is governed according to the Constitution of Nepal, which came into effect on 20 September 2015. It defines Nepal as having multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious, multi-cultural characteristics with common aspirations of people living in diverse geographical regions, and being committed to and united by a bond of allegiance to the national independence, territorial integrity, national interest, and prosperity of Nepal. All Nepali people collectively constitute the state.
Nepal is a federal republic comprising 7 provinces. Each province is composed of 8 to 14 districts. The districts, in turn, comprise local units known as urban and rural municipalities. There is a total of 753 local units which includes 6 metropolitan municipalities, 11 sub-metropolitan municipalities and 276 municipalities for a total of 293 urban municipalities, and 460 rural municipalities. Each local unit is composed of wards. There are 6,743 wards in total.
The local governments enjoy executive and legislative as well as limited judicial powers in their local jurisdiction. The provinces have unicameral parliamentary westminster system of governance. The local and provincial governments exercise some absolute powers and some powers shared with provincial and federal governments as applicable, as listed in the constitution of Nepal. The laws enacted by local governments may not contradict existing laws at the provincial and federal levels or the national constitution. Similarly, provincial legislature may not enact laws contradicting federal laws or the national constitution. The powers not listed in the constitution are exercised by the federal government. The district coordination committee, a committee composed of all elected officials from the local governments in the district, has a very limited role.
The Constitution of Nepal is the supreme law of the land, and any other laws contradicting it are automatically invalid to the extent of the contradiction. The specific legal provisions are codified as Civil Code and Criminal Code, accompanied by Civil Procedure Code and Criminal Procedure Code respectively. Other laws may be enacted by the parliament at all levels of government to supplement but not supersede these laws and other laws enacted by the higher level parliaments, as applicable. The Supreme Court is the highest authority in the interpretation of laws and it can direct the parliament to amend or enact new laws as required. Nepali laws are considered generally more progressive compared to other third world countries, and in some instances, even some countries of the first world. Nepal has abolished the death penalty. It also has made progress in LGBT rights and gender equality. It recognises marital rape and supports abortion rights; however because of the rise in sex-selective abortion, constraints have been introduced. Nepal is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, , Chemical and Nuclear weapons, , Treaty on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as the Paris climate accord. Some legal provisions that are guided by socio-economic, cultural and religious sensibilities remain discriminatory. There is gender based discrimination against foreign nationals married to Nepali citizens.[j] Paternal lineage of a person is valued and required in legal documents. Many laws remain unenforced in practice.
Nepal Police is the primary law enforcement agency of Nepal. It is an independent organisation under the command of the Inspector General of Police, who is appointed by and reports to the Home ministry. Nepal police is responsible for maintaining law and order in the country. It is also responsible for traffic management in the country, which is done by the special subdivision, the Nepal traffic police force. Nepal Armed Police Force, a separate paramilitary police organisation works in cooperation with Nepal police, assisting the latter in maintaining checkpoints, border security, patrols, crowd control in case of violent protests, security of vital assets, counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism actions, as well as any other internal security matter that requires use of force. The Crime Investigation Department is the special branch of Nepal Police that specialises in criminal investigation and forensic analysis, which maintains an investigative team in every district of the country and is called in when normal police procedures and investigations prove insufficient in resolving a case. The National Investigation Department of Nepal is an independent intelligence organisation which gathers intelligence relevant to internal security and law enforcement, as part of its mandate. The is an independent investigative agency that investigates and prosecutes cases related to corruption and bribery, in addition to the abuse of authority by government officials and officeholders.
A 2010 survey estimated about 46,000 hard drug users in the country, with 70% of the users within the age group of 15 to 29. There has been a sharp increase in the seizure of drugs such as hashish, heroin and opium in the past few years; and there are indications that drug traffickers are trying to establish Nepal as a transit point. Human trafficking and child labour are major problems. Nepali victims are trafficked within Nepal, to India, the Middle East, and other areas such as Malaysia and forced to become prostitutes, domestic servants, beggars, factory workers, mine workers, circus performers, child soldiers, and others. Sex trafficking is particularly rampant within Nepal and to India, with as many as 5,000 to 10,000 women and girls trafficked to India alone each year.
Nepal pursues a policy of "balanced relations" with the two giant immediate neighbours, India and China, even though it shares an unparalleled socio-cultural ties with India and the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between two provides for a much closer relationship between them. Nepal and India share an open border with free movement of people, religious, cultural and marital ties, and each boasts Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimages widely visited by citizens of the other. Nepal's currency is permanently pegged to the Indian currency and most of the third-country trade of Nepal is carried out via Indian ports. Millions of people from Nepal reside in India for education and work, and vice versa. India is Nepal's largest trading partner, and Nepal imports all of its oil and gas, and almost all of a number of other essential supplies including medicine, from India. Nepalis, prominently, participated in the Indian Independence Movement, and India closely monitors and seeks to influence Nepal's internal politics, which has led to India playing indispensable roles in all of Nepal's democratic movements, while on some occasions, India's unwelcome interventions in Nepal's politics has given rise to a significant skepticism regarding India's intentions and strengthened anti-India sentiment in Nepal. Nepalis serve in the Gurkha battalions of the Indian army and have fought in India's wars. Nepalis can own property in India, while Indians are free to live and work in Nepal. While Nepal votes independently in international forums, and India and Nepal often disagree in such votes, Nepal has made a commitment to seek India's approval on any purchase of military weapons from third countries, while India unilaterally considers smaller countries in South Asia including Nepal as under its security sphere, requiring military protection. Nepal's long-term grievances against India stem from India's interference in Nepal's internal politics, the 1950 treaty that is seen as unfair to Nepal, alleged border encroachment and harassment by Indian border security force, flooding caused by river dams controlled by India, and India's willingness to blockade Nepal to force its agenda. India has expressed concern with Nepal's apathy toward alleged cross-border terrorism carried out by Pakistani terrorists based in Nepal, Nepal's refusal to acknowledge support for India during India-China conflict and Nepal's recognition of Chinese claim over Tibet, and the alleged use of anti-India propaganda by Nepali politicians for political gain, among others.
Nepal established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China on 1 August 1955, signing the Treaty of Peace and Friendship in 1960, and relations since have been based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. Nepal has always maintained neutrality in conflicts between China and India. It remains firmly committed to the One China Policy, and is known to curb anti-China activities from the Tibetan refugees in Nepal. Citizens of both countries can cross the border and travel as far as 30 km without a visa. China is viewed favorably in Nepal because of the latter's assistance in infrastructure development, absence of any border disputes or serious interference in internal politics, aid during natural disasters, and favorability has increased since 2015, when China helped Nepal during the economic blockade imposed by India. Since then, Nepal and China have moved closer on trade and connectivity, with China granting Nepal access to its ports for third country trade, and Nepal joining China's ambitious Belt and Road Initiative with plans for expansive road and railway projects.
Nepal emphasizes greater cooperation in the South Asia region and actively pushed for the establishment of SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the permanent secretariat of which, is hosted in Kathmandu. Nepal was one of the first countries to recognise an independent Bangladesh, and the two countries seek to enhance greater cooperation, on trade and water management; seaports in Bangladesh which are closer to Nepal, are seen as viable alternatives to India's monopoly on Nepal's third country trade. Nepal's relationship with Bhutan has become acrimonious since Bhutan carried out an ethnic cleansing against its citizens of Nepali origin in the early 1990s, most of whom have been resettled in third countries after decades of efforts to repatriate them failed. Nepal was the first South Asian country to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, and the countries enjoy a strong relationship. However, Nepal also recognises the rights of the Palestinians, and has voted in favor of recognising Palestine at the UN and against the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Other countries that Nepal maintains a close relationship with, includes countries that are the most generous donors and development partners of Nepal, namely, the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Japan and Norway, among others.
The President is the supreme commander of the Nepalese Army, although its routine management is handled by the Ministry of Defence. Nepal's military expenditure for 2018 was $398.5 million, around 1.4% of its GDP. The age of qualification for the military service which is voluntary, is 18 years. Nepal Army, an almost exclusively ground infantry force, which numbers at less than one hundred thousand, has few aircraft, mainly helicopters, primarily used for transport, patrol and search and rescue. Directorate of Military Intelligence is the military intelligence agency under Nepal Army, while National Investigation Department is the independent intelligence agency tasked with national and international intelligence gathering. As the military of an underdeveloped small country sandwiched between two superpowers, Nepal Army is not maintained as a national defence force against foreign aggression, but rather for routine security of critical assets, anti-poaching activities in national parks, internal security in times of crisis, like civil war, terrorism, etc. and for search and rescue during natural disasters. Nepal Army also undertakes construction projects. While there are no officially sanctioned discriminatory policies on recruitment, except on the basis of physical or mental fitness and age, but reservations for marginalised groups instead, the army is dominated by the elite Pahari warrior castes, women form an abysmal minority and there are allegations of discrimination against sexual minorities, in practice. Nepal mainly depends on diplomacy for national defence. Nepal has always maintained a policy of neutrality between its neighbours, has amicable relations with other countries in the region, and has pursued a policy of non-alignment at the global stage. In addition to the SAARC and the UN, Nepal is also a member of WTO, BIMSTEC and ACD, among others. It conducts joint military exercises with China, India and the United States. Nepal has bilateral diplomatic relations with 167 countries and the EU, has embassies in 30 countries and six consulates, while 25 countries maintain their embassies in Nepal, and more than 80 other countries maintain non-residential diplomatic missions. Nepal is one of the major contributors to the UN Peacekeeping Missions having contributed more than 119,000 personnel to 42 missions since 1958. Nepali people have a reputation for honesty, loyalty and bravery, which has led to Nepalese citizens serving as the legendary Gurkha warriors in the Indian and British armies for the last 200 years, who have fought in both world wars, India-Pakistan wars as well as being deployed in both Afghanistan and Iraq, even though Nepal was not directly involved in any of those conflicts, and winning the highest military awards including the Victoria Cross and the Param Vir Chakra. Many Nepali migrant workers are recruited as security guards, while Singapore Police Force also maintains a Gurkha contingent of Nepali recruits, owing to the same legendary reputation of the Nepali people.
Nepal's gross domestic product (GDP) for 2018 was estimated at $28.8 billion. With an annual growth rate calculated at 6.3% in 2018, and expected to reach 7.1% in 2019, Nepal is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. However, the country ranks 165th in the world[k] in nominal GDP per capita and 162nd[l] in GDP per capita at PPP. Nepal has been a member of WTO since 23 April 2004.
The 16.8-million-worker Nepali labour force is the 37th largest in the world, as of 2017. The primary sector makes up 27.59% of GDP, the secondary sector 14.6%, and the tertiary sector 57.81%. Nepal's foreign exchange remittances of US$8.1 billion in 2018, the 19th largest in the world and constituting 28.0% of GDP, were contributed to its economy by millions of workers primarily in India, the middle east and East Asia, almost all of them unskilled labourers. Major agricultural products include cereals (barley, maize, millet, paddy and wheat), oilseed, potato, pulses, sugarcane, jute, tobacco, milk and water buffalo meat. Major industries include tourism, carpets, textiles, cigarettes, cement, brick, as well as small rice, jute, sugar and oilseed mills. Nepal's international trade greatly expanded in 1951 with the establishment of democracy; liberalisation began in 1985 and picked up pace after 1990. By the fiscal year 2016/17, Nepal's foreign trade amounted Rs 1.06 trillion, a twenty-three folds increase from Rs 45.6 billion in 1990/91. More than 60% of Nepal's trade is with India. Major exports include readymade garment, carpet, pulses, handicrafts, leather, medicinal herbs, and paper products, which account for 90% of the total. Major imports include various finished and semi-finished goods, raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemical fertilizers, electrical and electronic devices, petroleum products, gold, and readymade garments. Inflation was at 4.5% in 2019. Foreign exchange reserves were at US$9.5 billion in July 2019, equivalent to 7.8 months of imports.
Nepal has made significant progress in poverty reduction bringing the population below the international poverty line (US$1.90 per person per day) from 15% in 2010 to just 9.3% in 2018, although vulnerability remains extremely high, with almost 32% of the population living on between US$1.90 and US$3.20 per person per day. Nepal has made improvement in sectors like nutrition, child mortality, electricity, improved flooring and assets. If the progress of reducing poverty continues at this rate, then it is predicted that Nepal will halve the current poverty rate and eradicate it within the next 20 years. The income distribution remains grossly uneven. The agriculture sector is particularly vulnerable as it is highly dependent on the monsoon rains, with just 28% of the arable land being irrigated, As of 2014. Agriculture employs 76% of the workforce, services 18%, and manufacturing and craft-based industry 6%. Private investment, consumption, tourism and agriculture are the principal contributors to economic growth.
The government's budget is about $13.71 billion (FY 2019/20), but expenditure of infrastructure development budget usually fails to meet the target, and most of the development budget is hurriedly spent in the last months of the fiscal year when the monsoon and hurried work results in sub-par quality of construction. The Nepali rupee has been tied to the Indian rupee at an exchange rate of 1.6 for many years. Since the loosening of exchange rate controls in the early 1990s, the black market for foreign exchange has all but disappeared. A long-standing economic agreement underpins a close relationship with India. The country receives foreign aid from the UK, India, Japan, the US, the EU, China, Switzerland, and Scandinavian countries. Per capita income is $1,004. The distribution of wealth among the Nepalis is consistent with that in many developed and developing countries: the highest 10% of households control 39.1% of the national wealth and the lowest 10% control only 2.6%. European Union (EU) (46.13%), the US (17.4%), and Germany (7.1%) are its main export partners. The European Union has emerged the largest buyer of Nepali ready-made garments (RMG). Exports to the EU accounted for "46.13 percent of the country's total garment exports". Nepal's import partners include India (47.5%), the United Arab Emirates (11.2%), China (10.7%), Saudi Arabia (4.9%), and Singapore (4%).
Besides having landlocked, rugged geography, few tangible natural resources and poor infrastructure, the ineffective post-1950 government and the long-running civil war are also factors in stunting the country's economic growth and development. Debt bondage even involving debtors' children has been a persistent social problem in the western hills and the Terai, with an estimated 234,600 people or 0.82% of the population considered as enslaved, by The Global Slavery Index in 2016.
Tourism is one of the largest industries in Nepal, employing more than a million people and contributing 7.9% of the total GDP. It is also one of the fastest-growing. The number of international visitors crossed one million in 2018 for the first time (not counting Indian tourists arriving by land), a 59% increase from 736,000 in the Nepal Tourism Year 2011, despite setbacks from the devastating 2015 earthquake. Domestic tourism has witnessed a sharp increase since the earthquake, contributing 56% of the total tourism earnings in 2018. Nepal is home to four world heritage sites: Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, Sagarmatha National Park which includes Mount Everest, the highest peak on earth, seven monuments in the Kathmandu Valley collectively listed as one, and Chitwan National Park. Most of the country's tourism is confined to these destinations, in addition to Pokhara, the Annapurna trekking circuit, and other Himalayan mountains which attract mountaineers and sightseers from around the world. Although Nepal is home to eight of the fourteen eight-thousanders, all among the ten tallest mountains in the world, most of Nepal's mountaineering earnings comes from Mt Everest, which is more accessible from the Nepalese side. Despite a vast potential for spiritual and cultural as well as mountaineering and eco-tourism, Nepal's share of foreign tourists visiting South Asia is only about 6%, and tourists spend much less on average, with Nepal sharing only 1.7% of the total tourism earnings of South Asia. The largest contributors of foreign tourists to Nepal are India (16%), China (12%), the United States (8%), Sri Lanka (7%) and the United Kingdom (6%).[m]
Nepal's tourism sector officially opened for westerners in 1951 but remained seriously hindered by a lack of proper planning and investment, continuous political instability. Once a popular final destination at the end of the hippie trail with legalised marijuana and hashish shops in Kathmandu, Nepali tourism was at its lowest during the civil war in the 1990s. Enthused by the upsurge since the peace process began, Nepal aims to welcome two million tourists in 2020, double the 2018 figures, via the concerted Visit Nepal 2020 initiative. With a lack of proper facilities for high-end tourism termed the "infrastructure bottleneck", the flag carrier in shambles and blacklisted by the developed countries, and with only a small number of popular destinations properly developed and marketed, the goal is considered too ambitious. The home-stay tourism, in which cultural and eco-tourists stay as paying guests in the homes of indigenous people, considered a more equitable and viable means of developing the sector, has seen some success. Lumbini and other Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimages including Pashupati temple, Swayambhu and Boudhanath in Kathmandu, Muktinath in Mustang, and Janakpurdham, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Videha and home to goddess Sita, are among the premier destinations for the development of spiritual, religious and cultural tourism. Diversifying eco-tourism by developing and marketing less popular national parks, trekking routes and mountains are considered essential for the growth of the industry.
The rate of unemployment and underemployment exceeds half of the working-age population. Thus, many Nepali citizens move to other countries in search of work. Destinations include India, the GCC countries, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. In addition, thousands of well-educated people migrate to developed countries, like the United States, Australia and the UK for higher studies and work, half of whom never return. Most of the workers employed in India, the middle east and East Asia are unskilled labourers from very poor families. Many of them are swindled by the manpower companies and sent to exploitative employers or war-ridden countries under fraudulent contracts, in breach of government restrictions. In an extreme such case, in 2004, 12 Nepalese migrant workers travelling to an American base in Iraq through a third country, were kidnapped by terrorists and executed on video. Nepalese workers have their passports seized upon arrival by their employer and only returned when they are allowed to return by the employer's consent. Due to Nepal's failure to secure rights for its workers, most Nepalese don't get paid minimum wage, and many are forced to return without being paid all or part of the wages. Many Nepalese work in extremely unsafe conditions; an average of two Nepalese workers die each day. The proportion of women participation in foreign employment is increasing. Due to restrictions placed on women, many are forced to depend on traffickers to get out of the country, and end up victims of violence and abuse. Many Nepalese are believed to be working under slavery-like conditions, and Nepal spends billions of rupees rescuing stranded workers, on remuneration to the indebted families of the dead and legal costs for those who get jailed in foreign countries.
Foreign employment is the largest source of foreign exchanges for Nepal. Due to millions of missing men, women have been left to attend to the farm and livestock, take care of the families, and raise children, all by themselves. Nepal's population growth rate has remained lower than projected, in part, due to the same. Although millions of families have been raised out of poverty by foreign employment, due to a lack of entrepreneurial skills, the earnings that workers bring back to Nepal are mostly spent on real estate and consumption.
The bulk of energy in Nepal comes from biomass (80%) and imported fossil fuels (16%). Most of the final energy consumption goes to the residential sector (84%) followed by transport (7%) and industry (6%), but the transport and industry sectors have been expanding rapidly in recent years. Except for some lignite deposits, Nepal has no known oil, gas or coal deposits. All commercial fossil fuels (mainly oil, LPG and coal) are imported, spending 129% of the country's total export revenue. Only about 1% of the energy need is fulfilled by electricity. The perennial nature of Nepali rivers and the steep gradient of the country's topography provide ideal conditions for the development of hydroelectric projects. Estimates put Nepal's economically feasible hydropower potential at approximately 42,000 MW. However, Nepal has been able to exploit only about 1,100 MW. As most of it is generated from run-of-river (ROR) plants, the actual power produced is much lower in the dry winter months when peak demand can reach as high as 1,200 MW, and Nepal needs to import as much as 650 MW from India to meet the demands. Nepal aims to bring enough hydropower projects into operation by the end of 2019 to go into surplus, but major hydropower projects have continued to suffer delays and setbacks. Nepal's electrification rate (76%) is comparable to that of other countries in the region but there is significant disparity between the rural (72%) and urban (97%) areas. The position of the power sector remains unsatisfactory because of high tariffs, high system losses, high generation costs, high overheads, over staffing, and lower domestic demand.
Nepal remains isolated from the world's major land, air and sea transport routes although, within the country, aviation is in a better state, with 47 airports, 11 of them with paved runways; flights are frequent and support a sizeable traffic. The hilly and mountainous terrain in the northern two-thirds of the country has made the building of roads and other infrastructure difficult and expensive. As of 2016, there were just over 11,890 km (7,388 mi) of paved roads, and 16,100 km (10,004 mi) of unpaved roads, and just 59 km (37 mi) of railway line in the south. As of 2018, all district headquarters (except Simikot) had been connected to the road network. Most of the rural roads are not operable during the rainy season; even national highways regularly become inoperable. Nepal depends almost entirely on foreign assistance from countries like China, India and Japan, for building, maintenance and expansion of the road network. The only practical seaport of entry for goods bound for Kathmandu is Kolkata in West Bengal state of India. The national carrier, Nepal Airlines, is in poor shape due to mismanagement and corruption, and has been blacklisted by the EU. Internally, the poor state of development of the road system makes access to markets, schools, and health clinics a challenge.
According to the Nepal Telecommunication Authority MIS August 2019 report, voice telephony subscription rate was at 2.70% of total population for fixed phones and 138.59% for mobile; 98% of all voice telephony was through mobile phones. Similarly, while an estimated 14.52% had access to fixed broadband, an additional 52.71% were accessing the internet using their mobile data subscriptions; almost 15 million of them with 3G or better. The mobile voice telephony and broadband market was dominated by two telecommunications companies, the state-owned Nepal Telecom (55%) and the private multinational, Ncell (40%). Of the 21% market share enjoyed by fixed broadband, around 25% was again shared by Nepal Telecom, with the rest going to the private Internet Service Providers. Although there is high disparity in penetration rate between the rural and urban areas, mobile service has reached 75 districts of the country covering 90% of land area, and broadband access is expected to reach 90% of the population by 2020.
As of 2019, the state operates three television stations as well as national and regional radio stations. There are 117 private TV channels and 736 FM radio stations licensed for operation, at least 314 of them, community radio stations. According to the 2011 census, the percentage of households possessing radio was 50.82%, television 36.45%, cable TV 19.33%, and computer 7.23%. According to the Press Council Nepal classification, as of 2017 of the 833 publications producing original content, ten national dailies and weeklies are rated A+ class. In 2019, Reporters Without Borders ranked Nepal at 106th in the world in terms of press freedom.
The citizens of Nepal are known as Nepali or Nepalese. The Nepali are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet and North Burma, and the Chinese province of Yunnan via Assam. Among the earliest inhabitants were the Kirat of east mid-region, Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, aboriginal Tharus of the Terai plains and the Khas Pahari people of the far-western hills. Despite the migration of a significant section of the population to the Terai in recent years, the majority of Nepalese still live in the central highlands, and the northern mountains are sparsely populated.
Nepal is a multicultural and multiethnic country, home to 126 distinct ethnic groups, speaking 123 different mother tongues and following a number of indigenous and folk religions in addition to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. According to the 2011 census, Nepal's population was 26.5 million, almost a threefold increase from nine million in 1950. From 2001 to 2011, the average family size declined from 5.44 to 4.9. The census also noted some 1.9 million absentee people, over a million more than in 2001; most are male labourers employed overseas. This correlated with the drop in sex ratio from 94.41 as compared to 99.80 for 2001. The annual population growth rate was 1.35% between 2001 and 2011, compared to an average of 2.25% between 1961 and 2001; also attributed to the absentee population.
Nepal is one of the ten least urbanised, and the ten fastest urbanising countries in the world. As of 2014, an estimated 18.3% of the population lived in urban areas. Urbanisation rate is high in the Terai, doon valleys of the inner Terai and valleys of the middle hills, but low in the high Himalayas. Similarly, the rate is higher in central and eastern Nepal compared to further west.  The capital, Kathmandu, nicknamed the "City of temples", is the largest city in the country and the cultural and economic heart. Other large cities in Nepal include Pokhara, Biratnagar, Lalitpur, Bharatpur, Birgunj, Dharan, Hetauda and Nepalgunj. Congestion, pollution and drinking water shortage are some of the major problems facing the rapidly growing cities, most prominently the Kathmandu Valley.
Nepal's diverse linguistic heritage stems from three major language groups: Indo-Aryan, Tibeto-Burman, and various indigenous language isolates. The major languages of Nepal (percent spoken as native language) according to the 2011 census are Nepali (44.6%), Maithili (11.7%), Bhojpuri (6.0%), Tharu (5.8%), Tamang (5.1%), Nepal Bhasa (3.2%), Bajjika (3%) and Magar (3.0%), Doteli (3.0%), Urdu (2.6%), Awadhi (1.89%), and Sunwar. Nepal is home to at least four indigenous sign languages.
Descendent of Sanskrit, Nepali is written in Devanagari script. It is the official language and serves as lingua franca among Nepali of different ethnolinguistic groups. The regional languages Maithili, Awadhi and Bhojpuri are spoken in the southern Terai region; Urdu is common among Nepali Muslims. Varieties of Tibetan are spoken in and north of the higher Himalaya where standard literary Tibetan is widely understood by those with religious education. Local dialects in the Terai and hills are mostly unwritten with efforts underway to develop systems for writing many in Devanagari or the Roman alphabet.
The 2011 census reported that the religion with the largest number of followers in Nepal was Hinduism (81.3% of the population), followed by Buddhism (9%); the remaining were Islam (4.4%), Kirant (3%), Christianity (1.3%) and other folk religions (0.4%). The prevalence of irreligion was reported to be at 0.5%. By percentage of population, Nepal has the largest population of Hindus in the world. Nepal was officially a Hindu Kingdom until recently, and Shiva was considered the guardian deity of the country. Although many government policies throughout history have disregarded or marginalised minority religions, Nepalese societies generally enjoy religious tolerance and harmony among all religions, with only isolated incidents of religiously-motivated violence.
Nepal entered modernity in 1951 with a literacy rate of 5% and about 10,000 students enrolled in 300 schools. By 2017, there were more than seven million students enrolled in 35,601 schools. The overall literacy rate (for population age 5 years and above) increased from 54.1% in 2001 to 65.9% in 2011. The male literacy rate was 75.1% compared to the female literacy rate of 57.4%. The highest literacy rate was reported in Kathmandu district (86.3%) and lowest in Rautahat (41.7%). While the net primary enrolment rate was 74% in 2005; it had reached 97% by 2017. However, increasing access to secondary education (grades 9 –12) remains a major challenge, as evidenced by the low net enrolment rate of 57.5% at this level. Tertiary gross enrolment rate was only 12.4% As of 2018. By 2017, females had overtaken males in enrolment at all levels, compared to ten years earlier when male enrolment at the tertiary level was almost double that of females. As of 2017, Nepal had eleven universities and four independent science academies. Lack of proper infrastructures and teaching materials and a high student-to-teacher ratio, as well as politicisation of school management committees and partisan unionisation among both students and teachers, present a significant hurdle to progress. Free basic education is guaranteed in the constitution but the programme lacks funding for effective implementation. Government has scholarship programs for girls, disabled and children of martyrs, of marginalised communities and the extremely poor. The government also provides various scholarships for the students of marginalised communities, the poor and the meritorious, for higher education including medical and engineering studies. Tens of thousands of Nepali students leave the country every year in search of better education and work, with half of them never returning.
Public health and health care services in Nepal are provided by both the public and private sectors. Tap water is the main source of drinking water for 47.78% of households, tube well/hand pump is the main source of drinking water for about 35% of households, while spout, uncovered well/kuwa, and covered well/kuwa are the main source for 5.74%, 4.71%, and 2.45% respectively. Life expectancy at birth is estimated at 71 years as of 2017, 153rd highest in the world, up from 54 years in the 1990s. Two-thirds of all deaths are due to non-communicable diseases, 9% due to injuries and 25% due to communicable, maternal, neonatal and nutritional diseases. Heart disease is the leading cause of death; other major causes are injuries, diarrhoeal diseases, respiratory diseases and intracerebral haemorrhage. HIV AIDS is the seventeenth leading cause of death. Of the 32,000 HIV infected, only 13,000 are receiving antiretroviral treatment, As of 2018. Diabetes and kidney disease are highly prevalent as well. Sedentary lifestyle, imbalanced diet and malnutrition, consumption of tobacco and alcohol, and poor sanitation are among the driving forces behind poor health in Nepal. Nepal has made tremendous progress in maternal and child health. 95% of children have access to iodised salt, and 86% of children aged 6 - 59 months receive Vitamin A prophylaxis. Stunting has been reduced to 36% in 2016 from 57% in the 1996; underweight was reduced to 27% from 42%, and wasting to 10% from 15%, in the same period; however, malnutrition, at 43% among children under five, is extremely high. Anaemia in women and children increased between 2011 and 2016, reaching 41% and 53% respectively. Low birth weight is at 27% while breastfeeding is at 65%. Nepal has reduced maternal mortality rate to 229 from 901 in 1990, but is expected to fall short of the targeted 125 per 100,000 live births by 2020. Infant mortality per thousand live births is down to 32.2 compared to 139.8 in 1990. Contraceptive prevalence rate is 53% but the disparity rate between rural and urban areas is high due to a lack of awareness and easy access.
Progress in health is driven by strong government initiative in cooperation with NGOs and INGOs. Public health centres provide 72 essential medicines free of cost. In addition, the public health insurance plan initiated in 2016 which covers health treatments of upto Rs 50,000 for five members of a family, for a premium of Rs 2500 per year, has seen limited success, and is expected to expand. By paying stipends for four antenatal visits to health centers and hospitalised delivery, Nepal decreased home-births from 81% in 2006 to 41% in 2016. School meal programs have improved education as well as nutrition metrics among children. Toilet building subsidies under the ambitious "one household-one toilet" program which aims to make the country open defecation free has seen toilet prevalence rate reach 99% in 2019, from just 6% in 1990.
Nepal has a long tradition of accepting migrants and refugees. In modern times, Tibetans and Bhutanese have constituted a majority of refugees in Nepal. Tibetan refugees began arriving in Nepal in 1959, and many more cross into Nepal every year. The Bhutanese Lhotsampa refugees began arriving in Nepal in the 1980s and had reached more than 110,000 by the 2000s. Most of them have been resettled into third countries. At the end of 2018, Nepal had a total of 20,800 confirmed refugees, 64% of them Tibetan and 31% Bhutanese. Recent arrivals among the refugees and asylum seekers, who are termed "urban refugees" as they live in apartments in the cities instead of refugee camps, include Ahmaddiya muslims of Pakistan and Rohingya muslims from Myanmar, but also some immigrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and other African countries, and Sri Lanka. Nepal does not recognise refugees other than the Bhutanese and Tibetans, terming them "illegal immigrants". However, the government facilitates third-country settlement for them, in cooperation with international partners.
About two thousand immigrants applied for work permit in Nepal in 2018/19, half of them Chinese. Nepal does not have a record of the number of Indian immigrant workers in Nepal as they do not require work permits to live and work in Nepal. Indian government puts the number of non-resident Indians in Nepal at 600,000.
Folklore is an integral part of Nepali society. Traditional stories are rooted in the reality of day-to-day life, tales of love, affection and battles as well as demons and ghosts and thus reflect local lifestyles, culture, and beliefs. Many Nepali folktales are enacted through the medium of dance and music.
Most houses in the rural lowlands of Nepal are made up of a tight bamboo framework and walls of a mud and cow-dung mix. These dwellings remain cool in summer and retain warmth in winter. Houses in the hills are usually made of unbaked bricks with thatch or tile roofing. At high elevations construction changes to stone masonry and slate may be used on roofs.
With 15 days a year, Nepal is the country that enjoys the least number of public holidays in the world. The Nepali year begins in 1st of Baisakh in official Hindu Calendar of the country, the Bikram Sambat, which falls in mid-April and is divided into 12 months. Saturday is the official weekly holiday. Main annual holidays include the Martyr's Day (18 February), and a mix of Hindu and Buddhist festivals such as Dashain in autumn, Tihar in mid-autumn and Chhath in late autumn. During Swanti, the Newars perform the Mha Puja ceremony to celebrate New Year's Day of the lunar calendar Nepal Sambat. Being a Secular country Nepal has holiday on main festivals of minority religions too.
Nepal's national colour is crimson. Rhododendron in the national flower. Himalayan monal is the national bird and cow is the national animal. Volleyball is the national sport. Nepali is the national language. The Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka is the national anthem.
The emblem of Nepal depicts the snowy Himalayas, the forested hills, and the fertile Terai, supported by a wreath of rhododendrons, national flag at the crest and in the foreground, a plain white map of Nepal with a man's(right) and woman's(left) right hands joining to signify gender equality just below it. At the bottom is the national motto of Nepal, a Sanskrit quote of patriotism attributed in Nepal folklore to Lord Rama, written in Devanagari script, which reads "Mother and motherland are greater than heaven".
The constitution of Nepal contains instructions for a geometric construction of the flag. According to its official description, the red in the flag stands for victory in war or courage, and is also the colour of the rhododendron. The flag's blue border signifies Nepalese people's desire for peace. The moon on the flag is a symbol of the peaceful and calm nature of Nepali, while the sun represents the aggressiveness of Nepali warriors. The national flag was adopted in 1928 and then the sun and the moon had faces. In 1962 the faces were removed from both triangles .
The president is the symbol of national unity. The martyrs are the symbols of patriotism, prominent among them, four great martyrs- Gangalal Shrestha, Dharmabhakta Mathema, Sukraraj Shastri and Dasharath Chand. King Prithvi Narayan Shah, the founder of modern Nepal, is held in high regard and considered "Father of the Nation" by some.
Nepali commanders of the Anglo-Nepal war, Amar Singh Thapa, Bhakti Thapa, Balbhadra Kunwar and Ujir Singh Thapa are considered war heroes. A special designation of "National hero" has been conferred to 16 people from Nepalese history who made exceptional contributions to the prestige of Nepal; those include such diverse figures as Gautam Buddha, Sita, King Janaka, Araniko, Motiram Bhatta, Mahaguru Falgunanda and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa.
Writers, especially poets, are venerated in Nepal and conferred special titles, such as first poet, great poet, national poet and poet par excellence, among others.
Historical kingdoms that existed in the Kathmandu valley are found to have made use of some clever technologies in numerous areas such as architecture, agriculture, civil engineering, water management, etc. The Gopals and Abhirs, who ruled the valley up until c. 1000 BC, used temporary materials for construction such as bamboo, hay, timber, etc. The Kirat period (700 BC – 110 AD) employed the technology of brick firing as well as produced quality woolen shawls. Similarly, stupas, idols, canals, self-recharging ponds, reservoirs, etc. constructed during the Lichhavi era (110–879 AD) are intact to this day, which manifests the ingenuity of traditional architecture. Moreover, the Malla period (1200–1768 AD) saw an impressive growth in architecture, on par with its advanced contemporaries. An archetypal example of Malla architecture is Nyatapola, a five-storied, 30-metre tall temple in Bhaktapur, which has strangely survived at least four major earthquakes, including the April 2015 Nepal earthquake.
Bhanubhakta Acharya is considered the first poet of Nepali and of Nepal.
Daura Suruwal and Gunyu Choli were the national attires of Nepal until 2011.
Nepalese cuisine consists of a wide variety of regional and traditional cuisines. Given the range of diversity in soil type, climate, culture, ethnic groups, and occupations, these cuisines vary substantially from each other, using locally available spices, herbs, vegetables, and fruit. Nepali foodways have been influenced by religion, in particular Hindu and Buddhist cultural choices and traditions. The Columbian exchange had brought the potato, the tomato, maize, peanuts, cashew nuts, pineapples, guavas, and most notably, chilli peppers, to South Asia. Each became staples of use. The cereals grown in Nepal, their choice, times, and regions of planting, correspond strongly to the timing of Nepal's monsoons, and the variations in altitude.
The foundation of a typical Nepali meal is a cereal cooked in plain fashion, and complemented with flavorful savory dishes. The latter includes lentils, pulses and vegetables spiced commonly with ginger and garlic, but also more discerningly with a combination of spices that may include coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamon and others as informed by culinary conventions. In an actual meal, this mental representation takes the form of a platter, or thali, with a central place for the cooked cereal, peripheral ones, often in small bowls, for the flavorful accompaniments, and the simultaneous, rather than piecemeal, ingestion of the two in each act of eating, whether by actual mixing—for example of rice and lentils—or in the folding of one—such as bread—around the other, such as cooked vegetables. A notable feature of Nepali food is the existence of a number of distinctive vegetarian cuisines, each a feature of the geographical and cultural histories of its adherents. The appearance of ahimsa, or the avoidance of violence toward all forms of life in many religious orders early in South Asian history, especially Upanishadic Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, is thought to have been a notable factor in the prevalence of vegetarianism among a segment of Nepal's Hindu and Buddhist populations, as well as among Jains. Among these groups, strong discomfort is felt at thoughts of eating meat, and contributes to the low proportional consumption of meat to overall diet in Nepal.
Nepali indigenous sports, like dandi biyo and kabaddi which were considered the unofficial national sports until recently, are still popular in rural areas. Despite various efforts, standardisation and development of dandi biyo has not been achieved, while Kabaddi, as a professional sport, is still in its infancy in Nepal. Bagh-chal, an ancient board game that's thought to have originated in Nepal, can be played on chalk-drawn boards, with pebbles, and is still popular today. Ludo, snakes and ladders and carrom are popular pastimes. Chess is also played. Volleyball was declared as the national sport of Nepal in 2017. Popular children's games include versions of tag, knucklebones,[n] hopscotch,[o] Duck, duck, goose and lagori, while marbles, top,[p] hoop rolling and gully cricket are also popular among boys. Rubber bands, or ranger bands cut from bike tyres, make a multi-purpose sporting equipment for Nepali children, which may be bunched or chained together, and used to play dodgeball, cat's cradle, jianzi[q] and a variety of skipping rope games.
Football and cricket are popular professional sports. Nepal is competitive in football in the South Asia region but has never won the SAFF championships, the regional tournament. It usually ranks in the bottom quarter in the FIFA world rankings. Nepal has had success in cricket and holds the elite ODI status, consistently ranking in the Top 20 in the ICC ODI and T20I rankings. Nepal has had some success in athletics and martial arts, having won many medals at the South Asian Games and some at the Asian games. Nepal has never won an olympic medal. Sports like basketball, volleyball, futsal, wrestling, competitive bodybuilding and badminton are also gaining in popularity. Women in football, cricket, athletics, martial arts, badminton and swimming have found some success. Nepal also fields players and national teams in several tournaments for the differently abled, most notably in men's as well as women's blind cricket.
The only international stadium in the country is the multi-purpose Dasarath Stadium where the men and women national football teams play their home matches. Since the formation of the national team, Nepal has played its home matches of cricket at Tribhuvan University International Cricket Ground. Nepal police, Armed police force and Nepal army are the most prolific producers of national players, and aspiring players are known to join armed forces, for the better sporting opportunities they can provide. Nepali sports is hindered by a lack of infrastructure, funding, corruption, nepotism and political interference. Very few players are able to make a living as professional sportspeople.