Where is it?:
In southern Asia, landlocked between China to the north and India to the south. Home to the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest, which is at the border with China and situated in the world-famous Himalayas. On the Indian border is Kanchenjunga, the world's third-tallest peak. In an area slightly larger than the U.S. state of Arkansas, Nepal is home to eight of the world's 10 highest mountain peaks. Even as a tourism magnet, the country is one of the poorest and least developed ones in the world.
Kathmandu, also the largest city in Nepal with more than a million residents. It's the country's tourism hub, though this ebbs and flows with political unrest. The city was a key trade hub between India and China during the medieval era. Eight rivers flow through the city, which is situated in the northwestern part of Kathmandu Valley.
The most unique symbol of Nepal is its flag, which is a combination of two triangular banners instead of a rectangle as other countries. Red with a blue border, the star with a half moon in the upper half of the flag and the star in the lower half represent different ruling dynasties. The national emblem of Nepal consists of the Rhododendron flower followed by a white cow (the national animal), along with a a green pheasant and two Gorkha soldiers. It bears the national motto in Sanskrit: "Janani janmabhumis cha, swarga tapi gariyase" (the mother and the motherland are both dearer than heaven). The national bird is the Lophophoros. The national anthem, "Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka," means "We are Hundreds of Flowers."
The official language is Nepali, which has its origins in Sanskrit. Other languages include Maithali, Bhojpuri, Tharu (Dagaura/Rana), Tamang, Newar, Magar, and Awadhi. Hindi and English are understood by many in urban areas.
There are more than 29 million people in Nepal, including 101 ethnic groups speaking over 92 languages. About 80 percent are Hindi, with another 10 percent Buddhist and some 4 percent Muslim. About 60 percent over the age of 15 can read and write, though this number is higher in urban areas. Life expectancy is on the lower end of world averages at 66 years.
The Kirantis are said to have ruled the Kathmandu Valley as early as 7th or 8th Century B.C. In 1200 A.D. the Mallas came to power for a 550-year period of rule, during which Nepal saw a boom in cultural and urban development. All of the kingdoms of the valley were united into one state by Prithvi Narayan Shah by 1769, and the dynasty ruled Nepal until 2008. Post-monarchial government in Nepal has been marked by battles between Maoists, who staged a longtime rebellion against the king, and democratic coalitions.
Nearly one quarter of Nepalese live below the poverty line with an unemployment rate over 45 percent. About three-quarters of the population work in agriculture, which also accounts for about a third of GDP. Others work in an industrial sector that processes the agricultural products, including jute, sugarcane and tobacco. Political instability has hampered foreign investment in the country, which suffers from a severe lack of skilled labor. Nearly a quarter of land is protected from development, including 10 national parks and three wildlife reserves. Tourism is also an important industry, but is also hampered by instability in the country.
The Nepal Army, which accepts volunteers for service at 18 years of age and offers military training at age 15.
Type of government:
A federal democratic republic after a long history as a monarchy. The king first gave in to political pressure to establish a parliamentary monarchy, then gave up power altogether in 2006. Despite missing numerous deadlines, the parliament has not yet drafted a constitution. The voting age is 18.