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About Nepal


Kingdom of Nepal

Ruler: King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva (1972)

Prime Minister: Krishna Prasad Bhattarai (1999)

Area: 54,463 sq. mi. (140,800 sq. km)

Population (2000 est.): 24,702,119 (average annual rate of natural growth: 2.3%); birth rate: 33.8/1000; infant mortality rate: 75.9/1000; density per sq. mi.: 454

Capital and largest city (1993): Kathmandu, 535,000

Other large cities: Lalitpur, 190,000; Biratnagar, 132,000

Monetary unit: Nepalese rupee

Languages: Nepali (official), Newari, Bhutia, Maithali

Ethnicity/race: Newars, Indians, Tibetans, Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, Bhotias, Rais, Limbus, Sherpas

Religions: Hindu, 90%; Buddhist, 5%; Islam, 3%

Literacy rate: 38% (1993)

Economic summary: GDP/PPP (1998 est.): $26.2 billion; $1,100 per capita. Real growth rate: 4.9%. Inflation: 7.8%. Unemployment: n.a.; substantial underemployment (1996). Arable land: 17%. Agriculture: rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, root crops, milk, water buffalo meat. Labor force: 10 million (1996 est.): agriculture, 81%; services, 16%; industry, 3% (note: severe lack of skilled labor). Industries: tourism, carpet, textile, small rice, jute, sugar, and oilseed mills, cigarettes, cement and brick production. Natural resources: quartz, water, timber, hydropower potential, scenic beauty, small deposits of lignite, copper, cobalt, iron ore. Exports: $394 million (f.o.b., 1997 est., but does not include unrecorded border trade with India): carpets, clothing, leather goods, jute goods, grain. Imports: $1.7 billion (c.i.f., 1997 est.): petroleum products, fertilizer, machinery. Major trading partners: India, U.S., Germany, U.K., Singapore, Japan.

A landlocked country the size of Arkansas, lying between India and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, Nepal contains Mount Everest (29,035 ft.; 8,850 m), the tallest mountain in the world. Along its southern border, Nepal has a strip of level land that is partly forested, partly cultivated. North of that is the slope of the main section of the Himalayan range, including Everest and many other peaks higher than 8,000 m.

In Nov. 1990, King Birendra promulgated a new constitution and introduced a multiparty democracy in Nepal.


The first civilizations in Nepal, which flourished around the 6th century B.C., were confined to the fertile Kathmandu Valley where the present-day capital of the same name is located today. It was in this region that Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born circa 563 B.C. Gautama achieved enlightenment as Buddha, and spawned Buddhist belief.

Nepali rulers' early patronage of Buddhism largely gave way to Hinduism, reflecting the increased influence of India, around the 12th century A.D. Though the successive dynasties of the Gopalas, the Kiratis, and the Licchavis expanded their rule, it was not until the reign of the Malla kings from A.D. 1200-69 that Nepal assumed the approximate dimensions of the modern state.

The kingdom of Nepal was unified in 1768 by King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who had fled India following the Moghul conquests of the subcontinent. Under Shah and his successors Nepal's borders expanded as far west as Kashmir and as far east as Sikkim (now part of India). A commercial treaty was signed with Britain in 1792, and again in 1816 after more than a year of hostilities with the British East India Company.

In 1923, Britain recognized the absolute independence of Nepal. Between 1846 and 1951, the country was ruled by the Rana family, which always held the office of prime minister. In 1951, however, the king took over all power and proclaimed a constitutional monarchy. Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah became king in 1955. After Mahendra died of a heart attack in 1972, Prince Birendra, at 26, succeeded to the throne.

In 1990, a pro-democracy movement forced King Birendra to lift the ban on political parties and appoint an opposition leader to head an interim government as prime minister. The first free election in three decades provided a victory for the liberal Nepali Congress Party in 1991, although the Communists made a strong showing. A small Maoist guerrilla movement has been operating in the countryside since 1996.

In its ten years of democracy, Nepal has been led by seven different prime ministers, as one government after another failed. Parliament has been characterized by fragile alliances and mercurial coalitions. As a Nepali economist put it, Democracy has more or less meant multiparty chaos. Coalitions of odd bedfellows with no ideological compatibility have been running things.In addition, corruption among MPs has been legion. Government officials belong to what has been called the jero culture, reference to the expensive Japanese cars, on which the king's courtiers and MPs do not pay the heavy import taxes that ordinary Nepalese are subject to. Because Parliament has been in constant flux, many MPs have lined their pockets as quickly as possible, knowing they may be out of a job at any moment. Voter accountability is nil.

In 1999, the political scene changed when Nepalis gave the majority of the seats in Parliament to the Nepali Congress Party, thereby giving one party enough security to attempt to effectively govern. Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, a famous Nepali freedom fighter who was imprisoned for 14 years by the king's government, became the prime minister, announcing, Democracy has a solid future in Nepal.

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