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 parliamentary democracy in Nepal. Under pressure amid massive pro-democracy protests in April 2006, King Gyanendra gave up direct rule and reinstated Parliament, which then quickly moved to diminish the King's power. In Dec. 2007, Parliament voted to abolish the monarchy and become a federal democratic republic. The transition to a republic was completed in May 2008, when the Constituent Assemby voted to dissolve the monarchy.
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. It was in this region that Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born c. 563 B.C. Gautama achieved enlightenment as Buddha and spawned Buddhism.
Nepali rulers' early patronage of Buddhism largely gave way to Hinduism, reflecting the increased influence of India, around the 12th century. 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 1200–1769 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.
Languages: Nepali 48% (official), Maithali 12%, Bhojpuri 7%, Tharu 6%, Tamang 5%, others. English spoken by many in government and business (2001)
Religions: Hindu 81%, Buddhist 11%, Islam 4%, Kirant 4% (2001)
Literacy rate: 45% (2003 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $29.04 billion; per capita $1,200. Real growth rate: 2.5%. Inflation: 6.4%. Unemployment: 42% (2004 est.). Arable land: 16%. Agriculture: rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, root crops; milk, water buffalo meat. Labor force: 11.11 million; note: severe lack of skilled labor (2004 est.); agriculture 76%, industry 6%, services 18%. Industries: tourism, carpet, textile; small rice, jute, sugar, and oilseed mills; cigarettes, cement and brick production. Natural resources: quartz, water, timber, hydropower, scenic beauty, small deposits of lignite, copper, cobalt, iron ore. Exports: $830 million f.o.b. (2006 est.), but does not include unrecorded border trade with India: carpets, clothing, leather goods, jute goods, grain. Imports: $2.398 billion f.o.b. (2006 est.): gold, machinery and equipment, petroleum products, fertilizer. Major trading partners: India, U.S., Germany, China, Indonesia (2006).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 595,800 (2006); mobile cellular: 1.042 million (2006). Radio broadcast stations: AM 6, FM 5, shortwave 1 (Jan. 2000). Radios: 840,000 (1997). Television broadcast stations: 1 (plus 9 repeaters) (1998). Televisions: 130,000 (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 18,733 (2007). Internet users: 249,400 (2006).
Transportation: Railways: total: 59 km (2006). Highways: total: 17,380 km; paved: 9,886 km; unpaved: 7,494 km (2004). Ports and harbors: none. Airports: 47 (2007).
International disputes: joint border commission continues to work on small disputed sections of boundary with India; India has instituted a stricter border regime to restrict transit of Maoist insurgents.