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ABOUT NEPAL
 
The Kingdom of Nepal is one of the most diverse and beautiful places on earth and it is rich in history home to more than 80 different groups of people and generally unaffected by the modern ways of the western world. With the world's 10 highest mountains, lush tropics, arctic tundra, high deserts, compressed into 147,100 square km., there is always another mesmerizing place for us to take you to quickly.

And unlike other Asian destinations, you can visit Nepal any time of year. If fascinating cities and ancient architecture is what you seek, take a journey back in time to today's Kathmandu, the Kingdom's capital and travel crossroads. Shop at its bazaars, visit its countless temples, walk the grounds of ancient palaces, or have a cup of tea at one of the many tea stands that offers people watching like you have never known it. When you're ready for something more rural, we can take you south to the Terai, Nepal's agricultural home where farming is still carried out by hand and fields plowed by ox and to Royal Chitwan National Park where Bengal tigers, elephants and rhinos rule the land.

Western Nepal is the most remote and least-known region of the Kingdom, and of course, the Himalayas which separate Nepal from neighboring India, Bhutan and Tibet.

Nepal is among the few countries in the world where Seven World Heritage Sites are situated within 20 kms. of radius.
 
Culture
At once a time machine and a magic carpet, Nepal sweeps you along crooked, timeworn streets flanked by irregular, multi-roofed pagodas, stupas and stone sculptures, and into rooms cluttered with horror-eyed masks, spinning prayer wheels, trippy thangka scrolls and Tibetan carpets. Muttered chants, esoteric tantric hymns and Nepalese music hang in the air, whether it be the twang of a four-stringed saringhi or the plaintive notes of a flute. Traditional folk musicians, or gaines, gather for an evening of singing and socializing; classical dancing and trance-like masked dances enliven the Kathmandu Valley and Bhaktapur regions; while no wedding would be complete without the raucous damais - Nepal's modern ensembles.

Religion is the lifeblood of the Nepalese. Officially it is a Hindu country, but in practice the religion is a syncretism of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs with a pantheon of Tantric deities tagged on. The remainder of the population that isn't Buddhist or Hindu are either Muslim, Christian or shamans.

Nepal's food is surprisingly dull given that it lies at the intersection of the two great gastronomic giants India and China. Most of the time meals consist of a dish called dal bhat tarkari which is a combination of lentil soup, rice and curried vegetables - hardly the makings of a dynamic national cuisine. On the other hand, Nepal has adapted famously to Western tastes, markedly evident in Kathmandu's smorgasbord of menus: Mexican tacos; Japanese sukiyaki; Thai chocolate; Chinese marshmallows; onion and minestrone soup; borscht, quiche and soyburgers; and some of the best desserts - apple and lemon pies, almond layer cakes, fruit cakes - found anywhere in the world. To wash any (or all) of these offerings down, try a lassi (a refreshing mixture of curd and water), the locally produced beer or chang, a Himalayan home brew made from barley.
 
Histroy
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 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' 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, continuing the political uncertainty facing Nepal.

The most recent ceasefire 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 look forward to, remains someway off while the fighting continues.
 
 
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