Nepal is undoubtedly the most beautiful of all the Himalayan kingdoms. Along its northern borders are massed the world's highest mountains, and peaks such as Everest and Annapurna are now household names, while to the south the sub-tropical jungles of the 'Terai' teem with wildlife.
As well as being home to some of the most awesome mountains in the world, Nepal is also home to the fascinating Sherpa, perhaps the hardiest and most egalitarian people in the world. Though best known for their feats as high altitude porters and mountain guides, the Sherpa people have traditionally been traders, herders and subsistence farmers. Originally semi-nomadic moving between Nepal and Tibet, the Sherpa settled permanently in Nepal following the introduction of the potato crop to the high country of the Khumbuy region.
Until the Tibetan border closed in 1956, they maintained profitable trade with Tibet, ferrying rice and kerosene to the north and salt and meat to the south over passes more than 18,000 feet high. Due to the mountain skills these traders acquired on their journeys, they have become increasingly in demand by mountaineering and trekking parties. This relatively new business has largely offset the lost Tibetan revenue, saving the area from what might have been an economic disaster.
The Sherpas actively practice Mahayana Tibetan Buddhism, which reflects in every aspect of their daily life. They avoid killing any living thing and place great value on acts of merit which will enhance their future lives and those of others. Evidence of their devotion abounds everywhere - prayer flags flutter from rooftops, stones inscribed with prayers line the trails and the eerie sounds of Tibetan chanting can be heard resounding through the valleys.
Capital: Kathmandu (estimated population 700,000)
Population of country: 20,086,456 (estimated)
Time zone: 5hrs45min ahead of GMT
Unit of currency: Nepali Rupee (rate of exchange is approximately £1 83 Rupees)
The kingdom of Nepal extends along the south slope of the Himalaya in central Asia. Its total land area is 147,181 square kilometres all of which is land-locked, with the nearest sea coast being that of Calcutta in India some 1,120km away. The country is on average 885km (550 miles) in length and 193km (125 miles) wide, with the highest point being the summit of Mount Everest at 8,848m (29,028ft) and its lowest being near Janakpur at 69m (226ft).
Of its total area the high mountains of the Himalaya cover 27% of the land, with the foot hills covering 56% and the low-land of the Terai covering 17%. Nepal has borders with India in the west, south and east and with the Tibetan Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China in the north.
Nepal has a temperate climate, with seasons typical of the Northern Hemisphere, but the altitude creates distinct variations in this pattern. The weather is ruled by the monsoon, which sweeps up every summer from the Bay of Bengal and makes mid-June to late September wet and humid.
After the cold winter months, the weather in Nepalese Himalaya begins to get warmer early in the New Year. By the middle of February the days are warm, and whilst the climate is mostly dry, the occasional shower is not uncommon. The average maximum temperature during February is 20°C with the minimum being 3°C.
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