Official name: Kingdom of Nepal
Area: 140,800 square kilometers (54,363 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Everest (8,850 meters/29,035 feet)
Lowest point on land: Kanchan Kalan (70 meters/230 feet)
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 5:45 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 885 kilometers (550 miles) from southeast to northwest; 201 kilometers (125 miles) from northeast to southwest
Land boundaries: 2,926 kilometers (1,818 miles) total boundary length; China 1,236 kilometers (768 miles); India 1,690 kilometers (1,050 miles)
Territorial sea limits: None
Nepal is a mountainous, landlocked South Asian country situated on the southern slopes of the Himalayas between China's Tibet region to the north and India to the south. Nepal has a total area of 140,800 square kilometers (54,363 square miles), or slightly more than the state of Arkansas.
Nepal has no territories or dependencies.
Nepal has four seasons: Winter from December through February is cold and clear, with some snow; spring from March through May is warm, with some rain showers; summer from June through August is the season of the monsoon rains; and autumn from September through November is cool and clear. Nepal's climate also varies by elevation. Above 4,877 meters (16,000 feet), the temperature stays below freezing, and there is permanent snow and ice. The average January temperature in the Kathmandu Valley ranges from 2°C to 18°C (36° to 64°F); in July, it warms to 20°C to 29°C (68°F to 84°F). In the Tarai the annual temperatures range from 7°C to 40°C (44°F to 104°F). Roughly 80 percent of Nepal's precipitation happens during the summer monsoon season. Annual rainfall in the Kathmandu Valley averages 130 centimeters (51 inches), from as little as 25 centimeters (10 inches) to as much as 600 centimeters (236 inches).
Nepal can be divided into three distinct geographic regions, each of which forms an east-west horizontal band across the rectangle-shaped country: the Mountain Region, which constitutes almost three-fourths of the total area; the central hill area, which includes the Kathmandu Valley; and the Tarai, a narrow, flat belt that extends along the boundary with India in the northern part of the Gangetic Plain.
Nepal is a landlocked country. The nearest sea access is 644 kilometers (400 miles) to the southeast on the Indian Ocean's Bay of Bengal.
Rara Lake is Nepal's largest body of water, with an area of approximately 11 square kilometers (4 square miles). It is located at an elevation of 2,990 meters (9,600 feet) in the remote northwest of the country. The world's highest lake, Tilicho, is located in eastern Nepal, at an elevation of 4,919 meters (16,140 feet). A 1999 survey found 2,323 glacial lakes in Nepal.
Numerous streams and rivers flow generally southward out of Nepal's northern mountains, then meander across the Tarai Plain and finally join the Ganges in northern India. Three separate river systems, each having its headwaters on the Tibetan plateau, drain almost all of Nepal. The Kosi River drains the Eastern Mountains; the Narayani, the Western Mountains; and the Karnali, the Far Western Mountains. The Narayani's Kali Gandak tributary flows between the region's highest peaks, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. The Kosi River has seven major tributaries; the principal one, the Arun, rises almost 160 kilometers (100 miles) inside the Tibetan plateau. The Karnali River is noted for its deep gorges and rapid current.
There are no deserts in Nepal.
The Tarai region, with a total area of 23,220 square kilometers (8,969 square miles), consists mainly of an alluvial plain along the boundary with India. A northern extension of the Gangetic Plain, the Tarai varies between 46 and 183 meters (150 and 600 feet) in altitude and between 8 and 88 kilometers (5 and 55 miles) in width.
Nepal's central hill region is north of the Tarai, and south of the Great Himalayas; its hills are called the Pahar complex. At 600 to 4,000 meters (1,968 to 13,123 feet), these two ranges of hills, the Siwalik and the Mahabharat, exceed the heights of mountains in many other countries. Siwalik range (sometimes called the Churia Hills or Churia range), on the northern edge of the Tarai, rises to nearly 1,524 meters (5,000 feet). The narrow Mahabharat range parallels the Siwalik some 32 kilometers (20 miles) to the north; summits in the Mahabharat reach elevations above 3,048 meters (10,000 feet). The hill region also includes the populous Kathmandu Valley, just south of the junction between the Eastern and Western Mountains. This circular basin of only 565 square kilometers (218 square miles) contains some of Nepal's largest cities, including the nation's capital, Kathmandu.
Wetlands are estimated to cover about 5 percent of Nepal. Nepal has four wetlands of particular importance. Koshi Tappu, covering 175 square kilometers (68 square miles) of the Tarai, is a nature reserve on the flood plain of the Sapta Kosi River. A mixture of marshes, mud flats, and reed beds, it provides a habitat for water birds as well as the last wild herds of water buffalo in Nepal. Three other wetlands designated as significant by Nepal's government are Ghodaghodi Tal, Beeshazar Tal, and the Jagdishpur Reservoir. All three are biodiverse habitats for birds, fish, and reptiles.
The complex mountain mass within Nepal's borders contains seven of the world's ten highest peaks. Six of them are more than 7,924 meters (26,000 feet) above sea level. Nepal's Mountain Region is part of the Himalayas, formed by the collision of the Indian subcontinent with the Asian landmass around twenty-five million years ago. The Great Himalayas are in the north. In northeastern Nepal, the Great Himalayas generally define the country's boundary with Tibet; in the northwest, they lie just to the south of the boundary. South of the Great Himalayas are the Lesser Himalayas, which in Nepal form the Mahabharat range. South of this system is the Siwalik range, part of the Outer Himalayas. Much lower than the Great Himalayas, the Mahabharat and the Siwalik belong to Nepal's Hill Region, although in most other countries they would be considered mountains.
Nepal's Mountain Region may be subdivided into three areas by two lines, one running generally northward from Kathmandu and the other about 241 kilometers (150 miles) to the west, extending northward from the foothills near the boundary with India. From east to west, these subdivisions are designated the Eastern Mountains, the Western Mountains and the Far Western Mountains. The whole Mountain Region is marked by a series of parallel north-south ridges flanking deep, narrow, southward-sloping valleys.
The Eastern Mountains contain five of the seven highest peaks in the world. The most famous of these is the world's highest summit, Mount Everest (Sagarmatha in Nepalese), at 8,850 meters (29,035 feet). It is located on the border with China. The world's third-tallest mountain, Kanchenjunga (8,585 meters/28,169 feet), towers along Nepal's eastern border with India. Among the tallest remaining peaks are Mount Lhotse (8,500 meters/27,890 feet); Mount Makalu (8,480 meters/27,824 feet); and Mount Cho Oyu (8,189 meters/26,867 feet).
The Western Mountains hold a jumble of ridges and deep valleys projecting at various angles from the main Himalayan range. Two mountains dominate the area: Dhaulagiri (8,172 meters/26,813 feet) and Annapurna at (8,077 meters/26,502 feet). The Far Western Mountain area is the driest and most sparsely inhabited section of the Mountain Region. Its scattered settlements are generally confined to its river valleys. Three passes in this area lead into Tibet.
Nepal has numerous deep canyons and river gorges. The world's deepest river gorge is said to be Kali Gandak (6,967 meters/22,860 feet deep), situated between the peaks of Dhaulagiri and Annapurna in north-central Nepal. The high-altitude valley of Mustang, north of the Himalayas, contains many dry, eroded canyons. Nepal's rivers carve mazes of canyons into the terrain, especially along the courses of the Bhote Koshi and the Karnali.
Dolpo is a 5,439-square-kilometer (2,100-square-mile) plateau bordering Tibet in Nepal's northwest. It includes Shey-Phoksumdo National Park, which is a habitat for the rare snow leopard. In the far west, the Khaptad Plateau, which rises to 3,000 meters (9,842 feet), is a national park with grasslands and forests.
The wild yak, still found in the mountains of Nepal, can survive at higher altitudes than any other mammal. Thanks to their large lung capacity, they can exist at altitudes of up to 6,096 meters (20,000 feet); however, this endangered species has difficulty surviving below 3,048 meters (10,000 feet).
Several large hydropower dams, intended to provide energy to India as well as to Nepal, have been built on Nepal's rivers and even more have been proposed, causing environmental controversies. The Karnali-Chisapani Bridge, which links western Nepal with a major east-west highway, is considered one of the most sophisticated engineering projects completed on the Asian continent.
Kelly, Thomas, and V. Carroll Dunham. The Hidden Himalayas . New York: Abbeville Press, 2001.
Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Everest Disaster . New York: Anchor Books, 1998.
Matthiessen, Peter. The Snow Leopard . New York: Penguin USA, 1996.