Nepal is located in South Asia between China in the north and India in the south, east and west. While the total land area is 147,181 sq. km including water area of the country that is 3,830 sq. km. The geographical coordinates are 28°00′N 84°00′E. Nepal falls in the temperate zone north of the Tropic of Cancer. Nepal’s ecological zones run east to west about 800 km along its Himalayan axis, 150 to 250 km north to south, and is vertically intersected by the river systems. The country can be divided into three main geographical regions: Himalayan region, mid hill region and Terai region. The highest point in the country is Mt. Everest (8,848 m) while the lowest point is in the Terai plains of Kechana Kalan in Jhapa (60 m).
The Terai region, with width of ranging 26 to 32 km and altitude ranging from 60 -305 m, occupies about 17 percent of total land area of the country. Kechana Kalan, the lowest point of the country with an altitude of 60 m, lies in Jhapa district of the eastern Terai. The southern lowland Terai continues to the Bhabar belt covered with the Char Kose Jhadi forests known for rich wildlife. Further north, the Siwalik zone (700 – 1,500 m) and the Mahabharat range (1,500 – 2,700 m) give way to the Duns (valleys), such as Trijuga, Sindhuli, Chitwan, Dang and Surkhet. The Midlands (600 – 3,500 m), north of the Mahabharat range is where the two beautiful valleys of Kathmandu and Pokhara lie covered in terraced rice fields, and surrounded by forested watersheds.
The Himalayas (above 3,000 m) comprises mountains, alpine pastures and temperate forests limited by the tree-line (4,000 m) and snow line (5,500 m). Eight of the 14 eight-thousanders of the world lie in Nepal: Sagarmatha or Mount Everest (8,848 m), Kanchenjunga (8,586 m), Lhotse (8,516 m), Makalu (8,463 m), Cho Oyu (8,201m), Dhaulagiri (8,167 m), Manaslu (8,163 m) and Annapurna (8,091 m). The inner Himalayan valley (above 3,600 m) such as Mustang and Dolpa are cold deserts sharing topographical characteristics with the Tibetan plateau. Nepal holds the so called “waters towers of South Asia” with its 6,000 rivers which are snow-fed or dependent on rain. The perennial rivers include Mahakali, Karnali, Narayani and Koshi rivers originating in the Himalayas. Medium-sized rivers like Babai, West Rapti, Bagmati, Kamla, Kankai and Mechi originate in the Midlands and Mahabharat range. A large number of seasonal streams, mostly originating in Siwaliks, flow across the Terai.
Of 163 wetlands documented, the nine globally recognized Ramsar sites are: Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Beeshazarital (Chitwan), Jagdishpur Reservoir (Kapilvastu) Ghodaghodi Tal (Kailali) in the Terai, and Gokyo (Solukhumbu), Phoksundo (Dolpa), Rara (Mugu) and Mai Pokhari (Ilam) in the mountain region. There are more than 30 natural caves in the country out of which only a few are accessible by road. Maratika Cave (also known as Haleshi) is a pilgrimage site associated with Buddhism and Hinduism. Siddha Cave is near Bimalnagar along the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway. Pokhara is also known for caves namely Bats’ shed, Batulechar, Gupteswar, Patale Chhango. The numerous caves around Lo Manthang in Mustang include Luri and Tashi Kabum which house ancient murals and chhortens dating back to the 13th century.
Things to do
It was mountaineering that first opened up Nepal to the outside world. Of the world’s 14 highest peaks above 8,000 m, eight of them crown Nepal’s north, including the highest Mt. Everest. Not surprisingly, the fascination of scaling these physically demanding peaks draws crowds of visitors from abroad year after year without let up.
That one in four visitors to Nepal go trekking should say something about the popularity of this activity in the Himalayan country. Most treks go through altitudes between 1,000 and 4,000 meters, while some popular parts reach over 5,000 meters. It’s not only the stunning landscapes on the trail that captivate the trekkers but also the people from different ethnic groups with whom they meet on the way – a rare opportunity to experience Nepal’s rich cultural diversity.
The tropical jungles of Nepal’s Terai preserve some of the best wildlife habitats of South Asia. Some of the wildlife attractions of Nepal’s jungles include the rare one-horned rhinoceros, the elusive Royal Bengal tiger, snow leopard, red panda and musk deer. Jungle safaris can be enjoyed on elephant back or in jeeps at Chitwan National Park, Bardia National Park, Parsa Wildlife Reserve and Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, all located in the Terai.
Nepal offers some of the finest golf courses in South Asia. They are: Gokarna Forest Golf Club and Nepal Golf Club in Kathmandu, Himalayan Golf Club and Fulbari Resort Golf Course in Pokhara, and Nirvana Country Club in Dharan. The best time for a play is during the dry season between October and March. Golf clubs in Kathmandu and Pokhara offer excellent courses with magnificent views of the Himalayas.
Kathmandu, which is generally a quiet city after twilight, bustles with life till the wee hours of the morning in the narrow alleys of Thamel and other selected places. Bars and pubs, many of which feature live music, stay open till late night while discotheques function to keep boredom at bay for the young Nepali crowd and tourists out for the night.
Shopping for handicrafts and souvenirs in Nepal is a delight, with shop after shop offering a choice even for the most discerning. It’s because of their fine craftsmanship and supreme quality that Nepal’s handicrafts have been coveted items since ancient times. Popular buys among tourists are hand-knotted woolen carpets, jewelry, pashmina shawls, woolen knitwear, embroidery, thanka paintings, wood carvings, statues and decorative metallic house wares, ceramics and pottery, and rice paper products such as writing pads, calendars and lamp shades. Tea and spices are other popular gifts to take back home.