Nepal’s contrasting features basically emanate form its diverse geographical variation. The country’s small width of 193 Km covers a landscape ranging from the Gangetic plains almost at the sea level in the south elevating to the tallest mountains in the north. The geographical variation creates diverse climatic conditions from a sub-tropical climate in the southern part to the alpine temperatures in the north.
The combined effect of geographical and climatic variations fosters diverseness not only among the people and their culture but the flora & fauna and their habitats as well. Despite very little effort on the part Nepal Government to work toward a greener policy, Nepal’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for 2008 scores 72.1, well ahead of both its neighbor China & India.
Geographically, Nepal has been divided into three regions – the plains or the Terai, the mountains, and the Hills. Each region is unique – geographically, culturally, as well as in terms of vegetation & animal variety. This sheer diversity of Nepal attracts not only the thousands of fun & adventure loving tourists & trekkers, but hundreds of scientific, social, and political researchers also find Nepal as a perfect place to conduct their research pursuits.
The high Himalayas of Nepal is one of world’s youngest mountain systems formed by the collision of Indian plateau with the Tibetan (or Eurasian) plateau some 55 million years ago. One of the startling facts that the early mountaineers & trekkers encountered in the high Himalayas was the fossil rocks of sea creatures. How come the fossils of sea creatures arrive at the world highest places? The fossil that are still found abundantly especially in the area of world’s deepest gorge the Kaligandaki are the evidence that the highest peaks were sea-beds of the ancient Tethys Seas.
Another interesting fact about these mountains being young is that they are still growing! Recently world’s highest peak the Mt. Everest was found to have grown 2 meters taller than its earlier recorded height of 8,848 meters.
The Himalayas have been divided into five parts that stretch from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sikkim (India) to Tibet (China), but the longest extension falls inside Nepal. Nepal’s Himalaya extends from the Mahakali River in the west to the Tista River in the east in a range of about 800 kms. The Nepali part of the Himalayas boasts of eight out of world’s 14 tallest peaks.
Nepali Himalayas have inspired the Hindu & Buddhist monks as peaceful abodes for their spiritual practices & meditation. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Geological Survey Department of the British Raj the East India Company sent expedition teams of explorers to map the entire Himalayan region. The highest Himalayan peak was baptized as Mt. Everest after Chief of the Survey Department Sir George Everest.
However, the world interest in Nepal mountains increased only after Sir Edmund Hillary & his guide Tenjing Norgay Sherpa’s successful accession to the Mt Everest summit in 1953. In those days, Nepal allowed only one expedition a year to scale the Mt Everest from its side, while China has prohibited the accent from the Tibetan side. Since then more than … mountaineers have scaled the Mt Everest, and 193 expedition teams were granted approval in 2008 alone. One interesting historical fact about Mt. Everest is that China which had been claiming its sovereignty on the Mount Everest accepted Nepal’s claim only in 1960.
Trekking routes and itinerary were later developed by the experts as apart from the professional mountaineers & hikers, general people with adventurous spirit started visiting Nepal mountains. Today, the Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Base Camp Treks are rank among world‘s most popular outdoor adventure routes along with more than two dozens other long & short trek courses within Nepal alone.
The eight out of the 14 world’s highest mountains that lie in Nepal are: (1) Mt. Everest(called Sagarmatha in Nepal) (2) Kanchenjunga – 8586 m, (3) Lhotse – 8516m, Makalu – 8463m, (5) ChoOyo – 8201 m, (6) Dhaulagiri – 8167m, (7) Manaslu – 8163m 8) Annapurna- 8091 m
The middle hills of Nepal are found within a short area of about 60 km but they constitute the largest portion of total land area. The range between low lying Churia hills (610-1524 meters) and the high Mahabharata mountains that grow up to 4877 meters cover about 64 percent of Nepal’s land area. Majority of the large towns including the capital Kathmandu lie in this range. The vast and tricky mountains provided Nepal’s military strategist to keep themselves at an advantageous position in the wars with Britain & China. The Maoists too exploited the inaccessibility of the intricate mountain systems covered with heavy forestation in waging their war against government forces. In a Nepali folk song, a girl laments with her lover who has gone abroad to come back from a land which is “nine mountains, and seven seas away”. When you climb a hill to discover a series of parallel mountain systems, you’d realize that the girl was not exaggerating even geographically.
The River Systems:
There are three large river systems in Nepal: the Kosi, the Gandaki, & the Mahakali. The area between the high mountains is made by large rivers flowing from north to south. The large spaces that were once lakes filled up by the downward traveling rivers later became fertile valleys like Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are still several freshwater lakes like the world famous Fewa Lake of Pokhara. These river systems bring great amounts of sand and silt that are deposited and fill up the lower Gangetic plains. The Kosi River is considered the largest river in the world that deposits heavy amount of silt & sand in the lower delta of Gangetic basin. Freshwater sports like River rafting is getting increasingly popular in Nepal’s large rivers like Bhote Kosi, Trishuli, etc
The low-land Terai:
Rhino Injured by Poachers in Nepal Terai
Nepal’s Terai which is the extension of the Gangetic plains constitutes about 15% land area but provide more than 50% of the country’s food requirement. Lush dense tropical forests make home for the most of the endangered wildlife species in the region. Most of the country’s national parks are in the Terai plains including the World Heritage Site listed Chitwan National Park. The national parks at Chitwan & Bardia are the region’s major protected natural habitats for such rare wild mammals like the Bengal Tiger, Asian Rhino, Asian Elephant, Gharial Crocodile, and the deer species. The elephant safari rides, bird watching, and natures walks with camping inside the jungle are favorite activities among the tourists in Nepal.
The Kosi Tappu Wild-life Reserve is home to the world rare bird species – including the Siberian cranes that travel over the seas & continents. The major overland entry points to Nepal from India are located in the Terai.
The region is also famous for its richness in ancient cultural & religious traditions. While the Buddha was born in the western Terai’s Kapilvastu region of Nepal, the central Terai region of Janakpur was ancient Mithila Kingdom ruled by King Janak. Thousands of Buddhist people from Sri-Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, India and other east-Asian countries conduct their pilgrimage to the Buddha’s birthplace Lumbini. Similarly, the ancient town of Janakpur, the birth place of Lord Rama’s beloved Sita, attracts thousands of Hindu pilgrims every years.