Nepal sits uneasily on the shoulder of the southern Himalaya, wedged between China to the north and India to the south. In length and breadth it is just another small country, but in height it's a world-beater. Not only does it have the world's tallest mountains, including the cloud-hugging Everest and Annapurna, it also has the youngest - and they're still growing. Apart from its four mountain ranges - Chure Hills, Mahabharat Range, Himalaya and the Tibetan Marginals - Nepal also has vast plains in the south, fertile valleys in the midlands and high-altitude deserts in the north. The heavily cultivated belt between the Mahabharat Range and the Himalaya supports the bulk of the country's population.
There are over 6500 species of trees, shrubs and wildflowers in Nepal. The height of floral glory is in March and April, when rhododendrons, the national flower, burst into colour. Nepal also boasts an astounding diversity of animal life, with 800 bird species and exotic mammals such as the royal Bengal tiger and snow leopard, as well as rhinoceros, elephant, bear, deer, monkey and jackal. Unfortunately, due to habitat degeneration and poaching, opportunities for seeing wildlife are usually restricted to national parks, reserves and western Nepal, where the human population is sparse.
Nepal has a typically monsoonal two-season year: the dry season (October to May) and the wet season (June to September). The monsoon affects the whole country, often flooding the southern plains, before tailing off as it moves away to the north and west. Temperatures vary but are generally hottest in the summer months of May and June and coldest during December and January.
Copyright 2010 Lonely Planet Publications , all rights reserved, used with permission