Draped along the greatest heights of the Himalaya, Nepal is a land of sublime scenery, time-worn temples, and some of the best walking trails on earth. It's a poor country, but it is rich in scenic splendour and cultural treasures. The kingdom has long exerted a pull on the Western imagination.
It's the kind of country that lingers in your dreams long after you leave it. This is why so many travellers are drawn back to Nepal, armed the second time round with a greater appreciation of its natural and cultural complexity, a stout pair of walking boots and a desire for sculpted calf muscles.
Whether you get your adrenaline kicks from some of the world's premier white-water rafting, kayaking and mountain biking, or from the sight of a tiger or rhino through the dawn mist from atop an elephant in Chitwan National Park, Nepal is destined to make a big impression on you. Many visitors, drawn to Nepal by the promise of adventure, leave equally bewitched by the friendliness of the Nepali people and their amazingly rich and diverse culture.
A Maoist 'people's war' was declared in 1996 in response to government corruption. A ceasefire temporarily halted hostilities, but negotiations faltered and on August 27, 2003, the ceasefire was called off. Bombings, including several on the same day, have hit Kathmandu and the surrounding valley.
Maoists have threatened tourist facilities throughout Nepal, and Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai warned travellers that they could be 'caught in the crossfire of the contending armies', while perversely encouraging them to visit anyway. Travellers to Nepal are urged to remain vigilant, keep a low profile and avoid demonstrations.
Check travel advisories for possible bandhs (strikes) that may be called at short notice. If a bandh is called, do not travel during it and keep an extra low profile until it is over.
There's an unofficial curfew in Kathmandu, including Thamel, and an increasing amount of official curfews, often declared at short notice, in towns throughout the Kathmandu valley. Army and police checkpoints can make travel slow, and there are reports that rebels threatening violence - and bandits posing as rebels using actual violence - are sporadically targeting travellers for revenue-raising purposes. The districts of Banke, Dang, Syangja, Surkhet, Rukum, Kalikot, Jajarkot, Rolpa, Salyan and Gorkha are considered especially dangerous.
Full country name: Kingdom of Nepal
Area: 140,800 sq km
Population: 26.46 million
People: Newars, Thakalis, Tibetans, Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, Bhotias, Rais, Limbus, Sherpas, Bahuns, Chhetris, Tharus
Language: English, Nepali
Religion: 90% Hindu, 5% Buddhist, 3% Muslim, 2% other
Government: parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy
Head of State: King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah Deva
Head of Government: Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba
GDP: US$27.4 billion
GDP per capita: US$1,100
Annual Growth: 6%
Major Industries: Tourism, carpet, textile, small rice, jute, sugar, oilseed mills, cigarettes, cement & brick production, rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, root crops, milk, water buffalo meat
Major Trading Partners: India, US, Germany, UK, Singapore, Japan
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