Nepal is a landlocked country located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by China and Tibet, and to the south, east, and west by India. Kathmandu is the nation’s capital and the country’s largest metropolis.
Nepal has a rich geography; The mountainous north has eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including the highest point on Earth, Mount Everest, called Sagarmatha in Nepali. It contains more than 240 peaks over 20,000 ft above sea level. The dramatic differences in elevation found in Nepal result in a variety of biomes: Tropical savannas along the Indian border, subtropical broadleaf and coniferous forests in the Hill Region, temperate broadleaf and coniferous forests on the slopes of the Himalaya, and grasslands and shrublands rich with rock and ice at the highest elevations.
Nepal is as ethnically diverse as its terrain. The Nepalese are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and central Asia. The Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation’s area but is the most densely populated, with over 7% of the population.
Religion is important in Nepal; the Kathmandu Valley alone has more than 2,700 religious shrines. According to the 2001 census, Nepal is roughly 81% Hindu. Buddhists account for about 11% of the population. Buddhist and Hindu shrines and festivals are respected and celebrated by many. Nepal also has small Muslim and Christian minorities. Certain animistic practices of old indigenous religions also survive.
Nepali is the official language, although over 100 regional and indigenous languages are spoken throughout the country. Derived from Sanskrit, Nepali is similar to Hindi and is spoken by about 90% of the population (although often as a second or third language). Many Nepalese in government and business also speak Hindi and English.