Nepal is a landlocked country that shares its borders with India in the south and China in the north. Nepal spreads over 147181 sq. km in area and lies between coordinates approximately 28°N and 84°E. Nepal falls in the temperature zone north of Tropic of Cancer. Nepal is relatively a small country that only makes up 0.1% of the earth surface and it stretches 800 km from east to west while 150 to 250 km from north to south. Nepal is also famous for its vast water networks that drain south to India. Nepal is diverse in terms of geographical layout, which consists of the Himalayan region, trans-Himalayan region, mid hill region and Terai or the plains region. The highest point of the country is Mount Everest (8848 m) and the lowest point is located in the Terai region in Kechana Kalan in Jhapa (60 m).
The flats of Terai can be considered to be the base and elevation can be witnessed traveling north. Further to north from the Terai region, the Siwalik zone (700m-1,500m) and the Mahabharata range (1500m-2700m) make ways for valleys such as Trijuga, Sindhuli, Chitwan, Dang, and Surkhet. The midlands (600m- 3500m), that lies north of Mahabharata range houses the two must popular valleys in Nepal- Kathmandu, and Pokhara. Above that, there are 90 peaks over 7000 meters and 8 over 8000 meters in height.
Nepal’s Geographical Classification
1. Himalayan Region
The Himalayan region covers almost 16% of the total landmass of Nepal. The mountainous region or Parbat starts where high ridges begin at 3000m that leads to alpine pastures and tree lines that are limited to 4000m and the snow line beginning at 5000m. Eight tallest mountains out of fourteen that are above 8000 meters lie in Nepal: Mount Everest (8848m), Kanchenjunga (8586m), Lhotse(8516m), Makalu(8463m), Cho Oyu (8201m), Dhaulagiri(8167m), Manaslu(8163m) and Annapurna(8091m). Places above 3000m like Mustang and Dolpo are cold deserts with harsh terrain that shares similarities with the Tibetan plateau. Most of the rivers seen throughout Nepal like; Mahakali, Karnali, Narayani and Koshi rivers originate in the Himalayas. This region is sparsely populated mainly due to the cold harsh climate and infertile land.
Unlike the Mahabharata range, the Himalayas are not continuous across Nepal. Instead, 20 subranges including Kanchenjunga massif along the Sikkim border, Mahalangur Himal around Mt. Everest (north of Kathmandu), Annapurna and Manaslu (north of Pokhara), Dhaulagiri in the furthest west and Gurans Himal in the far west can be seen spread sporadically.
2. Trans-Himalayan Region
A watershed that divides Brahmaputra (called Yarlung in Tibetan) and the Ganges system lies in the north of the highest ranges. Alpine and sub-alpine valleys like Humla, Jumla, Dolpo, Mustang, Manang, and Khumbu cut between the Himalayan sun ranges. Some of these places were more accessible from Tibet than from Nepal and this region has witnessed a high level of migration of Bhotiyas and the famous Sherpas until Chinese hegemony on Tibet. Therefore, these places see high level of Tibetan influences in the culture and lifestyle of the natives.
Settlements in this region can be seen as high as 4500 meters. Bhotiyas are famous for Yak farming and its products like hard cheese, yak ghee, and milk. They rely on low tolerant crops like millets, barley, potatoes and buckwheat that makes up for food supplies throughout the year.
3. Hilly Region
Hilly region makes up about 65% of the total landmass of Nepal. It begins at Mahabharata range where a fault system called the Main Boundry Thrust creates an escarpment of 1000 meters to 15000 meters high, to a crest between 1500 meters and 2700 meters. The steep southern slopes are nearly unhabituated thus creating a buffer between language and culture in the Hilly and Terai region. The mid-hill region is a little bit more populated as compared to the Himalayan region as it slightly overcomes the challenges of the harsh and unforgiving Himalayas. The Hilly region is mostly populated by ethnic groups like; Gurungs, Magars, Newars, Brahmins, and Chettris. Other indigenous ethnic groups- commonly known as Janajati in Nepal- speak highly localized Tibeto-Burman languages and dialects.
Due to the moderate temperature, subtropical fruits are grown here as cash crops. Marijuana was also grown to process hashish until internal pressure neutered the production and finally illegalized in 1976 by the government. This region mostly depends on agriculture (although, hasn’t been able to keep pace with the nation demands) and animal husbandry since the abundance of grazing pastures.
4. Terai or the plains Region
Terai is a low land that makes up 17% of total Nepal’s landmass. Terai region has a width that ranges from 26 km to 32 km and also varies in altitude from 60m to 305m. It constitutes a broad stretch of leveled land extending beyond the Mahakali River ion the west to the Mechi River on the east of NepalTerai shares border with India and influences can be seen in its culture and traditions as well as languages and dialects. The commonly used local languages are Maithili, Bhojpuri, and Tharu, Nepali being the official language.
This region is the most populated because of easy lifestyles than compared to the Himalayas and Hilly regions. Due to the flat fertile lands and tropical climate, it is a haven for agriculture. Most of the nation’s food supplies are produced here in this region. The region mainly supports the sub-tropical forest with hard stem, broad leaves, and evergreen tall trees.
Terai is far more developed than others in terms of infrastructural advancements. Easy, malleable land is relatively easier than the steeps of Himalaya and Hilly regions for any infrastructural developments. Due to this and other combined factors, Terai is densely populated. Terai accommodates 50.3% of 2,64,94,504 total population of Nepal while population density is 392 people per sq. km.
Climate of Nepal
The tropical zone below 1000 meters experiences frost very rarely. It can be sub-divided into lower tropical (below 300 meters) and upper tropical (below 1000 meters). It constitutes 18% of Nepal land area. This climate is most favorable for fruits like; lychee, mangoes, bananas, jackfruits, citrus, etc. Winter crops include grains and vegetables.
The subtropical climate zone starts from 1000 meters to 2000 meters. It constitutes 22% of Nepal land area and it makes up the mid-hilly regions of Nepal. This region experiences frost up to 53 days per year. However, this varies with increased elevations and altitudes. Crops include rice, millet, maize, wheat, potato, stone fruits and citrus.
The temperature zone ranges from 2000 meters to 3000 meters. It occupies 12% of Nepal’s land area. This zone experiences 153 days of frost per year. Crops include rice, maize, wheat, barley, potato, apple, peach, buckwheat, etc.
The subalpine zone ranges from 3000 meters to 4000 meters. It occupies 9% of Nepal’s total landmass. This zone experiences 229 annual days of forst. Crops include barley, potatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, buckwheat, and apple. Medicinal plants can also be found in this region.
The alpine zone ranges from 4000 meters to 5000 meters. It only makes up to 8% of Nepal’s total landmass. There are no vegetation from here onwards and reliance on animal husbandry can be witnessed. Sheep, goats, yaks are pastured in warmer months.
The population density here is very low and this region shared similarities with alpine and subalpine zones for cultivation and husbandry but depends on snowmelts and stream for irrigation.
The diversity in geography directly influences diversity in ethnicity, lifestyles, culture, traditions, and foods. With that being said, Nepal is considered to be one of the most diversified nations in the world affixed by peace and harmony.