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INTRODUCTION NEPAL AND ITS ENVIRONMENT Nepal is a Hindu kingdom, approximately equal in size to England with Wales, that lies along a 500-mile stretch of the eastern Himalaya between India and Tibet. The most striking feature of the country is its spectacular landscape, and the region's dramatic topography has been a crucial factor in its historical and cultural development since the most ancient times. From a strip of fertile lowland known as the Taral in the south, Nepal rises in range after range of hills to the snow-covered crest of the main Himalayan range. Nepal's location between two great cultures and its previous isolation from the outside world have produced a rich and variegated mixture of ethnic groups, languages, and cultures. Because communication and travel in such mountainous country present enormous problems, the region remained politically fragmented until the recent historical past. In the south, the jungles and malarial swamps of the Taral prevented both settlement and foreign military incursions, whereas the far north was cold, lofty, and inhospitable. The heartlands of Nepal have therefore always been the hill areas between these two extremes and, more particularly, the intermontane valleys with their fertile soils and equable climate. Since the early medieval period, the Kathmandu Valley (often still known simply as Nepal) has been the most prosperous and sophisticated part of this region, and it is still famous for the distinctive arts and architecture of its most ancient inhabitants, the Newars. The hill regions are the home of an enormous variety of different ethnic groups, each with its own language. Although Hinduism predominates, Buddhism and minor local cults are strong. A large number of petty states existed / 2 INTRODUCTION within the present-day borders of Nepal until the mid-eighteenth century (within the central valley alone, there were three separate Newar kingdoms); but all of these were overcome by the tiny principality of Gorkha within only a few decades. Gorkha's campaign of conquest and unification was inspired and led by the remarkable king, Prithvlnarayan Shah, whose forces finally took the Kathmandu Valley in 1769. Prithvlnarayan is now revered as the father of the modern nation-state. Nepal assumed its present proportions early in the nineteenth century after a series of battles with the British East India Company in 1815 and 1816. A treaty imposed on the Nepalis and signed at Sagaull, now in Bihar, India, was a severe blow to national pride. MODERN HISTORY As a Hindu kingdom, Nepal has been ruled since its "unification"by a series of Gorkhali monarchs—the Shah dynasty—who claim a lineage that stretches back to ancient origins in the Rajput states of western India . For most of the time between the conquest of Kathmandu, the new nation's capital, and the mid-nineteenth century, however, a minor occupied the throne. This led to an almost continual and often bloody struggle for power among a number of rival families. An abrupt end was brought to this period of politicalchaos in 1846, whenJang Bahadur, head of the powerful Kuriwar family, contrived to have most of his rivals killed off in an event now known as the Kot Massacre, the kol being a courtyard of the royal palace in which it look place. He subsequently became a virtual dictator, and the massacre inaugurated more than a century of rule by a succession of "prime ministers" who styled themselves Rand. Jang Bahadur laid down the foundations of the Rana regime during his thirty-one years in power: the Ranas' primary concern was political stability, and they were generally supported by the British in India. Foreigners were barred almost totally during the nineteenth century, the kings were made virtual prisoners in their palaces, the office of prime minister became hereditary, and all foreign ideologies were viewedwith considerable suspicion. Although it.can be argued that the Rana governments saved Nepal from the threat of annexation to British India, it is quite evident that their conservative policies severely retarded the development of the kingdom. Educational policy is an important case in point. Until after World War I, education was provided only for the children of the elite in Kathmandu, and the national literacy rate remained abysmally low. The sons of high-caste families followed tradi- INTRODUCTION 3 tional modes of education: they studied the Hindu scriptures and the Sanskrit language and often traveled to the ancient centers of learning in India for their studies. For most of the people, however, social and educational advancement remained an...


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