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.