All across the south
is the Tarai lowlands, an extension of the Indo-Gangetic plain
into the political borders of Nepal, touches the hills and mountains
further north. These plains, which stretch the length of the country
with an average width of around 30 kilometers, is the bread basket
Till a few decades back,
the Tarai was covered with wide expanses of jungle. These malaria-infested
forests served as an effective barrier against any would-be adventurer
and helped further in Nepal’s total isolation until the
1950’s. Wide swathes of jungle can still be found all over
the Tarai but the work of the axe is evident everywhere. It was
to the Tarai that the people migrated as population pressure pushed
them out of their limited land holdings in the hills. No wonder
that this region is also the geographical zone which has the highest
concentration of people in the country.
Next comes the Churia
Hills, an unimpressive range that rises to around 1300 meters.
These hills generally stand bereft of any vegetation and are most
notable for their stark ugliness as opposed to the blue of the
taller mountains at the back.
Beyond the Churia lies
the Mahabharat Lekh, a magnificent range that serves as an effective
barrier to hill country up north. The mountains stand as tall
as 2700 meters here and deep, broad valleys densely populated
are encased within it. Given its wide altitudinal difference,
the vegetation found in this mountain range goes from the subtropical
to the alpine in the higher reaches.
One of the unusual formations
of the great upheaval that brought the Himalayas into existence
is the existence of wide valleys. Among these valleys, called
the Inner Tarai and dun alternately, there are three in Nepal
which are more than substantial both in size and population. The
Chitwan Valley in central Nepal is the biggest of these three
and also the most thoroughly settled.
After the Mahabharat Lekh
comes the hilly region of Nepal. This area is where most Nepalese,
regardless of whether they live in the country or elsewhere, can
trace their ancestry from and hence, can be called the Nepali
heartland. Rivers crisscross the hills in every direction and
almost the entire stretch of this mountainous region is inhabited.
River valleys and other wider valleys such as Kathmandu and Pokhara
are found in abundance here. And although the fields here are
very steep, fashioning terraces along the slopes where staple
crops such as paddy, barley, buckwheat, maize and temperate vegetable
and fruits are grown have made them cultivable.
Running parallel to the
Mahabharat Range on the northern side of this zone of hills and
valley is 885 kilometers of the Himalayan mountain range. Here
lie seven other peaks besides Everest that soar above 8000meters:
Khangchendzonga Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and
Annapurna. These are but the big ones of Nepal. There are numerous
other peaks above 7000 and 6000 meters that are small only in
comparison to the Himalayan giants; elsewhere lesser mountains
command the heights, they would tower high above.
The Himalayas forms the
border with Tibet/China in the eastern part of Nepal but somewhere
near central Nepal, this chain moves resolutely inland. Taking
its place at the border is another great range, the Tibetan Border
Range. Although not as high as the main Himalayas, this range
has its own peculiarity that is not fully recognized: its southern
flanks drain into the Ganges river system while the northern part
of the Tsangpo/Brahmaputra watershed.
These are lateral divisions
that are clearly visible as one makes a journey from north to
south and are mainly determined by altitude. There is another
division that is felt as one move from east to west; one created
by the three main river systems of Nepal.
The high Himalaya is not
one unbroken chain of mountains. It only lends a semblance of
a semblance of being a continuous line. The entire range is a
series of mountain clusters that have been divided by rivers flowing
Practically every river
that flows down from Nepal’s mountains are tributaries to
one of Nepal’s three great rivers: Koshi, Gandaki and Karnali.
Into the Koshi, the largest of the three, all the rivers of eastern
Nepal flow. In the same way, rivers from central and western Nepal
flow into the Gandaki and the Karnali, respectively.
Within this area that
makes up Nepal, lie innumerable places of breathtaking scenic
beauty and an abundant variety of life. There are, in all, 6500
species of plant life, which include hundreds of exotic orchids,
rhododendrons and the beautiful Himalayan blue poppy. Over 900
species of birds have been sighted – that is one-tenth of
all birds found in the world. The elusive snow leopard up in the
high Himalaya and the ferocious three-tonne rhino of the Tarai
are among than 180 species of mammals that inhabit the wilder
side of the country. While among the gentler inhabitants, humans,
and Nepal harbors 27 ethic groups of peoples who radiate a cultural
kaleidoscope, both fascinating and delightful.