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Geography

Geographically, the country is divided into three regions; the Mountain, Hill and Tarai regions, accommodating 7%, 44% and 49 % of the population respectively. The Mountain and Hill areas of Nepal occupy almost 80% of its total land area. The Tarai region is flat and low-lying, and contains the most fertile land.

Nepal’s total land area is 147,000 sq kms, slightly larger than England and slightly smaller than the South Island of New Zealand. Altitude above sea level varies from 60m in the Tarai to the 8,850m of Mt Everest, the highest peak in the world.

Nepal contains many official Conservation Areas, National Parks and Wildlife Reserves.

Two special areas have UNESCO World Heritage Natural Site status. Chitwan National Park, covering 932 sq kms, and lying in the south of the country, is renowned for its abundant wildlife. And Sagarmatha National Park, covering 1148 sq kms in the north east, is crowned by Mt Everest, together with other high peaks such as Lhotse Shar, Ama Dablam, Pumori, Kangtega and Thamserku. Sagarmatha was granted World Heritage status in 1979.

Nature

Forests occupy 25 percent of Nepal’s land area. The Tarai supports extensive hardwood and bamboo forests in areas not cleared for agriculture or resettlement. However, deforestation is a major problem in Nepal. The country lost half its forests between 1950 and 1980 because of increased demand for fodder, fuelwood, and land for agriculture and settlement. Much of the deforestation has taken place in the Tarai, although the Middle and Great Himalayan regions have also experienced serious deforestation. With the assistance of several international agencies, Nepal has embarked on programs to extend and restore its forest cover.

The wildlife of the Tarai includes tigers, leopards, deer and elephants. The Royal Chitwan National Park, located in the Tarai, was set aside to house and protect endangered wildlife such as the rhinoceros, tiger, sloth bear, gaur (a large species of ox) and Ganges River dolphin. Wild goats, sheep and wolves live at higher elevations, and yak are herded by local people.

Trees such as rhododendron, birch, blue pine, juniper and silver fir are found up to an altitude of 4,000 meters, above which they give way to scrub and alpine plants. In late spring and summer, the hillsides around the villages of Namche Bazaar, Khumjung, Tengboche and Thame are a mass of colours with several species of rhododendron in bloom.

Wildlife most likely to be seen in Sagarmatha are the Himalaya tahr, ghoral, musk deer, pikka (mouse hare) weasel and occasionally jackal. Birds commonly seen are Impeyan pheasant, blood pheasant, snow cock, snow pigeon, red billed and yellow billed chough, Himalayan griffin vulture and lammergeier.

Climate

Nepal’s climate varies according to elevation. The Tarai of southern Nepal has a tropical monsoon climate characterized by rainy summers and the southwest winds of the monsoon, and almost dry winters. In the Middle Himalayan valleys the amount of precipitation varies with the extent of exposure to the rain-bearing monsoon winds. In the Kathmandu Valley the average rainfall is about 2,300 mm (about 90 inches), most of which occurs from June to September. Between elevations of 500m and 2,700 m there is a warm temperate climate; between 2,700m and 3,000m a cool temperate climate prevails, and between 3,500m and 4,100m summers are cool and winters are very cold. Above 4,100m a cold, alpine climate prevails.

The best time to visit Nepal is the start of the dry season in October-November; the weather is balmy, the air is clean, visibility is perfect and the countryside is lush and green following the monsoon. April-May, the tail end of the dry season, is the second-best period: the weather is warm and many of Nepal's wonderful wild flowers are in bloom, including the national flower the rhododendron.

During these periods of October-November and April-May, and in alpine areas, overnight and early morning temperatures are often below 0 deg C, but with clear sky and bright sun, daytime temperatures usually rise to 15-20 deg C, extremely pleasant conditions for trekking.