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Covering an area of 147,181 sq.km, Nepal shares a border with India in the west, south and east and with the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China in the north. Kanchan Kalan in Jhapa district is the lowest point at 70m above sea level and the summit of Mt. Everest at 8,848 m is the highest. From east to west, Nepal is 800 km long and only 230 km. north to south at its widest. Within this narrow stretch of land there is incredible diversity in topography ranging from a sub-tropical climate in the tarai (plains) to Alpine conditions in the Himalayan regions. Mountains, mid hills, valleys, lakes and plains dominate the landscape of this landlocked country. Eight of the fourteen peaks over eight thousand meters lie in Nepal including Everest, the highest in the world.
Nepal also has an abundance of rivers most of which originate in the Himalaya while some flow down from Tibet. They all flow on to India, many of them joining the holy Ganges. High amid the mountains there are glacial lakes and spectacular valleys where few people venture. Recent physiographic data show that around 4.27 million hectares (29 % of total land area) is made up of forests, 1.56 million hectares (10.6%) of scrubland and degraded forest, 1.7 million hectares
(12%) of grassland, 3.0 million hectares (21%) of farmland and 1.0 million hectares (7%) of un-cultivated land.
Climatic conditions within Nepal vary from one place to another in accordance with the geographical features. In the north, summers are cool and winters severe, while in the south summers are sub-tropical and winters mild. The monsoon that brings rain from June through September affects most of the country except those that lie in the rain-shadow areas like Mustang which is within Nepal but a part of the Tibetan plateau. Large tracts of forested land have been preserved as national parks and wildlife reserves where endangered species like the Royal Bengal tiger and the Greater one-horned rhinoceros roam freely along with an amazing variety of mammals and reptiles that include bear, leopards, hyenas, wild boar, wild elephants, monitor lizards, crocodiles, pythons, turtles and various species of insects and birds. Nepal is home to almost 10 percent of the world's bird species among which 500 species are found in the Kathmandu valley alone.
The most abundant natural resource in Nepal is water. Much of the rivers have been harnessed for hydro-power but they also play a crucial role in tourism as most of them are suitable for adventure sports like kayaking and rafting.
The Himalayas are not merely a source of revenue through mountaineering and trekking, they are also mined for quartz, lignite, copper, cobalt and iron ore. The scenic beauty of the countryside attracts hordes of trekkers while there seems to be an ever increasing number of mountaineers attempting to climb the hundreds of peaks that have been opened for climbing.
World Heritage Natural Sites
CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK
Nepal's first and most famous national park is situated in the Chitwan Doon or the lowlands of the Inner Terai. Covering an area of 932 sq km. the park includes hilly areas of the Siwalik Range covered by deciduous sal forest. One fifth of the park is made up of the floodplains of the Narayani, Rapti, and the Reu Rivers and is covered by dense tall elephant grass interspersed with riverine forests of silk cotton (kapok), acacia and sisam trees. This ecologically diverse area is the last remaining home in Nepal for more than 300 of the endangered Asian one-horned rhinoceros and harbours one of the largest populations of the elusive and rare Bengal tiger. Besides rhino and tiger, Chitwan also supports a great variety of flora and fauna. There are four species of deer, including the spotted chittal, leopard, sloth bear, wild boar, rhesus monkey, grey langur monkey, wild dog, small wild cats, the white stockinged gaur (the world's largest wild cattle) and many other smaller animals. The swampy areas and numerous oxbow lakes of Chitwan provide a home for marsh crocodiles. In a stretch of the Narayani river is found one of the few remaining populations of the rare and endangered fish-only eating gharial, or Gangetic crocodile. Here also is found one of the world's four species of freshwater dolphins. For the ornithologist and the amateur bird-watcher the park offers excellent possibilities with more than 450 species recorded. Some of the resident specialities are several species of woodpeckers, hornbills, Bengal florican, and red-headed trogons. Winter birds such as waterfowl, Brahminy duck, pintails and bareheaded geese, amongst many other cold weather visitors are drawn by the sanctuary of the park's rivers. In the summer the forest is alive with nesting migrants such as the fabulous paradise flycatcher, the Indian pitta and parakeets.
SAGARMATHA NATIONAL PARK ( Mt. Everest )
Unique among natural heritage sites world-wide is the Sagarmatha National Park, which includes Mt. Everest (8,848 m) and other high peaks such as Lhotse Shar, Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam, Pumori, Kangtega, Gyachung Kang, Thamserku and Kwangde. Located North-east of Kathmandu, Sagarmatha National Park is 1,148 sq km. in area and consists of the upper catchment areas of the Dudh Koshi, Bhote Koshi and the Imja Khola rivers. Much of the park lies above 3,000m. Sagarmatha is rugged, with deep gorges, glaciers and unnegotiable ice and rock faces. Locally known as the 'Khumbu', it is the home of the famous Sherpa people. The Sherpas make a living by farming barley and potatoes and graze their yaks in high altitude pastures. Young Sherpas have also made their name in mountaineering and the trekking industry has of late become the community's economic mainstay. In 1979 the park was declared a World Heritage Site.
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, Thyangboche and Thame are a riot of colours with several species of rhododendon in bloom. Wildlife most likely to be seen in Sagarmatha are the Himalaya tahr, ghoral, musk deer, pikka (mouse hare) weasel and occasionally jackal. Other rarely seen animals are Himalayan black bear, wolf, lynx and snow leopard. Birds commonly seen are Impeyan pheasant, blood pheasant, snow cock, snow pigeon, red billed and yellow billed chough, Himalayan griffin vulture and lammergeier.