With its ancient culture and the Himalayas as a backdrop, landlocked Nepal was closed to the outside world until the 1950s.
Since then it has been through the creation of a multi-party parliamentary system, a decade-long Maoist insurgency and the abolition of the monarchy.
About three quarters of the country is covered by mountains. It is home to Mount Everest – the world’s highest mountain.
Nepal hit the headlines in April 2015 when it was struck by a devastating earthquake, which killed thousands, flattened villages and reduced numerous heritage sites to ruin.
President: Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Bidhya Devi Bhandari was elected as Nepal’s first woman president in a parliamentary vote in October 2015. She is the deputy leader of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and a former defence minister.
She is a campaigner for women’s rights and widow of late communist leader Madan Kumar Bhandari.
The post of president is mainly ceremonial.
Prime minister: Khadga Prasad Oli
Parliament elected Khadga Prasad Oli in October 2015 in the midst of a severe fuel shortage and political crisis. He is the first prime minister to be elected under the new constitution.
He is the seventh head of government since Nepal became a republic on the abolition of the monarchy in 2008, following a peace deal with Maoist rebels in 2006.
Since then, the drafting of a new constitution proved to be the major sticking point in the country’s political transition. After its adoption in September 2015, protests in the southern lowlands demanding further regional devolution met with a violent response from the security forces.
Media freedom is restricted by the fact that journalists have been the victims of violence, activists say.
There is a small film industry, nicknamed “Kollywood”.
Some key dates in Nepal’s history:
1768 – Gurkha ruler Prithvi Narayan Shah conquers Kathmandu and lays foundations for unified kingdom.
1814-16 – Anglo-Nepalese War; culminates in treaty which establishes Nepal’s current boundaries.
1846 – Nepal falls under sway of hereditary chief ministers known as Ranas, who dominate the monarchy and cut country off from outside world.
1950 – Anti-Rana forces based in India form alliance with monarch.
1951 – End of Rana rule. Sovereignty of crown restored and anti-Rana rebels in Nepalese Congress Party form government.
1960 – King Mahendra seizes control and suspends parliament, constitution and party politics.
1991 – Nepali Congress Party wins first democratic elections.
1995-2006 – Maoist revolt which kills thousands.
2008 – Nepal becomes a republic after abolition of monarchy.
2015 September – New constitution adopted – the first in Asia to specifically protect gay rights.
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