Perched on the southern slopes of the Himalayan Mountains, the Kingdom of Nepal is as ethnically diverse as its terrain of fertile plains, broad valleys, and the highest mountain peaks in the world. The Nepalese are descendants of three major migrations from India, Tibet, and Central Asia.

Among the earliest inhabitants were the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley and aboriginal Tharus in the southern Terai region. The ancestors of the Brahman and Chetri caste groups came from India, while other ethnic groups trace their origins to Central Asia and Tibet, including the Gurungs and Magars in the west, Rais and Limbus in the east, and Sherpas and Bhotias in the north.

In the Terai, a part of the Ganges Basin with 20% of the land, much of the population is physically and culturally similar to the Indo-Aryan people of northern India. People of Indo-Aryan and Mongoloid stock live in the hill region. The mountainous highlands are sparsely populated. Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation's area but is the most densely populated, with almost 5% of the population.

Religion is important in Nepal; Kathmandu Valley has more than 2,700 religious shrines alone. Nepal is about 86% Hindu. The constitution describes the country as a "Hindu Kingdom," although it does not establish Hinduism as the state religion. Buddhists account for about 8% of the population. Buddhist and Hindu shrines and festivals are respected and celebrated by all. Nepal also has small Muslim and Christian minorities. Certain animistic practices of old indigenous religions survive.

Nepali is the official language, although dozens of different languages are spoken throughout the country. Derived from Sanskrit, Nepali is related to the Indian language, Hindi, and is spoken by about 90% of the population as a first or second language. Many Nepalese in government and business also speak English.

Population: 24,702,119 (July 2000 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 41% (male 5,187,805; female 4,860,583)
15-64 years: 56% (male 7,056,784; female 6,746,293)
65 years and over: 3% (male 422,314; female 428,340) (2000 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.34% (2000 est.)

Birth rate: 33.83 births/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Death rate: 10.41 deaths/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2000 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.07 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.05 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.97 male(s)/female
total population: 1.05 male(s)/female (2003 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 75.93 deaths/1,000 live births (2000 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 57.84 years
male: 58.3 years
female: 57.35 years (2000 est.)

Total fertility rate: 4.68 children born/woman (2000 est.)

noun: Nepalese (singular and plural)
adjective: Nepalese

Ethnic groups: Newars, Indians, Tibetans, Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, Bhotias, Rais, Limbus, Sherpas

Religions: Hindu 90%, Buddhist 5%, Muslim 3%, other 2% (1981)
note: only official Hindu state in the world

Languages: Nepali (official), over 20 other languages divided into numerous dialects

definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 45.2%
male: 62.7%
female: 27.6% (2003 est.)

People - note: refugee issue over the presence in Nepal of approximately 96,500 Bhutanese refugees, 90% of whom are in seven United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camps

See also : Nepal