A brief history of Nepal

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As Encounters Travel offers a variety of tours to Nepal, we thought it was important to take a look at the country’s history. Firm historical records date back to around the 7th to 8th century BC.

Firm historical records date back to around the 7th to 8th century BC. During this period the Kiratis – an indigenous ethic group of the Himalayas migrated westwards from China into the Kathmandu Valley. Yalambar was the first of a line of 28 Kirati kings to rule the Kathmandu Valley lasting up until the 4th century AD.

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The introduction of the Kiratis and Licchavis groups

When the Kiratis reigned, Buddhism was first introduced to Nepal and it was even believed that Buddha had visited the valley. It was also noted that the legendary Indian emperor Ashoka also ventured into the valley – and evidence can be seen in the four stupas (structures containing relics), he erected in Patan – an ancient city.

By the beginning of the 4th century AD, the conquering Licchavis – a confederate clan – had invaded from Northern Indian and overthrew the last Kirati king. This shift in power resulted in Buddhism replacing Hinduism.

This also signified the start of the caste system, which still remains in Nepal today. The Licchavis dynasty lasted for 300 years – a time of great architectural and artistic development.

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The ruling of the Thakuri dynasties

Taking power from his father-in-law at the start of the 7th century, Amsuvarman founded the first of three Thakuri dynasties, which ruled in the Kathmandu Valley. Consolidating power through his family connections and marriage – his daughter married a Tibetan prince. Amsuvarman laid a firm enough power base in the Kathmandu Valley for this kingdom to survive and grow, even through the following centuries of turmoil and strife. During the 10th century Thakuri King Gunakamadeva founded the city of Kantipur – today this is known as Kathmandu.

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The Golden Age

Around 1200, legend has it that King Arideva was wrestling when news of his son’s birth arrived. He thus bestowed the title malla ‘wrestler’ on his son and so founded the Malla dynasty, which brought with it a Golden Age in Nepalese history. Nepal’s strategic location along the trade routes between China, Tibet and India led to a great flow of wealth into the valley, and with it a subsequent flourishing of the arts and architecture in the shape of wonderful buildings, many of which still stand today.

The Hindu Mallas’ religious tolerance allowed Buddhism to flourish in Nepal, however the emergence of an aristocracy under the Mallas served to strengthen and develop the strict Hindu caste system. From the mid 14th century, Nepal began to break apart into numerous feudal city-states. Agricultural techniques improved and populations grew, spreading more and more into the mountainous areas.

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The Muslim invasion

Around this time a Muslim invasion from India swept across the Kathmandu Valley causing destruction. Though short-lived in the Kathmandu Valley, the Muslim driven devastation in India caused many Hindus to flee north and establish small Rajput principalities in the hills and mountains of Nepal.

The Kathmandu Valley was then dominated by three major cities – Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. Each walled city was the centre of an independent kingdom ruled by its own king and with its own army. However, starting in 1372 Jayasthiti Malla, founder of the third Malla dynasty, conquered first Patan and then 10 years later Bhaktapur – uniting the whole Kathmandu Valley under one ruler.

By the 15th century Malla rule had reached its zenith and under Yaksha Malla (1428-82), art and culture flourished, and the kingdom stretched from Tibet in the north to the Ganges River in the south, and from the Kali Gandaki River in the west to Sikkim in the east. After his death the kingdom split apart again into small warring kingdoms and, although trade and agriculture continued to expand, Nepal remained fragmented and disparate for the next 200 years or so.

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Rise of the Shah dynasty

The 18th century saw the rise to power of the Shah dynasty and the unification of Nepal. From the tiny kingdom of Gorkha, midway between Kathmandu and Pokhara, the Shah rulers slowly expanded their kingdom until in 1768 King Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the Kathmandu Valley and moved his capital there. Continued Nepalese expansion was finally checked by the Chinese, who in 1792 defeated them, and in return for a peace treaty exacted payments of tribute that continued right through until 1912.

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The Sugauli Treaty, 1846 coup & the Kot Massacre

The British were expanding their influence across the Indian subcontinent and in 1792 sent an envoy to Kathmandu. Treaties with the British followed, but inevitable land disputes eventually led to war, and by the 1816 Sugauli Treaty, Nepal had lost more than half its land area. Irritated by this defeat, Nepal closed its borders and, with the exception of a few British residents in Kathmandu, remained isolated from the outside world right through until 1951. New direct trade routes between India and Tibet further reduced Nepal’s influence in the region.

Although the Shah dynasty continued to rule, in 1846 a bloody coup organised by Jung Bahadur Rana, effectively transferred power away from the Shah kings to the Ranas. The coup took place in the Kot courtyard near Durbar square in Kathmandu, where Jung Bahadur had his soldiers massacre several hundred of the most important noblemen, soldiers and courtiers in the country whilst they were assembled there. It became known as the ‘Kot Massacre’ and signified the start of a hundred year rule by the Rana family in Nepal. They ruled as hereditary prime ministers to the Shah kings, who they relegated to pampered figureheads, and enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle in their huge Kathmandu palaces whilst the majority of the country was reduced to a peasant-like existence.

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The formation of the Nepali Congress Party

Increasing tension between China and India after the Second World War turned Nepal into a buffer zone between these two giants and eventually led to the end of Rana rule. With the support of newly independent India, and its ruling Congress Party, the Nepali Congress Party, under the charismatic BP Koirala, was formed. In 1950 the Shah King Tribhuvan escaped Nepal to India and the Nepali Congress Party set up a provisional government at the border town of Birganj after its forces had captured much of the Terai from the Ranas. However, as the conflict continued and no clear winner emerged, India used its newfound influence to force a negotiated settlement that saw the return of King Tribhuvan in 1951 and the establishment of a new government comprising of Ranas and members of the Nepali Congress.

Nepal slowly re-established relations with other countries, but in 1955 King Tribhuvan died and was succeeded by his son Mahendra. After the creation of a new constitution, Nepal took its first steps towards democracy with its first general election in 1959. The Nepali Congress Party easily won and BP Koirala became the new prime minister, much to the new king’s chagrin. By late 1960 King Mahendra decided to bring an end to the government by arresting the entire cabinet, banning political parties and taking over direct control of the country himself.

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The Panchayat system

For the next 20 years, Nepal operated under a partyless system of government, in which local councils Panchayats’ chose representatives for district Panchayats, who were in turn represented at a national level in the National Panchayat. In reality the king held all the power, which he passed on to his son Birendra after his death in 1972. By the end of the 70s, popular discontent at widespread official corruption and a stagnant economy led eventually to violent demonstrations in Kathmandu, and in 1980 a referendum was held to choose between the Panchayat system and a party-based system.

The Panchayat system proved most popular, but only by a narrow margin, but the king decided to allow the people to elect the legislature of the counties on a 5-year term basis, which in turn would elect the prime minister. It was conditional that each candidate be a member of one of six government-approved parties, and that the king would appoint 20% of the legislature.

The changes in the Panchayat system did little to reduce the king’s influence on the running of the country and for the next 10 years – with the aid of a brutal and almost completely unaccountable police and military – he continued to wield considerable power with the Panchayat simply acting as a rubber stamp. During this period massive amounts (up to 50%) of foreign aid were being tapped away into ministerial accounts, and widespread corruption was the norm.

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1889 coalition

Eventually popular discontent with the deteriorating economy and corruption led the opposition parties to form a coalition in 1989, which in turn led to demonstrations, strikes, and riots. These were violently put down by the military and police using bullets and tear gas, but external pressure from important aid donors caused the government to yield, and the king lifted the ban on political parties and invited the opposition to lead an interim government until a new general election, and agreed to accept the role of constitutional monarch.

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The general election & new coalition

20 parties contested the May 1991 general election, which was won by the Nepali Congress Party with 37.75% of the vote over the Combined Communist Party (Communist Party of Nepal & Unified Marxist-Leninist Party) with 27.98% of the vote. The following years turned out to be both politically and economically unstable in Nepal, and in 1992 a general strike descended into violence between protesters and the police resulting in a number of deaths. In 1994 the Nepali Congress called a mid-term election, which left no clear winner and eventually led to a coalition dominated by the Combined Communist Party and with the support of the Nepali Congress.

Fearing growing grass-root popularity for the communists, the Nepali Congress soon withdrew its support and formed a new coalition. Continuing political instability throughout the rest of the 1990s, resulted in the collapse of numerous governments and the constant switching of alliances between the major parties usually to further personal rather than political goals. Eventually in the 1999 elections, the Nepali Congress Party formed a clear majority with the Unified Marxist-Leninist Party in opposition.

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Massacre of the royal family

There followed a period of relative calm until on the 1st of June 2001, seven members of the royal family including King Birendra himself, his wife and crown prince Dipendra were massacred in the Royal Palace in Kathmandu. Since no successor was left to take the crown, Birendra’s brother Gyanendra became king. The massacre spread large-scale depression across the whole country. Secrecy surrounded the whole affair and numerous different conspiracy theories surfaced following the incident. Also, as King Birendra had gained much popularity in his final years, a huge sadness was felt amongst the population leading to many of the male population shaving their hair – a Hinduism tradition when a family member dies.

Since the massacre of the royal family on June 1st 2001, allegedly by Prince Dipendra before shooting himself, Nepal has lived under a black cloud. The massacre happened sometime in the evening when the majority of the Royal family was present. The country went into severe shock and many countless conspiracy theories were thrown around. Many believe that the prince went on a drink/drug-enhanced rampage after being told that he would be cast-out if he married the girl of his dreams.

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New King Gyanendra

Publicly, outward displays of anger dissipated, as people looked to the new King Gyanendra to lead them out of the crisis. Gyanendra’s reputation as a shrewd businessman and take-charge leader went before him, as did the expectation that he would take a harder line against the Maoists and a more pragmatic approach to relations with India and China. Many took comfort in the knowledge that he had actually served as king once before: in 1950, the infant Gyanendra occupied the throne for three months during the exile of his grandfather, Tribhuwan, in India. Others, however, darkly pointed to a legend in which the Saint Gorakhnath warned the founder of modern Nepal, Prithvi Narayan Shah, that his dynasty would last only 10 generations after him. Gyanendra was the 11th.

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Attacks by the Maoists

The Royal Massacre on that fateful day gave the Maoists the opportunity they had been looking for. They were able to feed off the anti-monarchy sentiment that was brewing and gave people an outlet to show their dissatisfaction. They quickly stepped up their offensive with renewed attacks on government positions in the countryside and even some minor bombings in the formerly safe Kathmandu Valley. Within six weeks, they had provoked a fresh crisis by holding several dozen police officers hostage in the western district of Rolpa. The then Prime Minister, Girija Prasad Koirala received permission from the king to send army troops to the rescue, but it was his last act.

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Reaction from the government

Within days, Girija Prasad Koirala was brought down by a no-confidence motion and was replaced by Sher Bahadur Deuba (it was under Deuba’s previous administration that the Maoists had declared war). Deuba quickly negotiated a ceasefire and persuaded the Maoists to enter peace talks. Up to this point there had been a good deal of sympathy for the Maoists, both from common people and intellectuals, although this was in no small part due to the complete lack of trust in the mainstream political parties.

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Attack on Salleri

This passive support evaporated rapidly in the summer of 2001, when it began to appear that the rebels were negotiating in bad faith – reports of continued intimidation and extortion suggested that they were merely playing for time. These suspicions were confirmed in November, when the Maoists abruptly withdrew from the peace talks and, two days later, launched co-ordinated attacks on several locations, killing more than 200 soldiers and civilians. It was the highest death toll since the insurgency began, and the first time that the rebels attacked army positions. Hardest hit was Salleri, not far from the Everest region; a few weeks later the rebels bombed the Lukla airstrip, used by Everest trekkers.

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Declaration of a state of emergency

Government reaction was swift. The king declared a state of emergency – suspending civil liberties such as freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, and giving the government broad powers to arrest suspects and impose curfews. Taking its cue from America’s war on terrorism, the government officially declared the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) a terrorist organisation and warned that any found helping them would be prosecuted as terrorists.

In the first few months of the emergency, the government imprisoned 5000 people, including more than 100 journalists. The government was without doubt pinning its hopes on a military solution to the Maoist problem. The spring of 2002 actually saw an escalation in the scale and deadliness of their attacks, with major battles fought in the western districts of Achham and Dang, as well as a growing campaign of destruction of dams, telecommunication facilities and other infrastructure.

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A ceasefire in 2003

King Gyanendra dismissed the government in October 2002, calling it corrupt and ineffective. He declared a state of emergency in November and ordered the army to crack down on the Maoist guerrillas. The rebels intensified their campaign, and the government responded with equal intensity, killing hundreds of Maoists, the largest toll since the insurgency began in 1996. In Aug. 2003, the Maoist rebels withdrew from peace talks with the government and ended a cease-fire that had been signed in January 2003. The following August, the rebels blockaded Kathmandu for a week, cutting off shipments of food and fuel to the capital.

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Firing the government

King Gyanendra fired the entire government in February 2005 and assumed direct power. Many of the country’s politicians were placed under house arrest, and severe restrictions on civil liberties were instituted. In September 2005, the Maoist rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire, which ended in January 2006. In April, massive pro-democracy protests organized by seven opposition parties and supported by the Maoists took place. They rejected King Gyanendra’s offer to hand over executive power to a prime minister, saying he failed to address their main demands: the restoration of parliament and a referendum to redraft the constitution.

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Reinstating the government  

Days later, as pressure mounted and the protests intensified, King Gyanendra agreed to reinstate parliament. The new parliament quickly moved to diminish the king’s powers and selected Girija Prasad Koirala as prime minister. In May, it voted unanimously to declare Nepal a secular nation and strip the king of his authority over the military.

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Ending guerrilla’s 10-year insurgency

The Maoist rebels and the government signed a landmark peace agreement in November 2006, ending the guerrilla’s 10-year insurgency that claimed some 12,000 people. In March 2007, the Maoists achieved another milestone when they joined the interim government. Just months later, in September 2007, however, the Maoists quit the interim government, claiming that not enough progress had been made in abolishing the monarchy and forming a republic. They agreed to rejoin the interim government in December, when parliament voted to abolish the monarchy and become a federal democratic republic.

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Formation of the Federal Democratic Republic

In April 2008, millions of voters turned out to elect a 601-seat Constituent Assembly that will write a new constitution. The Maoist Party won 120 out of 240 directly elected seats. If any doubts over the intent of Nepal to move into the future still lingered, then these were put aside in June 2008 when the deposed King Gyanendra finally left the royal palace gates, leaving this beacon of Nepalese Monarchy to transform itself, almost overnight into a museum. On July 23 2008, Ram Baran Yaday of the Nepali Congress became the first president of the Federal Democratic Republics of Nepal. In August, the Constituent Assembly then elected Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) as the first republican Prime Minster.

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Dissolving of Constituent Assembly

The Constituent Assembly was dissolved after it failed to draft a constitution before the deadline in May 2012. Under the Prime-Ministership of the Chief Justice of Nepal, Khil Raj Regmi a new interim government was formed.  During the Constituent Assembly election of 2013 in November, the Nepali Congress won the largest share of votes but failed to get a majority. Negotiations took place between the Nepali Congress and The Communist Party of Nepal to form a consensus government. Sushil Koirala of the Nepali Congress was elected Prime Minster in February 2014.

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April earthquake & protests

In April 2015, Nepal suffered an earthquake that destroyed infrastructure and killed 8000 of its citizens. This tense and volatile time meant that when the constitution came into effect on September 20, 2015, the minority ethnic groups like Tharu and Madhesi began protesting. They accused the constitution of not addressing their concerns or protecting their groups. As a result of the on-going protests, 11 police and 56 civilians died. India responded by suspending vital supplies to a landlocked Nepal. This violation of human rights led to violence and lack of security in boarder areas. India’s main motive behind this was to gain full control over Nepal.

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First woman president of Nepal & new prime minster

In October 2015, Bidhya Devi Bhandari became Nepal’s first woman president in a paramilitary vote. She was a former defence minister and deputy leader of the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist. Since she was elected as president she has campaigned for women’s rights and environmental awareness. Also in October that year, Khadga Prasad Sharma became the first prime minster to be elected under a new constitution.

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Prime minister is forced to resign

The government began to lift its fuel rationing in February 2016 after the ethnic minority Madhesi communities partially backed by India, concluded a six-month border blockade. This blockade was in protest of a new constitution, which they deemed discriminatory. In July that year, the Maoist party removed itself from the governing coalition and the prime minster was forced to resign ahead of a no-confidence vote in parliament.

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New prime minister

Parliament elected the former communist rebel leader and Maoist party leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal in August 2016. In April 2017, China and Nepal held their first ever joint military exercise. In June that year, Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba replaced Pushpa Kamal Dahal. This decision was the result of an agreement decided the previous April and would continue until elections in 2018.

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Re-election of president

In March 2018, Bidhya Devi Bhandari was re-elected for a second term of president. In the elected, she won majority vote and defeated the Nepali Congress leader, Kumari Laxmi Rai. As a women’s right advocate, she made helped push forward the mandate that women comprise at least a third of Nepal’s parliament.

This year Nepal has a president as head of state and a prime minster managing the government. Communist Party of Nepal Chairman Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli was sworn in February 2018. He had previously served as prime mister in 2016-16. Mr Oli’s party and the former Maoist rebels overcame the Nepal Congress party in the 2017 polls.

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Nepal today

After years of turmoil and struggle – Nepal is still one of the poorest countries in the world. The most recent prime mister along with the president under a new national constitution seeks to retain a federal government and promote peace, development and stability in Nepal.

Our tours aim to show tourists the beautiful and enchanting side to Nepal, that overtime has been overlooked. Not only does this country boast the world’s largest mountain range, but it is also home to some of the friendliest people. Having lived in a country that is only starting to rise from the ashes, the locals are eager to welcome you and show their appreciation for your support.

If you are in need of some revitalization, a change of perspective or an adventure of a lifetime – click here for travel inspiration.

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