Travels :: Nepal Travel
History of Nepal
The first civilizations in Nepal, which flourished around the 6th century
B.C., were confined to the fertile Kathmandu Valley where the present-day
capital of the same name is located. It was in this region that Prince Siddhartha
Gautama was born c. 563 B.C. Gautama achieved enlightenment as Buddha and
spawned Buddhist belief.
Nepali rulers' early patronage of Buddhism largely gave way to Hinduism,
reflecting the increased influence of India, around the 12th century. Though
the successive dynasties of the Gopalas, the Kiratis, and the Licchavis
expanded their rule, it was not until the reign of the Malla kings from
12001769 that Nepal assumed the approximate dimensions of the modern
The kingdom of Nepal was unified in 1768 by King Prithvi Narayan Shah,
who had fled India following the Moghul conquests of the subcontinent.
Under Shah and his successors Nepal's borders expanded as far west as
Kashmir and as far east as Sikkim (now part of India). A commercial treaty
was signed with Britain in 1792 and again in 1816 after more than a year
of hostilities with the British East India Company.
In 1923, Britain recognized the absolute independence of Nepal. Between
1846 and 1951, the country was ruled by the Rana family, which always
held the office of prime minister. In 1951, however, the king took over
all power and proclaimed a constitutional monarchy. Mahendra Bir Bikram
Shah became king in 1955. After Mahendra died of a heart attack in 1972,
Prince Birendra, at 26, succeeded to the throne.
In 1990, a pro-democracy movement forced King Birendra to lift the ban
on political parties. The first free election in three decades provided
a victory for the liberal Nepali Congress Party in 1991, although the
Communists made a strong showing. A small but growing Maoist guerrilla
movement, seeking to overthrow the constitutional monarchy and install
a Communist government, began operating in the countryside in 1996.
On June 1, 2001, King Birendra was shot and killed by his son, Crown
Prince Dipendra. Angered by his family's disapproval of his choice of
a bride, he also killed his mother and several other members of the royal
family before shooting himself. Prince Gyanendra, the younger brother
of King Birendra, was then crowned king.
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 Jan. 2003. The following
August, the rebels blockaded Kathmandu for a week, cutting off shipments
of food and fuel to the capital.
King Gyanendra fired the entire government in Feb. 2005 and assumed direct
power. Many of the country's politicians were placed under house arrest,
and severe restriction on civil liberties were instituted. In Sept. 2005,
the Maoist rebels declared a unilateral cease-fire, which ended in Jan.
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. 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. 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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