Sure, Nepal is a pretty expansive country in terms of variety, but how large is it on paper? Officially Nepal has 147,181 square kilometres (56,827 square miles) of land to its name in the world’s political map. That means you could compare Nepal to Bangladesh or Greece or as is very popular to England and Wales combined. While we find this last comparison rather politically motivated since there are more than a few Welsh who would cringe at the ‘combination’, we will leave that for another day. But saying Nepal is about the size of Bangladesh is like saying that the Empire State Building is about the size of a football field (also called soccer by people who play football with their hands).
The vertical real estate of both the Empire State Building and Nepal is just too large to ignore as you will find out first hand if you have ever trekked in Nepal. And it isn’t just the real estate, with altitude comes an attitude that is impossible to ignore.
Is Nepal a Country?
However, since Nepal is such a small country on paper and is squeezed between two giants a lot of people wonder if Nepal is a country. Commonly asked questions include:
1. What country is Nepal in?
Nepal is a country in its own right and is awesome.
2. Is Nepal a country?
3. Is Nepal in India?
4. Is Nepal part of India?
For the last time now, No.
5. If I ask a Nepali the above question will they be offended?
Most definitely yes. Hence read the whole article to understand the Nepali psyche.
How is Nepal a country?
This is another question that frequently pops up when people realize how diverse and small Nepal is. This country has no sea access and is both economically and militaristically very weak and is nestled between two giants. So how has Nepal managed to remain independent?
To answer this question one has to go back in time. And a little history shows that Nepal was not only an island back in the days but also much powerful country than it is right now. I call it an island in the sense that it was protected by malaria (Aunlo) infested forest to the south and the towering Himalayas to the north. As such, it was not exactly an easy affair for people from the lowlands or from the north to manage a war here.
Also passes in the Nepal Himalayas are the natural connection between China and India and were part of the extended Silk Route and major part of the Salt Trade Route. As such, Nepal’s economy was much more vibrant than it is right now. Just to illustrate the extent of this trade, consider the fact that contractors on one of the trade routes paid an annual tribute of 56 kilograms of gold as late as the first decade of the twentieth century. The route in question is the Kali Gandaki trade route, the contractors are Thakalis of Tukuche and 56 kilograms of gold is worth USD 2 million right now. And that wasn’t even the busiest of the trade routes in Nepal and early twentieth century was about when the entire Silk Route was crumbling apart!! So in the heydays there was a lot of trade through the Himalayan passes which made Nepal an economically vibrant area.
Now compare that to the situation right now when the bulk of the population is dependent on subsistence agriculture. There is very little in the way of industries and the only trade that occurs are imports. The whole situation is compounded by the fact that the brightest and most enterprising of the young folks are sweating it out abroad. It wasn’t always so, and it was on the basis of this economic power that Nepal carved a niche for itself in the Himalayas.
Given the fact that this area benefitted hugely from trade, it isn’t hard to guess that Nepal had a much stronger military back then. While of course it didn’t compare to the Celestial or British Empires, Nepal’s military prowess was a pain for these empires as exemplified by the Sino-Nepalese War (1788-1792) , Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816) and the Nepalese-Tibetan War (1855) . This was directly the result of colonial ambitions of the then fledgling Nepali state and her neighbors. The following map shows extent to which Nepal had expanded based on her military and economic prowess in the first quarter of the nineteenth century:
As it is right now, it is incomprehensible how such wars could be waged without disastrous consequences to Nepal. There just isn’t the economic substrate to create the military prowess that characterized Nepal is the past. However, every Nepali still proudly remembers that Nepal was a country that has never been colonized.
Another interesting reason for Nepal’s independence which has no basis on any research what so ever is the personal observation that Nepal is a country of rebels. I am guessing that these rugged terrain lacking any pull factor other than a safe sanctuary has always attracted people who refuse to submit or people who are simply looking for solace. The Tharus of western Terai, Shahs of western hills and Sherpas of eastern Himalayas are examples of people who fled persecution in their original homeland and rather than submitting came to a rugged and dangerous region that is now called Nepal. And in making a living out of this precipitous terrain, these guys have shown their determination. And in making light of the hardships here, these guys have shown their resilience. Actually, prophesies by Guru Rimpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) liken the southern slopes of the Himalayas to a beyul or places of refuge for those of the Buddhist faith in times of crises. And indeed it has worked out that way if you look at the Sherpas who came from Kham following religious persecution and more recently literally the whole of Tibet following the events of 1951. Such stories of a group coming into Nepal after refusing to surrender is a hallmark of many ethnic groups in Nepal and the secluded and rugged nature of the country gives some credence to this possibility. So in some way, Nepal is full of people who are unmanageable, rebellious, independent and headstrong. It is perhaps no coincidence that the most feared of all armed forces in the world, the Gurkhas, come from these rugged terrains. One the lighter side, this rebelliousness and strong sense of independence has not only made Nepal an independent country so far but has also made the Nepali clock differ from the GMT by a weird 5 hour and 45 minutes! While most other countries have their clock either a 4 or 5 or 6 hours different from the GMT, Nepal is the only country to have that 45 minutes. How weird such a time difference is, is illustrated by this video on the BBC.
Also perhaps that is why while the entire world has rectangular flags, we have a double triangular flag!!
Thus, Nepal is still a sovereign and independent country primarily because of her rugged location, strong economic and military past and most importantly her headstrong citizens!!