Home of Mount Everest and culturally diverse, Nepal suffers frequent natural disasters and severe rural hardship.
A magnet for adventure tourists, the country’s striking landscape ranges from humid plains in the south to the Himalayas in the north.
But Nepal is the poorest country in Asia and the 15th poorest in the world. Dalits, indigenous populations and Muslims are the most marginalised groups.
From 1996 to 2006, a civil war between the government and Maoist guerrillas killed thousands of people, destroyed infrastructure and caused massive displacement. Nepal was declared a democratic republic and the ruling monarchy was abolished.
Most Nepalis are farmers, but many villages suffer food shortfalls – their vulnerability increased by drought, earthquakes, fires, epidemics, avalanches and windstorms.
More than a hundred caste and ethnic groups have distinct languages, cultural traditions and religious practices. Nepal’s 1990 constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of caste, race, sex or religion. However, lower castes continue to be neglected by the state, especially Dalit women.
The first Nepali church was established in the 1950s, and there are now an estimated 800,000 Christians in 6,000 congregations. After years of persecution, since 2006 churches have had new freedoms.