A landlocked country of about 28 million people, Nepal borders India and China. Its diverse geography ranges from plains to mountainous regions, which include eight of the world's 10 highest peaks.
The Nepalese suffer from poor infrastructure, unemployment and extreme poverty. The hilly terrain in the northern region has made road building very difficult, and almost one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. The majority of the people depend primarily on subsistence agriculture -- growing rice, corn, wheat, sugar cane and root crops, and raising water buffalo.
The troubled political situation in recent years has stifled tourism, which had been a primary source of economic development for the country.
Culturally, Nepal has many similarities in food, clothing and religion with neighboring India and Tibet. Nepal is the only official Hindu state in the world. About 80 percent of the population practices Hinduism. The remaining 20 percent of the population is primarily Buddhist and Muslim.
Led by "Prachanda" and Baburam Bhattarai, Maoist rebels took up arms in 1996 against a regime they accused of causing Nepal's political problems and its rural poverty. Although the Maoists said they wanted to revamp the multiparty democratic system and turn the country into a Marxist republic, human rights groups have accused them of carrying out executions and torture in a ruthless effort to suppress dissent. The ensuing decade of civil war between the Maoist rebels and the government forces has killed more than 12,000 people and displaced up to 200,000 more.
Nepal was back in the news in 2001, when Eton-educated Crown Prince Dipendra went on a drunken shooting rampage after his parents rejected his choice of a wife. He killed 10 members of the royal family, including King Dipendra and his queen, and then reportedly shot himself. Despite Dipendra's comatose state, he was proclaimed king for three days before he died.
Dipendra's uncle Gyanendra, who was absent from the royal palace on the night of the shooting, took the throne. Conspiracy theorists, including many Maoists, say Gyanendra secretly choreographed the massacre in order to gain power and make his son the crown prince.
In February 2005, Gyanendra overthrew the government, assumed absolute power and appointed a pro-monarchist cabinet. He drastically curbed the Nepalese news media by issuing a ban on all news broadcasts, criminalizing press offences and preventing coverage of politically sensitive topics.
Although King Gyanendra claimed he was acting in response to the Maoist insurgency, the United Nations, the United States, India and several human rights groups criticized the king's moves.
After the royal coup, the seven parliamentary parties, with support from the Maoists, organized a mass uprising against the king's direct rule. Thousands of Nepalese protested in the streets and demanded that he relinquish power.
With public opinion against him, King Gyanendra reinstated the parliament in April 2006. Weeks later, the parliament voted unanimously to limit the monarch's political powers, relegating Gyanendra to a ceremonial role.
The Nepalese government and the Maoist rebels agreed to a cease-fire in August 2006 and acquiesced to U.N. supervision. On November 21, the conflicting groups signed a peace accord, which could potentially end the violent decade-long insurgency.
The peace deal offers the Maoists considerable gains, as it will allow them to join the interim government and share ministerial posts with the other main parties. However, although the mainstream political parties will have to accept the Maoists as equal partners, the Nepali congress will keep the largest number of parliamentary seats.
According to the agreement, both the Maoist rebels and the Nepalese army will limit weapons. Prime Minister G.P. Koirala has called for rebel disarmament before next year's elections. The peace accord will result in the formation of a special assembly, which will rewrite the Nepalese constitution and decide the fate of the monarchy.
Sources: BBC, CIA World Factbook, International Herald Tribune, Japan Economic Times, PBS.
FRONTLINE/World reporter Aaron Goodman traveled through Nepal with Guna Raj Luitel, news editor at the Kantipur Daily, the country's largest daily newspaper. In June 2001, the Nepali government arrested the director, the managing director, and the editor of the paper for allegedly printing an article written by a Maoist rebel leader. The newspaper strongly advocates freedom of the press in Nepal, and its Web site includes extensive news coverage as well as a section devoted to the Nepali diaspora.
The Himalayan Times
The country's leading English language daily newspaper covers the latest news, business, and entertainment for the region.
Nepalnews.com aggregates news from 21 publications across the region. It also hosts online video from the BBC's Nepali broadcast.
Established in 1991 after the formation of multi-party democracy in Nepal, the People's Review is an independent news weekly with a strong online presence.
Nepal Press Freedom
The organization and its Web site provide information about attacks on the media and regularly publishes reports on the state of press freedom in Nepal. The site is also the official home of the International Advocacy Mission for Press Freedom in Nepal, a joint venture by 12 international media organizations.
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that supports freedom of the press, offers annual reports on press freedoms in Nepal. The 2006 report explains how King Gyanendra tried to eliminate 15 years of press freedom during his forced takeover of the government in 2005.
"Coups, Kings and Censorship"
The International Federation of Journalists' 2005 Mission Report on press freedoms in Nepal, published in 2005, details the increase in censorship and attacks on journalists in the aftermath of King Gyanendra's coup.
Committee to Project Journalists
The New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization founded in 1981 that promotes worldwide freedom of the press. This report on press freedoms in Nepal explains how King Gyanendra's takeover led to extreme media censorship and the detention of journalists.
Nepal in the News
Interview with King Gyanendra
In an interview with Time magazine, King Gyanendra talks about his objectives as leader of Nepal. In the first interview granted to the foreign press since his takeover in February 2005, the king answers hard-hitting questions about his rule.
Nepal Celebrates Peace Deal
The Guardian writes about the historic peace deal signed in November 2006 between Maoist rebels and an alliance of seven political parties, and how this accord could bring Nepal's brutal civil war to an end.
Human Rights and Government
International Committee of the Red Cross
The ICRC opened a delegation in Nepal in 2001, three years after beginning operations in the country. The organization's Web site details the humanitarian situation in Nepal. It also helps to trace missing persons, support the wounded and amputees, provide safe drinking water in rural areas and prisons, and assist families who have suffered in the conflict.
Government of Nepal
The official site of the Nepali government provides a directory of governmental organizations, departments and ministers, and links to human rights-related projects and reports. The site also has links to a number of U.N. programs designed to promote economic development in Nepal.
Compiled by Sonia Narang