chapter  2
14 Pages

Fragmentary pasts: the historical and social landscape of Muslim Nepal

Nepal rests on the southern edge of the Himalayas between the Tibetan autonomous region of China and India. It has been a Hindu kingdom throughout the majority of its modern history, which is marked by the late eighteenth-century Gorkhali conquests in which the Shah kings of the western hill state of Gorkha unified the forty-six hill states of the territory of Nepal and claimed the Kathmandu valley as its capital.1 Nepal has a population of approximately twenty-nine million, more than two million of which is located in the valley of the country’s capital, Kathmandu. Nepal’s population is remarkably heterogeneous, consisting of a mix of both Indo-European and Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups and languages, and of various tribes and castes, each with its own distinct language and cultural traditions. The national language is Nepali. Nepal is composed of three distinct geographic zones: the high Himalayas in the north, the central foothills and Kathmandu valley, and the lowlands to the south, known as the Tarai. Religiously, the majority of the population is Hindu (approximately 81 percent) and there is also a sizeable Buddhist population (approximately 11 percent of the national population).2