Nepal, home to Mount Everest, is dominated by the world's most imposing mountains. Although the country is relatively small (147,181 square kilometers), 80 percent of its territory is occupied by the dramatic peaks of the Himalayas. Nepal was closed to foreign visitors until1951, a situation which contributed greatly to its mystique in the west. This small, hospitable country has since become an exceptionally popular destination for travelers, whether they are in search of climbing challenges or spiritual enlightenment.
Nepal can be divided into three geographical regions, each stretching from east to west across the country. The southernmost strip of land, the Terai, is bordered to the north by Himalayan foothills and to the south by the Ganges River. The area was originally covered with tropical vegetation, but has been almost completely converted to agricultural production. The Terai is now the breadbasket of Nepal and is covered with farms.
The central section of Nepal is formed by the Mahabharat Chain, a range of mountains that reach modest altitudes of 2,000-3,000 meters. Farming has become an important activity in the area; terraced farms produce rice, corn and wheat. The Kathmandu Valley, a stretch of green in the middle of the Mahabbarat, is home to Nepal's capital and other historic cities.
The Himalayas stretch across the northern section of Nepal. Eight of the ten highest peaks in the world are located here, and most are covered with permanent snowfields. The area is sparsely populated, with little vegetation above the tree-line (4,200 meters).
The climate varies considerably with elevation. May to October is monsoon season, when rain soaks the Terai and snow falls on the Himalayan peaks. Mid-October to mid-December is prime mountaineering weather: the skies are clear and sunny, temperatures range from warm in the lowlands to crisp in the mountains. March and April are also good months for mountain treks, although temperatures in Kathmandu and the Terai tend to be steamy.