Nepal is a landlocked Himalayan country in South Asia, bordering the People's Republic of China to the north and India to the south, east and west. More than 80% of its people follow Hinduism. For a relatively small country, the Nepali landscape is uncommonly diverse, ranging from the humid Terai in the south to the lofty Himalayas in the north. Nepal boasts eight of the world's ten highest mountains, including Mount Everest on the border with China. Kathmandu is the capital and largest city. The origin of the name Nepal is uncertain, but the most popular understanding is that it derived from Ne (holy) and pal (cave).
After a long and rich history, during which the region splintered and coalesced under a variety of absolute rulers, Nepal became a constitutional monarchy in 1990. This arrangement was marked by increasing instability, both in the parliament and, since 1996, in large swathes of the country that have been fought over by Maoist insurgents. The Maoists, alienated from mainstream political parties, went underground and started a guerilla war against both monarchy and mainstream political parties. They have sought to overthrow feudal institutions, including the monarchy, and establish their form of republic. This has led to a civil war in which more than 12,000 people have died. On the pretext of quashing the insurgents, who now control about 70% of the country, the king unilaterally declared a "state of emergency" early in 2005, closing down the parliament and assuming all executive powers. Following the Loktantra Andolan, democracy was restored and in May 2006 Nepal was declared as a Secular Country.