With its ancient culture and the Himalayas as a backdrop, landlocked Nepal was closed to the outside world until the 1950s.
Since then the country has seen the creation of a multi-party parliamentary system, a decade-long Maoist insurgency and the abolition of its monarchy.
Flanked by China and India, it is home to eight of the world's highest mountains including Mount Everest, known locally as Sagarmatha.
As one of the world's poorer countries, Nepal's economy relies heavily on aid and tourism.
A devastating earthquake in April 2015 killed thousands of people, flattened villages and reduced numerous heritage sites to ruin.
Since then political infighting has delayed much of the reconstruction despite billions of dollars having been pledged.
Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal
Population 31 million
Area 147,181 sq km (56,827 sq miles)
Major languages Nepali
Major religions Hinduism, Buddhism
Life expectancy 68 years (men), 71 years (women)
Currency Nepalese rupee
President: Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Bidhya Devi Bhandari was elected as Nepal's first woman president in a parliamentary vote in October 2015. She was deputy leader of the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) and a former defence minister.
She is a campaigner for women's rights and widow of late communist leader Madan Kumar Bhandari.
The post of president is mainly ceremonial.
Prime minister: Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli
Communist Party of Nepal Chairman Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli was sworn in in February 2018, having previously served as prime minister in 2015-16.
An alliance of Oli's party and former Maoist rebels trounced the incumbent Nepali Congress party in 2017 polls.
Mr Oli heads the first government elected under a new national constitution, cementing Nepal's transformation from Hindu monarchy to a federal republic. He has promised to promote peace, stability and development in one of the world's poorest countries.
During Oli's last term in office in 2015, relations between Kathmandu and its traditional ally Delhi soured after protests over the constitution led to a blockade of the Nepal-India border.
His government is considered to be closer to China than India, with investment from China likely to be sought for a long-mooted Himalayan rail link and energy-starved Nepal's hydropower system.
Media freedom is restricted by the fact that journalists have been the victims of violence, activists say.
There is a small film industry, nicknamed "Kollywood".
Some key dates in Nepal's history:
1768 - Gurkha ruler Prithvi Narayan Shah conquers Kathmandu and lays foundations for unified kingdom.
1814-16 - Anglo-Nepalese War; culminates in treaty which establishes Nepal's current boundaries.
1846 - Nepal falls under sway of hereditary chief ministers known as Ranas, who dominate the monarchy and cut country off from outside world.
1950 - Anti-Rana forces based in India form alliance with monarch.
1951 - End of Rana rule. Sovereignty of crown restored and anti-Rana rebels in Nepalese Congress Party form government.
1960 - King Mahendra seizes control and suspends parliament, constitution and party politics.
1991 - Nepali Congress Party wins first democratic elections.
1995-2006 - Maoist revolt which kills thousands.
2008 - Nepal becomes a republic after abolition of monarchy.
2015 September - New constitution adopted - the first in Asia to specifically protect gay rights.