Nepal lies between China and India in South Asia. The country ended its long-standing constitutional monarchy in June 2008 when King Gyanendra, who'd come to power in 2001 after the tragic murder of the previous king, abdicated the throne. Nepal's first president was chosen by parliament the following month. This precipitous government transformation came after nearly 20 years of political turmoil, including an often violent Maoist insurgency from 1996 until 2005.
Most Nepalese live in the central, hilly region, which embraces the Kathmandu Valley, and in the southern plain known as the Terai. The cutting of trees for fuel—increased by demands of a booming tourist industry—causes erosion. Rivers that spring from the Himalaya generate electricity for local use and potentially for export. Nepal possesses the greatest altitude variation on the Earth, from the lowlands near sea level to Mount Everest at 8,850 meters (29,035 feet). Everest, named after British surveyor Sir George Everest, is known as Chomolungma by the local Sherpas, meaning "Goddess Mother of the World"—related to this is the Chinese name Qomolangma. The Nepali word for Everest, Sagarmatha, is often translated as "Forehead of the Sky." Sherpas benefit from the mountaineering boom and tourism in the Everest region, owning much of the lodging and transportation. They teach visitors about Sherpa culture and Buddhism's love of the land.