Nepal is located in the Himalayas between India and Tibet. At the beginning of the 20th century, the king of Nepal had little real power. Instead the country was controlled by a family called the Ranas. Democracy was instituted in the early 1950s with the approval of King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram, who wished to end the rule of the Ranas.
Tribhuvan became a constitutional monarch, but took control of the government. His son and successor, King Mahendra, grabbed more power and ended up an absolute monarch.
In 1990 Mahendra's son King Birendra bowed to pressure from his subjects and proclaimed a new constitution which returned the kingdom to democracy. The king remained the head of state.
In 2001, the royal family was massacred, reportedly by King Birendra's son Crown Prince Dipendra under the influence of drugs. Victims included the king and queen, their two younger children, and three of the king's siblings.
The crown prince also apparently shot himself, but lived long enough to be proclaimed king. After three days in a coma, he died.
After King Dipendra's death, Birendra's brother Gyanendra became king. King Gyanendra suspended Nepal's democratically elected government in October 2002. After massive protests, the king reinstated Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in June 2004. But in 2005, the king once more dismissed the government and assumed complete control of Nepal.
Again faced with massive protests, the king restored executive power to the people in April 2006. In December 2007, Nepal's parliament voted to abolish the monarchy. The official end of the world's last Hindu monarchy came on May 28, 2008, when Nepal's constituent assembly declared Nepal a republic.
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Massacre at the Palace: The Doomed Royal Dynasty of Nepal by Jonathan Gregson. Despite the sensational title, this is a serious look at Nepal's royal history. It's a bit short and has no index (not many pictures, either), but it's well-written and paints an amazing picture of the royal family's violent past, including the 2001 royal massacre. Recommended. (Also published under the title "Blood Against the Snows.")
Love and Death in Kathmandu: A Strange Tale of Royal Murder by Amy Willesee and Mark Whittaker. The authors visited Nepal and interviewed rebels, royals, and palace employees to learn about Nepal's history, traditions, and the 2001 royal massacre. The book focuses on Crown Prince Dipendra's life, personality, and state of mind on the night he killed his family. The book has no index, but includes a good selection of photos. Recommended.
A History of Nepal by John Whelpton. Published in 2005, this comprehensive one-volume history of Nepal focuses on the period since the overthrow of the Rana family autocracy in 1950-51, but early chapters are devoted to the origins of the kingdom.
Royal Nepal Through the Lens of Richard Gordon Matzene by Marcella Sirhandi. In 1930, Matzene photographed the ruling families of Nepal. He was only the 27th foreigner to enter the country. He negotiated court etiquette to produce photographs of a world that now exists only in memory.
Historical Dictionary of Nepal by Nanda R. Shrestha and Keshav Bhattarai. Provides a detailed historical account of Nepal, and a picture of its contemporary political scene. Published in 2005.
Prithvinarayan Shah: The Founder of Modern Nepal by Tulsi Ram Vaidya. About the king who unified Nepal and founded the current royal dynasty. Out of print, but sometimes available.
Bahadur Shah: The Regent of Nepal by Bhadra Ratna Bajracharya. Bahadur Shah, who lived in the 18th century, was regent of the kingdom for nine years.
Land of the Gorkhas, or The Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal by W.B. Northy is about the history of Nepal.
From Goddess to Mortal: The True Life Story of Kumari by Rashmila Shakya as told to Scott Berry. As a child, Rashmila Shakya was a kumari, raised in isolation and worshipped as a living goddess. When she reached puberty she lost her divine role and had to learn to live an ordinary life.
The Soul of the Rhino: A Nepali Adventure with Kings and Elephant Drivers, Billionaires and Bureaucrats, Shamans and Scientists, and the Indian Rhinoceros by Hemanta Mishra. "The fate of the rhinos was very much linked to the fate of the king," writes the author in this account of his attempt to save the endangered rhinoceros of Nepal.
Kings, Soldiers, and Priests by John Whelpton covers Nepalese politics and the rise of maharajah Jang Bahadur Rana, 1830-1857.
Shadow Over Shangri-La: A Woman's Quest for Freedom by Durga Pokhrel. The author, a democracy activist, was arrested for allegedly planning to kidnap Crown Prince Dipendra. (This book was published several years before Dipendra killed his family and himself.)
Rana Rule in Nepal by Shaphalya Amatya. Examines the Rana family's reign and the role of King Tribhuwan in bringing about their downfall. Sometimes available.
Living Martyrs: Individuals and Revolution in Nepal by James F. Fisher. Biography of Tanka Prasad Acharya, former prime minister of Nepal, and his wife, Rewanta Kumari, who struggled to bring an end to the rule of the Ranas.
The Democratic Transition in Nepal by Ramjee P. Parajulee. Published in 2000, this book examines political, economic, and sociocultural roadblocks to Nepal's development.
Royal Nepal - A Political History by Ram Rahul.
Nepal Internal Politics and Its Constitution by S. K. Chaturvedi. Published in 1993.
Building Democracy in South Asia: India, Nepal, Pakistan by Maya Chadda. Analysis of South Asia's political experience with democracy in the 1990s.
The Challenge to Democracy in Nepal by T. Louise Brown covers Nepal's political history from medieval to modern times. Published in 1995.
East of Lo Monthang: In the Land of Mustang by Peter Matthiessen, photographs by Thomas Laird. Formerly part of Tibet, Mustang is now part of Nepal. It has its own king. This is a 1995 travel book.
These DVDs are formatted for North American audiences.
The Last Royals. Can kings and queens survive the challenges of the 21st century? This television documentary from National Geographic includes an interview with King Gyanendra of Nepal.
Living Goddess. Documentary about young girls worshipped as Hindu goddesses in Nepal. It has no narration, only subtitles, so some questions go unanswered, but it provides a fascinating look into the lives of these girls during the last days of Nepal's monarchy. (Warning: Contains scenes of animal sacrifice.)
Genealogical Gleanings - Nepal