With its ancient culture and the Himalayas as a backdrop, landlocked Nepal has a romantic image.
It is nonetheless one of the world's poorest countries, and is struggling to overcome the legacy of a 10-year Maoist insurrection.
Until Nepal became a republic in May 2008, it had been ruled by monarchs or a ruling family for most of its modern history in relative isolation.
A brief experiment with multi-party politics in 1959 ended with King Mahendra suspending parliament and taking sole charge in 1962.
Democratic politics was introduced in 1991 after popular protests, but was marked by frequent changes of government. The last king of Nepal, Gyanendra, twice assumed executive powers - in 2002 and 2005.
Maoist rebels waged a decade-long campaign against the monarchy, leaving more than 12,000 people dead and 100,000 people displaced according to UN figures.
When King Gyanendra's direct rule ended under public pressure in April 2006, the rebels entered talks with the parliamentary government on how to end the civil war.
A peace deal was agreed in November, although the Maoists continued to press for abolition of the monarchy.
Parliament agreed to the condition in December 2007, and the Maoists emerged as the largest parliamentary party after elections in April 2008.
The monarchy was abolished a month later, and a Maoist-dominated government took office in August.
The Maoist-led coalition government disintegrated in May 2009, and was succeeded by another coalition excluding the Maoists.
Nepal has been at odds with neighbouring Bhutan over the repatriation of thousands of Bhutanese refugees of Nepalese descent who fled violence in Bhutan in the early 1990s.
Nepal has a flourishing tourism industry, but faces problems of deforestation and encroachment on animal habitats.
Most of the population depend on agriculture, and the UN estimates that about 40% of Nepalis live in poverty.
Foreign aid is vital to the economy, and Nepal is also heavily dependent on trade with neighbouring India.
Population: 29.8 million (UN, 2010)
Area: 147,181 sq km (56,827 sq miles)
Major language: Nepali
Major religions: Hinduism, Buddhism
Life expectancy: 68 years (men), 70 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Nepalese rupee = 100 paisa
Main exports: Carpets, clothing, leather goods, jute goods, grain
GNI per capita: US $480 (World Bank, 2010)
Internet domain: .np
International dialling code: +977
Mr Yadav became the first president of republican Nepal in July 2008, nearly two months after the country's new constituent assembly had voted to abolish the 239-year-old monarchy.
He is an ethnic Madheshi from Nepal's southern lowlands and was backed by the centrist Nepali Congress - the second largest party in parliament - as well as two smaller parties.
Mr Yadav is a trained medical doctor and has twice served as health minister. He has also held senior positions in the Nepali Congress.
The presidency is a largely ceremonial position.
Prime minister: Baburam Bhattarai
In August 2011, Baburam Bhattarai became Nepal's fourth prime minister in as many years.
Born in a remote village in central Nepal in 1954, Mr Bhattarai enjoyed a distinguished academic career as an expert in development studies.
He first became involved in politics during his student days in India, when he organised fellow Nepali students.
Mr Bhattarai went underground when the Maoists launched their armed insurrection against the Nepalese monarchy in 1996, but gradually emerged as the public face of the Maoists, becoming one of their lead negotiators in the run-up to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2006.
He has long been a close associate of Maoist leader Prachanda, though the relationship between the two men has not always been entirely free of tension.
Mr Bhattarai's main priorities are now the integration of more than 19,000 former Maoist guerrillas into the regular armed forces and the drafting of Nepal's first republican constitution - both of which were major conditions of the 2006 peace deal that ended a decade-long civil war in which more than 16,000 people were killed.
From : BBC News