The small, landlocked Kingdom of Nepal was a mystery to the outside World until 1950 when it finally opened its borders to foreigners. Although a Kingdom its Royal family had been controlled by the Rana's, the hereditary Prime Ministers, since 1846 and it was only in 1950 that they wrestled back control of the country. This was mainly due to support from India who were increasingly concerned about the actions of China in Tibet and wanted an ally in the Himalayas.
One of the first Westerners to travel there was Boris Lissanevitch, an exiled White Russian, who was invited to Kathmandu by King Tribhuvam in 1951 to open a hotel. He found a city lost in time, a mediaeval city of just over 100,000, with narrow streets and no vehicles - all cars had to be dismantled and carried to the city as there were no roads through the mountains.
For the first time it opened up the route to the southern face of Mt. Everest - all the great British Expeditions of the 1920's (including the 1924 tragedy that led to the loss of Mallory and Irvine) had always had to approach via the North through Tibet.
Sacred Mountain is set in 1953 when Nepal and Kathmandu were unchanged by the outside world. There was, for example, still a nightly password known only to the ruling classes to allow them out at night, the rest of the population remaining under curfew. The 1953 British Expedition to Everest, walking through the foothills towards Everest, were some of the first westerners ever to see these rural areas.
Nepal had, however, been famous for one thing in Britain for well over a century. After the Anglo-Nepalese War of 1815-16, during which the Nepalese had initially shocked the British by defeating them, the British Army added the right to recruit soldiers from the Gurkha areas in the final Treaty. It is as an officer with the 3rd Battalion, the 2nd Gurkha Rifles, that Philip Armitage, the main character of Sacred Mountain, serves during World War 2 as a new, raw and overwhelmed officer.