Identification. The Gurungs are a people inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas in central Nepal. Their origins are uncertain, though linguistic evidence suggests that their ancestors may have migrated from Tibet about 2,000 years ago.
Location. The majority of Gurung villages are located on mountain slopes at elevations between 1,050 and 2,100 meters in the foothills of the Annapurna and Lamjung Himalaya and Himalchuli in Nepal at 28°0′ to 28°30′ N and 83°30′ to 84°30′ E. Toward the Himalayan range, there are wide gorges with tall craggy ridges rising above them. These are dotted with villages, set high on the mountainsides. Often there will be jungle above a village and below it a cascade of terraced fields. Winters are cold and dry, though it seldom freezes. Monsoon rains come from the south in summer. Temperatures range from about 0° to 32° C. "Gurung country" is situated between two distinct ecological zones, the alpine Mountain highlands and the low subtropical valleys. Likewise it exists between two great cultural and social traditions, Tibetan Buddhism to the north and Indian Hinduism to the south.
Demography. The 1981 Nepal census reported 174,464 Gurung speakers in Nepal, making up 1.2 percent of the country's total population. These figures reflect a smaller number of Gurungs than actually exist, since they indicate only those who named Gurung as their mother tongue and not all Gurungs speak the language. The census shows Gurungs to be most numerous in the districts of Lamjung, Syangja, Kaski, Gorkha, Tanahu, Parbat, and Manang in Gandaki Zone, central Nepal.
Linguistic Affiliation. Gurung belongs to the Tibeto-Burman Language Family and resembles other languages of peoples of the middle hills of Nepal, such as Thakali and Tamang. It has a tonal structure and no written form. Most Gurungs are bilingual and tend to be fluent from childhood in Nepali, the Sanskritic language that is the lingua franca of the nation.