Nepal may be defined by the Himalayas, but it is much more than just mountains. The heartland is defined by the pahad, or middle hills, a wide belt running east–west along the length of the country, characterized by massive slopes and steep-sided valleys, and populated by rustic villages set amid terraced fields. The valley cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara are exceptions in these giant-scale hills, where the biggest stretch of flat land for miles around may well be the school volleyball court. Nepal’s southernmost strip is the Terai, a swathe of hot, flat farmland, with areas of jungle preserved in a trio of national parks. Culturally as well as geographically, the Terai forms part of the Gangetic Plain of northern India. As for the Himalayan chain, it guards the northern frontier, broken into a series of himal (snow-covered mountain ranges) and alpine valleys. Pockets of high, dry terrain lie in the rain shadow in the northwestern part of the country, extensions of the great Tibetan plateau. Cutting north–south across the grain of the land, meanwhile, are the country’s great, roaring rivers, laden with glacial minerals and sediment. The largest actually cut right through the Himalayan chain, with their sources in Tibet.