North Korea is a land of historical wonders. In every nook and corner of the country one will find archaeological testimony of the bygone era that corroborates the ancient East Asian culture and heritage. The rich legacy of treasures from the past is well perceived in present day North Korea or Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Situated on a jutted out mainland of eastern Asia, North Korea is separated from its southern counter part, South Korea by the 38th parallel line. This southern boundary is further emphasised by a Demilitarised Zone (or DMZ) that is 248 km long and approximately 4 km wide. The northern frontiers of North Korea are shared with People's Republic of China and Russia, while later spanning over a mere 19 km border along the Yalu and Tumen River at the northeast. The eastern side of the country is washed by the saline existence of Yellow Sea and Korean Bay. The vast coastline on the west is formed by the Sea of Japan. Around 3,579 islands along the south and west coasts from the North Korean archipelago. P'yongyang is the capital and largest city of North Korea whereas Kaesŏng, Sinŭiju, Wŏnsan, Hamhŭng and Ch'ŏngjin are the other major cities of the country.
From being the cradle of Turkic-Manchurian-Mongol civilisation to a centre of international political storm, the country has many surprises hidden in its backyards. Governed under an authoritarian socialist system the country is trying to evade the economic drawbacks that broke loose in the last decade of twentieth century. Keeping aside its political tensions with South Korea and global angst for its nuclear programs, North Korea has prospered considerably in tourism. The historical sites of Daedongmun, Botongmun gate, Dongmyeongwangreung Grave and the stone bridge of Seonjukgyo comes together to gift you an unforgettable experience. However, the natural splendours like the Cheonji Lake at Mt. Paekdusan, Yongyeon Falls and Geumgangsan Diamond Mountains don’t lag behind to promote North Korea as a tourist haven. Demographically ethnic Koreans dominate the population and Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Christianity are the prevalent religious practice in the country. Korean is the widely spoken language in North Korea, closely followed by English.
North Korea is spread over an area of around 46,540 sq miles (120,540 sq km) and takes the northern share of the vast Korean Peninsula. Apart from the Chinese border of 1,416 km and South Korean frontier of 238 km, this Asian country has a shoreline of about 2,495 km. There are thousands of small islands along the rugged coastline of the country and most of them are uninhibited and sparsely populated. North Korea claims its jurisdiction beyond the mainland to the seawaters. A maritime military boundary of 50 nautical miles from the shore in the Sea of Japan and 200 nautical miles offshore in the Yellow Sea indicates the territorial authority of North Korea although the Northern Limit Line on Yellow Sea that demarcates water boundaries with South Korea is still disputed.
The general topography of North Korea is basically coarse with mountain ranges taking way more than half of the landscape. All the mountains roll down the country terrain from north to south, making communication difficult within the eastern and western sides. Some of the major ranges and upland include the volcanic hillocks of Paektusan near the China border, the north-central Nangnim Range and the northeastern Hamgyŏng Range. Among all these, the Kŭmgangsan or Diamond Mountain near the South Korean borders are the most picturesque and is a hot spot of tourism. All ranges rise up to an average height of 2,000 metres and reach the highest point at Paektusan with 2,744 m. Many rivers flow down within these rugged mountainous terrains of North Korea. Yalu is the longest river in the country, followed by Tumen, which is navigable. There are not many lakes in the country and the plain areas of the P'yŏngyang and Chaeryŏng shelters major segment of the population.
North Korea experiences four distinct weather conditions. While summers are short but quite hot and humid due to the Pacific influence, the winters are harsh on the northern frontiers for the Siberian influence. Monsoons come along the summer months and the spring and autumn seasons make a brief appearance with pleasant conditions. North Korea is prone to earthquakes and typhoons are a regular visitor at least once in a year.
The ancient history of North Korea can be traced to the Neolithic Age and the remnants indicate the existence of the Turkic-Manchurian-Mongol. The first agriculturally based settlements are believed to have appeared around 6000 B.C. Gojoseon was the first Korean kingdom that was founded in 2333 BC by Dangun in the basins of the Liao and Taedong Rivers. This ancient civilisation was spread mainly over northern Korean peninsula and southern Manchuria until 108 BC. Till the nineteenth century, the Korean peninsula as a whole was attached to the state of China without much interaction with the outside world. The Sino-Japanese War at the beginning of twentieth century resulted in annexation of Korea to Japan. This period is called either the Japanese Imperial Period or the Japanese Imperial Forcible Occupation Period that was marred by Korean uprisings and Japanese wartime crimes.
Till this time, Korea was a single entity but after Japan's surrender at the conclusion of World War II, the Korean peninsula was partitioned into North and South Korea following the 38th parallel. This was the beginning of journey for North Korea. Initially, the USSR controlled the north, with the United States of America taking charge of the southern mainland. In 1948, the division was made permanent with the establishment of the separate regimes of North and South Korea. On May 1, 1948, Democratic People's Republic of Korea or North Korea was established and Kim Il Sung became president. The newly formed state of North Korea embarked on a mission to unify the two separate Koreas under a single Communist government and launched a surprise invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950. The North Koreans seized Seoul but the UN and American forces fought back. The tussle over Seoul went on for some time with China joining the war. Finally, stability was reached near the 38th parallel and an armistice was agreed to on July 27, 1953. The demilitarised zone along the North and South Korean borders now mark the division of the two nations.
The economic structure of North Korea had some bright moments in the initial years of reign of Kim Il Sung. Following the communist ideologies, all the institutions, industries and manufacturing units were made state owned. However the uniform distribution method of socialist financial policies failed to match up with changing times and broke loose from 1970s. The situation worsened short supply of food that resembled a famine in next few decades. External help and aids from foreign countries were brought in to manage the crisis, but till today, the economic nightmare is far from over. Heavy allotment of funds for military and defence purposes is considered to be the culprit for lack of development in other sectors.
Black market and unemployment has emerged as other evils of the North Korean society. In last few years, the ruling members realised the grimness of the fiscal situation and opened up the economy with free markets and privatisation policies. Better relations and more interaction with other countries have helped the circumstances. Though North Korea has a long way to go before attaining prosperity, the changes have begun with experiment on privatisation. China and South Korea are the biggest trade partners of North Korea.
The political regime of North Korea is a paradoxical affair. Technically, it is a republic governed by a representative assembly supported by a constitution. But in day-to-day affairs, the realms of the country are controlled by the Communist party of North Korea that is known as the Korea Workers' Party. Right from its independent inception in 1948, KWP has ruled the nation as a unitary political party without any significant rivals. All the while till his death in 1994, Kim Il Sung popularly known as “The Great Leader”, was in the helm of affairs in a autocratic mode. He was the first and last president of the country as after his death, his son Kim Jong Il came in power as head of the KWP and the military. The recognition of Kim Jong Il as head of the state is consolidated by the titles of General Secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, Chairman of the National Defense Commission and Supreme Commander of the Korean People's Army. He is addressed as the “Dear Leader”. Nowadays, the political scenario of North Korea is described as totalitarian dictatorship.
The unicameral Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui symbolises the republican feature of the country. The 687 members are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms in the parliament. The executive powers are vested in the prime minister and this called the State Administration Council. Their function and policy making is supervised by the Central People's Committee, which is headed by the president. The constitution of North Korea was first established in 1972 and was later amended twice in the last decade of twentieth century. The Central Court heads the judiciary of the North Korea and the judges are elected by the Supreme People's Assembly. Administratively, North Korea consists of two Directly-Governed Cities, three special regions and nine Provinces.