|Currency||Nepalese rupee (NPR)|
Nepal is a landlocked country in Southern Asia, between the Tibet autonomous region of China and India. It contains eight of the world's 10 highest peaks, including Mount Everest - the world's tallest - on the border with Tibet, and Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. In 2008, Nepal was declared a republic and abolished its monarchy.
Nepal is officially divided into 14 administrative zones and five development regions, but travellers might be more comfortable with the conceptual division below (based on the country's elevation). From north to south:
The roof of the world, including Mount Everest, Annapurna, Langtang National Park and The Great Himalaya Trail with numerous sightseeing, trekking, and other adventure sport opportunities.
Home to Kathmandu, Boudhanath, Patan and Bhaktapur, this is in the heart of Nepal and a crossroads of cultures with numerous sacred temples and monuments.
The Hill Region (Pahar in Nepali) is mostly between 700 and 4,000 metres altitude. This region is split from the Terai Range by the Mahabharat Lekh (Lesser Himalaya) and forms a geographic midlands between the Terai and the Himalayas. It includes the scenic Pokhara valley, a popular base for activities in the area.
The western side of the Terai mountain range with the Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park.
Quite a populated area with Biratnagar, Nepal's second largest municipality.
- Kathmandu — capital & cultural centre of Nepal, with its Hanumandhoka Durbar Square and the stupas at Boudhanath and Swayambhunath
- Bhaktapur — a well-preserved historical city, centre of pilgrimage and Nepali pottery-making; no motorized vehicles allowed
- Biratnagar — an important agricultural centre and a centre for political activism, in eastern Nepal near Dharan
- Birgunj — a business gateway between India and Nepal in mid-southern Nepal
- Janakpur — a historical religious centre and home to the 500-year old Janaki Temple
- Namche Bazaar — a Sherpa settlement located in the Solu Khumbu region and popular with trekkers
- Nepalgunj — the main hub for the Mid- and Far-Western Development Region; Bardiya National Park is close by
- Patan — beautiful, historic Patan Durbar Square was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979
- Pokhara — picturesque lake-side town fast becoming the destination of choice for travellers due to the scenery, adventure sports, dining, hotels and live music scene
Locked between the snow peaks of the Himalayas and the seething Ganges plain, Nepal has long been home to wandering ascetics and tantric yogis. Consequently, the country has a wealth of sacred sites and natural wonders:
- Annapurna — popular trekking region of Nepal with the world-famous Annapurna Circuit
- Chitwan National Park — World Heritage site with tigers, rhinos and jungle animals
- Daman — tiny village in the mountains offering panoramic views of the Himalayas; especially stunning at sunrise and sunset
- Haleshi (Tibetan: Maratika) — the site of a mountain cave where Padmasambhava attained a state beyond life and death
- Lumbini — the sacred site of the Buddha Shakyamuni's birth
- Mount Everest — the tallest peak of the world in the Khumbu region
- Nagarkot — a hill station one hour from Kathmandu offering excellent views of the Himalayan Range
- Parping — the site of several sacred caves associated with Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism
- Tangting — a beautiful and undiscovered traditional Gurung village with a stunning view of the Annapurna range
- See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent
Nepal has been divided into elevation zones, south to north:
- Outer Terai - Level plains, a cultural and linguistic extension of northern India. Nepali is spoken less than Awadhi and Bhojpuri dialects related to Hindi and Maithili. Lumbini ( Lord Buddha's birthplace ) and Janakpur (Hindu Goddess Sita's birthplace) are in this zone. Other cities -- Dhangadhi, Nepalgunj, Bhairawa, Butwal, Birgunj, Janakpur and Biratnagar -- are transportation hubs and border towns more than travel destinations. Nevertheless the Terai may offer opportunities for intimate exposure to traditional Indian culture that have become less available in India itself.
- Siwalik Range or Churia Hills - the outermost and lowest range of foothills, about 600 m (2,000 ft) high. Extends across the country east to west but with significant gaps and many subranges. Poor soils and no agriculture to speak of. No developed tourist destinations, however the forests are wild and the sparse population of primitive hunters and gatherers is unique.
- Inner Terai - large valleys between the Siwaliks and higher foothills to the north. The Dang and Deukhuri valleys in the Mid West are the largest, offering opportunities to experience Tharu art and culture. Chitwan south of Kathmandu is another of these valleys, known for Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage Site where tigers, rhinos, crocodiles, deer and birds can be observed. Originally these valleys were malarial and lightly populated by Tharus who had evolved resistance and developed architectural and behavioral adaptations limiting exposure to the most dangerous nocturnal mosquitoes. Suppression of mosquitoes with DDT in the 1960s opened these valleys to settlers from the hills who cleared forests and displaced and exploited Tharus. Nevertheless, more remote parts of these valleys still have a Garden of Eden quality - forests broken by indefinite fields, lazy rivers, fascinating aboriginal peoples.
- Mahabharat Range - a prominent foothill range continuous across the country from east to west except for narrow transecting canyons, with elevations ascending up to 3,000 m (10,000 ft). Steep southern slopes are a no-man's land between lowland and Pahari (hill) cultures and languages, which begin along the crest and gentler northern slopes. Given clear skies, there are panoramic views of the high himalaya from almost anywhere on the crest. Underdeveloped as a tourist venue compared to India's 'Hill Stations', nevertheless Daman and Tansen are attractive destinations.
- Middle Hills - Valleys north of the Mahabharat Range and hills up to about 2,000 m (6,500 ft). are mainly inhabited by Hindus of the Bahun (priestly Brahmin) and Chhetri (warriors and rulers) castes who speak Nepali as their first language. Higher where it becomes too cold to grow rice, populations are largely Magar, Gurung, Tamang, Rai or Limbu, the hill tribes from which the British recruited Gurkha soldiers while the soldiers' families grew crops suited to temperate climates. Men in these ethnic groups also work as porters or may be herders moving their flocks into the high mountains in summer and the lower valleys in winter. Trekking through the hills is unremittingly scenic with streams and terraced fields, picturesque villages, a variety of ethnic groups with distinctive costumes, and views of the high Himalayas from high points.
- Valleys - Kathmandu and to the west Pokhara occupy large valleys in the hills. The Kathmandu Valley was urbanized long before the first Europeans reached the scene and has historic neighbourhoods, temple complexes, pagodas, Buddhist stupas, palaces and bazaars. Its natives are predominantly Newar farmers, traders, craftsmen and civil servants. Newar culture is an interesting synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist elements. Unfortunately a range of hills north of this valley limit views of the Himalaya. Pokhara has fewer urban points of interest but outstanding views of the nearby Annapurna Himalaya. Pokhara's Newar population is confined to bazaars. Elsewhere upper caste Hindus dominate, whose ancestors probably were Khas peoples from far western Nepal. Both valleys offer excellent opportunities to experience Nepal without strenuous trekking. Narrower valleys along streams and rivers are important rice-growing centres in the hills. There is a limited amount of this land and most of it is owned by upper caste Hindus.
- Lekhs - Snow occasionally falls and lasts days or weeks in the winter above 3,000 m(10,000ft), but melts in summer below about 5,500 m (18,000 ft). Treeline is about 4,000 m (13,000 ft). This zone is used for summer pastures but not year-round habitation.
- North of the lekhs, the snowy high Himalayas rise abruptly along a fault zone to peaks over 6,700 m (22,000 ft) and even over 8,000 m (26,000 ft). Himalaya means 'abode of snow', which is uninhabited. Valleys among the peaks are inhabited, especially along trade routes where rice from the lowlands was traded for salt from the Tibetan Plateau along with other goods. Trade has diminished since China annexed Tibet in the 1950s but catering to trekkers and climbers has become an economic engine. People living along these routes have Tibetan affinities but usually speak fluent Nepali.
- Trans-Himalaya - Peaks in this region north of the highest Himalayas in central and western Nepal are lower and gentler, mostly around 6,000 m (20,000 ft). Valleys below 5,000 m (17,000 ft). are inhabited by people who are essentially Tibetan and have adapted to living at much higher elevations than other Nepalis. Roads have not yet penetrated this far and travel is expensive by air or arduous on foot. Nevertheless, it is a unique opportunity to experience a very significant and attractive culture in spectacular surroundings.
These are also important geographic divisions. The Mahabharat Range is a major hydrologic barrier in Nepal and other parts of the Himalaya. South-flowing rivers converge in candelabra shapes to break through this range in a few narrow gorges. Travel is usually easier within these candelabra drainage systems than between them, so high divides between river systems became historically important political, linguistic and cultural boundaries.
The Karnali system in the far west is the birthplace of Pahari ('hill') culture. It was settled by people called the Khas, speaking an Indo-European language called Khaskura ('Khas talk') that was related to other north Indian languages and all claiming descent from classical Sanskrit.
East of the Karnali proper, along a major tributary called the Bheri and further east in another basin called the Rapti lived a Tibeto-Burman people called Kham. Khas and Kham people seem to have been allies and probably intermarried to create the synthesis of aryan and mongoloid features that especially characterizes the second-highest Chhetri (Kshatriya) caste. It appears that Khas kings recruited Kham men as guards and soldiers. Khas and Kham territories in the far west were subdivided into small kingdoms called the Baisi, literally '22' as they were counted.
Nepal has one of the world's highest birthrates because Hindu women usually marry by their early teens, causing their entire reproductive potential to be utilized. Furthermore, men who can afford it often take multiple wives. This may trace back to Khas culture, explaining relentless Khas colonization eastward as finite amounts of land suitable for rice cultivation were inevitably outstripped by high birthrates.
Rapti and Gandaki
The Rapti river system east of the Karnali-Bheri had few lowlands suitable for growing rice and extensive highlands that were not attractive for Khas settlement but were a barrier to migration. However the Rapti's upper tributaries rose somewhat south of the Himalaya. Between these tributaries and the Dhaulagiri range of the Himalaya, a large east-west valley called Dhorpatan branching off the upper Bheri provided a detour eastward, over an easy pass called Jaljala into the Gandaki river system further east. The Gandaki is said to have seven major tributaries, most rising in or beyond the high Himalaya. They merge to cut through the Mahabharat and Siwalik ranges. In this basin elevations were generally lower and rainfall was higher compared to the Karnali-Bheri and Rapti basins. There was great potential for rice cultivation, the agricultural base of the Khas way of life. A collection of small principalities called the Chaubisi developed. Chaubisi literally means '24', as these kingdoms were counted. Not all were Khas kindoms. Some were Magar -- a large indigenous hill tribe people related to the Kham. Other kingdoms were Gurung and Tamang. Several Gandaki tributaries rose in the trans-Himalayan region where inhabitants and rulers became increasingly Tibetanized to the north.
Emergence of Shah Dynasty from Gorkha
Within the Chaubisi kingdoms of the Gandaki basin, Gorkha was a small valley east of Pokhara ruled by a Khas family now called Shah, an honorific title that may have come later, however any earlier name seems to be forgotten. In 1743 A.D. Prithvi Narayan Shah became the ruler of Gorkha after his father Nara Bhupal Shah died. Prithvi Narayan already had a reputation as a hotheaded upstart. Resolving to modernize Gorkha's army, he was bringing modern arms from India when customs officers demanded inspection and payment of duties. Prithvi Narayan refused and attacked the officers, killing several before escaping with his arms and men. He also visited Benares to study the situation of local rulers and the growing encroachment of British interests. Prithvi concluded that invasion was a chronic danger to rulers on the plains of northern India, whereas the hills were more defensible and offered more scope to carve out a lasting empire.
Kathmandu Valley (Bagmati)
Prithvi Narayan must have been a charismatic figure, for he recruited, equipped and trained a formidable army and persuaded his subjects to underwrite all this from his ascension to the throne until his death in 1775. Through conquest and treaty, he consolidated several Chaubisi kingdoms. As his domain expanded, Khaskura became known as Gorkhali, i.e. the language of the Gorkha kingdom. Then he moved east into the next river basin, the Bagmati which drains the Kathmandu Valley that held three small but prosperous urban kingdoms. Like the Rapti, the Bagmati rises somewhat south of the Himalaya. Unlike the Rapti basin, this valley had once held a large lake and the remaining alluvial soil was exceptionally fertile. Between the agricultural abundance, local crafts, and extensive trade with Tibet, the cities were prosperous. Prithvi Narayan encircled the valley, cutting off trade and restricting ordinary activities, even farming and getting water. With a combination of stealth, brutality and intimidation he prevailed and deposed the local kings in 1769, making Kathmandu his new capital. This was the high point of Prithvi Narayan's career, however he continued consolidating the Kathmandu Valley with the Chaubisi and Baisi federations to the west until his death in 1775. Gorkhali was re-dubbed Nepali as 'Nepal' came to mean not only the urbanized Kathmandu Valley, but all lands ruled by the Shahs.
Prithvi Narayan's heirs, Pratap Singh, Rana Bahadur and Girvan Yuddha continued expansion of their kingdom into the Koshi river basin east of the Bagmati system. Like the Gandaki, the Koshi traditionally has seven major tributaries descending from the Himalaya before joining forces to break through the Mahabharat and Siwalik ranges. Ranges drained by Koshi tributaries include Mount Everest and its neighbouring peaks, as well as the western side of the Kangchenjunga massif. Kangchenjunga and a high ridge to the south are the watershed between the Koshi and Tista basins as well as the border between Nepal and the former kingdom Sikkim that India annexed in 1975.
Caste, Ethnicity, Religion and languages
The caste and ethnic groups of Nepal according to the 2001 census are classified into five main categories:
- (a) Castes originating from Hindu groups
- (b) Newars
- (c) The ethnic groups or Janajati
- (d) Muslims
- (e) Others.
According to one theory, Hindu castes migrated from India to Nepal after the 11th century due to Muslim invasion. Another theory says that present day Hindu hill castes come from the Buddhist/Hindu population of the ancient Khas kingdom (present day Mid-western and Far-western Nepal). The traditional Hindu caste system is based on the four Varna Vyavastha "the class system" of Brahmin (Bahun) priests, scholars and advisors; Kshatriya (Chhetri) rulers and warriors, Vaishya (merchants); Shudra (farmers and menial occupations not considered polluting). Below the Shudra Dalit perform 'polluting' work such as tanning and cleaning latrines. However, the middle Vaishya and Shudra are underrepresented in the hills, apparently because they did not have compelling reason to leave the plains while Muslim invaders tried to eliminate previous elites. Dalits seem to have accompanied the upper castes into the hills because they were bound by longstanding patronage arrangements. However, the absence of Vaishya people in the Hindu hill population supports the second theory.
Traditional caste rules govern who can eat with whom, especially when boiled rice is served, and who can accept water from whom. Until the 1950s these rules were enforced by law.
Dalits are subject to caste-based discrimination and so called ‘untouchability’ in social, economic, educational, political and religious areas. The National Dalit Commission (2002) categorized 28 cultural groups as Dalits. Some argue that the use of the term Dalit will never ever help to abolish caste-based untouchability. (Literally, 'Dalit' translates to 'suppressed' in Nepali.) There are suggestions that the term should not be used because it not only breeds inferiority but is also insulting.
Newars -- the indigenous people of the Kathmandu valley -- follow both Hinduism and Buddhism. According to the 2001 census they can be classified into 40 distinct cultural groups, but all speak a common language called Nepal bhasa (Newa bhaaya). Newars use prevailing lingua francas to communicate outside their community: Nepali in the hills and Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi in the Terai.
The ethnic groups of the hills, Tarai and mountain areas are grouped as Janajati. According to the National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN), ethnic groups are those “who have their own mother tongue and traditional customs, a distinct cultural identity, a distinct social structure and written or oral history all of their own". A total of 61 Adibasi Janajatis have been recognised by the Nepal Government. 5 are from the mountain regions, 20 from the Hills, 7 from inner Terai and 11 from the Terai region. A Janajati is a community who has its own mother tongue and traditional culture and yet does not fall under the conventional fourfold Varna of the Hindu system or the Hindu hierarchical caste structure according to the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities. Many of these ethnic groups are Hinduized to some degree, although Hindu practices supplement rather than replace more ancient beliefs and practices. Unlike the Hindus, many indigenous nationalities of Nepal such as the Sherpa people as well as the people of Muslim & Christian faiths, have a culture of eating beef.
Other caste and ethnic groups included in the ‘other’ category are Sikhs, Christians, Bengalis and Marawadis.
Different indigenous nationalities are in different stages of development. Some indigenous nationalities are nomads, e.g. Raute, and some are forest dwellers, e.g. Chepang and Bankaria. Most of the indigenous nationalities rely on agriculture and pastoralism and very few are cosmopolitan, e.g. Newar.
The census of 2011 listed 10 religions — Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, Kiranti, Christian, Jain, Sikh, Prakriti, Bon and Bahai. Hindus comprise 81%, Buddhists about 9% with the other religions making up the rest.
Nepal has a monsoonal climate with four main seasons - though traditionally a year was categorized into six distinct climate periods: Basanta (spring), Grishma (early summer), Barkha (summer monsoon), Sharad (early autumn), Hemanta (late autumn) and Shishir (winter).
Below is a general guide to conditions at different seasons:
- Heavy monsoonal rains from June to September - the rains are generally lighter high in the Himalayas than in Kathmandu, though the mountain peaks are often not visible due to clouds. In the Kathmandu Valley & Pokhara - monsoon rains typically consist of an hour or two of rain every two or three days. The rains clean the air, streets, & cool the air. If you come, bring an umbrella, expect lower lodging prices & fewer tourists.
- Clear and cool weather from October to December - after the monsoon, there is little dust in the air so this is the best season to visit the hilly and mountainous regions.
- Cold from January to March, with the temperature in Kathmandu often dropping as low as 0°C (32°F) at night, with extreme cold at high elevations. It is possible to trek in places like the Everest region during the winter, but it is extremely cold and snow fall may prevent going above 4,000-4,500m (13,000-15,000 feet). The Jomosom trek is a reasonable alternative, staying below 3,000m (10,000 feet) with expected minimum temperatures about -10°C (14°F) (and much better chances of avoiding heavy snow.)
- Dry and warm weather from April to June - there is an abundance of blooming flowers in the Himalayas at this time, with rhododendrons, in particular, adding a splash of colour to the landscape. Terai temperatures may reach or exceed 40°C (104°F) while Kathmandu temperatures are about 30°C (86°F). This is the best time to undertake mountain expeditions.
The recording of temperatures and rainfall of the major locations across Nepal was started in 1962 and their averages provide a reference point for analysing the climate trend.
Be aware, if coming from India, that 500 and 1000 Indian rupee notes are not accepted because their circulation is prohibited in Nepal.
Visas are free for all tourists who come from a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) country, so nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka may stay in Nepal indefinitely without a visa.
Nationals of Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Cameroon, Somalia, Liberia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan are required to obtain visas before arrival.
Tourist Visas are available on arrival for citizens of many countries at Kathmandu airport and designated frontier posts (see below) and currently cost:
- US$25 for 15 days
- US$40 for 30 days
- US$100 for 90 days
Tourist visas can be granted for a maximum of 150 days in a visa year.
You can also pay this on arrival in other convertible currencies such as Euros, Pounds sterling, RMB and Australian dollars, although US dollars are always preferred and some smaller entry points (like Birgunj) may only accept USD and Kodari only accepts USD and RMB.
All tourist visa are currently the "multiple entry" type and allow multiple entries and exits during the period of validity.
Be aware that, without permission, volunteering while on a tourist visa is strictly prohibited.
More details can read on the official website of Nepal Immigration, where you can download the tourist visa form.
On arrival, beside the visa form, the disembarkation form and the payment, you will need to provide a recent passport size photo to attach to the visa form. Note that there is a photobooth just before immigration but its expensive, so just make sure to bring your photo for the visa form. You can also pay US$5 extra if no photo (at least in Kodari).
Make sure that you fill in the VOA form and the arrival card. If you're arriving in Nepal by plane, you will probably be offered an arrival card before landing at the airport in Kathmandu but the visa application form (the so-called long form) is available only in the arrivals hall. Pick one up and complete it before you bother joining any of the lineups. It saves a lot of time if you print out and fill in the VOA form prior to arrival in Nepal. If you arrive by plane, facilities for taking passport-sized photographs are available at the airport near the immigration desk, though it saves a lot of time if you have the pictures prepared before arrival. SAARC nationals are exempt from visa fees. Departure cards are not provided on arrival but only when you leave Nepal. You will need your passport with your entry visa to complete the departure card.
To extend your tourist visa, visit the Nepal Immigration Office in Kathmandu or Pokhara with your passport and another photo, and pay USD2 for every day past your visa you want to stay, up to the maximum of 150 days per year.
- Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu
- Kakarvitta, Jhapa (Eastern Nepal)
- ImmiBirganj, Parsa (Central Nepal)
- Kodari, Sindhupalchowk (Northern Border)
- Belahia, Bhairahawa (Rupandehi, Western Nepal)
- Jamunaha, Nepalgunj (Banke, Mid Western Nepal)
- Mohana, Dhangadhi (Kailali, Far Western Nepal)
- Gaddachauki, Mahendranagar (Kanchanpur, Far Western Nepal)
Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport is the only international airport in Nepal and is located just east of the Ring Road in Kathmandu. Although Nepal is a popular tourist destination, most flights from anywhere will stop on the way in either Asia or the Middle East. Because of this, expect long travel times if you're coming from Europe or North America.
In recent years, with the more stable political situation, more airlines are offering flights to Nepal. Some are listed in the Kathmandu city article.
The terminal building has limited facilities. There is an immigration hall where new arrivals obtain their visas, a customs counter, a tourist information booth and a currency exchange counter. The latter may only have services available for a short time after scheduled flights arrive. The departures area has a number of ticket counters for airline use, an immigration area where you have your visa and exit card examined, a security section where passengers and their baggage is searched or scanned, and several departure lounges. One small retail concession is available where you can buy drinks and some snacks.
It's possible to get passport photos prepared in the arrivals hall and pick up the immigration form from tables at the back of the hall, but your progress through immigration can be made easier if you come with some of your own passport photos and your visa forms downloaded from Nepal Immigration and already completed. You may be given an immigration card on your flight but you will still need the long form visa application that you can get either on-line or in the arrivals hall at the airport. Don't bother joining any queues until you have your application form, your passport photos and your visa fees in hand.
Visitors may want to complete currency exchanges in the city closer to where they are staying. Thamel, for example, has many currency exchange booths where rates are competitive and the service is quick and efficient. Visa fees can be paid at the airport in most major currencies, with US dollars preferred.
Outside the airport, all 'representatives' of the tourist industry are required to remain 10m from the front door. Many will be waving large signs and yelling in an attempt to encourage you to choose them as your guide/taxi/hotel/luggage carrier. Make your choice before crossing the line. Be aware that as you leave the immigration section of the airport and collect your luggage, someone with a luggage cart is very likely to approach and assist you. Unless you insist on handling your own bags and luggage cart, this person will accompany you to the exit doors from the terminal and to your transportation and will then expect a tip. It's useful to have some small denomination bills or coins, even in a foreign currency, that you can use for a tip. Many visitors might arrive with only travellers cheques or large denomination bills, making tipping difficult.
If possible, arrange your first night's accommodation before you arrive and ask the hotel to send someone to meet you. Many hotel and guest houses offer complimentary airport transportation. If you have made arrangements with a trekking agency it is possible that they will collect you from the airport as part of the package. If you have made such arrangements, someone from your hotel or trekking agency will be displaying a sign so they can be identified. Either of these two latter options are good choices if you are new to Nepal and especially if you are arriving late at night and are not familiar with the city or how things in Nepal work.
Fixed priceTaxis can be arranged before you exit the building, but you may get a cheaper fare if you are willing to negotiate. The best practice is to agree on the price beforehand with the driver. A taxi ride to Thamel or Boudha should be under NPR500 but this can be quite variable. Otherwise, order a taxi at the pre-paid booth inside the airport. This will likely be more than a negotiated rate outside, but it might save time.
The only other situation that might complicate your transportation to the city is a strike (bandh). These are less common now than they used to be some years ago, but one such strike was called by a coalition of political parties during the week leading up to the Nov 2013 elections. Strikes seem to affect taxis less later in the evening than during the day and, in any case, if you're arriving, there is little you can do aside from sorting it out when you get here. When you're leaving, it's a good idea to be aware if any strikes have been called and try to make arrangements. An early morning or evening trip to the airport may be a possible solution. Your hotel or trekking company may also be able to help.
By car or motorcycle
It's quite easy to rent a car with a driver in Nepal; however, you'll need to haggle to get a reasonable price. If you come in summer, better take a car with air-conditioning. Car rental without a driver in Nepal is almost unheard of, as is renting a car in India and taking it across the border.
Many travellers ride from India on Royal Enfield motorcycles. Foreigners have to pay customs at the borders but most don't bother. Selling the bike in Nepal is easy as other travellers are looking for bikes to ride back to India.
If you're coming from India you'll find driving in Nepal a lot less chaotic. The roads are amazing and the new east-west highway currently under construction with support from the Japanese will open up new destinations for those interested in exploring Nepal by motor-bike.
Please check before hiring a motorbike on the current state of fuel. In late 2009 there were problems with fuel supply which can leave riders stranded. Bike hire should cost around NPR500 a day (Pulsar, Hero Honda, scooter) unless you are hiring an Royal Enfield.
Hire firms are also notorious for trying to charge tourists large amounts of money for 'damage' that may not have done by you on returning the bike. Therefore, make sure a thorough damage assessment is carried out before departing and, if the hirer tries to scam you on return, go to the local police.
The best route to explore Nepal by road on motorcycle, is to enter from the border crossing of Banbasa- Mahendra Nagar, just after the border crossing, the Mahendra Highway (made with collaboration from India) is amazing to ride on.
Crossing the border requires you to pay a daily toll of NPR120 and a transport permit of NPR50 (one time), the police can ask you for these two documents any time during your ride.
There are Five border crossings open to tourists. The Sunauli-Bhairawa border crossing is the closest to Varanasi, the Raxaul-Birganj crossing to Patna, Kolkata, and Siliguri-Kakarbhitta is to Darjeeling. The Banbassa-Mahendrenagar border crossing in the extreme west of Nepal, is the closest to Delhi. The Bahraich-Nepalganj border is the one closest to Lucknow which is the easiest destination by air or train from Delhi.
The crossing between Nepal and Tibet via Kodari is open to independent travellers entering Nepal, but only to organised groups entering Tibet.
Cargo and passenger trains operate between Sirsiya in southern Nepal, and the Indian town of Raxaul. However, except for Indians, foreigners are not allowed to cross the border with it. The internal train network is limited to a few kilometres of train network in Janakpur.
- Domestic Flights There are a number of domestic airlines in Nepal such as Yeti Air, Tara Air and Nepal Airlines that offer frequent flights to many destinations around the country. Destinations to and from Kathmandu include places like Biratnagar, Nepalganj, Lukla, Pokhara, Simikot, Jomsom, Janakpur and Bharatpur. To arrange flights from outside Nepal, there are a number of on-line booking agents who can make bookings, take payment (credit/debit cards/Paypal) and then send e-tickets. If you are buying tickets while in Nepal or if you are flying at short notice, it is necessary to be flexible on flight times/dates as the planes often get fully booked in advance. Note that cancellations and delays due to severe weather conditions do occur. If you have time, just board the next plane.
- Micro Bus has become very popular lately. They are 10-12 seater with very fast service. It has almost replaced local bus service given its fast service. However, apart from previous few routes, Micro Bus has come up with many other alternate routes and now has good coverage. The fare is more expensive than local buses. Tourists should be aware that microbuses are often driven with great speed and very little care and have unfortunately been the cause of a large percentage of the road accidents in Nepal. Use microbuses with caution.
- Local Bus - Although the system can be confusing they are cheap. They can be crowded at times both with people and domestic animals such as goats, ducks etc. Some buses will not depart until full to a certain quota.
- Tourist Bus - Book a few days ahead at a Kathmandu or Pokhara travel agent (or your hotel will book for you). A few steps above local buses (no goats, everyone gets a seat) but not much safer. "Greenline" is the most reliable company and has trips between Kathmndu, Chitwan, Lumbini and Pokhara.
- Rickshaw - Good for short jaunts if you don't have much luggage and don't mind being bounced around a bit. Bargain before you get in, and don't be afraid to walk away and try another.
- Tempo - These come in two types. One is a three wheeled electric or propane powered micro-bus for 10-13 passengers. They run in different routes around the city and cost NPR5-12. The other type is a newer Toyota van running the same routes at a higher price and a bit faster and safer. Be prepared for a crowd
- Taxis - There are two types of taxi -- "private", which pretty much run from the airport to upmarket hotels; and "10 Rupee", which don't leave until they are full. When haggling for a fare remember that taxi drivers have been hit hard by the petrol crisis sometimes queuing up overnight to get 5 litres of petrol at twice the market price. So be sympathetic but don’t get ripped off. Offer to pay 'meter plus tip', 10% is more than enough.
- Tram - The old-fashioned street cable-car that ran from Kathmandu (near the stadium) to Bhaktapur is currently closed due to 'non-existing maintenance' and the fact that none of the drivers paid for the power.
- Custom or classic motorcycle - Run by a European couple, Hearts and Tears in Pokhara offer lessons, guided tours and rental of 350cc and 500cc Royal Enfield bikes. In Kathmandu, Himalayan Enfields (behind the Israeli Embassy on Lazimpat) sells & rents good bikes, and also undertakes repairs. The official Enfield dealer in Nepal is in Balaju Industrial Estate off the Ring Road.
- Local motorcycle - Another choice is to rent a small motorcycle. And it can be rented in the Thamel area. Again with the petrol crisis, motorcycle rental has become a costly choice, depending on availability 1 litre of petrol will cost you NPR120-250 on top of the rental fee (NPR300-800).
- On Foot - although motor roads are penetrating further into the hinterlands, many destinations can only be reached by foot (or helicopter). See the section on trekking, below.
The great biological and cultural diversity of present-day Nepal is matched by its linguistic diversity. Nepal boasts a variety of living languages many of which are remnants of the traditional Asiatic cultural amalgamation in the region, it has an impressively large number for a country with such a small land mass. Nepal has more distinct and individual languages in one country than the whole of the European community.
The official language of Nepal is Nepali. It's related to Hindi, Punjabi, and other Indo-Aryan languages, and is normally written with the Devanagari script (as is Hindi), originated from "Sanskrit". While most Nepalis speak at least some Nepali, a large percentage of the population has as their mother tongue another language, such as Tharu around Chitwan, Newari in the Kathmandu Valley, and Sherpa in the Everest area.
Although Nepal was never a British colony, English is somewhat widespread among educated Nepalis. Nevertheless learning even a few words of Nepali is fun and useful, especially outside of the tourist district and while trekking (porters often speak very little English and the inquisitive children in the tea houses are delighted to hear a few words of Nepali from their house guests). As Asian languages go, Nepali has to be one of the easiest to learn, and the traveller making the effort isn't likely to make worse blunders than many natives with a different first language. The locals are also happy to help with your burgeoning language skills.
See: Nepali phrasebook
A disturbingly large number of Nepal’s mother tongues are severely endangered and will likely be reduced to symbolic identity markers within a generation.
- Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world is probably Nepal's most famous sight, and much of the country consists of very high mountains.
There are four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Nepal:
- The Kathmandu Valley, obviously including the capital but also the cities of Bhaktapur and Patan.
- Sagarmatha National Park
- Chitwan National Park
- Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
- Main article: Trekking in Nepal
A total of 101,320 trekkers visited Nepal in 2007. Of that number, 60,237 (59.4%) visited Annapurna area while those visiting the Everest and Langtang regions accounted for 26,511 (26.5%) and 8,165 (8.1%) respectively.
"Tea-house trekking" is the easiest way to trek as it doesn't require support. Tea houses have developed into somewhat rustic full-scale tourist lodges with showers, pizza, pasta and beer. The day's hikes are between lodge-filled settlements or villages: there's no need to take tents, food, water, or beer. All those things, plus luxuries such as apple pie, can be purchased along the way. Physical requirements range from easy to strenuous.
Facilities available in remote areas are less extensive than in the more popular areas thus these areas are often visited in organised groups, with guide, porters and full support. Manaslu, Kanchenjunga, Dolpo, Mustang and Humla require Restricted Area Permits, requiring a minimum of two foreign trekkers plus a registered/qualified guide. Progress is being made however, and tea-houses are becoming more available in all of these areas. Before setting out on any trek, make sure you find out what the current facilities are in that area, as they are changing every year.
Annapurna region treks
- Annapurna Circuit: A 2-3 week trek around the Annapurna mountains, leads up the Marsyangdi river to Dharapani, Chame, Manang, over Thorung La (5400m) to the Hindu temples at Muktinath and (possibly) ending at Jomsom. Down the Kali Gandaki on the Jomsom trail (the last week of the Annapurna Circuit which is done by itself in the opposite direction). Known as the "Apple Pie Trek" partly for crossing the apple growing region of Nepal, and partly for being one of the easier treks, enjoying Gurung and Thakali hospitality. Up through spring rhododendron blooms to Poon Hill for a dawn Himalayan vista. Another shorter but spectacular mini-circuit is the Nayapul-Ghandruk-Ghorepani-PoonHill-Nayapul route.
- Annapurna Sanctuary: A trek up into the very heart of the range provides an awesome 360 degree high mountain skyline.
Everest region treks
Everest lies in the region known as Khumbu - To get here, take a bus to Jiri or fly to Lukla then hike up to Namche Bazzar, capital of the Sherpa lands at the foot of Everest. Main "teahouse trek" regions, in each of these areas there are a number of trail options, there is plenty of scope for short treks of less than a week to much longer if you have time and wanderlust.
- Everest Base Camp Trek: Lukla to EBC, stunning scenery, wonderful Sherpa people. The most popular trek is up to Everest Base Camp and an ascent of Kalar Patar. Visit the Buddhist Tengboche monastery for the Mani Rimdu festival in November.
- The 'Classic Everest Base Camp Trek': Jiri to EBC
- Gokyo: Lukla to the sacred lakes of Gokyo. Explore the Gokyo valley with its sacred lakes and stupendous views of four 8000m peaks. Or a circuit of the region crossing the high passes or Cho La and Renjo La.
- Numbur Cheese Circuit: Trek through the largest cheese producing area, via the sacred lakes of Jata Pokhari and Panch Pokhari to Numburchuili base camp.
- Island Peak Trek in the Everest region takes in some of the most spectacular scenery in the Himalayas. See 'Regions' - Khumbu
- Pikey Cultural Trail
- Dudh Kunda Cultural Trail
Trekking peaks require a qualified "climbing guide", permits and deposits to cover camp waste disposal:
- Island Peak Trek - The Island Peak trek in the Khumbu region takes in some of the most spectacular scenery in the Himalayas.
- Mera Peak climbing - Enjoy panoramic views of Mt Everest (8,848m; 29,030 ft), Cho-Oyu (8,201m; 26,910 ft), Lhotse (8,516m; 27,940 ft), Makalu (8463m; 27,770 ft), Kangchenjunga (8,586m; 28,170 ft), Nuptse (7,855m; 25,770 ft), and Chamlang (7,319m; 24,010 ft).
Langtang region treks
- Helambu Langtang Trek. A short taxi ride from Thamel to the roadhead at Shivapuri leads to a trail through the middle-hills countryside of Helambu. Either circle around and return to Kathmandu or cross the pass to the sacred lake at Gosainkhund, descend and then hike up the Langtang valley beneath mountains that form the border with Tibet. Descend back to catch a bus on a rough road through Trisuli to Kathmandu. If you don't fancy the long shaky bus ride (>8 hours) from/to Syabrubesi, Dhunche or Thulo Barku, you can get a 4x4 pickup for about NPR90,000 to/from Kathmandu.
- Tamang Heritage Trail
Pro-poor rural treks
Tourism is a dynamic sector of economy and accepting it as a vehicle of poverty reduction is a relatively new concept in Nepal. Nepal is a predominantly rural society, with 85% of the population living in the countryside. Naturally, Nepal’s rich culture and ethnic diversity are best experienced in its village communities. You can engage in local activities, learn how to cook local cuisine or take part in agricultural activities like kitchen gardening, etc.
- According to the NTB, rural tourism in Nepal focuses on "village trek" visits to indigenous people that “…will make tourists, experience rural life and Nepalese hospitality off the beaten path with all the beautiful scenery and cultural diversity of Nepal.”
In the rural Nepal context, pro-poor tourism means expanding employment and small enterprise opportunities especially pro-indigenous peoples, youth and pro-women. Recent pro-poor initiatives in Nepal include the UNDP-TRPAP and ILO-EMPLED projects.
- Tamang Heritage Trail
- Chepang Heritage Trail
- Pathibhara Trail
- Limbu Cultural Trail
- Dudhkunda Cultural Trail
- Pikey Cultural Trail
- The Guerrilla Trek
- Numbur Cheese Circuit
- Indigenous Peoples Trail
Trekking on the Indigenous Peoples Trail and the Numbur Cheese Circuit is a means for Nepali as well as foreign visitors to experience the rural and traditional Nepali way of life, and for the local community to participate in and benefit directly from tourism. You'll feel better knowing that your visit is genuinely helping your hosts. And if you want to simply lie on a beach, well, the Majhi Fishing Experience on the Sun Kosi in Ramechhap features one of the best beaches in Nepal.
'Ethno-tourism' or cultural treks
Ethno-tourism is increasingly popular in Nepal and is designed to maximize social and economic benefits to the local communities and minimize negative impacts to cultural heritage and the environment. Ethno-tourism is a specialized type of cultural tourism and can be defined as any excursion which focuses on the works of humans rather than nature, and attempts to give the tourist an understanding of the lifestyles of local people.
- Numbur Cheese Circuit in the Everest Region
- Indigenous Peoples Trail in Ramechhap
- Majhi Fishing Experience on the Sun Koshi
- The Guerrilla Trek in Mid-Western Nepal
- Helambu Trek in Langtang
- Tamang Heritage Trail in Langtang
- Chepang Heritage Trail in Chitwan
Other more remote regions will require a bit more planning and probably local assistance, not least as the required permits are only issued via Nepali guides/agents. Camping is required on one or more nights.
- Kanchenjunga - far eastern Nepal, accessible via Taplejung (from Kathmandu 40min by plane, 40hrs by bus), a strenuous trek through sparsely populated country to the third highest mountain.
- Dolpa - Upper Dolpa in northwestern Nepal beyond the highest Himalaya is the remote Land of the Bon, almost as Tibetan as Nepali. Lower Dolpa is more accessible and can me reached by plane
- Manaslu Trek - Unspoiled trails through remote villages and over the Larkya La, a remote pass at 5,100m, to circuit an 8,000m mountain. The Manaslu massif rises above the old kingdom of Gorkha close to the Tibetan border about halfway between Kathmandu and Pokhara and will be close at hand for the last half of the circuit.
Social responsibility and responsible travel
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and hiring a local company will benefit the local economy, however the involvement of travel agents in Kathmandu must be approached with caution. The numbers of travel, trekking and rafting agencies registered in 2007 were 1,078, 872 and 94 respectively. The rapid growth in tourism in Nepal coupled with the absence of a self-regulating code of conduct has helped to grow unhealthy competition among travel agents with regular undercutting in tariffs. Such undesirable actions take away benefits not only from trekking guides and porters but also from others engaged in supplying goods and providing services to the tourists. By paying lower tariffs tourists may save money but directly at the expense of local communities. Try to use 'socially responsible' tour operators that promote proper porter treatment and cultural and environmental sensitivity among their clients in line with the UN-WTO Sustainable Tourism Criteria.
- Organised group trekking or independent trekking?
While organized groups from "western tour operators" from overseas drain the operational profit out of the country, organized groups hire a larger amount of local workforce from porters to guides. With "local tour operators" most of the operational profit remains in the country. Groups are more likely to go remote areas, and rely as much as possible on local resources to minimize transport cost and hire maximum local porters.
In comparison, individual travellers are concentrated on the main trails with lodges and usually a lower budget. These trekkers usually use simpler lodges with lower costs. They may venture less often into remote areas, as that would mean more expense or very basic local services which most try to avoid. They generally spend less than organized travellers on same trails simply because they often have more restricted budgets.
Safety and comfort are higher with organized tours. There is a full range of choice for any demand, just be sure to think about what trekking means for you. For the hard core trekkers, no porter will ever carry, while for others, to carry a 15-18 kg backpack might be more than they would want.
- Keep working conditions and wages in mind when selecting a trekking company. For visitors from the west, hiring guides and porters is affordable and an extra few dollars can make a big impact in the life of a guide or porter. In order to feed themselves and their families, porters take on the job of carrying heavy loads to high elevations. Some of the problems porters face are underpayment, inadequate clothing and gear, being forced to carry excess weight, insufficient food provision and poor sleeping facilities. Sometimes these issues leave porters open to illness and neglect on the mountain. Nowadays most companies care better due to past awareness campaigns to their staff, however, some backpackers employ (illegally) porters and guides and there continue to be reports that some tourists pay less than the going rate.
- There are a number of websites that facilitate direct contact with recommended trekking guides and porters. By law this is not permitted, as foreigners on tourist visa are not allowed to employ any kind of workforce, but only legal registered companies as use in most countries around the globe. So unless you want to break the law, do not employ yourself any kind of porters or guides and ensure to hire only through legal companies, in case of an accident it may bring severe problems to have employed illegally staff.
- The International Porter Protect Group’s (IPPG) was set up in response to these issues, to improve health and safety for the trekking porter at work in the mountains and reduce the incidence of avoidable illness, injury and death. This is achieved by raising awareness of the issues among the trekking community and travel companies, leaders and sirdars. The IPPG recommends the following guidelines:
- Adequate clothing is made available for protection in bad weather and at altitude. This should include adequate footwear, hat, gloves, windproof jacket and trousers, sunglasses, and access to a blanket and pad above the snowline.
- Leaders and trekkers provide the same standard of medical care for porters they would expect themselves.
- Porters must not be paid off because of illness without the leader or trekkers being informed.
- Sick porters are never sent down alone, but rather with someone who speaks their language.
- Sufficient funds are provided to sick porters to cover the cost of their land rescue and treatment.
- All trekking porters should have provision for security, personal protective equipment including shoes and clothes, depending on the weather.
Rafting / kayaking
Rafting trips of 1 to 10 days on many rivers and for all levels of experience leave from Kathmandu and Pokhara. For detailed itineraries visit the Nepal Association of Rafting Agents. The main rivers for rafting are:
Many companies offer Learn to Kayak Clinics on the Trisuli river, an ideal spot to take your first steps into the world of whitewater. GRG's Adventure Kayaking is one of the companies that specialise in kayaking in Kathmandu. Nepal is one of the best places in the world for whitewater adventures.
Mountain biking in Nepal is fun and at times challenging event. There are many popular biking routes in Nepal that are in operation at the moment. They are:
- The Scar Road from Kathmandu starts from Balaju towards Kakani to Shivapuri ending in Budhanilkantha in northern Kathmandu.
- Kathmandu to Dhulikhel starts from Koteshwor in Kathmandu to Bhaktapur to Banepa to Dhulikhel. You can also continue from Dhulikhel to Namobuddha to Panauti to Banepa.
- The Back Door to Kathmandu starts from Panauti and heads to Lakuri Bhanjyang and then to Lubhu in Lalitpur ending near Patan.
- Dhulikhel to the Tibetan Border starts in Dhulikhel and follows the Araniko Highway with a night stay on the way.
- The Rajpath from Kathmandu starts from Kalanki in Kathmandu and follows the Prithvi Highway up to Naubise. Then Tribhuwan Highway route is taken with overnight stay in Daman. From there, ride downhill to Hetauda, with the option of heading towards Narayangarh or the Indian border.
- Hetauda to Narayangarh and Mugling starts from Hetauda and heads along the Mahendra Highway to Narayangarh. You could take a detour to Sauraha near from Taandi.
- Kathmandu to Pokhara starts from Kathmandu and traverses through Naubise, Mugling to Pokhara.
- Pokhara to Sarangkot and Naudanda starts from Lakeside Pokhara and heads towards Sarangkot and from there towards Naudanda. From there, ride downhill towards the highway.
The best time to go for biking is between mid October and late March, when the atmosphere is clear the climate is temperate - warm during the days and cool during the night. Biking in other times of the year is also okay but great care should be taken while biking during the monsoon season (June to September) as the roads are slippery. Biking can be done independently or can be organized through biking companies of Nepal.
You can rent mountain bikes of almost any quality, but remember that if you're going on a longer or harder ride, at least your own saddle would be a good option to bring. In late 2009 the daily rental costs ranged from USD3 for a simple bike to USD30 for a western bikes with suspension.
Nepal's geography and climate makes for some of the best motorcycling roads in the world. The traffic is a little chaotic, but not aggressive, and the speeds are low. Be aware that you need an international driving licence in Nepal, even though you might never be stopped by the police as a tourist on a bike.
Perhaps the best and most original way to explore the country is by motorcycle. Kathmandu should be avoided by beginners, but the rest of Nepal is simply amazing. Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club, Wild Experience Tours & Blazing Trails Tours are the better known Names in the industry. They specialize in motorcycle touring and have a great collection of custom bikes. They are professional set-ups with imported safety equipment, structured training and well organized group tours.
Since 2007 that the Nepal Canyoning Association was founded, a lot of canyons (khola in Nepali) have been equipped for organized descents. The 2011 IRC (International Canyoning Rendezvous) took place in the Marshyangdi River valley in the Annapurna region. There are at least 30 canyons where private companies organize excursions for descents. The Nepali canyons offer breathtaking views of the valleys and rice fields below and various combinations of difficulty and water level. Most canyons can only be accessed on foot from the nearby roads, through paths used by the locals for agriculture purposes or accessing their homes. In 2011, one of the longest and most difficult canyons in the world was equipped in an expedition by the "Himalayan Canyon Team" in the Chamje Khola.
Chitwan National Park offers elephant rides, jungle canoeing, nature walks and bird watching, as well as more adventurous tiger and rhino-viewing. There are also many other less visited parks like Bardiya and Sagarmatha.
"The Last Resort", near the Tibetan border, has frequent Full Moon Trance Parties, lasting 2-3 days. Watch for posters and check music shops. Pokhara has started featuring its own brand of Full Moon raves and interesting Western takes on Nepali festivals.
Nepalese rupees (NPR) are the local currency.
Although Indian currency is also accepted in Nepal (at an official exchange rate of 1.60 Nepalese rupees to 1 Indian rupee), the INR500 and INR1,000 currency notes are not acceptable. Carrying 500 and 1000 Indian rupee notes is illegal in Nepal.
There are banks in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan,Nepalgunj,Janakpur,Lumbini and in several other major cities that will allow you to retrieve cash from ATM or credit cards. You may be charged a service fee, depending on your bank. There are quite a number of ATMs now in those cities that are open round the clock.
Keep all currency exchange and ATM receipts as they are required at the airport bank to convert back to your original currency. If you don't have them, they will refuse to convert your currency but they will suggest going to the Duty Free shop upstairs, even though it isn't a licensed money changer. Traveller's cheques may be useful outside of the major cities.
The Nepali national meal is daal-bhaat-tarkaari. It is spiced lentils poured over boiled rice, and served with tarkari: vegetables cooked with spices. This is served in most Nepalese homes and teahouses, two meals a day at about 10:00 and 19:00 or 20:00 If rice is scarce the grain part may be cornmeal mush called aata, barley, or sukkha roti (whole wheat 'tortillas'). The meal may be accompanied by dahi (yogurt) and a small helping of ultra-spicy fresh chutney or achaar (pickle). Traditionally this meal is eaten with the right hand. Curried meat, goat or chicken, is an occasional luxury, and freshwater fish is often available nearlakes and rivers. Because Hindus hold cattle to be sacred, beef is forbidden but still can be obtained for a high price in some expensive restaurants although the price is high mainly because it is imported from India. Buffalo and yak are eaten by some but considered too cow-like by others. Pork is eaten by some tribes, but not by upper-caste Hindus. Similar to India there are some communities and tribes who are vegetarians.
Outside the main morning and evening meals, a variety of snacks may be available. Tea, made with milk and sugar is certainly a pick-me-up. Corn may be heated and partially popped, although it really isn't popcorn. This is called "kha-jaa", meaning "eat and run" Rice may be heated and crushed into "chiura" resembling uncooked oatmeal that can be eaten with yogurt, hot milk and sugar, or other flavourings. Fritters called 'pakora' and turnovers called "samosa" can sometimes be found, as can sweets made from sugar, milk, fried batter, sugar cane juice, etc. Be sure such delicacies are either freshly cooked or have been protected from flies. Otherwise flies land in the human waste that is everywhere in the streets, then on your food, and so you become a walking medical textbook of gastrological conditions.
Because of the multi-ethnic nature of Nepali society, differing degrees of adherence to Hindu dietary norms, and the extreme range of climates and micro-climates throughout the country, different ethnic communities often have their own specialties.
Newars, an ethnic group originally living in the Kathmandu Valley, are connoisseurs of great foods who lament that feasting is their downfall, whereas sexual indulgence is said to be the downfall of Pahari Chhetri. In the fertile Kathmandu and Pokhara valleys this cuisine often includes a greater variety of foodstuffs -- particularly vegetables -- than what are available in most of the hills. As such, Newari cuisine is quite distinct and diverse relatively compared to the other indigenous regional cuisines of Nepal, so watch out for Newari restaurants. Some of them even come with cultural shows: a good way to enjoy good food while having a crash-course in Nepalese culture.
The cuisine of the Terai lowlands is almost the same as in adjacent parts of India. Locally-grown tropical fruits are sold alongside subtropical and temperate temperate crops from the hills. In addition to bananas ('kera') and papayas ('mewa') familiar to travellers, jackfruit ('katar') is a local delicacy.
Some dishes, particularly in the Himalayan region, are Tibetan in origin and not at all spicy. Some dishes to look for include momos, a meat or vegetable filled dumpling, which is similar to Chinese pot-stickers. Momos has become very popular in past few decades. Momos can be found almost everywhere in Kathmandu and other towns in Nepal, whether it be a big hotel or a small restaurant. Other dishes likeTibetan Bread and Honey a puffy fried bread with heavy raw honey that's great for breakfast. Up in the Himalayan mountains, potatoes are the staple of the Sherpa people. Try the local dish of potato pancakes (rikikul). They are delicious eaten straight off the griddle and covered with dzo (female yak) butter or cheese.
Note that many small restaurants are not prepared to cook several different dishes; try to stick with one or two dishes or you will find yourself waiting as the cook tries to make one after another on a one-burner stove in those small restaurants.
As far as possible, eat only Nepali village products. If you take only village product foods, it will help them economically.
- Raksi is a clear liquid, similar to tequila in alcohol content. It is usually brewed "in house", resulting in a variation in its taste and strength. This is by far the least expensive drink in the country. It is often served on special occasions in small, ceramic cups (Salinchha in Newar language) that hold less than a shot. It works well as a mixer in fruit juice or seltzer. It may appear on menus as "Nepali wine".
- Jaand (Nepali) or chyaang (Tibetan) is a cloudy, moderately alcoholic drink sometimes called "Nepali beer". Mostly it is made from rice, specially in Newari culture. While weaker than raksi, it will still have quite an effect. This is often offered to guests in Nepali homes, and is diluted with water. For your safety, ask guests if the water has been sanitized before drinking this beverage.
- Beer production in Nepal is a growing industry. Some local beers are now also exported, and the quality of beer has reached to international standards International brands are popular in the urban areas. Everest and Gorkha beers are two of the popular local beers.
- Cocktails can pretty much only be found in Kathmandu and Pokhara's tourist areas. There you can get watered-down "two for one drinks" at a variety of pubs, restaurants and sports bars.
Although not as internationally famous as Indian brands, Nepal does in fact have a large organic tea industry. Most plantations are located in the east of the country and the type of tea grown is very similar to that produced in neighbouring Darjeeling. Well known varieties are Dhankuta, Illam, Jhapa, Terathhum and Panchthar (all named after their growing regions). Over 70% of Nepal's tea is exported and the tea you see for sale in Thamel, while they serve as token mementos, are merely the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel.
- Milk tea is boiled milk with added tea, with or without sugar.
- Chai is tea with added milk and also sometimes containing ginger and spices such as cardamom.
- Suja is salty tea made with milk and butter - only available in areas inhabited by Tibetans, Sherpas and a few other Himalayan people.
- Herbal teas are mostly made from wild flowers from the Solu Khumbu region. In Kathmandu, these teas are generally only served in high class establishments or those run by Sherpas from the Solu Khumbu.
Water that you can drink without fear of becoming ill is rare because of a lack of water treatment facilities and sewage treatment. It is safest to assume that water is unsafe for drinking without being chemically treated or boiled, which is one reason to stick to tea or bottled water. It may be possible to buy filtered, treated water in cities and many villages. The Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) has installed a number of safe water stations along the Annapurna Circuit where water may be purchased for a reasonable cost.
Budget accommodation in Nepal ranges from around NPR250 to around NPR750 for a double. The prices you are told at first are not fixed so you should haggle. Especially if you want to stay for a longer period, you can get a large discount. Cheaper rooms usually do not have sheets, blankets, towels, or anything else besides a bed and a door. Most budget hotels and guesthouses have a wide range of rooms, so be sure to see what you are getting, even if you have stayed there before. Usual price for three-star equivalent hotel (AC, bathroom, Internet access and satellite TV in the room) is around USD20 (NPR1,500) for a double, a bit more in Kathmandu. Accommodations might easily be the cheapest part of your budget in Nepal.
However, if you prefer luxurious accommodation, the best hotels equal approximately to four star hotels in western countries (unlimited access to swimming pool or whirlpool, no power outages, room service, very good restaurant and buffet breakfasts). Expect the price being much higher (circa 50USD for a double or 100USD for an apartment, even more in Kathmandu). In these hotels, all prices are usually fixed. In Kathmandu, some luxurious hotels require going through security check when entering.
- Tsering Art School, offers a professional Thangka Painting Course. A minimum study period of 3 months a year for 3 years is recommended.Due to the sacred nature of this art form, those who wish to study here must have taken refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and consider themselves to be Buddhist. There are no boarding facilities offered at the Tsering Art School for foreign students. The school fees are NPR1,600 per month. Basic drawing and painting implements are required and can be purchased in Nepal. For study enquiries and enrolments please contact the school administrator, Miss Lobsang Dolma by email on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteer in Nepal
Visitors to Nepal should be aware that it is illegal to do volunteering "work" on a tourist Visa. In order to volunteer legally, the organization who will engage you must obtain for you a non-tourist visa.
Unfortunately, volunteer tourism has mostly become more profitable than real tourism. Foreign operators and Nepali agents have found an inexhaustible supply of well-meaning but naive people who will pay sometimes even big amounts to "volunteer" in Thamel, Lakeside and Chitwan.
Teaching English is a popular project for volunteers and is often combined with courses in computer literacy or health and physical education. The Nepali school system, which many children only attend for a few years, requires English fluency so there is always a demand for native English speakers of all ages, races and nationalities. There have been few prerequisites for teaching beyond fluency in English. Be aware that many schools, especially private ones, charge families higher fees if "foreign teachers present" and often locally available English teachers may not be able to find work because of the number of foreign mostly illegally engaged foreign volunteers, many of whom may be illegally employed.
If you want to teach, a school may request and obtain a non tourist visa for you so you can teach legally.
There are many options for finding volunteer opportunities. Several international volunteer organizations, will find you a project, room and boarding, either at the school or with a local family for a fee. This "fee" can range from 500USD to 2000USD depending on the type and length of program. Often only little of that money will go to the school and host family, often they are too poor even to support a volunteer, so the bulk often goes to the agency.
Some organisations will provide language and culture lessons as well as general teaching supplies and support. Once you make a deposit on a particular program there may be limited options for change. Programs can last from two weeks to five months if made in tourist visa, but keep in mind a regular, legal work and a longer stay may be more rewarding for both you and the school, as it can take several weeks to get into the swing of things. Above all, examine carefully how your money is spent and who really benefits.
An alternative to paid placement is to find a local, grassroots program, or to contact schools directly in Kathmandu when you arrive. Local hostels and restaurants usually have bulletin boards full of often doubtful requests for volunteers. More and more local groups are placing ads on the web as well. These programs are more likely to charge only for room and board, but you will need to do some research to find out the specifics of each group and what, if any, support you will receive. Waiting until you arrive also lets you get to know the areas you can volunteer in and allows you to shop around for a situation that best suits you. These placements tend to be longer term (3-5 months), but this is always negotiable with a specific school or project.
Always check if your engagement does not take away work of other people and that your volunteer work is done legally and that the community profits from the deal. Report to police or other serious NGO/INGO any kind of misuse. Always demand written receipts with complete organisation address, stamp and signatures. This helps to prevent siphoning off precious development funds, which generally tend to not reach the intended beneficiaries most of time. Estimates go from 85-95% for funds spent on "logistics", "office expenses", "allowances", vehicles and so forth.
Sometimes, there are strikes ("bandas") and demonstrations to contend with. Some businesses close, but many allowances are usually made for tourists, who are widely respected. Ask about strikes at your hotel or read the English Nepali newspapers.
The Maoist insurgency ended in 2006 after they signed comprehensive peace agreement with the government.Currently the government is in the hand of nepali congress as it wins the election of 2014. Due to the change in government the tourists are now much more safer than before. The trekking routes and other tourist destinations are safe for travel. If your country has an embassy or consulate in Nepal, let them know your whereabouts & plans, and at least listen seriously to any cautionary advice they offer.
Nepal's cities are safer than most, and even pickpockets are rare. Nevertheless, don't flash cash or make ostentatious displays of wealth.
Be cautious with the public transportation. Roads are narrow, steep, winding & frequently crowded. Domestic flights with a private company are safer than the roads. Flying risks are greatest before & during the monsoon season when the mountains are usually clouded over.
If you should be seriously injured or sick where there are no roads or airports available, medical evacuation by helicopter may be your last best chance. If there is no firm guarantee that the bill will be paid, companies offering these services may demur, so look into insurance covering medical evacuations. You might ask if your embassy or consulate guarantees payment.
- Minimizing gastrointestinal problems - Since most of Nepal still gets along without modern sanitation, these are endemic. They range from self-limiting attacks of diarrhea where dehydration is the main risk, through intestinal parasites, amoebic dysentery and giardiasis which are chronic without proper medical treatment, to immediately life-threatening infections like cholera and typhoid. Habituation even to common intestinal flora generally takes about a year and many unpleasant bouts of stomach problems, so tourists contemplating shorter stays should take extensive precautions. Filter or treat your own water, use bottled water, checking to make sure lid is sealed (limit use of bottled water since there's no place to dispose of the used bottles) or stick with beverages made from water that has been thoroughly boiled and filtered. Tea or coffee from cafes catering to tourists are 'generally' safe.
- When trekking carry iodine or other chemical means of treating water and be sure to follow directions, i.e. don't drink the water before the specified time interval to ensure that resistant cysts are deactivated. In trailside teashops, although glasses may be washed in questionable water, tea is made by pouring boiling water through tea dust into your glass. The chances of disease-causing organisms surviving that are small but not zero.
- Brush teeth with prepared drinking water and avoid water entering the mouth when showering.
- Salads, especially in the wet season, should be treated as suspect. Some restaurants wash salad greens with lightly iodized water to make it safe.
- Wash hands regularly and especially before eating. Carry hand sanitizer and use it regularly.
- Thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables for raw consumption using boiled and filtered water. Also consider peeling them.
- Look for freshly-cooked food and avoid anything that has been cooked and then left sitting around without refrigeration (which can expose you to a buildup of bacterial toxins), or without protection from flies (which can transfer disease organisms and parasite eggs to the food).
- Also see the Travellers' diarrhea article.
- Get vaccinated and consider prophylactic treatment. You may be exposed to typhoid, cholera, hepatitis malaria and possibly even rabies. Read the article on Tropical diseases and review travel plans with your health care provider.
- Practice safe sex or do without. Nepali women are sought after in India and the Middle East and so there is human trafficking. Victims may be allowed to return home when health issues become a liability, then continue 'working' as long as possible. The incidence of STDs is rising and the government has not always been proactive about treatment and promoting awareness. Unless your Nepali is extremely fluent, your chances of finding out about a prospective partner's sexual history are slim.
- Altitude sickness Permanent snow lines are between 5,500 m and 5,800 m (18,000 ft and 19,000 ft), so base camps and passes in the Himalaya are usually higher than Mount Blanc or Mount Whitney. This puts even experienced mountain climbers at risk of altitude-related medical conditions that can be life-threatening. Risks can be minimized by choosing routes that don't go high, such as Pokhara-Jomosom, or routes and trekking companies where gamow bags or other treatment are available, and by sleeping not more than 300 m (1,000 ft) higher per day. According to the "climb high, sleep low" mantra, it is good to take daytime conditioning hikes that push acclimation, then to return to a more reasonable elevation at night.
- Hypothermia is a risk, especially if you are trekking in spring, autumn or winter to avoid heat at low elevations. When it is a comfortable 30°C (85°F) in the Terai, it is likely to be in the teens Fahrenheit or -10°C (14°F) at that base camp or high pass. Either be prepared to hike and sleep in these temperatures (and make sure your comrades, guides and porters are equally prepared), or choose a trek that doesn't go high. For example, at 3,000m (10,000ft) expect daytime temperatures in the 40s Fahrenheit or 5 to 10°C.
- Rabies - Dogs are not vaccinated and catch this fatal disease from other dogs or wild animals with some regularity. All mammals are potentially vulnerable. Dogs are considered ritually polluting and are widely abused, so it can be impossible to know whether a dog bit you because it is paranoid about people or because it is rabid. You should be vaccinated against rabies before going to Nepal, but this is not absolute protection. Be on the lookout for mammals acting disoriented or hostile and stay as far away as possible. Do not pet dogs, cats or pigs no matter how cute. Keep a distance from monkeys, especially in places like the Monkey Temple (Swayambunath) in Kathmandu. If bitten or exposed to saliva, seek medical attention. You may need an extended series of injections that provides a higher level of protection than routine vaccination.
- Snakebite - The risk is greatest in warm weather and at elevations below 1,500m (5,000ft). Poisonous snakes are fairly common and cause thousands of deaths annually. Local people may be able to differentiate poisonous and non-poisonous species. Cobras raise their bodies in the air and spread their hoods when annoyed; itinerant snake charmers are likely to have specimens for your edification. Vipers have triangular heads and may have thick bodies like venomous snakes in North America. Kraits may be the most dangerous due to innocuous appearance and extremely potent neurotoxin venom. Kraits are strangely passive in daylight but become active at night, especially around dwellings where they hunt rodents. Krait bites may be initially painless, causing only numbness. However without proper antivenin numbness can progress to deadly paralysis, even with bites from small, seemingly harmless specimens. Wearing proper shoes and trousers rather than sandals and shorts provides some protection. Watch where you put your feet and hands, and use a torch when walking outside at night. Sleeping on elevated beds and on second stories helps protect against nocturnal kraits.
Greet people with a warm Namaste (or "Namaskar" formal version - to an older or high-status person) with palms together, fingers up. It is used in place of hello or goodbye. Don't say it more than once per person, per day. The least watered down definition of the word: 'The divine in me salutes the divine in you.'
Show respect to elders.
Say Thank you: Dhanyabaad /'ðɅnjɅbɑ:d/ (Dhan-ya-baad)
Feet are considered dirty. Don't point the bottoms of your feet at people or religious icons. Do not to step over a person who may be seated or lying on the ground. Be sensitive to when it is proper to remove your hat or shoes. It is proper to take off your shoes before entering a residential house.
The left hand is considered unclean because it is used to wash after defecating. Many Nepali hotel & guest House toilets have bidet attachments,like a kitchen sink sprayer, for this purpose in lieu of toilet paper. It is considered insulting to touch anyone with the left hand. It is proper to poke someone, take and give something with the right hand.
Circumambulate Buddhist shrines and temples, chortens, stupas, mani walls, monasteries etc. in a clockwise direction. Hindu shrines and temples have no such practice.
When haggling over prices, smile, laugh and be friendly. Be prepared to allow a reasonable profit. Don't be a miser or insult fine craftsmanship, it's much better to lament that you are too poor to afford such princely quality.
Many Hindu temples do not allow non-Hindus inside certain parts of the temple complex. Be aware & respectful of this fact, as these are places of worship, not tourist attractions.
Being a non-Hindu makes you moderately 'impure to some strict Hindus. Avoid touching containers of water; let someone pour it into your drinking container. Likewise avoid touching food that others will be eating. Make sure you are invited before entering someone's house. You may only be welcome on the outer porch, or in the yard. Shoes are routinely left on the front porch or in a specific area near the front door.
Wash hands before and after eating. Touch food only with the right hand if you're not left-handed.
Internet connectivity is increasing rapidly, and obviously its availability is most widespread in Kathmandu (especially in Thamel and around the Boudha Stupa in Boudhanath) or Pokhara. In those two cities, most hotels and lodges will have free Internet connection with Wi-Fi. So will many restaurants. More and more villages will have Internet available at some lodges, usually with Wi-Fi. For example, in 2013, Wi-Fi was available in lodges in Jomsom and Muktinath. In the more remote villages, however, there may only be the occasional Internet cafe that is available. For example, Chame (on the Annapurna circuit) has an Internet cafe with secured Wi-Fi for NPR15 per minute. Even more remote villages may have Internet via satellite connection, but it is quite pricey at over NPR100 per minute.
Mail can be received at many guesthouses or at Everest Postal Care, opposite Fire & Ice on Tridevi Marg. Phone calls are best made from any of the international phone offices in Kathmandu-- Voice over Internet (VOI) is usually NPR1-2/min. Cell phones are definitely the way to go (see below).
There are two main mobile operators in Nepal. Government run NTC (Nepal Telecom Company) and private Ncell (previously called Spice Mobile and Mero Mobile).
Both operators allow tourists to buy SIM cards for about NPR200 in Kathmandu and most major towns. You will need to bring a passport photo, fill in a form and have your passport and visa page photocopied, expect too also have your finger prints taken. Try to buy the SIM card at a shop owned by the phone company as if you buy it from a corner shop it can take some time for the card to be activated, despite promises that it will be done in " a couple of hours".
Ncell SIM's - can be bought from many stores, but are best bought from official stores in Birgunj or Kathmandu. Micro SIMs can be cut for free if you need. Ncell offers two different SIM cards. The first is a usual SIM card that allows you to make calls to any phone (local calls are about NPR2.5/min), and you can also buy mobile data to use. The second is a data only SIM card, and can not be used for making or receiving calls. The advantage to the second sim being the rates for data are significantly cheaper than a call and data SIM. Note that on Ncell SIM cards, tethering is not enabled by default. However their data works where you just switch between 2g and 3g depending on what reception is available (there is no cheaper prices for only 2g). You can get coverage maps on their site, although they famously now have 3G reception at the Mt Everest base camp, although not on the trek to the base camp.
NTC SIMs - NTC SIMs can usually only be bought from their official offices. They often have a shortage of SIM cards, and you may have to wait up to 10 days to receive one. They also do not publish their coverage maps. However they do have superior remote coverage to Ncell, particularly on the Annapurna Circuit trek.
The standard Nepalese electrical outlet is a three-pronged triangle, but many have been retrofitted to accept European and North American plugs. Adapters can be purchased inexpensively in Kathmandu for around NPR100 to change the shape of the plug, and some have fuses built in. Try shopping in Thamel or the Kumari Arcade at Mahaboudha near Bir Hospital of Kathmandu for cheap electrical adapters.
Electricity on treks outside of major cities is scarce. Often there are only solar powered lights that are available for a few hours in the evening. Expect to pay 100-200 NPR per hour to charge devices on many tea-house treks, including the Everest base camp trek. One alternative is to buy a bayonet light to electricity power plug converter, however these only work while voltage remains high and they often won't work on low power solar systems you find up in the mountains.
If you have devices that will need regular recharging, you might want to invest in a small solar panel and battery pack, available from various suppliers in North America and Europe.
- Mount Kailash - in Tibet, a short distance beyond the North West corner of Nepal. Hindu and Buddhist cosmology describes the cosmos as a central mountain, Mount Meru, surrounded by the earth's continents and seas, then by the rest of the universe. Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple complex is an architectural representation of this schema. As geographical knowledge developed, Mount Kailash was proclaimed the physical manifestation of Mount Meru. Factually it is the hydrological hub of the subcontinent. The Karnali, Sutlej Indus and Brahmaputra rivers all begin near this mountain. Hindus and Buddhists gain religious merit by circumnambulating the mountain.