Nepal is a landlocked country in Southern Asia, between China and India. It contains eight of world's 10 highest peaks, including Mount Everest - the world's tallest - on the border with China.
|Government||parliament dissolved by King Gyanandra in 2002|
|Currency||Nepalese rupee (NPR)|
|Area||total: 140,800 sq km |
water: 4,000 sq km
land: 136,800 sq km
|Population||25,873,917 (July 2002 est.)|
|Language||Nepali (official; spoken by 90% of the population), about a dozen other languages and about 30 major dialects; note - many in government and business also speak English (1995)|
|Religion||Hinduism 86.2%, Buddhism 7.8%, Islam 3.8%, other 2.2% |
note: only official Hindu state in the world (1995)
- Kathmandu Valley
- Everest - stunning scenery, friendly and honest people
- Kathmandu, capital and cultural center of Nepal
- Bhaktapur, well-preserved historical city, center of Nepali pottery making.
- Patan, sister-city of Kathmandu and metal working center
- Pokhara, picturesque lakeshore town and base for many of Nepal's most accessible treks
- Chitwan National Park, to see tigers, rhinos and animals in the Jungle.
- Mount Everest - See 'regions': Everest
- Nagarkot - At one hour from Kathmandu, it's a hill with hotels only, perfect to see the Everest Range on a clear day. If it's cloudy, don't go.
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:
- Lumbini is the sacred site of the Buddha Shakyamuni's birth. Today it a small village, located 27kms from Sonauli on the Indo-Nepal border.
- Bodhanath Stupa in Kathmandu.
- Parping in the Kathmandu Valley is the site of several sacred caves associated with Padmasabhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism.
- Haleshi (often known by the Tibetan name of Maratika) in Eastern Nepal is the site of a mountain cave where Padmasabhava attained a state beyond life and death.
- Pashupatinath Nepal's oldest and holiest Hindu pilgrimage site 4 km east of Kathmandu.
- Swayambhunath stupa (colloquially referred to as "Monkey Temple") located on Swayambhunath Hill, is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus.
Nepal is subject to Monsoon climate with four main seasons:
- The heavy rains from June to September;
- Clear and cool weather (one of the two high-seasons for travel and trekking) from October to December
- Winter in the mountains, creating weather too cold and snowy for some treks from December to March. The temperature of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, can go down to 0 degrees Celsius at night, and cold waves cause several deaths in the city every season.
- Spring-like and vibrant from April to June
Note that every year can be different, with rains or freezes coming early or late, so check ahead before planning your travel.
Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport is located just outside Kathmandu. The terminal is a one-room brick building with a large wooden table serving as both customs and immigration. Three month tourist visas are available on arrival. Money can be changed as well, but these services are only available directly after scheduled arrivals.
Outside the airport, all 'representatives' of the tourist industry are required to remain 10 meters from the front door. This does not prevent them from 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, or better yet, arrange your first night's accommodation before you arrive and ask the hotel to send someone to meet you.
Car rental in Nepal is almost unheard of, as is renting a car in India and taking it across the border. Some travellers have bought motorcycles in India and driven them into the country, but road conditions and erratic local drivers make this an adventurous choice.
Sunauli-Bhairawa is the most popular point to cross the border from India. Buses arrive daily in Kathmandu from Lucknow (8-10 hours), Varanasi (10-12 hours) and New Delhi (36+ hours).
A cargo train began operating between Sirsiya in southern Nepal, and the coastal Indian town of Raxaul in 2003. There is currently no international rail travel, and Nepal has no internal train system.
- Local Bus - Hard to figure out, but the cheapest, and most 'interesting' way to go-- be prepared for goats, ducks, and crowds. Also, on occasion, be prepared to wait, as some buses will not move 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.
- Rickshaw - Usually only the two-stroke (polluting) kind. 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. The Nepalese word for these auto-rickshaws is "tampu".
- Taxis - There are two types of taxi -- "private", which pretty much run from the airport to your (upscale) hotel; and "10 Rupee", which don't leave until they are full, and you wont believe how full they can get!
- Tram - An old-fashioned street cable-car runs from Kathmandu by the stadium to Bhaktapur. Not a fast trip, but an interesting (and economical) option.
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). While most Nepali 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, proximity to India has made English somewhat widespread among educated Nepalis.
Learning even a few words of Nepali can be fun and very useful, especially outside of the tourist district and while trekking.
See: Nepali phrasebook
- Rafting - Overnight trips for all levels of experience leave from Kathmandu and Pokhara. The Kaligandaki is a popular river.
- Jungle Safari - Chitwan National Forest offers elephant rides, jungle canoeing, nature walks, and birding, as well as more adventurous tiger and rhino-viewing.
- Parties - "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.
Most of the trekking Nepal is called "Tea-house trekking" as the day's hike is between guesthouse-filled towns. While this doesn't make the treks that much easier, it means there is no need for tents, food, water, or beer-- all those things, plus hot showers and apple-pie, can be purchased along the way. Remote trekking is possible as well, but guides or "porters" are recommended unless you are an experienced wilderness trekker. See also "Stay Safe" for information about Maoists rebels in remote areas.
- Mt. Everest Base Camp Trek: Stunning scenery, Wonderful people. See 'Regions' - Everest
- Everest region). You can certainly get a bucket of hot water on request in most places, which is good enough. Solar showers only work when there has been a good bit of sun shining for a few hours (so they don't work at night - and they are never that hot anyway).
- A pack of cards is great for the long evenings (if you know a variety of games). Maybe even bring a cheap CD/MPEG player for entertainment. When it gets dark, have a candle handy - especially post monsoon when a lot of the electricity lines are down (most lodges can supply, but always good to have one just in case).
- A "finger" or "sawn-off" toothbrush is much more compact and easy to use in the dark, and a pack of "Wet Wipes" to clean yourself with in the morning and every second day is very handy, as is antiseptic hand spray or gell to use before food and after toilet.
- Take along some safety pins (to fix bust zips/flaps/etc.) and also some cheap/small clothes pegs with a bit of washing line and "camp" wash (you will need to do some washing at some point and will of course need to also get it dry in time). Don't screw tops down too tight - or at least open every day any sealed tubes/bottles (the altitude will make them explode otherwise).
- Use your CamelBack as a boiling hot-water bottle when you go to bed (which will then be full of cold purified water to start the next day). Furthermore, buy some powdered juice flavouring to diguise the taste of CamelBack, which will soon become boring, and a spare mouthpiece and insulation for the tube (which can freeze in the cold). Sweets from home are also great - especially boiled/hard ones to keep you going over the steep and high-altitude bits.
- You will generally be expected to pay your sidar (guide) and porters a "baksheesh" (tip). This has to be handled tactfully as they will not say outright what amount is acceptable. More personal gifts to express your appreciation (like a spare jacket or fleece) also go down well.
Traveller's checks are your best bet. There are ATMs in Kathmandu and banks that will give you cash from ATM or credit cards-- for a charge, but often they are unavailable and you don't want to get stuck!
The Nepali national dish is daal bhaat tarkaari (lentils, rice, vegetable curry). This is the main course served in most Nepalese houses (for lunch and dinner). Nepali food is much less spicy than Indian food, and many dishes are Tibetan in origin. Some dishes to look for include momos, a meat or vegetable filled dumpling - similar to Chinese pot-stickers -often served with beer, and Tibetan Bread and Honey a puffy fried bread with heavy raw honey, great for breakfast. One delicacy that you do not want to miss while in Nepal is the dried meat (it especially complements with beer/alcoholic beverages). Newars, an ethnic group, are considered connoisseur of great foods, so watch out for Newari Restaurants (some of them even come with cultural shows... a great way to enjoy good food while having a crash-course in Nepalese culture). In the Everest region try the local Sherpa dish of potato pancakes (rikikul). They are delicious eaten straight off the griddle and covered with dzo (female yak) butter or cheese.
Pizza, Mexican, Thai and Chinese food, and Middle-Eastern food can all be found in the tourist districts of Kathmandu and Pokhara. If you are on a budget, sticking with local dishes will save a lot of money.
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 single stove.
Nepali has several traditional alcohols:
- Raksi is also the Nepali word for 'drunk', and rightly so. This clear, fiery liquid is similar to saki by way of really cheap tequila. It is by far the cheapest drink in the country. It is often served for special occasions in small, unfired, clay cups that hold less than a shot. The locals probably won't appreciate the idea, but it works great as a mixer in juice or soda. Note that it sometimes appears on menus as "Nepali wine".
- Jaand (Nepali) or chaang (Tibetan) is a cloudy, moderately alcoholic drink sometimes called Nepali beer". While weaker than raksi, it will still have quite an effect. This is often offered to guests in Nepali homes.
- Beer in Nepal is brewed by the Himalayan Brewing Company. This means that every beer you buy, whether Guinness, Tuborg, Carlsberg, or San Miguel (and that is all you will see), pretty much comes from the same vat. You don't notice after the first few weeks though.
- 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.
Accommodations in Nepal can range between 50 rupees (less than a dollar) on up for a double. 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. Accommodations will often be the cheapest part of your budget in Nepal.
Volunteer in Nepal
Volunteering in Nepal can be a rewarding alternative to simple tourism. Currently in Nepal, the tourism industry is far removed from the everyday village life of most of the population. Trekking or package tours often move too quickly through the country to provide an appreciation of the natural beauty and diverse cultures. Volunteering is sometimes the only way to see remote areas outside the Kathmandu Valley and well-trod trekking trails.
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 are no prerequisites for teaching beyond English fluency and, in some programs, any university level degree.
There are many options for finding volunteer opportunities. Several international organizations will find you a school, room, and boarding-- either at the school or with a local family-- for a fee. This fee can be from $500-$2000 US depending on the type and length of program. Some of this money will go to the school and host family, often they are too poor even to support a volunteer, but the bulk often goes to the agency. In some cases the agency 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 six months, but keep in mind the longer stay is more rewarding for both you and the school, as it can take several weeks to get into the swing of things.
A option 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 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 & 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 (3-6 months), but this is always negotiable with a specific school or project.
Also there are strikes ("bandas") and demonstrations to contend with. Businesses close and transportation halts. Ask about strikes at your hotel and make sure you have enough money to last. Food and water are still available in hotels, and much business goes on behind closed doors. Rallys and Demonstrations are routinely charged by police wielding laathis or long sticks. Tourists are advised to keep a low profile, and to avoid having their brains smashed out by riot police.
Insurgencies aside, Nepal is one of the safest urban environments on earth. Even pickpockets are rare. Still, don't flash cash or make ostentatious displays of wealth, out of respect for the nonmaterialistic reality of the people.
In 2005 two European tourists went missing within weeks of each other at Nagarjun forest. Sabine Gruneklee and Celine Henry both travelled alone into the forest. Bloodied items have been discovered and it is believed they were both murdered.
Drink only bottled water or juice (check to make sure the cap seal has not been broken) or beverages made from water that has been thoroughly boiled and filtered - tea or coffee from a tourist restaurant/cafe is 'generally' safe. After brushing teeth, rinse mouth with boiled and filtered water or bottled water.
Wash your hands. Everything you touch, every hand you shake, etc., is an invasion of local microscopic wildlife. Learn to ask, "Where can I wash?" Every restaurant has one, the locals will respect you for it, and cheerfully direct you to the soap and sink. Then air dry your hands!
Wash or peel fruits and vegetables.
Greet people with a warm "Namaste". Show marked respect to elders. Be friendly, be patient.
Feet are considered dirty. Don't point the bottoms of your feet (or your bum!) at people, or at religious icons. In this vein, be sure 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.
Circumambulate temples, chortens, stupas, mani walls, etc. clockwise.
When haggling over prices, smile, laugh, and be friendly. Be prepared to allow a reasonable profit. Don't 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 and respectful of this fact, as these are places of worship, not tourist attractions.
Email is spreading like wildfire, but your best bet is always Kathmandu (especially in Thamel and around the Boudha Stupa in Boudhnath) or Pokhara. However, Namche, way up in the the Everest region, has several internet cafes that launch your messages out via satellite - though the price is much higher than in Kathmandu . Mail can be received at many guesthouses or shipping offices if you arrange ahead. Phone calls are best made from any of the international phone offices in Kathmandu-- Voice over Internet (VOI) is usually a fraction of the cost of a normal call and it's hard to tell the difference. Check for rates on "callbacks" (you make your call and have them call you back), some places will let you do it for free, others have a charge.