A glimpse of Nepal
The lure and romance of Nepal comes from its very remoteness. Nestled high in the Himalayas, the kingdom was closed to the outside world until 1951. Since then it has become one of the premier tourist destinations of the world.
Apart from Nepal’s world-renowned physical attractions – frozen peaks, broad valleys, lush jungles and exotic wildlife – it is a country with an ancient, rich and diverse cultural heritage.
With a recorded history of almost 3,000 years and legendary beginnings dating back further still, the legacy and influences of the past are a constant presence in modern life. Traditional architecture mingles with the modern; busy streets divert around sacred shrines; festivals celebrate gods and heroes; and suited-businessmen offer kataks to departing visitors.
The lives of all of Nepal’s numerous ethnic groups and castes are strongly influenced by religion. Whether Hindu, Buddhist, Shamanist or, as is common, an amalgam of beliefs, daily and life-long routines – morning puja, making offerings at a shrine on the way to work and the bigger events of birth and death – are a vibrant aspect of Nepalese life. Architecture follows styles that provide for household shrines, deities are painted in vibrant color and festivals are an integral part of life.
Nepal is a small landlocked country, sandwiched between China to the north and India to the south. Just 800km long and 200km wide, it covers every altitude from 150m to 8,848m, the highest point in the world at the top of Mount Everest.
Although nearly two thirds of the country is covered by mountains, almost half of the population lives in the narrow lowland belt of the Terai that covers only 17% of the country’s landmass.
Nepal is home to a wide variety of people, animals and birds and landscapes. There are over 100 languages, with over 50 officially recognized tribes or ethnic groups.
Geologically, millions of years ago Nepal was once under the ocean, as seen in the Kali Gandaki river bed, where ammonites can still be found. The Himalayas are in fact a very young mountain range, still moving upwards a few millimeters every year.
Nepal can be divided into distinct zones: the southern plains, the mountain areas and in between, the hill regions.
Terai The Terai in the south form the flat lowland area that runs along the length of Nepal, bordering with India. The Chure Hills, with an average height of about 1,000m, forms a minor ridge that runs the length of the country, separating the Middle Hills from the Inner Terai area.
Middle Hills North of the Inner Terai are the Middle Hills or Mahabharat Range which vary between 1,500 and 2,700m. Between these hills and the Himalaya lays a broad belt of cultivated land that is known as the Pahar zone, including the valleys of Kathmandu and Pokhara. After the Terai, this area is the most densely populated area of Nepal.
Nepal has 8 of the world’s 10 highest mountains (K2 and Nanga Parbat being outside Nepal). Owing to the semi-tropical latitude and rainfall, the mountains are covered in vegetation up to around 3,500-4,000m (the tree line generally goes up to about 3,900m). Beyond the first ridge of the Himalaya is a high altitude or ‘cold’ desert. This includes Upper Mustang, Manang and Dolpo. This trans-Himalaya region is in a rain shadow, as the monsoon clouds drop rain on the south side of the mountains, leaving these areas dry during the summer.
1) Mount Everest/Sagarmatha/Chomolungma 8,848m/29,029ft (first ascent: 1953)
2) K2 8,611m/28,251ft (1954)
3) Kangchenjunga 8,586m/28,169ft (1955)
4) Lhotse 8,516m/27,940ft (1956)
5) Makalu 8,485m/27,838ft (1955)
6) Cho Oyu 8,188m/26,864ft (1954)
7) Dhaulagiri I 8,167m/26,795ft (1960)
8) Manaslu 8,163m 26,781ft (1956)
9) Nanga Parbat 8,126m 26,660ft (1953)
10) Annapurna I 8,091m 26,545ft (1950)
As well as mountains, Nepal is home to a range of exceptional biodiversity. For sightings of wildlife and birds, the best places to go are in the national parks and wildlife reserves or in the mountains well away from human habitation.
Wildlife and birds
A few examples of the animals that can be found in Nepal include:
Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris) – Largest of the cat family, tigers can be found in Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park in the Terai. They mainly prey on large game such as sambar deer, wild pig or gaur. Opportunist predators, they also kill smaller animals and occasionally livestock. Tigers are nocturnal and solitary except during the breeding season and when females are with cubs. Highly territorial, a male typically need about 50 square
kilometers of subtropical forest. Since they need a large area, they face the threat of habitat fragmentation and loss. It is estimated that there are about 50 resident tigers in Chitwan and about 30 in Bardia. Juveniles and non-resident tigers sometimes move between Chitwan and India, which lays not far to the south. They are especially threatened by poaching, as tiger parts and products are highly valued for medicinal properties. Tigers are endangered (IUCN).
Common or spotted leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) – This highly adaptable big cat often comes close to villages where they prey on stray dogs, chicken, goats and farm animals. They are solitary and nocturnal, and their tracks can be seen along the trails. They prey on birds, monkeys, deer, reptiles and jackals, in addition to domestic animals. Leopards are very good tree climbers and often drag their kill up to the trees. They are good swimmers and their main enemy is the tiger. They are not only restricted to forest and can survive in open country among rocks and scrubland. Near Threatened (IUCN)
Asian elephant (Elephas maximas) –The Asian elephant is the largest land mammal in Asia. They are highly social, living in large herds of related females and young. Males are often found individually and when solitary, can be especially dangerous. Mating takes place usually during the monsoon and gestation lasts 20 months or so, with one single calf normally being born. Elephants can live as long as 70 years or more and they live in forest and grasslands, being partial to bamboo forests. It is possible to see wild elephants in Chitwan, Bardia and Parsa Wildlife Reserve, though you are more likely to see domesticated elephants that ferry visitors around the parks on elephant safaris. They face many conservation threats from poaching, habitat destruction, migration route disruption and human-wildlife conflict. Asian elephants are listed as endangered (IUCN).
One-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) – Chitwan is one of the last refuges of the rare one-horned rhinoceros, though some were reintroduced to Bardia from Chitwan National Park in 1986. Maybe only 2,500 exist in the world, with the most living in Chitwan and Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India. The rhino has a single horn set on top of the snout, which is believed to possess supernatural healing powers. This makes it very vulnerable to poachers, as the horn is sought after by hunters and manufacturers of traditional medicine. They are nocturnal and normally solitary, but can sometimes be seen in herds. Females are very protective of their young and may attack when threatened. They follow regular paths through dense grass when foraging and live where there is marshy vegetation, grassland and wooded meadows. They are seriously threatened by poaching and habitat loss and are listed as an endangered species (IUCN).
Gharial crocodile (Gavialis gangeticus ) – The gharial crocodile has a long slender snout and eats fish. An endangered species, there are breeding centers at Chitwan and Bardia National Park that release young gharials successfully into the wild. Marsh mugger crocodiles also live here.
Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) – These are distinguished from black bears by their shaggy blackish or brownish or reddish coat, and are about the size of a large dog. Although quite small, they have a reputation for being very dangerous. They use their long claws to dig for termites. Mainly nocturnal, they spend most of the night rummaging for food. They can smell buried food and climb trees to get honey or fruit. Sloth bears inhabit grasslands, thorn scrub, sal forest and mixed evergreen forest. They are a threatened species (IUCN).
In addition, there are several species of deer such as swamp deer, hog deer, black buck, samba deer, barking deer; monkeys (rhesus macaques and langurs), bison, wild boar, bear and many rodents, wild cats and dogs – in fact over 50 species of mammals can be found in Nepal.
Nepal is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with 865 species recorded as resident or visiting. Around half these can be seen within the Kathmandu Valley, and over 530 varieties can be sighted in places like Chitwan, especially during the winter migratory season.
March to May is the main nesting season and the best time to sight birds. Migratory birds arrive in the Terai in February and March on their way from Siberia. The best places for bird watching are in the Terai at Kosi Tappu Wildlife Reserve, Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park.
Nepal’s national bird, the Himalayan monal, is a pheasant with beautiful blue plumage. This can be sighted while trekking in the mountain areas. While trekking through the forests, you might see the little brown spiny babbler, Nepal’s only endemic species. Endangered birds include the Bengal florican, lesser florican, silver-eared mesia and Sarus crane.
Nepal: a brief history
Nepal’s recorded history began with the Kirantis, who arrived from the east in the 7th or 8th century BC. Little is known about them, other than their skill as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. During this period Buddhism first came to Nepal. It is claimed that Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the Kathmandu Valley and stayed for a time in Patan. By 200 AD, Buddhism had waned and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India, overthrowing the last Kirat king. The Hindus also introduced the caste system (which still continues today) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture.
By 879, the Licchavi era had petered out and was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty. A grim period of instability and invasion often referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’ followed, but the Kathmandu Valley’s strategic location ensured the kingdom’s survival and growth. Several centuries later, the Thakuri king Arideva founded the Malla dynasty, kick-starting another renaissance of Nepali culture. Despite earthquakes, the odd invasion and feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under Yaksha Malla.
The rulers of Gorkha, the most easterly region, had always coveted the Mallas’ wealth. Under the inspired leadership of Prithivi Narayan Shah, Gorkha launched a campaign to conquer the valley. In 1768, after 27 years of fighting, they triumphed and moved their capital to Kathmandu. From this new base, the kingdom’s power expanded, borne by a seemingly unstoppable army, until progress was halted in 1792 by a brief and chastening war with Tibet.
Further hostilities followed in 1814, this time with the British over a territorial dispute. The Nepalese were eventually put to heel and compelled to sign the 1816 Sugauli Treaty, which surrendered Sikkim and most of the Terai (some of this land was eventually restored in return for Nepalese help in quelling the Indian Mutiny of 1857). This established Nepal’s present eastern and western boundaries and installed a British ‘resident’ in the country.
The Shah dynasty continued in power until the ghastly Kot Massacre of 1846. Taking advantage of the intrigue and assassinations that had plagued the ruling family, Jung Bahadur seized control by butchering several hundred of the most important men while they were assembled in the Kot courtyard. He took the more prestigious title of Rana, proclaimed himself prime minister for life, and later made the office hereditary. For the next century, the Ranas and their offspring luxuriated in huge Kathmandu palaces, while the remainder of the population eked out a miserable existence in medieval conditions. In 1948, when the British withdrew from India, with them went the Rana’s chief support. Around the same time, a host of insurrectional movements emerged. Sporadic fighting spilled onto the streets and the Ranas, at the behest of India, reluctantly agreed to negotiations. King Tribhuvan was appointed ruler in 1951 and formed a government comprised of Ranas and members of the newly formed Nepali Congress Party. But the compromise was short-lived. After toying with democratic elections and feeling none too pleased by the result, King Mahendra (Tribhuvan’s son and successor) decided that a ‘partyless’ panchayat system would be more appropriate for Nepal. The king selected the prime minister and cabinet, and appointed a large proportion of the national assembly, which duly rubber-stamped his policies. Power, of course, remained with only one party – the king’s.
Cronyism, corruption and the creaming off of lucrative foreign aid into royal coffers continued until 1989 when the Nepalese, fed up with years of hardship and suffering, called the Jana Andolan or ‘People’s Movement’. In the ensuing months, detention, torture and violent clashes left hundreds of people dead. It all proved too much for King Birendra, who dissolved his cabinet, legalized political parties and invited the opposition to form an interim government. The changeover to democracy proceeded in an orderly, if leisurely, fashion and in May 1991 the Nepali Congress party and the communist party of Nepal shared most of the votes. Since then, Nepal has discovered that establishing a workable democratic system is an enormously difficult task, especially when it is the country’s first such system. The situation has been further exacerbated by a wafer-thin economy, massive unemployment, illiteracy, and an ethnically and religiously fragmented population that continues to grow at an alarming rate. The fractured political landscape in Nepal was torn apart in June 2001 with the massacre of most of the royal family, including King Birendra. Civil strife erupted again in Kathmandu, with a curfew imposed to quell street violence. Prince Gyanendra, the brother of King Birendra, ascended to the throne, and although relative calm replaced the widespread civil unrest that immediately followed the massacre, there was still much political uncertainty.
In February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed Nepal’s elected government, declared a state of emergency, and announced his assumption of full executive authority. He justified the coup on the pretext of trying to curtail the 10-year-old Maoist insurgency that claimed more than 13,000 lives. The police, the army, and the Maoists were all responsible for numerous human rights abuses during the conflict. After the coup, Maoist leaders reached an agreement with the main political parties to join forces and oppose the King. They organized massive protests and in April 2006, after tens of thousands of people took to the streets, King Gyanendra was forced to abdicate his authority and return a civilian government.
The first round of peace talks between the rebels and the government took place at the end of August 2006 when a ceasefire was declared – but then abruptly ended. Any talk of détente was at risk from the government’s proposed land reforms and budget decisions, and major political challenges. In early September 2006, a tentative alliance comprising 10 left-wing political party emerged, along with calls for a united government of representatives from all political directions, including Mao rebels, and changes to the constitution. Hopes of a settlement were again dashed with coordinated Maoist bombings in November 2006.
In (2006-2008), Nepal’s coalition government and the Communist Party (Maoist) signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end the fighting. The Nepali Army and Maoists agreed to an arms management pact, under which each side would put away most of its weapons and restrict most of its troops to a few barracks, under the supervision of monitors from the United Nations. They also agreed to participate in elections to create a constituent assembly that would rewrite the country’s constitution, including whether it will remain a monarchy.
Elections to the Constituent assembly were held on 10, April 2008 and the Maoists got the largest number of seats, though not an overall majority. Thereafter, the parliament declared Nepal as Federal Democratic Republic overthrowing the 240-year old Shah dynasty. King Gyanendra left the palace which was then turned into national museum. A coalition government was formed under the Maoists with Pushpa Kamal Dahal (alias Prachanda) leading the government as the new premier in Nepal. However, this was short lived and on the resignation of Dahal over the lack of the President’s support on the dismissal of the Chief of Staff of the Army, the government has been led by the opposition parties ever since.
In July 2008, the newly elected president Dr. Ram Baran Yadav became the first president of Nepal through presidential run-off held on 21 July in the parliament, After the abolishment of the institution of monarchy in the country and after the King Gyanendra was dethroned by the Constituent Assembly, Nepal has found a farmer’s son to become the first president of republic Nepal.
Maoist revolutionary supreme leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda was democratically elected as the new prime minister of Federal Democratic Republic Nepal on 15 August 2008.Prachanda had led the 10-year long insurgency against the monarchy and under his able leadership the Maoist party scored the major seats in the Assembly election in April, 2008.The coalition government headed by Maoist party was brought down after a 9 month rule and another coalition government headed by UML (United Marxist Leninist) party formed the government with the support of Nepali Congress, Nepal Prajatantra Party, Madhesi Janadikar Forum and other small political parties. This new coalition government was formed under the premiership of Madhav Kumar Nepal, who was ousted in July 2010. A further year was allowed for the Constituent Assembly to come up with a new constitution, as the agreed deadline of May 2010 was not met.
Royal Mountain uses a wide range of accommodation, ranging from good standard, clean and comfortable hotels and guesthouses; basic tea houses that are often multi-shared; and waterproof tents on fully assisted trekking and rafting programs.
Hotel rooms are generally twin bedded, with private facilities which usually have Western style toilets.
However, when traveling in remote areas, toilet facilities are usually local squat style and can often be quite primitive. In some places, there may not be electricity. Washing facilities can sometimes be quite rudimentary.
Buses – On shorter routes local buses are used, where there is the opportunity to mingle with the locals. These can be fairly run down in places, but any discomfort is more than compensated for by local color.
Jeeps or minibuses are often used to get everyone to and from the trekking and rafting departure points.
On longer routes, private or tourist buses are used, which provide a slightly higher degree of comfort and safety.
Cycle – Around Kathmandu and Pokhara bicycles are a great way to take in the atmosphere and scenery. Driving is on the right-hand side (like in India).
Taxis – Widely found in Kathmandu and Pokhara, all licensed taxis are metered, but drivers are often reluctant to use them. “Meter chha?” is useful to ask if the driver will use the meter which is usually the best bet for shorter journeys. Make sure to negotiate the fare before departing.
Pedal-rickshaws – An environmentally-friendly mode of transport to explore the backstreets and narrow alleyways of Kathmandu, this is a great way to explore the old part of the city. However, their movement is restricted on the main traffic-congested roads during the daytime. For the fare, you’ll have to haggle with the driver.
On foot – The traditional way of getting to places in the Himalaya, but is also a good way to explore the city.
Nepal has one major international airport: Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
Qatar, Thai Airways and Jet are the three largest carriers serving Tribhuvan International Airport. Thai Airways flies daily between Kathmandu and Bangkok with connections throughout the world, while Jet flies to Delhi, connecting with many countries around the world. Qatar serves the Middle East and connects to Europe..
In addition to Qatar, from Europe there are daily flights via the Middle East on Ethihad, Emirates, Gulf Air, Oman Air as well as connections via Delhi on Lufthansa, KLM and Jet.
For the Middle East, in as well as those connecting to Europe, there are also Air Arabia and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
KLM have a charter flight connecting The Netherlands with Kathmandu.
There are daily flights to and from Delhi on Air India and Nepal Airlines ( RNAC), Indian Airlines, JetairFly, JetLite and Jet. Cosmic Air also serves Varanasi, Kolkata and Dhaka.
Cathay Pacific/Dragon Air flies several times a week to Hong Kong and connects to Australia along with Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines.
Air China, China Southern and China Eastern Airways operate between Beijing and Shanghai and Kathmandu. There are connections with China Airlines, Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific to the USA and Canada.
Biman and United Airways Bangladesh have flights via Bangladesh to many destinations. In addition Silk Air, Kingfisher, Yeti Airlines, Druk Air (Bhutan), and PIA fly to Kathmandu.
There are five land border crossings to India and one for China. The Sunauli crossing is most commonly used to get into India, with a rail connection at Ghorakhpur in Bihar that connects to Varanasi and Delhi. Bambassa also serves Delhi and Uttaranchal; Kakarbhitta in the east of Nepal provides access to Sikkim via Darjeeling and Siliguri; Birjung/Raxaul Bazaar gives access for Kolkota; and Nepalgunj/Jamunaha gives access to Delhi and Lucknow.
There are many internal airlines flying to towns and cities all over Nepal, as well as more remote mountain areas. Up to 50 flights a day at the height of season flies to and from Lukla, the start point for treks to the Everest region. This airport, at 2,600m has a short but steep runway that makes for exciting landings and take offs. There are several daily flights to towns like Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Birjunj and other towns. Flights also go to more remote hilltop airfields that serve many of the trekking areas such as Jomsom for the Mustang area.
Road travel in Nepal is generally slow, as the roads are narrow, road surfaces are generally poor and there is the risk of landslides and other problems that sometimes interrupt smooth travel. However, the scenery and experience of travelling in Nepal by road is an adventure in itself, not to be missed.
Daily mountain flights from Kathmandu can take you to see the wonderful panorama of the Everest area.
Nepal’s weather is generally predictable and pleasant. There are four climatic seasons: March to May (spring), June to August (summer), September to November (autumn) and December to February (winter). The monsoon lasts approximately from the end of June to the middle of September. About 80% of the rain falls during that period, with the remainder of the year being dry. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant seasons; winter temperatures drop to freezing with a high level of snowfall in the mountains; summer and late spring temperatures range from 28ºC (83ºF) in the hill regions to over 40ºC (104ºF) in the Terai; and in winter, average maximum and minimum temperatures in the Terai range from a brisk 7ºC (45ºF) to a mild 23ºC (74ºF). The central valleys experience a minimum temperature often falling below freezing point and a chilly 12ºC (54ºF) maximum. Much colder temperatures prevail at higher elevations. The Kathmandu Valley, at an altitude of 1,310m (4,297ft), has a mild climate, ranging from 19-30ºC (67-85ºF) in summer, and 2-20ºC (36-68ºF) in winter.
Food and drink
Traditional Nepali food is plain and simple, not very spicy, but full of flavors. Restaurants are many and varied in Kathmandu and Pokhara, though the selection is much more limited once out of these cities.
While trekking in the mountains, (especially in Everest and some parts of Annapurnas), the Tibetan influence becomes more evident in the food. Many Indian dishes are found in the plains in the south.
Dal-bhat-tarkari – a thick lentil soup (dal), with rice (bhat) and vegetable curry (tarkari). This is the Nepali staple and for most Nepalis, their favorite meal above all others. ‘Achar’ or pickles spice up this dish and sometimes it will be served with curd or yoghurt, and meat (‘masu’), usually chicken or mutton (which is invariably goat).
The Newars of the Kathmandu Valley have their own much more exotic and varied cuisine. They use spices and ingredients in a much more creative way, with a wide range of spicy dishes. They are great meat eaters, with buff or buffalo as a preferred meat (cows are sacred). Using chili and other spices, the food is very flavorsome and to be recommended.
Tibetan food is less spicy, with momos being the favorite that you can find everywhere. These are small dumplings or parcels of pastry filled with meat or vegetable, usually steamed or fried.
For dessert, if you have a sweet tooth you’ll find plenty to tempt you. Like India, there are many sticky sweets usually made from milk and curd. Curd is widely available.
Vegetarians are well catered for. Many Hindu Nepalese are vegetarian, though many are more through economy than choice.
Bottled water (pani) can be found in most places. Avoid drinking the water unless it has been boiled or filtered, as tap water is not drinkable.
Chang is a mild beer made from millet or rice and is the home brew of the Himalaya. This is made with local water, so be aware that it might not be safe to drink.
Raksi is a country liquor usually made from millet, wheat or corn, and sometimes rice. This is distilled, so should be safer to drink, other than the hang-over if you drink too much!
The Nepali morning normally begins with a cup of tea (chiya). Nepali tea or masala tea is a special tea with spices like cinnamon added, that gives a wonderful flavor. Tea invariably comes with sugar already added, once you are away from tourist places.
Locally produced soft drinks are widely available, as well as Coke and Fanta. Slice is a delicious mango juice and Dew is a local alternative to the imported soft drinks that tastes a bit like Sprite.
Lassi is a curd based drink which may be either savory or sweet. It is popular and refreshing.
The legal drinking age is 18.
Do not drink the water unless you are sure it has been filtered or boiled thoroughly. The same applies to ice.
Bottled water is readily available in the main center although a much more environmentally-friendly option is to take water purification tablets with you (iodine tablets are best), or a camping bottle with an in-built filter. If you don’t like the taste of the iodine, you can easily use effervescent vitamin tablets (C) or ascorbic acid to neutralize the taste.
Currency – Nepal the currency is the Nepalese Rupee (NPR). This is fixed to the Indian Rupee and is a soft currency, which means it cannot be changed outside the country. It is fixed to the Indian Rupee at 100 IPR to 160 NPR.
It is best to bring a mixture of cash and travelers’ checks in major currencies – USD, CAD, EUR, AUD – and ensure you have a mixture of large and small denominations.
Exchange – Money may easily be exchanged at Kathmandu airport on arrival and banks and licensed moneychangers in the cities (shop around as at money changers, a small amount of bargaining can sometimes get a more favorable rate). Bank rates and commission tend to vary. There are many licensed moneychangers in Thamel and Pokhara, though anywhere else is more difficult. The rates at the money changers is slightly lower than banks, but their opening hours are longer and usually you don’t have to queue. There are a number of banks that can provide money transfers and foreign exchange. Standard Chartered is the only international bank in Nepal and has several branches in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Outside of Kathmandu and Pokhara however, banks are unlikely to be able to provide these services.
Credit cards and ATMs – Credit card cash advances and ATM withdrawals are in NPR only. ATM machines can be found in Kathmandu and Pokhara, and other larger towns, but not in smaller places. Outside these places, in general credit cards are not widely accepted and invariably payment is processed using the paper slips, often with an additional charge of 3-4%.
How much you will need for shopping is difficult to predict, but most people buy more than they plan to. If you want to buy quality art works including hand-painted thangkas, carpets or traditional jewelry you can easily spend USD200+ for top quality items.
What to buy?
Nepal is great for all kinds of handicrafts, textiles and artworks. Popular buys include clothing, embroidered items, Tibetan carpets, traditional religious paintings, hand-woven pashmina shawls, pottery, jewelry, traditional masks, puppets, bronze items, traditional knives, prayer wheels, wood carvings and traditional musical instruments.
Thangkas are traditional Buddhist painted banners. They make practical souvenirs as they are designed to be rolled up, so they are easy to carry.
Check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to import some items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand for example have strict quarantine laws, so certain natural fibers may be restricted.
All the major cities have internet access either in hotels or internet cafes. In smaller places, you are unlikely to find the internet, though at places like Manang, Namche Bazaar and at Tengboche – for a price – you can access the internet (satellite connection). Expect connection speeds to be slow.
International calls can be made from nearly all the centers you are likely to visit except for when you’re rafting and trekking in the remote regions. In Kathmandu, there are many ‘communication centers’ where you can call, send faxes and emails. A few places have internet phone services that are much cheaper.
Mobile phone coverage is available but is very unreliable. Apart from the sometimes patchy coverage (especially in the hilly and mountainous areas), the network is overloaded, so its often very difficult to get through..
It is easy to get a Nepali SIM card in Kathmandu or Pokhara (bring a photocopy of your passport and two passport photos). However coverage is poor in many of the areas where you might go trekking. Even traveling on the road from Kathmandu to Pokhara, there are many areas where there’s no coverage.
Global roaming agreements exist with some international phone companies. Check with your provider before leaving home if you wish to access roaming.
Receiving post is not convenient as you are normally doing something or traveling during the opening hours of most post offices.
When posting mail to international addresses, it is best to leave your mail at the post office rather than in a post box. In Kathmandu, some bookshops sell stamps and will take your post to the post office for you. Most hotels can also help you post your mail.
Art of bargaining
The art of bargaining is something you can work on during your trip. Here are a few pointers to help you on your way:
Start bargaining with some idea of what you consider a fair price for the item to be. This will usually involve researching the item in a number of different stores.
The correct price for an item is the price you agree to pay, that keeps both you and the seller happy. Therefore, there’s no ‘right’ price.
Don’t appear too interested in an item. Walking out of a store is often a good way to get the price to drop.
Shop with a friend – buying in bulk will often reduce the price.
Learn the numbers in the local language. It will win respect from the seller and will certainly make the process a lot more interesting.
Be polite, patient, but firm in your bargaining. No one ever has received a cheaper price through being rude or insensitive.
Most importantly, enjoy the experience, and remember you are often only bargaining over only a couple of dollars. Keep it in perspective.
Once a price you have offered is accepted it is not appropriate to back out of the deal.
Only say you’ll buy something later if you intend to buy later. The sellers usually have amazing memories, and will come hounding you on your promise!
Code of conduct for travelers
1. Respect cultural differences Local customs, traditions and values may be different from your own. Take the time to learn what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t.
2. Learn a few phrases Take the time to learn about the country you are visiting. Learning about the customs and a few words in the local language can go a long way and is appreciated by the local people. It also makes your interactions more meaningful and memorable.
3. Save ‘face’ A very important concept in Asia. Try not to raise your voice, embarrass someone or display anger. Smile – the traveler who wishes to have a happy and successful trip in Asia should stay calm, cheerful and friendly.
4.Dress respectfully Be sensitive and aware of local standards. Covered thighs and shoulders are expected in most of Asia. Dress modestly at all religious sites (you usually need to take your shoes off) and check what is suitable for the beach.
5.Support local businesses Make use of local services (hotels etc.) and eat in local restaurants. Not only will your experience of the culture be greater, you are directly supporting the people.
6.Respect wildlife & endangered species Viewing animals from a safe distance is fine; touching, feeding , or cornering them is not. Do not buy products that exploit wildlife, aid in habitat destruction, or come from endangered species.
7.Take photos with care Always ask permission to take photos of people and respect their wishes if they refuse. If you do take a photo, offer to send copies back to them and make sure to follow through with your promise. If your subject wants immediate compensation in return for the photo taken, offering a piece of fruit or food, or a souvenir from your home are ways to do it.
8.Giving gifts Royal Mountain Travel highly discourages offering money to people begging on the streets. Parents often send their children out into the streets, since a child can make more than their parents make begging on the street. This promotes further dependency and encourages more parents to send out their children. Instead, we would suggest offering a piece of food or fruit. Perhaps you could offer postcard from your home, or a small pin etc.
9.Do not litter and reduce waste This is one time when the old adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans” doesn’t apply. Even if you see a local person littering, set an example and dispose of your garbage appropriately. Recycling is extremely limited or non-existent in most developing countries, so avoid products with excess packaging; opt for beverages in glass bottles as they tend to be re-used.
Visa & Permits
Visa for Nepal: All foreign nationals (except Indians) require a visa to enter Nepal. Visas are obtainable from embassies abroad or on arrival at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan airport. If getting the visa at the airport be prepared for queues. There have been instances when passengers were asked to show return flight tickets. You will also need to provide two passport photos and the following fees in US dollars cash only.
You do not pay for the visa in Nepal Rupees on arrival at the airport, but if you extend your visa at Immigration in Kathmandu or Pokhara, only then, you will have to pay in Rupees.
Multi entry visa valid for 15 days – US$25,
Multi entry visa valid for 30 days – US$40,
Multi entry visa valid for 90 days – US$100.
Please note if you are staying in Nepal for less than 24 hours while in transit, a transit visa can be issued on presentation of your international flight ticket. There is a nominal charge of US$5 and two photos are required.
To go trekking, in most places a TIMs permit is needed and when the trek is in a national park or protected area, fees will apply. RMT normally covers these charges.