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Nepal can easily be a contender for one of the most beautiful, spectacular, interesting, varied and friendliest countries in the world. Indeed the friendly, welcoming nature and hospitality of the Nepalese is legendary (and it's true!). Who could dispute the majesty of the mighty Himalaya? The Himalaya are quite possibly one of the main reasons you're thinking about travelling here. Then there's the wildlife to be found in National Parks like Chitwan, Bardia and Koshi Tappu. Who wouldn't get excited about possibly seeing a tiger in the wild? There's culture, history and religion, action and adventure and just about every reason possible to want to visit Nepal, perhaps with the notable exception of wishing to spend a holiday on the beach by the sea. No beaches....no sea!
But anyone travelling to our country also needs to take off the 'rose tinted sunglasses' and take a reality check. The fact is that it remains one of the poorest countries in the world and there is no escaping that. Unless you blindfold yourself when stepping off the plane at Kathmandu Airport and steadfastly remain inside a luxury hotel you will experience and witness the fact that the people on the whole are very poor. That does not mean that these poor people have no pride or no dignity though. Culture shock is a reality from the outset, particularly as Kathmandu itself is one frenetic, crazy sort of place and very much 'in your face' from the word go. Many people live in poverty and wherever you go you will see this. Begging from tourists is however, not common place.
The infrastructure of the country is poor at best. Even in Kathmandu there are power shortages and virtually daily interruptions to the supply of electricity. However, as this is the norm, you'll find most tourist places/hotels have their own back up generators.
'Health and Safety' as you know it in Europe and North America is virtually non-existent in Nepal.
Nepal has very few paved roads. Even in Kathmandu you can struggle to find a street with tarmac. Travel by road is invariably a slow, uncomfortable affair and even in private vehicles the journeys can still be arduous and tiresome. Although our drivers are very experienced and understand the standards of driving tourists expect, most road users in Nepal do not and the overall standards of driving here leave a lot to be desired. Lorries and buses (frequently over-loaded and often with many safety defects) are the kings of the road and will literally assume you are going to get out of their way. Traffic in Kathmandu & other urban areas can be a bewildering experience and seemingly a free for all, where any rules are just unfathomable. Many drivers are not properly licensed, trained or insured and vehicles, including taxis, are often poorly maintained. There are few pavements outside central Kathmandu and motorists don’t yield right of way to pedestrians.
The safety standard of internal flights within Nepal is below the global safety average.
As we've said elsewhere on our website, Nepal is not Disneyland, it's almost the exact opposite.
Serious crime is relatively low in comparison to Europe and North America though, although with tourism comes some undesirable consequences. So, always keep your belongings safe, wherever you are.
You'll find that even in the most luxurious of hotels that plumbing is sometimes far from the standards you take for granted at home and instances of no hot water in accommodations can frequently arise.
Strikes (bandhs) and other public protests can occur with little warning and this can often lead to impromptu road blocks, affect other services detrimentally and sometimes disrupt planned itineraries and activities.
Emergency services and health care in Nepal are poor.
Air pollution particularly in Kathmandu is pretty bad, which is why you'll find most of our suggested itineraries spend just a minimum amount of time there.
Drugs (including marijuana) are illegal in Nepal and possession/use can lead to imprisonment. Needless to say a Nepalese jail is a most unpleasant experience. At best, you may find yourself the victim of a scam, or having to pay a hefty bribe.
As you are now possibly aware, Nepal is prone to earthquakes although these are usually relatively minor affairs. The Himalaya is still growing as a result of the Indian tectonic plate grinding & twisting its way underneath the Asian plate.
Oddly enough you may find that even in some remote areas there's a mobile signal. Wifi can often be found at some accommodations on treks too, particularly in the Everest & Annapurna regions. But, don't rely on this, and as you will find limited opportunities to keep your phone charged we'd suggest you limit the use of your phone, unstaple it from your ear and see if you can break the habit :-)
Nepal remains an adventurous travel destination and with many risks whatever style of holiday you choose. Clearly to many that Nepal is very much a real travel destination is one of the primary appeals. However, if the idea of visiting a poor country with poor infrastructure and a lack of basic services isn't your idea of a good holiday, then we'd respectfully suggest you don't travel to Nepal. Even in the perceived 'safety bubble' of a private holiday, what Nepal is (and isn't) will be a de facto part of your overall travel experience.
The population is around 30 million. Whilst Kathmandu and the urban area of the Kathmandu Valley is the most densely populated area (and keeps on growing), Nepal remains by and large a country of small, scattered hill and lowland villages.
The capital city is Kathmandu and is by far the largest urban area in the country. The Lalitpur district, which includes Patan to all intent and purpose is a continuation of the urban sprawl. Other cities/large urban areas include Pokhara, Biratnagar, Bharatpur and Hetauda.
Nepal is made up of many ethnic groups (sometimes referred to as tribes/castes).
These include (but are not limited to) Tamang, Gurung, Magar, Sherpa, Thakali, Sherpa, Brahmin, Chhetri, Tharu, Newar, Rai and Kirat. Nepal is also home to a significant Tibetan refugee population.
Some Nepalese will tell you there are three major 'ism' religions. Hinduism, Buddhism and Tourism. Hinduism is the largest religion by a long way (around 80%). Buddhism accounts for around 9% and around 4% of Nepal's population are Muslim.
Previously a Kingdom with an absolute monarchy, we are one of the world's newest republics with a democratically elected government. A multi-party state. Head of State is the President and Head of Government is the Prime Minister. Sadly, corruption & politics seem to go hand in in hand here.
5 hours and 45 minutes ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Technically speaking, Nepalese is the official language. That said, there are over a hundred ethnic languages and dialects. It's reckoned around 45% of the population speak Nepalese as their first language.
The Nepalese Rupee. It's a restricted currency and it's unlikely you'll be able to obtain much in the way of Nepalese currency before travel. ATM's (cash machines) are widespread in Kathmandu and Pokhara (including the airports), as well as many other places. These dispense Nepalese Rupees only. Obtaining money 'as and when you need it' has its advantages. ATM's are popping up in some very remote places these days e.g. Lukla, Namche, Jomsom. We'd suggest you don't rely on the remote ATM's as they don't always work/are empty. You can also exchange cash GBP Pounds, US Dollars, Euro's at banks and these can be found in most small towns as well as cities. You will need to keep foreign exchange receipts to change back Nepalese currency when departing at Kathmandu Airport. So, avoid the temptation to change money on the omnipresent black market.
Even in the capital city the supply of electricity is not reliable and power cuts occur once or twice a day in Kathmandu. In the Himalayas many villages now have their own localised electricity supply schemes (often hydro powered), although they can only generate a certain amount of power and rarely able to sustain more than the electricity required for light and low consumption electrical devices. In most tourist hotels, they will often have back up generators for when the electricity is off. As to what adaptor plug you will need to use in Nepal to recharge camera batteries and mobiles....well, we've got just about every variation there is. So, we'd suggest you take an adaptor that covers the whole range of plug variations, although the most commonly found are either two or three round prongs (not the flat prongs as in the USA). Indeed, make the most of any re-charging opportunity when you are in tourist hotels in the likes of Kathmandu and Pokhara. The supply of electricty cannot be taken for granted or relied upon anywhere. When it's working the supply is 220V and 50HZ. If your electronic devices are 110V and 60HZ, you'll need a voltage converter.
Food & Drink
The 'be all and end all' is Dal Bhaat, a kind of lentil curry soup served with rice and spiced vegetables, chutney, pickle etc. Wherever you go, you'll come across it and no two Dal Bhaats seem to be the same. The "my Dal Bhaat is better than their Dal Bhaat" nature exists. The Tibetan 'Momo' a stuffed dumpling is now all the rage in Kathmandu and as a result there are all manner of both meat and vegetable versions. Chilli Momo's are certainly one of our favourites and on trek we tend to live off Dal Bhaat. Being primarily a Hindu country, much Nepali food is vegetable or grain based. In the Himalayas both buckwheat and potatoes can grow, so you'll find dishes based around those in the mountains. Noodle Soup is everywhere. Beef is clearly a 'no no' in a Hindu country, although Yak and Buffalo meat are often used. Chicken and fish (river) are used too, although we would suggest that you ensure that any meat you eat has been properly cooked. Needless to say, vegetarians will have little in the way of diet difficulties in Nepal. In tourist places, particularly Kathmandu and Pokhara there's the full range from street food to pizza parlours to top end restaurants. Even in the lodges and with camping cooks you'll come across (what we call) "Have a go cuisine". You'll perhaps notice that nowadays as well as staple crops, more and more cash crops are being grown too. So, most food in Nepal is fresh. As for seafood, well.....you can find seafood dishes in Kathmandu and Pokhara, but have a think about how far we are from any sea and as to how fresh the seafood is likely to be.
We have our own breweries and produce some rather good beers as a result. Home brewed mountain people hooches like Tongba, Rakshi and Chaang are worth a try, but take a little getting used to. As for spirits, there are locally distilled versions of rum, whisky, brandy etc and are naturally much, much cheaper than imported spirits. They are certainly not comparable in taste, and some may even be dangerous. As for wine, it will have been imported and as a result will not be cheap. You can buy imported chocolate bars just about anywhere, even on trek. Crisps and other snacks too as well as soft drinks. Coke is everywhere! Generally speaking the further you are away from a transport hub, the more expensive the items become. The Nepalese like their tea-based 'chai' , although in recent years there has been a noticable increase in coffee houses serving genuine Italian style coffee and in some very remote places too e.g. at Kagbeni, high up in the Mustang region you can sip a latte on the terrace of the Espresso Bar, whilst gazing into the wilderness of the upper Kali Gandaki Valley, facetweet using their wifi and then nip to Yakdonalds for a burger.....Yak of course!
Lassi ( a yoghurt style drink) is very tasty and refreshing when freshly and properly made. Variations with seasonal, fresh fruit include banana and mango. There's a salted lassi version as well as the infamous 'bhang lassi', allegedly made with marijuana. Drugs in Nepal are illegal. Be warned!
If you require a special diet, then you should contact us before you book your Nepal holiday as it is entirely possible that it may not be able to be catered for, particularly in the mountains.
Nepal has not only the world's highest mountain (Everest), but a total of eight of the world's fourteen highest peaks.
The Kali Gandaki River is older than the Himalayas.
The world's highest lake (Tilicho) is in Nepal.
The Kali Gandaki Valley is the deepest gorge in the world.
The Kathmandu Valley has the densest concentration of World Heritage Sites on Earth.
There's a street in Kathmandu called "Freak Street"....it's where the Hippies used to go.
The left hand must not be used for eating in Nepal (you're OK with a knife and fork!)
Nepal's flag (see above) is the only flag that isn't square or rectangle shaped.
21% of 13-15 year olds in Nepal smoke.
Nepal spends just $US 45 per person per year on healthcare.
Nepal hosts the Elephant Polo World Cup!
Nepal celebrates new year in mid-April.
50% of the population of Nepal live on $US 1 a day.
A persons head is sacred in Nepal......don't touch people on their heads.
You'll possibly see swastika symbols on religious monuments and elsewhere. This is nothing to do with Nazism. Hitler borrowed the swastika (& reversed it). In Nepal the swastika is a symbol of good fortune.