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Nepal is a heady place, whether you’re a trekker on a trail to Annapurna, a climber on your way to Everest or a seeker on the path to enlightenment.
There are few countries on Earth that can match Nepal’s combination of spectacular scenery, exotic culture and hospitable people. Along with the world’s deepest canyon and eight of the world’s 10 highest mountains, Nepal has steamy jungles and terraced valleys laced with ancient villages, remote temples and wildlife preserves.
For all its dizzying beauty, though, there are still problems in Nepal these days that can bring you down to earth in a hurry: Trash is still found on some peaks (though much has been cleared), robbery occurs occasionally on several of its most popular trekking trails, and pollution still fills the Kathmandu Valley—the benefits of new electric bemos (minibuses) are largely lost in a growing number of motorbikes.
Though the good hearts and spiritual nature of most Nepalis remain unchanged, the situation should be monitored by budding Siddharthas or would-be Edmund Hillarys tempted to visit Nepal at this time. Its peace is still precarious.
The country can be divided into three different regions. The south consists of plains, swamps and forests. The north is covered by the Himalaya, the mountain range that includes the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest, which rises to 29,035 ft/8,850 m. Kathmandu and most of the country’s population can be found in the (relatively) low mountains of central Nepal.
Although Nepal is an ancient land, it has only been a country for about 300 years. Independent hill states ruled the area until the late 18th century, when Prince Prithvi Narayan Shah united all of what is now Nepal. The nation took its first steps toward becoming a constitutional monarchy in 1951, before slipping into a dictatorship nine years later. Demonstrations in the late 1980s against oppressive rule resulted in multiparty elections in May 1991.
The transition to democracy has not been an easy one, however. The country is plagued by an ineffective bureaucracy, corruption and an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Partly because of these problems, Maoist rebels—originally based in western Nepal but later widely spread—fought against the central government, especially from the mid-1990s.
In June 2001, the popular King Birendra and much of the royal family were killed in the palace by a gunman, apparently the crown prince, who himself died of a gunshot wound sustained that night (believed to be self-inflicted). Public grief and conspiracy theories about the unknown motivation of the massacre paralyzed the country for several weeks. King Birendra was succeeded by his brother, the unpopular Gyanendra.
The country remained in turmoil until June 2006 when a number of transitional changes were announced between the government and Maoists, including an interim government and constitution. After more than a decade of civil war, there is now peace across most of the country.
Under the terms of the agreement, the army and Maoist cadres were confined to barracks and cantonments. Both sides agreed to a permanent cease-fire and an arms-management arrangement monitored by the United Nations. The agreement also provided for elections to a Constituent Assembly and for the Maoists to become part of the political mainstream as a legitimate political party. At the Maoists’ insistence, the 240-year-old monarchy was provisionally abolished in December 2007—a decision the next assembly confirmed in May 2008 when the Maoists secured the largest number of seats and formed a coalition government. Ram Baran Yadav was elected president of the new republic.
Among the chief attractions of Nepal are mountain and valley trekking, mountain climbing, Kathmandu, exotic wildlife preserves, Buddhist shrines, Hindu temples, bird-watching, beautiful scenery and river-rafting.
Nepal will appeal to open-minded, flexible travelers who want to see a truly exotic place. You don’t need to be Sir Edmund Hillary to enjoy an organized trek—it’s not like alpine mountain climbing—but the more physically fit you are, the more you will enjoy the walk. Don’t visit Nepal if you are bothered by poverty and unsanitary conditions, unexpected delays and high altitudes (some of the land in the south is almost at sea level, but much of the country is high in the mountains). Nepal’s mountainous location and climate make flight delays a distinct possibility, and although rebel activity has ceased the situation remains volatile.
Nepal may be rich in spirit, but economically it remains one of the world’s poorest nations. Average annual income is barely US$260, and the average life expectancy is not quite 60.
During the festival Dasain, Royal Nepalese Airlines sacrifices one buffalo for each of its aircraft. The buffalo’s blood is sprinkled on the landing gear so the plane will not have cause to satisfy its blood thirst with human passengers.
In traditional Newari families, marriages are negotiated by a lama and take place at a time and date deemed auspicious by the local astrologer. During the wedding ceremony, the bride is carried to the groom’s home and presented with an oil lamp and key to the house. The wedding feast is made up of more than 80 dishes to mark the couple’s union.
Mount Everest is still growing. Figures suggest that the Himalaya are growing by an average of 6 in/15 cm per year.
The eyes painted on stupas represent the ever-watchful and fully aware eyes of Buddha.
The traditional Nepalese greeting, namaste, involves pressing both hands together, as if in prayer, and means “I greet the god in you.” The Tibetan greeting, tashi delek, is also commonly used and means “I wish you long life.” A greeting and farewell custom with Buddhists is the placing of gossamer-light katas—ceremonial white scarves—around an honored guest’s neck. Flower garlands and tikka (red powder on the forehead) are signs of respect from Hindus.
It is bad manners to point at or touch anything with your feet. If you do, make a quick apology by putting your hand on the person’s arm and touching your own head.
The Gurkhas of Nepal (they’re the ones with the wicked knives) have long been regarded as outstanding soldiers. The Gurkha Regiment of the British Army proved itself in World War II and the Falkland Islands—the unit was also stationed in Hong Kong.
It is estimated that thieves have stolen and exported half of all the artworks in Nepal, including about 5,000 statues.
The flight into Lukla (for the Everest trek) has got to be one of the most spectacular landings and takeoffs anywhere. Sit in front and watch as it appears that you’re diving directly into a mountain. At the last possible moment, what appears to be a tiny scratch turns into a sharply inclined airstrip. Takeoffs are equally exhilarating, and—although accidents do happen—they are generally safe and routine.
The great outdoors beckons most—if not all—visitors to Nepal. Although trekking continues to be the most popular activity, the country also attracts mountain climbers, white-water rafters and cyclists.
Hire a guide and head for the hills, discovering remote trails and meeting locals who rarely see foreigners. Alternatively, explore traditional Newari villages in the Kathmandu Valley on your own, an easy day of cycling from the capital. You can rent bikes in Thamel and also find local tour companies there who organize group cycling trips.
BOATING & SAILING
Several white-water rafting programs are available, most ranging from five to 14 days in length (some even include trekking).
Two of the more popular rivers are the Trisuli (can be done as a day trip from Kathmandu) and the Sun Kosi. These programs are a fun, exciting way to see another part of this scenic country. Most rafting is done October-May, when the rivers run swiftest.
HIKING & WALKING
For many, trekking through Nepal’s awe-inspiring Himalayan landscapes is the highlight—if not the sole reason—of a visit to the country. Treks can be taken throughout the mountainous areas of Nepal that are open to visitors (and these areas are slowly expanding). Although trekking permits are no longer needed for nonrestricted areas, national parks and conservation areas still charge entry fees.
Treks can be taken with an escorted, organized group or arranged independently, though independent treks should be considered only by experienced, adventurous travelers who have a few extra days to get things together. For security reasons, trekking without a guide is not recommended. Most escorted treks employ Sherpa guides as well as porters to carry everyone’s belongings, set up tents and cook meals.
The best porters are usually employed by the tour companies, but competent ones can usually be found by independents, especially during the main trekking season (October, November, March and April). If you’re trekking in March or April, you’ll see beautiful fields of rhododendrons above 6,000 ft/1,800 m, but autumn usually brings clear skies and better views.
Before hiring porters and guides, get recommendations from other independent trekkers. Tents and other gear can be rented in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Guesthouses, teahouses and lodges are also available on many routes. Standards have greatly improved on popular trails (some lodges even have showers in the rooms), but if you head off the beaten track, don’t expect luxury and be sure to carry insect repellent.
Treks are not the same as mountain climbing or wilderness hiking. Trekkers walk on paths fairly heavily traveled by Nepalese and other tourists (walking is the only way to go from one village to the next in the mountains). However far you decide to hike in a day, be sure to take time and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
Treks vary in difficulty and length (from three days to four weeks). Although you don’t have to be in superhuman shape, the walking can be very demanding, particularly at high altitudes. You’ll be hiking about five hours (7-8 mi/10-12 km) a day on average, with a lot of up-hill and down-dale at high altitude. Tour organizers usually rate the difficulty of various treks, but easy by Himalayan standards may be quite demanding for beginners.
We recommend heading out of Pokhara for first-time trekkers. The Everest base-camp trek is more work, and you do not see Everest from base camp, but you will be rewarded with superb views of the mountain along the way if you walk up nearby Kalapatar for sunrise or sunset. Those planning on taking the Everest trek, however, should allow at least three weeks, including acclimation days, to get up to base camp and to return (if you walk in from Jiri and fly out from Lukla).
One of the most popular treks is through the Annapurna range, which can last from a week to a month, depending on the particular route taken. For Annapurna base camp, we suggest the Ghorepani route for the best views.
The area around Mount Manasl (at 26,766 ft/8,158 m, the eighth highest in the world), adjoining Tibet, offers beautiful vistas and a mixture of Nepalese and Tibetan cultures in an uncrowded setting. Other areas that have opened to trekkers include Kanchenjunga, Dolpo and Mustang. Some require steep permit fees. In addition, only organized trek groups from a registered agency (wide choice in Thamel) are allowed into Mustang or Upper Dolpo.
A few words of advice: Don’t trek during the monsoon season (there are millions of leeches on the trails, and the ground is too slippery to be safe) and don’t trek alone. Although crime is rare on the trails, there are occasional reports of trekkers being attacked or robbed. Many people post notices for trekking partners in the hotel lobbies and shops in Kathmandu’s Thamel district, but take care and use your common sense.
Although mountain climbing can be wonderful in Nepal, only experienced climbers should even consider it. (Anyone who has read Jon Krakauer’s harrowing account of climbing Mount Everest, Into Thin Air, already knows this.) Some 18 peaks don’t require a great deal of red tape to climb, and scores more can be climbed with advance planning—apply to the Nepal Ministry of Tourism at least six months in advance. In a bid to attract more mountaineers, the Nepalese government has been lowering prices considerably on several mountains. The climbing season is different from the trekking season: April-early June is best for climbing; September and October are also possible. Trekking agencies in Nepal can usually assist climbers.
Shop for tanka (religious) paintings and Tibetan articles, such as prayer wheels or tea bowls and jewelry at Bodnath. It’s officially forbidden to export precious stones, gold or silver, but customs officials may not care about small pieces of silver jewelry, especially if you are wearing them. (Items in your luggage tend to get closer scrutiny, though wearing purchased items is not 100% foolproof.)
Other goods—all to be found in the labyrinthine streets of Thamel—include bronze and copper items, shoulder bags, knives, wooden masks and statues, silk handbags, colorful sweaters and jackets, used camping gear, carpets (test to see if they are colorfast), papier-mache masks, Nepalese caps, block prints on rice paper, fossils, Nepalese flutes and violins, handmade paper, books, spices and pashmina shawls.
For Western-style clothes, cameras and other electronic equipment, head for New Road, the busy street leading up to Kathmandu’s Durbar Square. And remember, bargaining never hurts. You can get cheap custom-made shirts, skirts and so forth, but the material is usually of very poor quality and the colors will soon fade. In general, it’s wise to carry, rather than mail, packages home.
Shopping Hours: Most stores are closed on Saturday, not Sunday. In general hours are Sunday-Friday 10 am-7 pm but are longer in tourist areas during the high season.
There is a surprisingly wide variety of restaurants in Kathmandu, serving everything from bratwurst to pizza to sushi. Most are found in the Thamel district, although a few more upscale eateries are located in the shopping plaza known as Baba Mahal (which few people can afford to visit and is therefore rarely crowded) and along the Durbar Marg. Pie shops abound—most were started by cooks who formerly served in British colonial households. They used to be concentrated on a rather dirty lane called Pie Alley, but they’re now found almost anywhere.
For a true Nepali meal, order dal bhat—spiced lentils and rice—often served with curried vegetables. At higher altitude, especially in the Khumba, potatoes replace rice as the staple diet. The Tibetan momo dumpling is available in areas where many refugees have settled, notably in Bodhnath.
“Buff” on a menu indicates water-buffalo meat. Cows are sacred to Hindus, so don’t expect to find a true hamburger anywhere. A handful of restaurants, however, import beef from nearby non-Hindu countries such as Bangladesh. The Newari people (who are found in the Kathmandu Valley) also cook items that are popular with visitors. Try the Newari-style duck or wild boar.
The best restaurants are all to be found in Thamel. For breakfast, head to Helena’s. There’s a big menu and the highest rooftop terrace in town, with lovely views. Stop for a coffee or vegetarian meal when you’re shopping at Pilgrims Feed ‘n’ Read. There’s also a good choice of herbal teas and a lovely garden. Thamel House Restaurant, in a traditional Newari building, has a wide selection of local dishes and delicacies and occasionally has Nepali musicians. Kathmandu’s first food court (Thamel) serves a variety of international cuisines in clean surroundings.
Outside Kathmandu, Pokhara, jungle lodges and organized treks, there is a very limited choice of food. Try chang at your own risk: The home-brewed alcoholic beverage has been known to upset the stomach of many a trekker.
Be aware that because of sanitation standards, it’s very easy to get very sick on very appealing food. We urge you to do your experimenting after your trek, or you may not get to go.
With the return of peace in Nepal, the country is becoming a safer destination for tourists, and Kathmandu is much more relaxed. Common sense still prevails, and situations can change overnight. Always check with local guides and hotels about an area you would like to visit. Problems occur in some areas of the Terai and in rural villages where farmers once displaced by Maoist rebels are attempting to reclaim their land. Check theKathmandu Post for the latest news.
Avoid political demonstrations anywhere in the country, especially in the Kathmandu area, where they can turn violent. Be aware that strikes still happen from time to time and are likely to affect transport.
Violent crime is rare—petty street theft is more common. Women should dress conservatively, especially in rural areas, and there have been cases reported of foreign women being raped.
With due care, Thamel is safe after dark. However, everything closes at 11 pm and if you are out after that time, you may be questioned by the police and required to produce ID.
Remember to be careful crossing the street. Pedestrians do not have the right of way, and two-thirds of traffic fatalities in Nepal are pedestrians. When possible, cross the road in a crowd and try to place yourself in the middle.
For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.
Sanitary conditions in restaurants in Nepal should not pose problems for travelers who abide by certain commonsense rules. Most hot, freshly cooked food should be safe (especially if it’s included on a package tour), but peel fresh fruit and raw vegetables. Make sure meat is cooked thoroughly, avoid local dairy products and assume the tap water is unsafe (stick to bottled water or boiled drinks, which are widely available).
Even if water is drawn from a source labeled water filter, don’t assume it is safe. Likewise, don’t assume water or food is safe just because a restaurant waiter tells you so. (It’s also essential to brush your teeth with bottled water and to keep your mouth shut when showering.) Kathmandu has seen more than its share of people who went to trek but got sick because they ate at restaurants that looked clean but actually weren’t.
Luck also plays a role: We’ve gotten sick from food at five-star hotels and had excellent experiences eating at some shoddy-looking places (though travelers should only experiment like this at their own risk). Many people spend weeks in Nepal and do not get sick at all.
High pollution levels in Kathmandu mean it won’t take long to develop coughs, colds and a sore throat. When trekking, it’s very easy to dehydrate. Drink plenty of water and take time to acclimate.
Kathmandu has adequate medical assistance available—some Western physicians have set up practice there at the CIWEC clinic off Durbar Marg (phone 442-4111). Patients are evacuated to Bangkok for serious medical problems.
Be sure to have adequate travel insurance before leaving home, especially if you are likely to be doing any dangerous activities that might end up in a nasty accident.
Before you go, consult your physician about inoculations against hepatitis, polio, typhoid and tetanus. Anyone going outside Kathmandu might also need a meningitis shot, and rabies is also a risk.
Ask your doctor about obtaining malaria suppressants if you’re visiting the Hill or Terai districts (and take along insect repellent). Chloroquine-resistant strains of malaria are present in these areas. Cholera can also be a problem in summer, especially in the Terai lowlands.
In the southern lowlands, skin infections are common—even the smallest wound should be disinfected and covered with a bandage. If you’re even nipped by an animal, see a doctor. Take along all prescription medicines needed for the trip, plus extra in case your flight is delayed, and carry a comprehensive first-aid kit on trek. If you are approached by locals for medicine, hand out the bare minimum for safety reasons. The sun can be very strong, so use sunscreen liberally and wear a hat.
The trail is not the place to break in a new pair of hiking boots. Be sure your shoes are comfortable before leaving home (take test hikes of at least 8 mi/13 km, with hills). Even with good shoes, blisters and sore feet are common, so take along moleskin and bandages.
It’s imperative that you have a physical checkup before going trekking. Tell your doctor exactly what you’ll be doing (and at what altitude). The major danger to your health is altitude sickness, which can be fatal if ignored. Early symptoms include severe headache, nausea and loss of coordination; the only cure is to go down immediately. The problem can strike anyone: Ironically, it’s often the healthy who have the most to fear because they climb too fast and can’t believe that their headache is anything to worry about.
To assist acclimation, sleep at altitudes that are lower than the highest reached during the day, and take a day’s rest (two nights) for every 3,000 ft/1,000 m you have gained. Don’t push yourself and accept the possibility that for health reasons, you may have to return to lower altitudes and not complete your trek.
If you get sick on the trail, you are unlikely to find medical assistance, unless a doctor in a trekking party happens to pass your way. Helicopter evacuation is possible, but it’s very expensive and rather risky for the flight crews (make sure your travel insurance covers it or you may be asked to deposit the cash with the agency prior to the trek). If the helicopter cannot fly because of poor weather, your guide will arrange for you to be carried down (another good reason to employ a guide).
A growing number of cases of Japanese encephalitis have been reported, especially in western regions of Nepal. For more information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.
DOS & DON’TS
Do dress conservatively. Women should not wear shorts (unless knee-length) or halter tops, and men should always wear shirts.
Don’t take photos inside temples without asking permission, and don’t wear anything made of leather into a Hindu temple. And do take off your shoes before entering a temple or someone’s house.
Do add -ji to the end of a name when speaking to Nepalis, especially elders.
Don’t step over other people’s feet (or any other part of their body). By the same token, don’t pat children on the head and don’t sit with your feet pointing at someone (especially toward a monk orlama, or a Buddha image or shrine)—both practices are considered insulting.
Do be aware that taking electronic goods into the country will attract attention from customs officials. If you have a laptop computer or video camera, you may be asked by officials to note the details in your passport.
Do get advice from fellow travelers in Nepal before you select a trekking or rafting company.
Don’t forget to take along a flashlight, even if you’re not planning to trek. Power outages are quite frequent in the Kathmandu Valley.
Do walk around stupas clockwise, so that the outer walls are always on your right. If you encounter a stone wall covered with Tibetan inscriptions, do the same: Walk past with the wall on your right (and don’t take any of the stones).
Don’t lose your cool. Raising your voice or shouting is seen as extremely bad manners in Nepal and will only make any problem worse.
Do get a receipt of inauthenticity when purchasing an antique replica—otherwise, you will not be allowed to take it out of the country. And don’t buy ivory or fur from endangered species—your purchases encourage the trade in such illegal goods, and you won’t be allowed to bring them back home anyway.
Don’t offer food to a Nepalese after tasting it. Although the left-hand taboo exists in Nepal (the left hand is never used for eating or handling food, shaking hands, etc.), always present or accept items with both hands. But do remember to hand over money, or receive it, with your right hand and touch your right elbow with your left hand. It’s seen as a gesture of respect.
Do be aware that cows are sacred in Nepal, as they are in India, and they’re allowed to wander about freely.
Don’t give in to children who ask for just one rupee. Although a rupee is a small amount that anyone can spare, successful begging leads young children to drop out of school and take up panhandling as their trade. If you want to help, give to a trustworthy charity or a school.
Do give a kata (white scarf) to a lama and remember to make a donation to a monastery or temple. Don’t take photographs of locals unless they have clearly given their consent.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports and visas (available on arrival). Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Languages: Nepali, dialects.
Predominant Religions: Hindu, Buddhist.
Time Zone: 5.5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+5.5 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed. Voltage Requirements: 220 volts.
Telephone Codes: 977, country code for Nepal; 1,city code for Kathmandu;
The Nepalese rupee is the local currency, and it’s easy to change most major international currencies in Kathmandu and Pokhara at hotels and licenced currency exchange shops on the street.
Banking hours are Sunday-Thursday 10 am-2 pm (though some large banks have longer hours) and Friday until noon. Currency exchange shops are open every day till late in the evening. You’ll receive a foreign encashment certificate, which may be asked for when paying your hotel bill as proof it covers the amount you owe.
There are ATMs in Kathmandu and Pokhara, and major credit cards are widely accepted in high-end hotels, restaurants and shops. The Indian rupee is also widely accepted in Nepal.
Beware of touts offering to change money on the street—they’re more likely to run off, and you’ll never see them or your money again.
Most hotels and restaurants charge a 13% value-added tax and a 10% tourism service charge.
In Kathmandu and Pokhara restaurants only, tip 10% (if a service charge is not already on the bill). If you go trekking, tip porters and guides (consult with the trek organizer for the proper amount).
If you’re going to Nepal for trekking, there are only two seasons—October-November and March-April. The former is best, when the air has been washed clean by summer monsoons and the passes haven’t yet been snowed in. The weather is brisk but not too cold. In spring, the passes are open again, but the air is hazy, and the views, although good, aren’t the same as in autumn. (If spring is the only time available, it’s still worth going.)
Because it’s so far south, Kathmandu freezes only during the winter. Pokhara is warmer. The higher-altitude areas are quite cold, however. If you’re going only to Royal Chitwan Park, be aware that it can be very hot and humid anytime during its season, October-May. The monsoons, which occur June-September, affect the entire country, and flooding is a possibility in the Chitwan region.
What to Wear
In the Kathmandu Valley, it’s sunny much the year, but temperatures drop after sunset. Take a sweater for spring and summer evenings and a warm jacket in winter. Take waterproofs if you intend to travel in Nepal during the monsoon season. Note that rainfall is higher in the Pokhara area. Sunglasses, a hat, sunscreen and good boots are all essentials for trekking.
Business meetings require more formal wear, and a suit would be handy. Generally, the style of locals is fairly relaxed in Kathmandu and farther afield. However, women must be careful to cover up, and shorts are only acceptable for men on treks.
It’s easy to make local, STD and international calls from hotels and phone shops. STD/ISD signs are prominent all over Thamel. Let them know where you want to call, go into a booth and dial. A digital reader logs the length and charges of the call. Phone shops are cheaper than hotels, which often have high charges for direct-dial calls.
Cell phone coverage is now available again after a blanket government blackout. The best reception is in Kathmandu, and it’s patchy elsewhere because of the high mountains.
Internet shops are easy to come by in Kathmandu and Pokhara, and many now have high-speed broadband facilities. Cost varies, but more expensive venues may offer discounts if you ask. Wi-Fi access is available in some hotels.
Mail & Package Services
The mail service is slow in Nepal, but fairly reliable. If you’ve done too much shopping and want to mail it home, save money by opting for sea mail. You’ll also find a number of companies in Kathmandu, particularly around Thamel, that offer air freight services. Keep in mind possible customs charges when your packages arrive home, though. It might be easier and more cost-effective to carry them back with you.
Newspapers & Magazines
The Kathmandu Post, Himalayan Times and Nepali Times give local and international news. The free magazines for visitors, Nepal Traveller and Travellers Nepal, can sometimes be picked up in hotels and restaurants and have features and advertisements for airlines, tour companies and hotels. There are also bar guides and dining listings for Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport (KTM) is approximately 5 mi/8 km east of the center of town. When arriving in Kathmandu from the west, sit on the left side of the plane for the best mountain views; from points east, sit on the right. Domestic flights are often canceled because of bad weather and high winds, and delays of several days are not unheard of—plan accordingly. If a trek involves a flight to a starting point or back from a destination, you may be late returning.
Always reconfirm flights, and always cancel if you aren’t going—although there are often heavy cancellation charges, being a no-show may result in forfeiture of the entire fare (read all ticket restrictions carefully). Departure tax must be paid and luggage scanned prior to check-in. There are sightseeing flights daily (weather permitting) from Kathmandu that pass Mount Everest.
Security has been tightened in and around the airport. Guards patrol the terminal and tarmac areas.
Nepal is landlocked but can be reached overland by road via India or China (Tibet). From China, you must be with a group, but a group can consist of two people and a hired driver with a Jeep, as long as it’s all arranged through an authorized tour company. Independent travelers are sometimes allowed to travel overland from Nepal to Tibet between November and March, but chances are very slim. Also look out for security advice on border roads in this current climate.
The Nepal-Tibet Highway is an improvement over the old road, but it’s still subject to closure because of weather. Crossing from Raxaul, India, to Birganj, Nepal, at night is one of the most dreamlike journeys on Earth. Bicycle rickshaws with candle-powered headlights and tinkling bells carry you under an enormous arch, ornately carved with stars and crescent moons and topped with banners. It’s a perfect introduction to Nepal.
There are no trains in Nepal, but bus routes connect cities. A word of warning, however: Every public intercity bus we’ve taken in Nepal was uncomfortable and broke down somewhere along the route. Get the highest-quality bus available, buy tickets at least a day in advance, and try to get a seat between the wheel wells or toward the front. Many trekking agencies have their own reliable, comfortable transportation.
If you’re taking a bus to Royal Chitwan, make sure you get the right bus—not all go to the part of the park you might want. Most visitors head for Chitwan Sari.
Lodges will usually take care of all travel arrangements for people staying there, possibly including an elephant ride from the airstrip to the jungle lodge. If you travel independently by road to the Everest region, the only option is the local bus to Jiri.
Within Kathmandu, cars, motorcycles and bicycles can be rented, but some words of caution are in order: Roads and streets tend to be in very poor condition, and the rules of the road are often hard to figure out. Drivers share space with darting children, pedestrians, pushcart vendors and cows. Moreover, the thick clouds of exhaust fumes, dust and smog in the valley can turn any bike or motorcycle expedition into a coughing fit on wheels. We prefer to leave driving to the experts, which means hailing cabs or bicycle rickshaws. The old three-wheeled taxis, tuk-tuks, have been banned from the city.
In taxis, you may use the meter but be aware that these can be fixed to register higher charges than the official rate. Alternatively, agree on a fare before you get in, but expect to pay more for hotel taxis; avoid those on the Durbar Square who try to charge extortionate rates.
To get to small villages, you might have to hitch a ride with a passing oxcart. In the mountains, everybody walks everywhere.
Taxis can be found outside the arrivals area of the airport. The average trip to the city takes 25 minutes. Pay at the counter before leaving the arrival hall.
For More Information
Nepal: Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation. Tourism Industry Division, Bhrikutimandap, Nepal. Phone: 425-6232, 425-6231 or 425-6228. http://www.tourism.gov.np.
Nepal Tourism Board. Tribhuvan airport, Kathmandu. Phone 425-6909. Bhrikutimandap, Kathmandu, Phone 422 5709. http://www.welcomenepal.com.
U.S.: Royal Nepalese Embassy, 2131 Leroy Place, N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-667-4550. Fax 202-667-5534.
Nepal does not have a tourist office in Canada. Embassies of Nepal
Canada: Consulate Office, Royal Bank Plaza, South Tower, 32nd Floor, P.O. Box 33, Toronto. Phone 416-865-0200. U.S.: Royal Nepalese Embassy, 2131 Leroy Place, N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-667-4550. Fax 202-667-5534.
Foreign Embassies in Nepal
Canadian Cooperation Office, Lazimpat, Kathmandu. Phone 441-5193. U.S. Embassy, Maharajgunj, Kathmandu. Phone 400-7200. Fax 400-7272.
The parks of Nepal are covered in Mount Everest National Park by Margaret Jefferies and Royal Chitwan National Park by Hemanta R. Mishra (both with excellent photos, published by The Mountaineers).
Bird-watchers may want to get A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Nepal by Carol Inskipp (Prion Ltd., U.K.). Trekking and Climbing in Nepal by Steve Razzetti (Globetrotter, New Holland), describing 25 treks and 12
climbing peaks, with maps and photographs.
Culture Shock Nepal by Jon Burbank (Kuperard). A guide to customs and etiquette.
Nepal Namaste by Robert Rieffel. Available locally and has handy cultural information.
Trekking in the Annapurna by Bryn Thomas (Trailblazer). A practical guide to this spectacular area, covering a range of trekking styles and budgets.
The Snow Leopard by Peter Mattheissen (Vintage). The classic story of a quest for both an elusive cat species and Zen insight.
Shopping for Buddhas by Jeff Greenwald (Lonely Planet). A humorous look at Westerners’ attempts to buy spirituality in Nepal.
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (Pan Books). A chilling first-person account of a group’s doomed attempt to summit Mount Everest.
Video Night in Kathmandu by Pico Iyer (Vintage Books). A collection of short stories and essays around Asia, focusing on Nepali and Western cultures meeting headlong.
The Waiting Land: A Spell in Nepal by Dervla Murphy (Flamingo). Details her time spent working in a Tibetan refugee camp near Pokhara.
Facing Up by Bear Grylls (Pan Books). A tale of determination and courage by the youngest British climber at the time to summit Everest.