A First Timer’s Guide to Nepal
Nepal, the land of the Himalayas and home to Everest, the highest peak of the world, is a magnificent place to visit. It is a popular destination among tourists, especially trekkers. Though small, the country does not run short of beautiful views and things to do.
While making travel plans, there are some things that you should know beforehand so you know what to expect. Especially if this is your first time visiting Nepal, this information might be very useful to make the most of your trip. First timers, this is Nepal 101:
The national language is Nepali, but it is not the only language spoken. According to the 2011 national census, there are 123 mother tongues spoken in Nepal. You can breathe a sigh of relief because the locals, especially in tourist-heavy places, usually understand English.
Nepal is a landlocked country, with China (Tibet) on its north and India on all other sides. It runs approximately 800 kms from east to west and 150-250 kms wide. The capital city, Kathmandu lies in the central region of the country. According to the altitudes, Nepal can be divided into the Himalayan, the hilly and the Terai regions. The Himalayan region lies on the northern part of the country, and the Terai plains lie on the south.
Whenever Nepal is mentioned, people automatically think of Sherpas, the mountain climbers. The majority of the population is of Indo-Aryan or Mongolian descent. These ethnicities are further divided into castes and sub-castes. Such a vast ethnic and cultural diversity is one of the interesting things about Nepal, and it is something that the Nepalese are proud of.
People mainly follow Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam, though there are numbers who follow other minor religions as well. Kathmandu is the cultural melting pot of Nepal – you will find people of all sorts of castes and religions, which is why the capital city gives off an exotic impression.
No matter what, the Nepalese are known for their calm and welcoming natures, and you will easily find a helping hand if you ever need one.
People join hands, usually accompanied with a slight bow, and say ‘Namaste’ to greet. ‘Namaste’ literally means ‘I bow to the divine in you’ so can’t help but feel that everything relating to Nepal has a serene and spiritual aura. Handshakes are also acceptable.
Do not use your left hand to give or take anything, it is considered impolite. Another thing considered rude is sharing defiled or ‘jutho’ food. Dress modestly, especially when visiting religious sites. You are charged some fees to enter the major temples. Take your shoes off while entering temples and do not carry leather items when you visit temples.
Ask for permission before taking pictures, whether it is people you photograph or temples. The Nepalese rarely display public display of affection. You shouldn’t too.
Public transportation in Nepal is not very dependable, owing to the roads and how there is always some sort of construction or maintenance going on somewhere. You can expect bad traffic jams, especially in the mornings and evenings. Buses, microbuses, electric tuk-tuks are the major forms of public transport and these are usually very cheap. However, you might find taxis to be most convenient even though they are comparatively more expensive.
Long distance routes have buses or flights depending on what you’re comfortable with. You can also rent cars or bicycles in major cities.
Nepal can cater to all ranges of accommodation depending on what you want to spend. There are abundant high-end hotels and eateries in the Kathmandu valley, which you might find pricey. You will also find motels and lodges that cost as low as $4 a night. You could also arrange to stay in a homestay to immerse in the local culture.
Most hotels and lodges have hot water and functional toilets, but you might have to use squatting toilets in cheap lodges. Also if you are trekking in the remote areas, you will have to stay in tents or teahouses. Make sure that you bring strong luggage locks so that no matter where you choose to stay, your belongings are safe.
Food and Drinks
Nepal has a lot to offer when it comes to food. From high-end to street, you will find a diverse range in the cuisine. Though street food can easily come under $1, it is up-to you to face the hygiene risks that come with it.
The typical Nepali dish is the Dal-bhat, which is rice and lentils with some curry and pickles. This carb-packed dish is what the locals dine on and what powers the trekkers through their arduous journeys. Cows are not consumed because of their religious status in Nepal, but you can find imported meat in restaurants. You will easily find Italian or American if Dal-bhat becomes a bit too mundane for you.
Bottled mineral water is usually readily available. Do not drink tap water, and use chlorine tablets if you have to use tap water during your treks. Beer and other imported liquor can be easily found in bars and pubs in the capital. You will also be able to consume homemade rice ale chyaang if you are trekking in the Himalayan regions.
Some other dishes and drinks to try are:
Newari dishes: Choyla, sekuwa, chatamari, yomari, etc.
Cel-roti: rice flour doughnut made especially during Tihar, a major Hindu festival
Momo: dumplings filled with meat or vegetables
Ju-JuDhau: Specialty curd from Bhaktapur
Lassi: Sweetened drink made from curd
Things to Do in Kathmandu.
Nepal has a lot to offer on things to do as well. Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur are filled with temples, pagodas, stupas and shrines. You could visit these and the old durbar palaces. Kathmandu, also dubbed the City of Temples contains seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites alone.
Adventure sports like rafting, bungee, paragliding are also among the choices. Most tourists visit Nepal to trek the mountainous terrain. The Annapurna Circuit is the most popular as there are routes available according to the skill level and the time tourists want to spend trekking here. Another famous trek is the Khumbu region, from where you get to Mount Everest. Magnificent views are a guarantee in any trek, but you need to make sure you bring the right backpacking gear such as sleeping bag, best hiking pants, hiking boots, etc. to protect you from the cold.
The Terai region is a lush sanctuary to hundreds of animal and bird species. You can visit the Chitwan National Park and go on a jungle safari. Another famous wildlife reserve is Parsa Wildlife Reserve for jungle safari.
When to Visit in Nepal.
The best time to visit Nepal is around October to November, when the autumn comes knocking. The clear skies give way to clear and pristine views of the Himalayas, and thousands of tourists make way to hit the trekking trails. This usually means that the prices for accommodation spike.
The springtime (March-April) is the second best time to trek. Rhododendron flowers are in full bloom and this adds a touch of colour to your travels. The monsoon (June-September) is when there are the least number of tourists, as trekking becomes risky because of the weather. However, this does mean that you will get the cheapest rates around this time.
Whatever inspires you to come to Nepal, you will not leave disappointed. The rich history and culture of the place coupled with the splendor of the Himalayan views and friendly smiles are sure to make your trip one to remember. Each place has a story to tell, and every place you go, you will make memories.
The above information can be helpful, but be sure to buy a proper guidebook before your arrival so that you have more details at your disposal!