Things to Know Before Traveling Nepal

Unique Travel Experiences of Nepal

Nepal is undoubtedly one of the most unique travel destinations on earth. Often regarded as the ‘Shangri-La’ for backpackers and adventure enthusiasts, Nepal is fabled for the spectacular mountains, diverse terrains, ambient cultures, and natural beauty. Although it only marks as a tiny rectangle in the world map, Nepal’s diversity makes it an ideal destination for all kinds of travelers. Whether you’re an avid mountain lover, a wildlife enthusiast, a daredevil or fond of art and architectures, this tiny nation offers plenty of things to make your travel experience worth every penny.

Historical Cities and Heritage Sites

The historical cities and the heritage sites of Nepal will take you back in time. Culturally and architecturally rich, Nepal is a reflection of a timeless world. Strolling around the primitive alleyways and city squares of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Patan is an experience of cultural and historical diversity with colorful ambiance. UNESCO has enlisted 8 Cultural World Heritage Sites in Nepal, 7 of which are located inside Kathmandu Valley and the one outside the valley is Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. If you’re spending a day or two in the historic city of Kathmandu, here is the list of places we recommend you to visit:

  • Kathmandu Durbar Square
  • Bhaktapur Durbar Square
  • Patan Durbar Square
  • Boudhanath Stupa
  • Pashupatinath Temple
  • Swayambhunath (Monkey Temple)
  • Changu Narayan Temple

Wildlife Experience

One fascinating thing about Nepal apart from the mountains is its geographical diversity. The southern part of Nepal resembles a completely different world of wilderness and isolation. Perfect for nature and wildlife enthusiasts, this dense chain of national parks and conservation area is home to exotic wild animals and bird species. Nature fanatics from all over the world can explore these subtropical woodlands on exotic jeep safaris, elephant safaris and also on foot. Here is the list of places we recommend you to visit to enjoy the ultimate wildlife experience:

  • Chitwan National Park
  • Bardia National Park
  • Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
  • Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve

Extreme Adventure Sports

Whether you chose to jump off a suspension bridge, paddle over the white water rapids, pedal across the country in a mountain bike, or fly over the lakes with scenic mountain views, Nepal is the ideal destination for all kinds of extreme adventure sports. Every year, hundreds of adventure junkie make their way to Nepal to fulfill their dreams of flawless adventure. With the wide variation of terrain and landscape, the potential of adventure sports in Nepal is endless. Here are some of the most iconic adventure sports in Nepal:

  • Peak Climbing
  • Bungee Jumping
  • White Water Rafting
  • Paragliding
  • Canyoning
  • Rock Climbing
  • Mountain Biking

Nature and Climate of Nepal

Covering a total land area of 1,47,181 sq.km,  Nepal mainly divided into three geographical regions; Himalayan region, Mid-hills (Midland) and Terai region. Mt. Everest at the elevation of 8,848m marks the highest point in the country while Kechana Kalan in Jhapa marks the lowest elevation point at 60m.

Himalayan region (above 3,000m) spreads a total of 16% of the land comprising alpine pastures, rugged mountains, and temperate forests. Mid-hills covers 65% of the total land with an elevation ranging from 600m to 3,500m. The hilly region comprises two beautiful valleys, Kathmandu and Pokhara. The Terai region covers 17% of the total land with an elevation varying from 60m to 305m.

The climate of Nepal is highly influenced by the massive geographical variations along with its location in the subtropical latitude. It ranges from subtropical monsoon in Terai region, a warm temperate climate between 1,200m to 2,100m, cool temperate climate in the higher elevation between 2,100m to 3,300m and alpine climate at the elevation of 4,200m to 4,800m. Travelers in Nepal never remains away from pure touch and breath of nature and climate of Nepal leaving very few disorganized cities.

Despite such massive variations, seasonal constraints are far less of an issue while traveling to Nepal. Even during the severe winter during December and January, the bright sun and magnificent views tend to accompany the travelers. However, Autumn (Sept. to Nov.) and Spring (March to May) are considered to be the best seasons to visit Nepal.

Despite stretching only 800 km east to west and 200 km north to south, Nepal is home to over 180 mammals, 640 species of butterflies, 6,500 flowering plants, 1,100 non-flowering plants and 862 types of birds. Since 1973, the Government of Nepal has maintained 20 protected areas that consist of 6 conservation areas, 10 national parks, 3 wildlife reserves, and 1 hunting reserve.

Following are the major natural tourist attraction in Nepal:

  • Chitwan National Park
  • Sagarmatha National Park
  • Shivapuri National Park
  • Shey Phoksundo National Park
  • Bardia National Park
  • Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
  • Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve
  • Rara National Park
  • Langtang National Park

Culture and Tradition of Nepal

Nepal is considered as the mixing pot of diverse culture and traditions. Although a small country, Nepal is a land of multiracial, multi-religious and multilingual patterns. There are about 103 indigenous social groups speaking 92 different languages in Nepal. The caste system of Nepal has a great influence on the prehistoric and orthodox Brahmin caste system which came into existence after the arrival of Indo Aryans. The four major castes of Nepal are Brahmins, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Sudra. Traveling to Nepal got into the bucket list of many travelers just because they want to attend those vibrant festivals.

The early settlement of Nepal accompanied by the large scale migrants from Tibet and northern India makes Nepal a land of diverse ethnicity and linguistic pattern. Nepal’s Indo-Aryan ancestry dominate the majority of the population which includes Brahmin, Chhetri, Newar, and Tharu. The northern and eastern part of Nepal is inhabited by Tibeto-Nepalese including Tamang, Sherpa, Rai, and Limbu while the west is occupied by Magar and Gurung.

Religiously, the majority of Nepalese practice Hinduism and Buddhism. More than 80% of the people in Nepal are Hindus while the rest comprises of Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and other local religions. However, Nepal has always maintained a great deal of intermingling among Hinduism and Buddhism making them two most dominant religious groups in the country. Additionally, the fact that Nepal has never had a conflict in subject to religion resembles religious tolerance and harmony throughout the country.

In Nepal, different tribes and ethnicity celebrate their own unique festivals and jatras on various occasions. The major festivals of Nepal are:

  • Gai Jatra
  • Teej
  • Dashain and Tihar
  • Chhat
  • Lhosar
  • Buddha Jayanti
  • Holi
  • Maha Shivaratri
  • Bisket Jatra
  • Indra Jatra
  • Janai Purnima
  • Ghode Jatra
Culturally, hospitality and friendliness is a common phenomenon in Nepal. The Nepalese people live by the ancient Sanskrit code, “Atithi Devo Bhava,” which states, “Guests are our God.” Therefore, in Nepal, the tourists are considered equivalent to God.

History of Nepal

The history and antiquity of Nepal as an ancient civilization begins around 7th or 8th B.C. Kiratis, the Mongoloid Hindu monarchs, were the first recorded rulers of Kathmandu Valley. King Yalamber, said to be their first of many kings, is also mentioned in the great Hindu epic, Mahabharata. Apart from that, very few are known from this period of time.

Later, in 300 A.D, Licchavis arrived from the northern part of India and took over the regime overthrowing the Kiratis. Around the 4th to 8th century, Licchavis maintained the luminosity of culture throughout the country. Their recorded legacy of monuments and chaityas still stands in the north of Bhaktapur at Changu Narayan Temple which is dated back to 5th century. The primeval stupas at Swayambhu, Boudha, and Chabahil is also believed to be initiated during the Licchavi era. During 601 A.D, Amshuverma succeeded his father-in-law to retain the throne from Licchavis to become the first Thakuri King. Although the trade relationship between India and China prospered during the Licchavis regime, Amshuverma consolidated the relationship by marrying his daughter, Bhrikuti, to Songtsen Gampo, the famous king from Tibet and his sister to an Indian prince. Exploring the history of Nepal is a taboo activities only lucky one will get chance to do during their traveling journey to Nepal.

The Mallas first came into power to rule over the valley around 1200 A.D. Although, Licchavis were the first to plant a seed of the cultural brilliance, the golden age of art, architecture and craftsmanship arrived during Malla Dynasty. Throughout their regime of 550 years, Mallas built some of the most iconic temples and places around Nepal. During this period, Mallas also introduced numerous religious festivals and also encouraged arts, music, and literature. After the demise of Yaksha Malla in 1482 A.D, the valley was further divided into 3 kingdoms, Kathmandu (Kantipur), Bhaktapur (Bhadgaon), and Patan (Lalitpur) among his sons. Furthermore, Nepal which we know today was fragmented into 46 independent states.

One among those divided states was the kingdom of Gorkha which was ruled by a Shah king. The ambitious king of Gorkha, King Prithvi Narayan Shah commenced on a mission to conquer Nepal. By 1769, Shah defeated all the kingdoms of the valley including Kirtipur to attain his dreams of unified Nepal. King Prithvi Narayan Shah later moved his capital from Gorkha to Kathmandu establishing the Shah Dynasty that lasted from 1769 until the end of monarchy in 2008.

People of Nepal

In general, people of Nepal are regarded as one of the most amiable and hospitable people around the world. The most common way to greet each other in Nepal is by saying Namaste, which in Sanskrit is translated as, “the divine in me salutes the divine in you.” Although Nepal has a diverse culture and linguistic attributes, most people in the country speak their official language, Nepali. In recent years, more people in Nepal, especially the younger generation are heavily influenced by western society and culture. However, they have still managed to hold their cultural and historical ethics to themselves.

Due to the lack of sufficient resources and inadequate transportation facilities, there has been a massive impact on the growth and development of Nepal. However, globalization in the country is accelerating, especially in Kathmandu and other urban cities. The major infrastructures like roads, buildings, hospitals, schools, and colleges are being constructed around the cities and towns. Majority of the educational institution in Nepal encourage English as their primary language. Therefore, most of the people in Nepal can also speak fluent English. Traveling to Nepal will be even exciting with those indigenous peoples.

The people who reside in the city are familiar with most of the infrastructures including internet access. However, in most of the rural areas, the development is slow-moving. The people living in villages and rural areas still have to face the consequences of lack of basic infrastructures like education, health, and road extension.

Products of Nepal

As a landlocked country, Nepal is substantially hampered by inadequate transportation facilities making it one of the least developed country in the world. The economy of the country heavily relies on the import of essential commodities like fuel, fertilizers, steel, and construction materials. More than half of the total population of Nepal are engaged in agriculture which is the major source of the country’s export income.

Nepal ships nearly three-quarters of the total production within Asia while selling around 14% of the products to European countries. The most valuable exported products produced in Nepal are; tea and coffee (10.6%), staple fibers (10%), textile flooring (9.3%), clothes and accessories (7.9%), fruits and vegetables (6.1%), and iron and steel (5.8%).

However, if you’re searching for gifts and souvenirs, take a stroll around the alleyways of Thamel and the Durbar Squares. These touristic areas are packed with small shops and stalls that sell plenty of authentic products to take home from Nepal. If you’re still puzzled, here is the list of some famous products to buy in this amazing destination, Nepal. You will get to buy these products while traveling to Nepal.

Thangka paintings, Pashmina products, Handicrafts, Bead jewelry and pulses., Woolen Carpets, Statues and carved masks, Khukuri, Nepalese paper products, Readymade garments, Tea, spices, and honey

Politics of Nepal

In recent years, Nepal is having to emerge through rapid political changes facing a multitude of social and economic problems as its major consequences. After the royal massacre in 2001, the country’s political condition encountered prolonged instability. In order to defend the monarchy, King Gyanendra took over the throne of his brother, Late King Birendra.

However, his regime came to an end in 2008 after the abolishment of monarchy in Nepal. The country was then declared as the Federal Democratic Republic, a major milestone in the political history of Nepal. With the change in the system, however, the country failed to maintain the stability and consistency in the political terms.

The long-awaited constitution kept on delaying for almost half a decade until the landmark constitution was passed in 2015. Historically known as the Hindu Kingdom throughout the world, Nepal was declared as the secular country under the new constitution. Even after the declaration of the new constitution, Nepal has failed to find the firmness in terms of political stability which has highly impacted the lifestyle of Nepalese people. The overturn of infrastructure development and economic growth has been the major issue in the country in recent years.

Q&As related to Nepal

1.   What is the best time to visit Nepal?

Autumn (October and November) is considered as the best time to visit Nepal. The weather is usually warm and dry complimented with the clearest visibility of the mountains. Two of the most popular festival, Dashain and Tihar, also fall during this time of the year. The second best season to travel to Nepal is Spring (April to June). The weather is comparatively warmer and the trails are far less crowded.

The temperature drastically drops during the Winter (December to February). However, this is a decent time to travel to low-lying areas like Kathmandu, Pokhara, Chitwan, and Lumbini. With soaked roads and obscured mountains, Monsoon is considered as the least favorable time to visit Nepal.

2.   What are the best Nepal travel tips?

If you’re traveling to Nepal for the first time, the experience of the epic journey to the land of Himalayas can be bewildering. So, here are a few important tips to help you prepare for your trips to Nepal:

  • On-arrival visas are available at the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu as well as on the border crossings if you’re traveling by land. However, it is recommended to bring a passport photo for visa procedures.
  • Make sure to avoid tap waters and raw vegetable for health safety.
  • Bring your own universal adapter and plugs.
  • Always carry a hand sanitizer and tissue papers.
  • If you’re planning to go trekking or hiking, make sure to bring decent trekking gears. If not, buy the gears in Kathmandu.
  • Do not scatter your rubbish on the trails. Dispose away the wastes properly on the bins along the trails or bring them back to the city.
  • If you’re trekking in the Himalayas of Nepal, make sure you have a trekking permit.
  • Before heading to the mountains, always consult your doctor and get a prescription for Diamox and other medications to battle the altitude sickness.
  • Tips for guide and porters are not mandatory but welcomed.
  • Before heading home from Nepal, make sure you exchange all your local currencies. It is actually illegal to take the Nepalese currency away from the country.

3.   What do you need to travel to Nepal?

Here is the list of things you need to pack before traveling to Nepal:

  • Travel Visa
  • Travel Insurance
  • First-Aid Kit
  • Water Purifier
  • Activated Charcoal
  • Hand Sanitizer & Tissue Papers
  • Sunscreen
  • Sun Glasses
  • Clothes
  • Hiking Boots
  • Raincoat
  • Backpack
  • Passport Pouch
  • Power Adapter
  • Portable Charger

Trekking Isn’t the Only Way to See Mount Everest!

Travelers to Nepal can take a short Mountain Flight from Kathmandu to see Mount Everest from the sky. The one hour round-trip journey is tailor made for photographers, as the airlines sells only window seats for passengers to ensure everyone gets a great view.

If the skies are clear, it’s a fantastic way to see the Himalayas! Passengers are even allowed a short moment into the cockpit to see Mt. Everest with the pilots.

Whether you’re an adventure seeker or a cultural enthusiast, Nepal is sure to offer an unexpected, yet engaging experience.

Nepal is Much More than Mountains

Nepal has strong glacial rivers, which are a hot spot for white water rafting. Meanwhile, central Nepal is home to steep valleys, rustic villages and beautiful rice terraced fields. In the south, you’ll find incredible national parks with wildlife that can rival any African safari. Nepal may be most known for its mountains, but its landscape is much more diverse than that!

When visiting Nepal, be sure not to miss:

  • Pokhara: A scenic city in the valley known for Phewa Lake, the Annapurna Trekking Circuit and adventure activities like bungee jumping, microflights and paragliding.
  • Chitwan: Nepal’s first national park contains over 932 sq km of forests, marshland and grassland. Go on safari here to discover horned rhinos, elephants, leopards and Bengal tigers.
  • Lumbini: The birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, the Lord Buddha, is a famous place of pilgrimage. Make sure to visit the gleaming white Peace Pagoda.

The spoken language in Nepal is Nepali and secondly English

Nepali is an Indo-Aryan language similar to Hindi,  is written in Devanagari script and is the first language of Nepal. Indian travelers should understand enough to get around. English is a secondary language spoken mostly in large cities like Kathmandu. Outside Kathmandu, English is spoken a little less, but getting around is still manageable. Simply smile with a Namaste and the Nepalese will help you in any way they can.

To eat “Buff” on a Nepal menu means to eat buffalo

You’ll see “buff” as an item on many Nepali food menus (i.e. Buff momos, buff burgers, etc… ) This does not mean you eat naked. Buff is a common term for buffalo. Hindus treat cows with reverence and similar to India, many refrain from eating cow; instead, they eat buffalo.

Nepal Travel tip: Buy your Nepal SIM card at the airport

If you want consistent internet throughout Nepal, buy a Nepalese SIM.  I highly recommend buying your SIM at the airport, where there is proper help activating it. Some travelers try to cheap it by getting it in Kathmandu and I regret having been one of them. You need a copy of your passport, a shop that can authorize your SIM purchase (as you’re a tourist vs local) and setting up your plan through locals be challenging without proper translation.  The SIM plans are inexpensive and I’ll add more details later on my Kathmandu guide.

Hindu or Buddhist?

If you ask a Nepalese person if they are  Buddhist or Hindu, their response will be “Yes”.

The major religions and religious festivals are a cross-pollination of both. Surprisingly, 80% of Nepali folks are Hindu and only 10% are Buddhist.  In marriage, a Buddhist may marry a Hindu and religious affiliation is less a concern than caste.

That red dot is called a “tikka”

As a guest at an auspicious occasion, there might be  a red dot placed below your forehead (between your eyes) called tikka. Nepalese hosts may place a tikka on your forehead to welcome you with warmth. Being a delegate for a travel mart conference, we were tikka’d a lot into many events.

Locals use the tikka daily as a way to take prasad (‘blessings’) after visit to a temple for prayer.

Remove footwear before entering temples and Nepalese houses

When visiting temples and homes in Nepal, always remove footwear. This is a common etiquette you’ll find often in india, Asia and Southeast Asia. Streetwear is considered dirty and disrespectful. Removing your footwear and walking barefoot is a sign of respect for these sacred places.

How to say Hello and Thank You  in Nepali

Many Nepalese know Hello and Thank you, but hearing you speak in their language is still a sweet sound of respect. When saying Hello in Nepal, you say “Namaste” and fold your hands into a prayer.  Thank you is “Danyavad” (pronounced: dahn-ya-vahd).

What is a topi?

You will see older men donning hats called topi. This is a symbol of national pride, national dress and is commonly worn by Indian Gorkha men and hill-dwelling Nepali.

Nepali, Nepalese… Newari, which should you use?

Nepali, Nepalese, Newari… I get these terms confused. They are all Nepal. Nepali is a language similar to Hindi (and sometimes, it can be referred to as the people/culture). Nepalese are generally, people of Nepal. Newari is specific, a unique lifestyle and age-old traditional Newar culture and language, where the old traditions and beliefs are still adhered to. Newars are descendants of the first dwellers of Kathmandu.

Nepal still has caste systems

Caste systems are still alive in Nepal. The caste systems govern arranged marriage partners, diets, even schools children attend from an early age.  While Nepal is occasionally influenced by modern thinkers and youth, the caste system is still very strong and children who go against the system in search of free love, can face the threat of disownership from the family.

Sherpa is not always a sherpa

It’s easy to confuse the term Sherpa in Nepal. The word automatically strikes the idea of trekking porters and guides. However,  in Nepal it can also mean an specific ethnic caste of mountain people in the Himalayas.  Ethnic sherpas can be porters and guides, but not all sherpas belong to the ethnic minority group of Sherpa. They can be Tamang, etc…

What is the meaning of “Daal Bhat Power 24 hours”

“Daal bhat power 24 hours” is humorous Nepali saying you’ll either hear about or read around town (usually on tourist tee shirts). This refers to Nepal’s love for daal bhat. Daal bhat is a yellow lentil soup and popular but basic meal of Nepalese (especially trekkers and sherpas).  It’s said that Nepalese can eat daal bhat three times a day and that simple dish can keep one strong and sustained through the day. However, generally brunch and dinner are the two main meals.

Eight of the world’s ten highest peaks are in Nepal. Do not make the mistake of calling a “hill” …a “mountain” in Nepal

In Nepal, if you mistakenly confuse a “hill” with a “mountain”, you might get a Nepali chuckle. Eight of the world’s ten highest peaks are in Nepal.  Mount Everest is a “mountain” by Nepalese standard. What you might have at home is a hill. A mountain is defined as something that is snow-tipped and above a certain sea level. Over 14 peaks in Nepal stand above 22,000 feet above sea level. Everest itself, stands over 29,000 feet.

According to Nepalese, the majority of “mountains” in the world are hills.

Nepal has a trash problem

You will find an abundance of trash and a prolific growth of wild marajuana plants.  Locals will burn piles of trash but obviously there is a problem with littering in general. As a traveler, save your trash until you can find a place to dispose of it.

Source: traveller and blogger around the world

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