An Introduction to Backpacking in NepalThe highest mountains in the world, a reincarnated Goddess, an abominable snowman, a road called Freak Street, a temple where Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles used to chill in the 60’s, and the place where you can eat delicious momo’s every day! Where else but mesmerising, hypnotising Nepal? The country’s self-acclaimed title of “Switzerland of Asia” doesn’t hold sway if you are looking for cheese, wine and skiing. But, for everything else, I think Nepal is better than Switzerland (no offence to the nice Swiss people). It has the world’s tallest mountains, a blend of culture that is unparalleled in the whole world, the bio-geographical diversity that would get Darwin interested and people who are nothing but nice and let you into their lives with smiles.
Introduction to Nepal…After the political turmoil the country went through during which it went from being a democratic kingdom to a republic (that’s right, they kicked the king out), Nepal is still finding its feet in terms of manufacturing and is heavily dependent on tourism for its GDP. That means you are in luck! Tourists are treated well and with respect and are valued for the business they bring. That also means that there is a flourishing tourism business in the country which ensures that the facilities that you need are readily available and hiking trails are well marked. It is definitely in the sprouting phases and is a long way off from being “too touristy”. The main attraction of the country are definitely the Himalayan giants up north, but the country has so much more to offer than just mountain vistas and high altitude treks. In between the two cultural giants India and China, Nepal has quietly forged an identity of its own that is a pleasant mixture of the vibrant colours of India and serenity and peace of Tibet. You will notice the blend everywhere- in the faces of the people that live here, in the cuisine they eat, in the religious rituals they perform and even in the way they carry themselves. The geographical diversity is astounding – the lowest point of the country is 17 metres from sea level and the highest point is – well the top of the world. The geographical diversity allows for amazing bio-diversity as well and Nepal’s government has made it a priority to work for conserving its biological riches. It actually just celebrated a year during which no animals were lost to illegal poaching – an achievement of course. The country is also making strides in the field of adventure sports. Whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, kayaking, canyoning are the more popular choices. The historic palaces and temples all around the country give an insight into the ancient culture of the country and give tourists a glimpse of medieval art and architecture.
The Nepalese CultureLike I said before, the Nepalese culture is a good blend that has just the right amount of vibrancy and chaos of Indian culture and the serenity of Tibetans. The culture is deeply influenced by Hinduism, the major religion in the country. Buddhism is a big part of the Nepalese way of life as well because of the fact that Buddha’s birthplace is located in Nepal. Holi, the festival of colours is a major draw for tourists to get involved in. The bigger and better festivals like Dashain and Tihar might be of interest to those who want an insight into the Nepalese rituals. You might also enjoy the countless “jatras” – processions with religious significance that feature dances, chariots and a whole lot of people.
What everyone comes to Nepal for – Trekking!Obviously and rightly so, the biggest draw of Nepal are the numerous trekking trails that take tourists right up to the Himalayas. With its spectacular views, neat rice terraces carved out of the hillside, thatched cottages clinging on like magnets and every now and again a waterfall gushing from a great height providing you with a cool way to freshen up in-between trekking, Nepal is one of the best places in the world for trekkers. Most popular trails are well marked and have tea houses/lodges along the way, so you don’t need to carry camping gear. For trails that are off the popular charts, we suggest you take a local guide. It does always help to have a guide along because he/she can then give you insight into the local culture and make things hassle free. There are places in Nepal that have recently opened up for trekking and need special permits. With the crisp air and clear sunshine, this is nature at its best leaving your body feeling healthy and alive as you wake at 6 am each morning with the rising sun and fall fast asleep by 9 pm after a day full of exercise. Trekking becomes your daily job. You look forward to your dal bhat and masala chai ‘tea breaks’, sleeping in basic trekking huts on wooden planks that are surprisingly comfortable, and are always met by the friendliest of hosts. Most trails in Nepal take you up to dizzying heights, so be careful about “over doing” it. Pace yourself to make sure you are acclimatized, and watch out for signs of High Altitude Pulmonary Sickness. And you’ll be pleased to learn you can hire or buy locally all the necessary clothing and equipment needed for your trek.
Annapurna Region:A short drive from Pokhara, the Annapurnas, a range of peaks in the Himalayas, offer some of the best trekking experiences in the world both for beginners and the experienced alike. With treks starting from just a few days, you can choose one to suit you. The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is a 16-day adventure taking you through varying scenery from rice paddies to forests and finally to a high-altitude basin with spectacular views of some of the highest peaks in the world. Highly recommended. Read this article about the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek: Where Gods and Mountains Meet – by our mountain loving editor, Nikki Scott. And check out and compare the treks on offer through our website…
Everest Region:Understandably the most popular trekking area in Nepal, there are several trek routes of varying lengths of time from around 8 – 24 days taking you through flora and fauna to spectacular views of the highest mountain in the world. Due to its fame, the Everest Base Camp Trek is the most popular trek in Nepal. Reach the base camp of the highest mountain in the world on this awesome 16-day trek. Check out and compare the treks on offer through our website…
Langtang:The most easily accessible of all the trekking regions, it presents fewest altitude problems and offers beautiful forests, fascinating Sherpa villages and, of course, views of the mountains you’ll never forget. Check out and compare the treks on offer through our website…
RaftingIf you’re the truly adventurous sort (who enjoys getting jostled and soaked!), you’re in for a treat with a whitewater rafting voyage down the Kali Gandaki River. The river begins in the Mustang region bordering with Tibet and runs south through a steep gorge and through the mountains. As you gently raft pass the villages and wildlife, don’t get complacent – you will soon be hurtling through the rapids!
Chill Out in PokharaA hairy eight-hour bus ride later and you’ll find yourself in the chilled out Bohemian town of Pokhara, the second biggest city in Nepal. The town is famous for its beautiful majestic lake, Phewa Lake and the awesome view of the nearby Himalaya. From here, you can arrange to go trekking, paragliding, boating, cycling and much more…
Visit Chitwan National ParkIf you think you can survive being charged by a rhino (hint: climb a tree – fast!) spend a few days on an organised tour exploring the rich and varied biodiversity at one of Nepal’s 10 national parks, such as the beautiful Chitwan. Down south in Chitwan, where the temperatures rise and the air is humid, you will be reminded that Nepal is in fact a subtropical country. The National Park in Chitwan is one of the few places on the planet where you might see the gorgeous Royal Bengal Tiger and the one horned Rhino. Experience the change of climate and take the opportunity to see and learn about some of the world’s rarest animals in their natural habitat.
Visit the birthplace of BuddhaLumbini is the birthplace of Siddartha Gautam, known as Buddha to the world. The place is also listed in the UNESCO heritage site list and is an attractive destination for devout Buddhists from all over the world.
Tips for travellers to Nepal
Get insuredWe would highly recommend you get travel insurance before you visit Nepal, even though the travel visa doesn’t require you to get one. Most regular travel insurance covers altitude up to 3000 meters only, so if you will trek to higher altitudes, please ensure your travel insurance covers above 3000 meters. Check out this page on Travel Insurance for Trekking and Hiking by World Nomads. The medical costs in Kathmandu range from – USD 30 – 100 for a doctor’s visit depending on which clinic/ hospital you go to. The cost is higher for visitors compared to the locals, so please expect to get quoted higher prices than the listed prices for the locals. If you need medication, please bring additional dosage in case there are unexpected travel delays that require you to stay in Nepal longer than you planned.
Cost of travel to NepalThe currency is weak compared to western countries and so it makes for one of the cheapest destinations in the world. But again, if you have the bucks to spend, there is no shortage of luxury lodges and hotels that will provide you with top-notch service and make you feel like royalty. You can spend anywhere from $30- $300 depending on your choices. While on the trail, you will be fine if you spend about $50-$100/day.
Visa and travel documentsGetting travel visa for Nepal is relatively easy. You can either get a visa at Nepali consulates located in your country or you get your visa upon arrival at the Immigration office of the airport – Tribhuvan International Airport. Please select tourist visa as the visa type to attend the teaching. However, Nepal only allows 150 days of stay in a calendar year under this visa type. So if you have exhausted your tourist visa travels, please arrange for other visa types to enter Nepal. Gratis visa is issued free of cost for children below 10, up to 30 days for SAARC countries (except Afghanistan. Nationals from Afghanistan can receive Gratis visa upon arrival if recommended by Department of Immigration), Chinese nationals, and Non-resident Nepalese card holder. For citizens of some countries, a prior visa is needed from Nepalese Embassy/Consulates in respective countries. Please refer to this page on the Department of Immigration to see if your passport falls under this category. (Click language English at the top, unless you can read Nepali!) There are no step by step instructions at the airport, so you will have to look for signs and follow the other visitors coming to Nepal. Getting a visa is a two or three steps process at the airport. We have outlined those steps so you can get the basics right:
- You will need to fill out your details in the computer stations located at the airport. It will issue you a receipt which you will need to take to another counter. To avoid lines for the computer stations to open up, you can fill up the visa form online before you leave your country. Print out the confirmation details with the scan code. Here is the link to apply online.
- Fill out another the Arrival information form on the small card provided at the airport.
- Take the computer issued receip or the online confirmation details with the scan code to the counter where you will pay. The visa fees schedule depends on the duration of the stay. We recommend you visa for additional days to allow for flight delays in case you are travelling inside Nepal. Below is the visa fee schedule: a. 15 Days – USD 25 b. 30 Days – USD 40 c. 90 Days – USD 100 The Immigration office has recently introduced card payment for Visa and Mastercard. However, the machines aren’t always reliable. Please have the amount required ready in USD or EUR.
- Go to another counter to get the visa issued. Nowadays, the immigration officers ask questions such as if you have travelled to Nepal previously, and when it was. How long you intend to stay, for what purpose etc. Be prepared to answer their questions. Visa is issued once the immigration officer is satisfied.
What to expect at the airport?Tribhuvan International airport is the only international airport in Nepal. It is a small airport, with minimal facilities. Once you are done with your immigration, if you have luggage please proceed to collect the baggage from the carousels. If you do not receive your luggage, make sure you file a complaint with the airport staff who will contact you when they find your luggage. Be prepared to go via additional customs checkpoints or random luggage checks. People might hassle offering you their services of carrying your luggage or getting you a cart. They are expecting a payment. Agree on the rate before you take their services if you need help. Please know the luggage carts are provided for free at the airport and you shouldn’t pay for the carts. If you need special assistance, please talk to the airlines beforehand to have someone ready to assist you. Exchanging your currency and using your credit card Airport exchange counter and Hotels do not provide good exchange rate compared to those that you will find in Thamel. We recommend you only exchange absolutely minimum at these places and exchange the rest when you get to Thamel or other exchange places. Many places do not accept credit or debit cards. There is a USD 350 withdraw limit and the ATM charges you fees for the withdrawal. The fees depend on your bank ranging from USD 4 – USD 7. Don’t forget to tell your bank that you are travelling in Nepal so they don’t block usage. Phone SIM Getting a SIM card in Nepal is easy, so you don’t have to load up on your data plans in your country. Getting a phone SIM in Nepal can come as a surprise to you though. You have to provide you thumbprints, your passport, and 1 passport size photo. However, once you are done with the actual process, you will have a local phone number. The data packages are available in both the main carriers Nepal Telecom (NTC) and NCell if you need to use internet services on your phone. It costs 100 Nepali rupees or about a dollar to get a tourist SIM, which comes with 50 talk minutes that expire within a week. If you need to use data, you can get a pre-paid data plan right there. Bring your unlocked phone. Nowadays there are both 3G and 4G data services available. Once you are outside the airport gates, on the waiting area, you will see booths lined up that provides prepaid SIM cards.
Transport in NepalAirplanes and long distance buses are available to all major destinations in Nepal. Buses are relatively cheaper and let you enjoy the splendid scenery and change in landscape as you get from point A to B. Flying in Nepal is not for the faint hearted, but it is pretty cool and nerve racking at the same time to be landing down on world’s most dangerous airports.
What to bring?What you will pack depends on whether you will be going for a trek in high altitudes and whether you want to rent the equipment in Nepal or not. Kathmandu gets cold in the mornings and evenings, so do pack warm clothes, hats, gloves and warm socks. During the day, it will be warm if it is sunny and if you are walking you will quickly warm up. Packing checklist for Kathmandu
- Anti-pollution mask – There are construction works going on virtually every part of the city, and it gets very dusty. So please bring a good anti-pollution mask with you.
- Warm clothes – Nights and Mornings are cold, not freezing though. Even the most expensive restaurants do not have indoor heating, so you will have to protect yourself against the cold when you are out for dinners. Double fleece or light down jacket should be enough. For hiking as it can get freezing at high altitudes.
- Hot weather clothing – for Kathmandu and the national parks.
- Layers – Choose to layer up. When you walk outside on sunny days, it can get very warm. Have layers, so you can take off the outer layer.
- Walking friendly shoes – Kathmandu is definitely not for heels. Bring comfortable walking shoes that can go over the uneven surfaces.
- Toiletries – If you have medicated toiletries, please bring them along. Kathmandu does offer wide range of global brand of toiletries, so no worries if you want to travel light.
- Regular clothing – Please bring your regular clothing items, Nepal is a relatively conservative place when it comes to dressing up, esp. outside the cities. There are laundry facilities via your hotels or outside (they offer reasonable rates) if you want to reuse same items during your stay.
- Sleeping bag – If you are planning to go for a trek and don’t want to rent. You can buy reasonably good and cheap sleeping bags. (But watch out for knock-offs.) There are good locally made products available which we recommend over the knock-offs.
- Hiking boots – It is best to bring ‘broken into’ hiking boots if you plan on trekking. But in case you forget, you can also buy them here. It is cheaper to buy branded hiking boots outside of Nepal.
- Toilet paper – for those caught short in the wild moments.
- Motion sickness medicine – the roads in Nepal can get bumpy!
- Altitude sickness medicine – if you are trekking to high altitudes.
- Iodine tablets – to treat unclean water.