One of my favourite ever countries Nepal is a backpacking feast! It’s a landlocked country flanked by Bhutan to the east, Tibet to the North East, India to the south and China all around so it offers some great overland traveling opportunities. It is the world’s youngest republic, although let’s wait and see South Sudan’s situation before I fully commit to that! With the scenic Himalayas as its backdrop Nepal has got views to die for, a paradise for all nature lovers and above all a great place for backpackers to explore.
Spaced out distinctively from the rest of the countries in the world with a rich geography and history, Nepal draws you in right from the start. But when it comes to Nepal’s main attraction, there’s really only one contestant… The Himalayas. Nepal boast of eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including the highest point on earth Mount Everest (locally known as Sagarmatha). There is so many trekking routes available, all of which you can sort out from Kathmandu when you arrive, my trek to Everest Base Camp is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, really amazing
The Nepalis are traditionally deep rooted and still today they follow some age-old customs. Though they will not rebuke you for unknowingly offending them it would be nice we could heed the following:
- Nepalis wear clothes that have them fully covered. Hence, do not wear tight fitting clothes or clothes that expose your legs or shoulders when you’re wandering around their religious sites
- Make sure you do not enter a place of worship with your shoes on.
- Some of the Hindu temples may not be open to the Non-Hindus. Be smart and always seek permission before entering a Hindu temple.
Visa and Border Crossings:
On arrival at the land borders and at the airport in Kathmandu citizens of most countries are eligible for VOA (visa-on-arrival). All you need is your passport (with 6 months validity) and some US dollars: $25 gets you a 15 day tourist visa, $40 (30 days) and $100 (90 days).
If you don’t have USD don’t worry Nepali Rupees and Indian Rupees are accepted too (but it’s cheaper with USD).
The major border crossings are here:
- Birganj- Raxaul Bazar: This is the most popular overland route between India and Nepal. So if you intend to enter Nepal from East India this will be your crossing of choice. Birganj is also the best place to enter Nepal via Kolkata or most of the eastern state in India.
- Sunauli-Bhairawa: If you are entering Nepal from Delhi or from any of the north-western states of India like Varanasi then Sunauli is the most convenient of all the routes.
- Siliguri-Kakarbhitta: From Darjeeling this is the most convenient route to enter Nepal.
- Nepalgunj, Jamuna, Dhangadi, Mohana, Ghaduchowki from India are other places through which you can enter Nepal.
- From Tibet, Kodari is the only overland route to reach Nepal.
- Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. There are direct flights from Amsterdam, Mumabi, Calcutta, Paris, Paro, Singapore, Varanasi, Hongkong, Karachi, Bangkok, London, Osaka, Frragonankfurt, Lhasa, Dubai, Dhaka, Doha and Shanghai.
While the European destinations can be reached via Doha in Qatar Airways, Hong Kong with Dragon Air or Cathay Pacific, and Amsterdam and Netherlands with ArkeFly.
Nepal plays host to hundreds of thousands of tourists every year so it has developed a bit of a tourist trail. Most people during their stay will hit up these places:
- Kathmandu: As said already Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal. It is also the biggest cosmopolitan city and is generally referred to as the “city of temples”. The temples here stand testimony to the historical and religious facets of the land. Place of note comprises of:
- Swayambhunath: A hilltop Stupa and a holy place for Newari Buddhists.
- Boudnath: Considered to be one of the largest stupas in the world and one of the most important centers for Buddhist pilgrimage.
- Pashupatinath: A temple situated on the bank of River Baghmati is one of the holiest Hindu shrines.
- Hanuman Dhoka: An old royal palace which comprises of several attractions.
- The Phewa Lake: It is the second largest Lake in Nepal.
- The Pokhara view point: You can get a majestic view of the Himalayan Peaks from here.
- The Bindyabasini Temple: One of the oldest structures in Pokhara built by the Niwari traders.
- World Peace Pagoda: Located across the Phewa Lake it is a sight to behold.
- The temple of Nyatapola: It is a five storied Pagoda built in 1702 A.D.
- Surya Vinayak: A shrine of an elephant-headed God.
- Dattatreya Temple: A temple built from the trunk of a single tree, an amazing thing to watch.
- Bhairavnath temple: A three storied pagoda noted for its artistic splendor.
- Pokhara: Third largest city of Nepal it is rightly referred to as the centre of adventure and has a number of tourist places of note like:
- Bhaktapur: The main highlights of this city are
Obviously arguably the main highlight of Nepal is that it’s home to some of the world’s most beautiful mountains it provides some of the best trekking trails on earth. You can opt for such trekking region as the Everest, Langtang, Mustang, Dolpo, Kanchenjunga, Annapurna, Dolpo or Manaslu. The travel agencies in Nepal offers a number of trekking tours which can be tailored according to your time, needs, interests and wallet!
Off the Beaten Path:
If you want to avoid the crowds make sure to head over to these 2 gems:
- Lumbini: It is here that Lord Buddha was born, 2500 years ago. The city is today the central point of Buddhism. The Holy Temple of Maya Devi is an important tourist destination in Lumbini. You can immerse yourself in the Buddhist vibe for a couple of days quite easily here.
- Nepalgunj: The place is famous for trekking and is also known as the industrial and transport hub of Nepal.
- Birgunj: It is the second largest city of Nepal, its gateway and also the commercial capital. The striking tourist attractions of Birgunj are
- Clock Tower: Tallest among all the buildings of Birgunj.
- Durga Temple: One of the oldest temples dedicated to Goddess Durga.
- City Hall: Popular for hosting various programs, gatherings and functions.
- Shankar Acharya Gate: A gate which serves as an entry point to the Indo-Nepal border.
Getting around places within Nepal isn’t the most comfortable transport in the world but it’s easy to negotiate if you have the time and patience. Public taxis are cheap as chips, you jump in, pay your $0.30 and wait for the taxi to fill – then you’re off. Or if you’re feeling impatient you can hire the taxi yourself and go immediately – a 30 minute cab ride in a place shouldn’t cost you more than $5. There are also rickshaws available all over, these may be a bit of a bumpy ride but they’re cheap and effective. Just don’t use them if you’re in a rush.
Traveling longer distances is a similar story. Local transport is the only thing available throughout the country, forget about any luxurious tourist buses here! If possible, avoid night buses – Nepalese road-accident rates make terrifying reading and the vast majority of fatal crashes happen at night so where possible make it a day trip! Buses leave the local bus stations either early in the morning (before 7am) or early evening (around 5 or 6pm). Try to buy your ticket a day before and expect to arrive an hour or two later than they tell you.
Between September and November and between March and May are the best times to visit Nepal. The temperature is bearable, the rain won’t ruin your plans and the mountains should be beautifully clear on your treks.
Nepal has a typical monsoonal climate with spring, summer, autumn and winter as its four main seasons. It experiences heavy monsoonal rains from June to September, clear and cool weather from the month of October to December and January to March, and dry weather from April to June.
Money and Costs:
As Nepal is a tourist-oriented country, you will easily find ATM machines in all the major cities. Basic accommodation (no AC, shared bathroom) can be found for around $5 and local meals will set you back around $2. If you don’t fritter your cash away on imported beers and chocolate then $20 is a manageable daily budget, not including any trekking fees of course.
People-Locals: Nepal has an assortment of people belonging to different races and tribes. Nepalese are generally very friendly and helpful. Expect warm greeting and full-blown conversations with strangers, especially outside Kathmandu.
People-Travellers: There is certainly an older, wealthier group of tourists seen here than in India or SE Asia thanks to the world-class trekking on offer. But there is still very much a distinguishable backpacker crowd. When you’re in Kathmandu head to Thamel – it’s like a slightly hippier, quieter version of the backpacking Mecca Khao San Road.
If you’re not afraid of a squat toilet and cold showers, you can find guesthouses for less than $5 in most places around Nepal. Kathmandu is slightly pricier.
Language: Though the official language of this country is Nepali, the large part of the population speaks in Tharu. Other than that, its close proximity to India has given rise to an increasingly large group of educated Nepalis who have adopted the English language. Communication is rarely an issue here.
Communication Phones: If you’re after a local sim card, Nepal’s best is probably Vodafone or Mero Mobile.
Communication Internet: Along the length and breadth of Nepal you’ll see endless internet cafes especially in Kathmandu and Pokhara. The net is surprisingly quite fast, and in Kathmandu and Pokhara you’ll easily find net cafes with connection speeds that allow for skype and uploading pics.
Food and Drinks:
Make sure you try out the Nepali national meal of daal, bhaat and tarkaari. Only in the tourist districts of Kathmandu and Pokhara will you find your western fixes. Also if you’re longing for some booze grab yourself a Jaan, a delicious local Nepali beer or even Raski a spirit similar to tequila (similar in that it gets you drunk fast and makes you feel like death the next day!).
For an average breakfast $1-2 is enough and lunch/dinner should set you back around $3 or $4. If you stick to the local dishes it will save you a lot of money as Nepalese street food is super cheap and super tasty.
Though once a safe and peaceful country Nepal has over the past few years been subject to harassment, hassle and even violence but none of the recent trouble has troubled tourists at all so worry not! Politics are still a big source of tension in Nepal though so stay smart and follow these guide lines:
- Stay away from rallies and demonstrations
- Don’t get involved in political marches
- Try to avoid arriving during elections or voting
Festivals in Nepal:
Nepal goes crazy for festivals so time your trip right and you could be welcomed by some of the most amazing scenes imaginable!
- Janmashtami festival marks the birth of Lord Sri Krishna and is celebrated in the month of August/September.
- Dedicated to Lord Yamaraj the festival of Gaijatra is one of the most popular festivals that is celebrated in the month of August/September.
- Dedicated to Lord Shiva the festival of Maha Shiva Ratri is celebrated in the month of February/March.
- The colorful festival of Holi is a great festival to watch and if you are visiting Nepal in the month of February/March you will get to see it.
- Dipawali the festival of light celebrated in the month of October/November will surely leave you stunned.
This should be enough info for your arrival in Nepal. If you need any other information just drop me a comment below and I’ll try my best to get your answer. Nepal truly is an amazing place and I hope you guys get the chance to experience sooner rather than later. Happy travels!