23 Things you must know while traveling to Nepal
Nepal, situated between the two most populous nations on Earth - China and India, is a very diverse country known for the high Himalayas, fertile plains, dense forests, deep gorges, raging rivers, and diverse cultures. As the elevation changes from 59m at Mukhiyapatti Musharniya to 8,848m at Mount Everest, the climate changes from tropical in the southern plains to the tundra in the high Himalayas- under perpetual snow cover.
This huge variation in altitude and climate within a span of 128 kilometers is the main reason for the diverse flora and fauna you can find in Nepal. The diversity in terrain and climate demanded the locals shape their traditions and cultures around it, giving rise to unique cultures and traditions, making Nepal one of the most diverse countries in the world.
Globalization has spread in all nooks and corners around the world, but Nepal is least affected because Nepal was never colonized, and Nepalis do not have independence day to celebrate. It also means that your experience in Nepal will be very different from those of other countries. So, before flying to Nepal, here are some things you must know.
1. Nepal is not just Everest- the world’s highest mountain. It is also Kali Gandaki Gorge - the deepest gorge in the world.
View from Gokyo Ri 5,357m
Nepal is much more than Everest, which should be obvious because Everest does not stand alone. In fact, three eight-thousanders - Mt. Lhotse(8,516m), Cho Oyu (8,201m), and Mt. Makalu (8,463m) lie very near to Everest. Annapurna Circuit treks in central Nepal are as popular as the Everest Base Camp trek. If you are intimidated by the Everest Base Camp trek, you can choose Annapurna Circuit Trek.
If you love to trek near mountains, in addition to Everest treks, there are other popular mountain treks, including Annapurna Base Camp, Manaslu, Makalu, and Ganesh Himal. Nepal is home to eight of the ten tallest mountains.
Nepal truly is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multilingual country. More than seventy ethnic groups reside in Nepal, and there are more than 100 dialects spoken in Nepal. So, if you love to learn about people and their cultures, you have several trek options - Upper Mustang Trek, Nar Phu Valley Trek, Tsum Valley Trek, Rolwaling Trek, Dolpo Trek, etc.
There are several national parks in Nepal. So, if you want to witness diverse flora and fauna, you can go for Chitwan Wildlife Tour, Bardia National Park Safari, and Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve.
If you want to enjoy the natural tranquility away from the daily grind in the remote regions, you can trek in Kanchanjunga, Manaslu Circuit, Dhaulagiri Circuit, and Jumla Muktinath regions.
2. 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites - 7 of them are in Kathmandu Valley.
UNESCO designates sites having cultural, historical, scientific, and other importance as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Nepal. Among these ten UNESCO sites, seven - Pashupatinath Temple, Boudhanath Stupa, Swayambhunath Stupa, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Changu Narayan Temple - are in the Kathmandu Valley. UNESCO Sites outside Kathmandu Valley are Lumbini, Chitwan National park, and Sagarmatha National Park.
Everest Base Camp - 5,364m
So, even if you have only one day to spend in Kathmandu, we recommend you to explore the city and visit these world heritage sites.
3. Domestic flights provide incredible views. You get a bird’s eye view of the Himalayas in the north, hills in the middle, and plains in the south.
Nepal has varied terrain - high mountains in the north, hills in the middle, and plains in the south. If you take domestic flights, you will get mind-blowing views of these terrains. Several airlines provide mountain flights specifically for those who want to show what Nepal has to offer from the airplanes.
If you decide to trek to Everest Base Camp, you will have to take a domestic flight to Lukla, from where your hike will begin. We also provide Everest View treks on a helicopter.
4. Nepal is a spiritual and religious country.
Let us not forget that Gautam Buddha, the founder of modern Buddhism, was born in Nepal, and Buddhism is common in high altitudes. The remote high Himalayas are home to several monasteries, chortens, and prayer flags. In fact, in certain villages, at least a child from a family lives in a monastery devoting their lives to Buddhist studies.
However, contrary to what you might be thinking, Hinduism is the dominant religion in Nepal. The country is secular, and people following different religions live in harmony. Certain holy sites in Nepal, like Muktinath temple, are common to Buddhism and Hinduism.
5. Tourism is important in Nepal and contributes heavily to economic development.
Tourism is the largest industry in Nepal, bringing in sizeable foreign currency. So, the Nepal government pays good attention to foreigners arriving in Nepal by placing policies that favor tourism.
Given the geographical diversity and climatic richness, coupled with difficulty in developing infrastructure in steep hilly regions, tourism will remain the main source of income for Nepalis for years to come.
Nepalis are very hospitable people on earth. In fact, there is an old saying - "Atithi Devo Bhawa," meaning "Guest is God." It sums up the Nepali attitude towards the tourists.
6. Unique festivals. Hindus worship crows, cows, and dogs.
More than 80% of Nepalis are Hindus which is a polytheistic religion. Once a year, during Tihar, Hindus worship animals such as dogs and cows. Cow slaughter is banned in Nepal as the cow is the national animal of this secular country.
In Kathmandu, there is a tradition of designating a young girl - Kumari, who is accepted as the living incarnation of goddess Durga. The young girl is worshipped as a goddess until she menstruates, and a new Kumari replaces the old one. It is a tradition unparalleled throughout the world.
7. Ridesharing apps can help you move in Kathmandu.
If you are on a budget, you will be better off using ridesharing apps in Kathmandu like Pathao, Tootle, and Sahara. These ridesharing app companies offer bike, cab, and food delivery services.
8. Elephant riding is a great way to navigate Chitwan National Park.
Elephants have been used for farming, navigating, and even during wars in historical Nepal. However, elephant riding is still practiced in Nepal. In fact, it is the mode of navigation in dense jungles - mostly in Chitwan National Park. If you fancy an elephant ride, we invite you for a Jungle Safari in Chitwan National Park.
9. Food borrows heavily from Indian and Tibetan cuisines.
Nepali cuisine borrows a lot from Indian cuisine. However, it differs widely based on ethnicity, climate, soil, and geography. Religion plays a role as well. Rice, lentils, and curry (Dal, Bhat, Tarkari) is the most popular dish, which most Nepalis eat as lunch and dinner. If there is any dish as popular as Dal, Bhat, or Tarkari, it is momo. Momo is adumpling with minced meat (mostly buff) inside the flour dough and steamed. There are several variations of momos based on the inner filling, shapes, and sizes.
In addition to rice, other grains popular in Nepal include wheat, maize, buckwheat, barley, and millet. Dhindo (a type of porridge) is also a popular dish.
If you are trekking in remote high Himalayas, avoid meat for hygiene regions.
10. A multi-ethnic country with 125 caste groups.
Nepal is home to 125 different caste groups, with Khas Chhetris, as the largest group making up 16.6% of the population. Broadly these caste groups make up six distinct ethnic categories. You can find 92 different living languages within this nation.
In terms of origins, Nepalis are classified into three main ethnic groups - Indo-Nepalese, Tibeto-Nepalese, and indigenous Nepalese. Indo-Nepalese live in the foot-hills and the fertile plains. The Tibeto-Nepalese, who migrated from Tibet in the north, live in the high hills. The indigenous Nepalese consists of the tribals like Tharus.
11. Richness in flora and fauna concentrated in a small geographic area.
Though Nepal occupies only 0.1 percent of the global area, it is home to 3.2 percent of the flora and 1.1 percent of fauna. In fact, Nepal is known for its conservation efforts. There are 12 national parks, 1 wildlife reserve, 6 conservation areas, and 13 buffer zones. All of these areas make up 23.39% of Nepal's total land. If you love the ecosystem and the diversity in flora and fauna, you must visit Nepal. Chitwan National Park and Sagarmatha National Park make some of the best national parks in the world.
12. Popular drinks. There are a variety of local alcoholic drinks.
Tilicho Lake - 4,919 m
In terms of non-alcoholic drinks, tea is the most popular, and it makes one of the leading exports of Nepal. Coffee, however, is still not widespread. Nepal has its share of traditional alcoholic drinks. Some of the famous ones are
Chyang: It is made of fermented rice and has a cloudy color and mild sour taste. However, some ethnicities make chyang from corn, millet, or both.
Aila: It is a strong alcoholic drink brewed from millet and then distilled. Again aila can be offered after one, two, or three distills.
Tongba: It is a popular drink famous in eastern Nepal, mainly among Ris. Limbu's and Sherpas. It is made from boiled millet which is then fermented for about a week.
Raksi: Though Nepalis might use the word "raksi" to mean alcoholic beverages, in the past raksi was a special type of alcohol. These days, the popular raksi is "Kodo ko raksi," that is alcohol made from millet.
13. A plethora of traditional costumes.
Due to the variation in ethnicity, climate, and history, you will find Nepalis wearing different costumes. The national dress is Daura, Suruwal, and topi (cap).
However, the Newar women have hakku potashi. The Limbus wear shawls and blouses made from Dhaka (a type of cloth). The Sherpa have their clothing similar to Tibetans. Male Sherpas wear chhubas with shirts or jackets underneath. Women wear sleeveless chhuba called engi or a sleeved one that they call tongok.
Magars and Gurungs have similar outfits. They wear a wrap-up blouse and dark-colored saris that they fasten on their waist with patuka. Men wear caps called "Dhaka Topi" and a kachhad - a kind of wrap-on-kee length loincloth.
The Tamang women wear blouses, mostly red or black, and saris, which are mainly red and patterned.
14. Namaste is the greeting for hi, hellos to goodbye.
Nepalis greet each other with a "namaste', which literally means the "divine spirit in me bows to the divine spirit in you". It comes from the Hindu belief that God resides in every soul. The main difference between namaste, compared to other western greetings, is - Nepalis use namaste to greet, as well as to bid goodbye to each other.
15. The unique national flag and numerous religious flags.
Annapurna Base Camp Trek Review
The Nepali national flag is the only flag, which is not quadrilateral in shape. If you travel in Nepal, in cities, towns, and villages, you will find myriad prayer flags - most of them are Buddhists, but Hindu temples are also adorned with colorful flags. You can find these flags in remote high Himalayas - on the high Passes, solitary monasteries, and even on top of mountains.
16. Kathmandu is a Newar valley.
Though it might be hard to tell to which ethnicity Kathmandu belongs, Kathmandu Valley has been a historical Newar valley. Newars have their own language, own customs, traditions, food, and even a calendar. You will realize that Kathmandu is a Newar valley if you witness the feasts and festivals popular in Kathmandu, including the tradition of Kumari - the living goddess.
17. Eight of the tallest 10 mountains are in Nepal.
Only 17% of Nepal is plains, the rest is either mountainous or Himalayan. In fact, Nepal is home to eight of the ten highest peaks in the world - Mt. Everest, Mt. Makalu, Mt. Kanchenjunga, Mt. Choyou, Mt. Lhotse, Mt. Annapurna, Mt. Manaslu, and Mt. Dhaulagiri. These mountains present several trek opportunities, and thousands of tourists come to Nepal to climb these mountains.
18. Nepalis have their own calendar.
Unlike most other countries, Nepal does not follow the Georgian calendar. Nepalis use the Bikram Sambhat calendar, which no other countries use and this calendar is more than 67 years ahead of the Georgian calendar. The Nepalese new year falls in April of every year.
Interestingly, Saturday is a public holiday in Nepal. However, talks are going on to designate Sunday as a holiday also. Currently, Nepal only has one holiday per week.
19. Nepalis are brave people. Heard of Gurkhas?
Due to loyalty and their fierceness, Nepal was never colonized. In the past, Nepal fought against the British East India Company, and due to the bravery of Gurkhas (Gurkhas are people from the ancient kingdom of Gorkha, which conquered several small kingdoms to form Nepal) shown on the battlefields, the U.K still employs Nepalese in their military. Nepalis have earned 13 Victoria Crosses from 1815 AD to date.
20. Nepalese use their hands to eat.
Though in cities like Kathmandu, the restaurants provide spoons, forks, and knives, the majority of Nepalese use their hands to eat, the right that is. In a way, this is easier than using chopsticks. So, do not be surprised if you see Nepalese eating food with their hands.
21. Nepal has five climatic zones.
Though a relatively small country with an area of 147,516 km², it has five distinct climates - subtropical and tropical zones below 3,900ft, the temperate zones between 3,900 and 7,900 feet, cold zones between 7,900 and 11,800 feet, subarctic zones between 11,800 and 14,400 feet, and the arctic zones above 14,400 feet. In addition, Nepal has four distinct seasons - spring, autumn, summer, and winter.
22. Terraced fields
As most of Nepal is mountainous in hilly regions, you will see beautiful terraced fields. In these terraced fields, where there is enough water, Nepalis grow rice elsewhere they grow potato, maize, barley, or millet. However, this type of farming is labor-intensive, as you cannot use heavy machines.
23. An abundance of water resources.
There are about 6,000 rivers in Nepal, with high estimates that project up to 83,000MW of hydroelectricity production possibilities. If this potential is realized, it can benefit the energy-hungry regions near Nepal. Nepal is a part of the Ganga Water Basin and contributes 40% of the annual flow of the Ganga river. More than six hundred fifty million people are dependent on this Ganga Basin. Due to this abundance of water resources, you can swim, raft or canoe in the large rivers of Nepal.
If you have read this far, we are sure that you will love Nepal. Why not come to Nepal and see for yourself what Nepal is all about. Discovery World Trekking is a trek and tour company helping trekkers, adventurers, and nature lovers explore more of Nepal.
You can call/Viber/WhatsApp at +977-9840055491 or email [email protected] to plan an activity (trek, raft, expedition) in Nepal.