Nepal Travel Guide - All you need to know before heading to Nepal
Nepal, sharing borders with India and China, is home to eight of the ten highest mountains in the world, including Everest - the highest mountain on earth. However, Nepal is much more than just the high mountains -the deepest gorge also lies in Nepal. So, the Nepali landscape ranges from the deepest gorge to the highest mountain and everything in between.
Due to the exotic landscapes and welcoming people, Nepal is one of the most favored tourist destinations. As Nepal was never colonized, its culture and traditions are some of the most unique in the world. The local Sherpas are known for their mountaineering skills, while the Gurungs are known for their bravery as Gurkha soldiers.
However, if you have never been to Nepal, here is a Nepal travel guide that tells you what to do, what not to do, and what to look out for.
A brief overview of Nepal
Culture and heritage
There are at least 125 distinct ethnic groups in Nepal, with numerous unique cultures and traditions giving rise to different music, dance, arts and crafts, religion, philosophy, festivities, food, and drinks.
Dance and music
As a profoundly Hindu Kingdom, most Nepalis believe that the dances started in the Himalayas, the abode of Lord Shiva, in the form of the Tandava dance performed in a violent mood. The dances among different ethnic groups differ slightly along with the dresses for these dances. The musical instruments differ too.
Some of the most popular musical instruments are - Madal (a cylindrical instrument with a bulge in the center and played by striking the heads with both hands), Bansuri (bamboo flute), Sarangi ( a form of violin), Murchunga (jaw harp played by mouth), Dhimay (a type of drum popular among the Newars), Panche Baja (five instruments played together - Cymbal, Damaha (drum), Tyamko (somewhat small but similar to Damaha), Sanai (a type of clarinet), and Narsingha ( a trumpet). Madal and Sarangi are particularly popular in Nepali folk songs.
There are plenty of others Tungna (a wired instrument made of rhododendron), Sankha ( a type of conch), Damphu ( a drum-like instrument), and much many more.
You can hear these musical instruments during festivals, rites, and rituals. Different musical instruments are played to usher in different moods based on the events.
More than 100 languages are spoken in Nepal, and we can trace their origins to Indo-Aryan or Tibeto-Burman language families. Nepali is the national language, with around 45% of people speaking Nepali. Around 12% of Nepali speak Maithili, 6% Bhojpuri, 6% Tharu, and 5% Tamang. A sizeable population in Kathamndu Valley speaks Newari.
Religion and philosophy
Hinduism is the dominant religion. More than 80% of Nepalis are Hindus, 9% are Buddhists, 4% follow Islam, and less than 1% of Nepali are Christians. The founder of modern Buddhism, Gautam Buddha, was born in Nepal. All of these co-exist with each other peacefully.
Nepal government provides several days of public holidays to mark Dashain, Tihar, and Chhat - all Hindu festivals. Christmas day is also a public holiday. Dashain celebrates the victory of good over evil and falls near the end of September when the monsoon ends and the farmers complete their harvest.
Besides Lumbini, where Gautam Buddha was born, other notable religious sites include the Hindu temples of Pashupatinath, Budhanilkantha, Manakamana, and Swayambhunath Stupa (a Buddhist shrine) in Kathmandu, Muktinath temple in Muktinath and several others.
There are numerous temples all over Kathamndu. Hence, Kathmandu is also known as the city of temples.
Animal sacrifices are common among Hindus, and Hindus perform animal sacrifices to mark major events. However, cows are considered sacred animals and unacceptable for sacrifice.
The Vikram Sambat Calendar is the official calendar of Nepal. This calendar is around 57 years ahead of Gregorian Calendar. The ethnic Newars also follow the Nepal Sambat calendar, which starts from 879 AD. There are a few other calendars that different ethnic groups follow.
Due to its location as a trade route between Tibet and India, Nepali architecture heavily borrows from Indian and Tibet practices. The Hindu temples are built in pagoda style and Buddhist monasteries are famous for their stupa style. The Shikhar style, though not a dominant style, can be found in Kathmandu - Krishna Mandir of Patan is built on the Shikhar style.
You can find different monuments in Kathmandu dating back as far as the 5th century - the Changu Narayan temple and Swayambhu Nath stupa are some of the oldest relics in Nepal. Then comes the Kasthamandap temple, built during the early years of the Shah dynasty rule. The Shahs came from Gorkha and were victorious against Newars - the locals of Kathmandu Valley. The Newars had their own architectural preferences. In 1846 the Ranas started ruling Nepal and built palaces that resembled those from Europe. The Singha Durbar, Thapathali Durbar, Keshar Mahal, Sri Mahal, and Rani Mahal were built by the Ranas.
Contemporary Nepali architecture borrows heavily from European and American designs. You can observe some famous modern Nepali architecture in structures like Narayanhiti Royal Palace, Hotel Yak and Yeti, Soltee Hotel, Nepal Art Council, etc.
The ethnic villages have their distinct architecture - you will find Sherpa architecture in Namche and surrounding areas. Their houses are generally two-storied, elongated, and with an outer protective wall that protects the internal wood. The back sides of the houses are devoid of doors or windows, as the sun does not shine on this side.
The traditional Newar houses are built with baked bricks, mud, mortar, and timber. They are generally three or four storied. However, most city centers have concrete, cement houses.
Gurung houses are smaller, round, or rectangular, two-storied, made of stone and mud, and their roofs are thatched or slate. Gurungs use the upper story for storage and downstairs for living and sleeping. You can find these houses in Ghandruk and Ghorepani.
Tourist destinations (not to miss)
Nepal is an exotic tourist destination. Most tourists enter Nepal at Kathmandu Airport. However, you can also enter Nepal from the Indian border in the south or the Tibetan border in the north. It is probably easier to enter through Kathmandu Airport. Here are some of the places you must visit when you are in Nepal.
Kathmandu is the capital city of Nepal and the largest one as well. Though Kathmandu Valley was originally a Newar-inhabited valley, this is no longer true. It has become a multi-ethnic valley, the most diverse compared to other regions. Kathmandu Valley contains seven UNESCO Heritage Sites, the three Durbar Squares (Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur), Swayambhu and Bauddhanath Stupas, Pashupatinath and Changu Narayan temples. While in Kathmandu, you should not miss visiting Thamel, a tourist hub inside Kathmandu. This part of the city was famous amongst the hippies during the 1960s and 1970s.
Pokhara is the most scenic city in Nepal. It sits surrounded by majestic high peaks - Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, and Annapurna I - bringing in a flock of tourists. Hence, Pokhara is also called the tourist capital of Nepal. It is the second biggest city in Nepal, according to the population, yet, it has much cleaner air and a pleasant climate. There are numerous water bodies in Pokhara, including the three popular lakes - Rara, Begnas, and Rupa. Similarly, there are several rivers here - Seti Gandaki, Kahun Khola, and Furse Khola.
Pokhara has contributed immensely to Nepali music through the upbringing of several musicians and singers. The contemporary music culture in Pokhara is quite dynamic and influenced by western music - rock and roll, pop, and hip-hop. However, you can also find the traditional lok (folk) songs co-existing. Pokhara is home to the largest number of Gurkhas, who hail mainly from the Gurung and Magar communities.
Pokhara is the gateway to the western part of the Himalayas, mainly the Annapurna Circuit.
Annapurna Circuit is regarded as one of the best long treks in the world and this trek takes you to western Nepal deep into Annapurna Sanctuary with the views of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, Machapuchare, and Singa Chuli at the backdrop. If you are trekking in the Annapurna region, you should not miss Poon Hill Viewpoint for a fabulous panoramic view of several snow peaks and traditional villages. The Annapurna Circuit trek takes you as high as 5,416m at the Thorong La Pass before descending to Muktinath.
Everest Base Camp
Everest, as the highest mountain in the world, receives plenty of attention, and rightfully so. Each year around forty thousand people arrive at Kathmandu and fly to Lukla to start their exhaustive trek to the Everest Base Camp. The classic Everest trek lasts for two weeks, but you can choose other variations, such as reaching Everest Base Camp via the Gokyo lake region or through other passes. The highest point of Everest Base Camp is tat Kala Patthar at 5,555m. However, if you just want to see Everest, there are lighter trek options.
Chitwan National Park
Nepal is not just about high mountains and incredible terrain but it is also about the richness of its flora and fauna. You can view this diversity at Chitwan National Park. Chitwan lies in the tropical monsoon region, and Chitwan National Park is popular for its one-horned rhinos and Bengal Tigers. Inside this national park, you can go on an elephant safari to see wild animals in their habitat.
Lumbini is the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam, the founder of modern Buddhism, and is 250 km from Kathmandu. UNESCO has listed Lumbini as a world heritage site. This pilgrimage site is 4.8 km long and 1.6 km wide, and there is a large monastic zone where only monasteries can be built - no shops, restaurants, or hotels. Lumbini has distinct eastern and western zones. You can find Theravada monasteries in the eastern zone, while the western zone has both Mahayana and Vajrayana monasteries.
The exact holy sites in Lumbini include the ruins of old monasteries, a Bodhi tree, the Ashoka Pillar, the Mayadevi Temple, and an ancient bathing pond. You can observe t the monks and pilgrims chanting and meditating throughout the site.
Useful travel information
Passport and visa
Getting to Nepal is easier than you think. Citizens from most countries can get an on-arrival visa at Tribhuvan International Airport or immigration checkpoints located along the Nepal-India or Nepal-Tibet border. For a visa, you will need a passport with at least six application fees based on the length of your stay (USD 50 for a 30-day stay),
Now you can use https://nepaliport.immigration.gov.np/ website to access several visa-related services, from submitting pre-arrival visa forms to filling terminal visa applications.
Nepali Rupees (NRs.) is the Nepali currency, and 1 USD (US dollar) is about Rs. 130. Though a traveler's cheque is more secure, we recommend you carry cash (major currencies) to avoid lengthy bank processes and high commissions. You can find plenty of legal money exchanges in and around Thamel in Kathmandu.
If you have Indian Rupees (INR), ensure that you only have INR notes of 100 and 2,000. You can also choose to withdraw Nepali Rupees from ATMs in Kathmandu. However, it might be a bit expensive. You can withdraw up to Rs 35,000 for Rs. 500 as a processing fee.
To be safe, we advise you to exchange currency in Kathmandu before heading to any destination.
Travel is easy, convenient, and cheap in big cities like Kathmandu or Pokhara. You can certainly use the public bus to roam around Kathmandu, but they are uncomfortable and often very crowded. You can take a taxi, but many taxi drivers are unscrupulous. We suggest you use ride-hailing service providers like Pathao or Tootle. These service providers provide options for bike or cab bookings. You can download these apps from Google Play or the App store.
You can use online booking sites to book hotels in Kathmandu. Kathmandu has all sorts of hotels to suit every taste and budget. You can book several of these hotels online -without paying booking fees. If you are trekking in well-known trek regions such as Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Circuit, you will find proper accommodations at all the right places. If you are a people person and want to observe how the locals live, you can choose for home stays. This is particularly true in the case of Tamang heritage treks. In some regions, you must stay in tent camps, such as in the case of Gosainkunda Treks.
Nepal is not very connected with the international financial markets, so many payment applications you use, like Google Pay or Apple Pay are unavailable in Nepal. We have local equivalents such as Fonepay or eSewa.
When in a foreign country, you must try the local cuisine, as you will not be able to taste those foods when you return home. Nepali cuisine includes - Dal (lentils), Bhat (boiled rice), and Tarkari (curry) is the main staple for Nepalis. Though you can ask for spoons and forks at restaurants, most Nepalis use their hands to eat.
Momos ( a type of dumpling) are very famous. You can find momo stalls on every street and corner in Kathmandu. However, as a multi-ethnic country, you can find plenty of food choices in Nepal. We suggest you dine in varieties of restaurants to sample Nepali foods.
Nepalis are also fond of tea. Yes, it is tea rather than coffee. Tea houses also serve as a venue for social conservations, meetings, and - plain gossiping.
Language should not be a problem, mainly in cities. Most private schools teach in English medium, and a sizeable portion of the population speaks English. You can certainly use Google Translate to get your message across. In Kathmandu, you can easily come across people who speak Hindi, Newari, or even Gurung languages.
Nepal’s climate is heavily influenced by elevation. The country lies in the subtropical monsoon region and the southern plains of Nepal have a subtropical climate. You can find a temperate climate in the mid-mountainous parts that gradually gives rise to cool temperate and then Alpine regions still higher up. At altitudes above 16,000 feet, the temperature is below freezing.
The eastern part of Nepal is much wet due to active monsoons, while the western part is a bit drier. Some regions, like Mustang, that lie in rainshadow areas are arid.
Though Nepal is an average country based on land area, you can find almost all kinds of climates in Nepal.
However, if you are coming to Nepal for trekking/expedition, we advise you to trek either in spring (March, April, May) or autumn (September, October, November). During this time, the temperature is optimal, the skies are clear, and the trails are in great condition. If you love the feast and festivities, autumn is the time you should aim.
Thanks to connectivity, it is now easier to travel to foreign countries, but traveling to new countries is fraught with anxiety. I hope this Nepal travel guide must have provided you with vital information about Nepal.
However, if you are coming to Nepal to trek in remote regions, you will have a tough time finding the right accommodation arrangements, hygienic food, and other needs.
Therefore as a responsible trek and tour operator, Discovery World Trekking takes complete care of the clients who book treks with us. We know the trails, local attractions, routes, and required permits to ensure a smooth trek experience.
So, if you are coming to Nepal for trek/expeditions, you can call us at +977-9840055491 or email [email protected].