Though one of the poorest countries in the world, Nepal is rich with cultural and religious history and quickly becomes a favorite travel destination among its visitors. Home to eight of the world’s ten highest mountains, including Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest peak at an astounding 29,035 feet, Nepal is a trekker’s paradise. Whether viewed from Everest’s summit or while gliding through the valleys below on one of several world-class white water adventures, the snow-capped Himalayas are truly awe-inspiring.
Nepal contains some of the most sacred Hindu and Buddhist sites in the world. Revitalize your spirituality with a tour through the many temples and stupas in this religious Mecca. In Kathmandu, you can tour the temples of Durbar Square or climb the 365 ancient steps up the forested hillside that leads to the Swayambunath Stupa (known to many tourists as “the monkey temple”). Make your visit to Nepal complete with a trip to Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam, founder of Buddhism and the “Supreme Buddha”.
The people of Nepal are some of the most accommodating in the world, with hearts as big as their mountains. Combine a loving people with rich traditions and majestic trekking, and you have a jewel of a vacation destination begging to be explored. Many visitors will tell you that the only problem with visiting Nepal is the need to eventually return home.
When to Travel
October through May is the ideal time to visit Nepal, as the monsoon has ended and the climate is ideal. A visit during October and November will provide visitors with the chance to participate in the festivals of Sashain and Tihar, two of the most celebrated festivals in Nepal. These two months are the busiest for tourism, so expect large crowds if you do plan your vacation during this time. December to mid-February is slightly slower for tourism, with more visitors returning between February and April. June to October is the least suitable time for a visit to Nepal since the monsoon season brings daily showers to the region and blankets the Himalayas in heavy cloud cover. If a safari through Chitwan Royal Animal Park is the highlight of your Nepali vacation, plan to travel between February and May when short grass in the park provides the best animal viewing.
Cuisines and Drinks
Food in Nepal is usually a simple, practical affair, though that definitely does not mean that you will find the food lacking in flavor. While some people in Nepal now use silverware to eat, in most places food is simply eaten with your fingers. Make sure to use your right hand since your left is considered unclean (see “Practical Info” below for further information). In most parts of Nepal, people eat a main meal twice a day, with the first meal eaten between 8:00-10:00 a.m. and the second meal eaten around sunset. This meal usually consists of “Dal Bhat”, which is rice covered in a lentil soup. Dal Bhat is usually swerved with curried vegetables, or “Takari”. Some other foods to sample while in Nepal include:
Aloo Tama – A soup prepared with potato and bamboo shoots
Achar – A relish of sorts made in various ways. Usually made of ground tomatoes, radishes, and coriander.
Gundruk - Dried and fermented green vegetabless
Sanya Khuna – A spicy jellied fish soup served cold, usually eaten with rice.
Sag – Green vegetables most commonly consisting of spinach, mustard greens or broad-leaved mustard.
Masu – Curried meat served in a gravy, usually with rice. Usually, Masu consists of chicken or pork, and less commonly, buffalo. The slaughter of cows is prohibited in Nepal since it is offensive to the large Hindu population.
Lassi – A popular Nepali drink made from yogurt and water
Rakshi – A locally produced alcoholic beverage made from millet
Popular Vacation Sites in Nepal
Mt. Everest – For those few adventurous enough to brave it, Nepal offers the temptation to travel to the top of the world – literally. At 29,035 feet, Mt. Everest is the earth’s highest peak and is conquered by an increasing number of men and women each year. If you are not quite ready to tackle the summit but want an unforgettable Everest experience, opt for one of the many Everest base camp treks. These guided tours lead visitors to the Everest base camp, complete with visits to local Sherpa villages, and provide breathtaking Himalayan scenery. Many tours will continue on from the camp to summit Kala Patthar, which, with an elevation of 18,513 feet, provides the best view of the mountain from base camp to peak. Though strenuous, these tours do not usually require any previous mountain climbing knowledge or experience.
Annapurna – Home to the best mountain trekking on earth, Annapurna offers several trekking options. Mt. Manaslu and Mt. Daulagiri soar overhead as you make your way through this mountainous utopia. While some choose to pack their own supplies and tents for a more solitary experience, the more popular way to explore this majestic region is by guided tour. Want to give trekking a try but don’t want to pack your own gear? Try a “teahouse trek”! Increasingly popular, these treks allow travelers to trek all day and relax in the comfort of teahouses overnight. Besides the benefit of not requiring gear, these treks provide a unique opportunity to spend the most time around Nepali natives. spectacular view of the Himalayan peaks especially the towering Mt.Daulagiri in the west and the Mt. Manaslu in the northeast is only a fragment of the entire expedition. Manang, an important village that falls across the pass of Jomsom-Muktinath is an additional charm to this experience.
Kathmandu – Once thought to be the mythical Shangri-La, Kathmandu is Nepal’s capital city and is a vital part of any Nepali vacation. Kathmandu is home to numerous Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas, many of which are at least partially open to tourists. You will also want to take time to visit the Narayanhiti Palace Museum, formerly the Royal Palace, and relax in the nearby Garden of Dreams. At the heart of Kathmandu is Durbar Square, the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Site in Nepal. Besides the Kathmandu Durbar Square museum, the square is home to several temples and year-round festivals.
Mustang – Visit this once forbidden destination at the end of the dry winter/spring season, and you may be fortunate enough to participate in the famous Tiji Festival. Held in Mustang’s ancient walled capital city of Lo Manthang, this festival, otherwise known as “The chasing of the Demons”, is a three-day festival welcoming the coming monsoon season and their welcome rain. The festival centers on the Tiji myth of Dorje Jono, an ancient deity who battled his demon father to save the Kingdom of Mustang from drought and destruction. Scenes from this myth are reenacted every year by more than 1,000 local men, women, and children, all displaying the same costumes, dances, and rituals that took place more than six hundred years ago.
Chitwan Royal Animal Park – Take a ride on an elephant into a sub-tropical forest paradise. A refuge for more than 50 mammal species, over 525 birds, and 55 amphibians and reptiles, Nepal’s first national park provides visitors with the opportunity to see some of Nepal’s wildlife in a truly memorable way. In addition to the large number of the endangered One-horned Rhinoceros, the park also houses more than one third of Nepal’s Bengal Tigers. Other species to watch for while atop your elephant include gaur, four horned antelope, striped hyena, monitor lizard, python, leopard, and the rhesus monkey.
Lumbini – Birthplace of Siddhartha Gautam, Founder of Buddhism and considered by Buddhists to be the “Supreme Buddha”, Lumbini is considered one of the holiest places in Nepal. Visit the city’s three museums or simply meditate and luxuriate in the peaceful surroundings of the Sacred Garden. Make sure to see the nearby Ashoka pillar, an impressive monument bearing an inscription identifying the place as Siddhartha’s birthplace.
The currency of Nepal is called the Nepalese Rupee in English, or Nepali Rupayiaah in the native language. The Nepalese Rupee differs from Rupees in other countries such as India or Pakistan, and cannot be used interchangeably. The smallest unit of a Rupee is called Paise. 100 Paise is equal to 1 Rupee.
The Nepalese Rupee is universally recognized and can be converted at most money exchanges, of which there are many in Nepal. In larger cities like Kathmandu, money exchanges can be found on virtually every street corner. Though not as prevalent, solitary money exchangers can be found even in smaller towns. ATMs and banks are also increasingly common. It can be difficult to find vendors who carry change for their goods, so try to keep small bills available. Also, make sure to save any ATM or money exchange receipts, as converting money from Rupees to your native currency can be tricky without them when it comes time to leave Nepal.
Tourists to Nepal should be aware of and respect local customs and beliefs. Many of the Hindu temples have restrictions when it comes to non-Hindus entering their temples. While some areas of the temples may be open to visitors, be respectful about avoiding those places that are considered off-limits. Also, being a non-Hindu, you may be considered to be of a lower caste and should avoid touching food or beverage containers that are to be shared with others, or entering a person’s house uninvited. The left hand is considered unclean in Nepal, as it is the hand that people use to wash themselves after defecating. It is insulting to touch someone with your left hand. Feet are also considered unclean. Be respectful about removing your shoes when asked, and avoid pointing the bottoms of your feet at people or religious icons. When touring a sacred location or object, you should move in a clockwise fashion with your right side closest to the object. Finally, when possible, accept tea when offered.