Nepal, best known for being home to the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest (8,848M) is much more than an access to the top most point of contact on the planet. Formerly known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, it is a landlocked country in South Asia which finds as its neighbours China, India, and Bangladesh, separated from Bhutan by the Indian state of Sikkim. A country of warm people, eight of the fourteen tallest mountains in the world, diverse geography, a rich culture with multiple languages, ethnicities and religions; the first thing you notice on entering Nepal is that it is extremely welcoming and full of colour – a country with a lot of heart.
A land synonymous with epic adventure and heroism for drawing the pioneers of mountaineering to its gates, you soon realize that although Nepal Himalayas are as spectacular and grand as might be imagined, the trip to Nepal will be remembered for much more than its mountains – it is this soulful country in its entirety that is the true experience which must be celebrated.
In a country that sees an inflow of over a million international tourists in a year, and given the warmth of the locals, you will never find yourself short of a helping hand if need be. However, it may be helpful to know a few things about the functionings of this beautiful country before entering into its borders.
1) Visa Required
Foreign nationals need a Visa to enter Nepal. For some countries, the visa may be obtained on arrival. Citizens of China and SAARC countries, which includes India, a tourist visa can be obtained without a charge (visa fees) but for other countries there is a fee depending on the duration of the stay. Visit http://online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/tourist-visa to get all the information on the required processes based on your home country.
2) Trekking Permits
As a trekkers’ paradise Nepal has countless trekking trails which take you through all kinds of terrain spread out across Nepal. If you plan to tackle any of the major trekking trails on your own, you will need a trekking permit. However, one of the benefits of going through one of the many adventure sports organisations is that the paperwork is all taken care of. From figuring out the multiple permits and obtaining them, everything will be managed by the trekking company you’ve hired for guiding purposes. While the trails in Nepal are very well-marked and have tea houses at regular intervals to rest out or bunk for the night, the handling of confusing paperwork based on local policies is one of the many advantages of going for the trek through a trekking organization.
3) Comfort No Question
Nepal shows you that trekking in the mountains does not have to equal discomfort – that to enjoy beauty one does not need to be in a constant state of uneasiness. In fact, we’d say it goes a little overboard to prove these points. While trekking along the major trekking routes in Nepal like Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Circuit Trek, Annapurna Base Camp Trek etc., the one thing you do not need to worry about are basics – there are plenty of toilets along the way at regular intervals, porters to take the load off your backs, warm beds at night and warm meals all through the day at tea houses which are plentiful all through the trail. The tea houses all the way up to the last camp serve food to diverse tastes with extensive menus including Italian, Mexican and Continental dishes in addition, of course, to local cuisine.
4) Cash Only
While the shops and cafes in big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara accept Indian currency, you might want to take a day to exchange your money to Nepal currency since cash is the only medium of payment outside of these big cities and on all the small shops and tea houses that you will come across on your trekking trails. While there are ATMs and kiosks in big cities, they will be harder to find as you move away from these urban establishments into more remote regions. The only money accepted in tea houses and by locals like porters and guides whose services you might require is the local currency in cash. Carry anywhere between 35,000 to 50,000 (NPR) cash if you are going on one of the longer treks (12-15 days).
5) Trekking Gear and Clothing
If you do not own trekking gear and clothing, it would make more sense to buy these out from Nepal instead of buying overly priced branded gear and lugging them with you from your country all the way to Nepal. A street named Thamel in the heart of Kathmandu, which is the capital city of Nepal and most likely the place you will land because it houses the only international airport of Nepal, is a haven for climbing gear. In these colourful streets you will find clothing and gear in all ranges – from the lowest prices to the most exorbitant, from the high-end originals to first copies, second copies and second hand gear in pristine condition – there is a lot to choose from. Along with being a pocket-friendly shopping venture, a trip around Thamel is also an absolute learning experience for all the latest equipment and gear available to climb the tallest mountains of the world. No matter the cost of the equipment in a shop, you can be sure to be serviced with a smile!
6) Dal Bhat Power, 24 Hour
While the tea houses along the trekking routes serve global cuisine, one phrase you will hear quite often on the trail by all the locals – including villagers, porters and guides is ‘Dal Bhat Power, 24 hour’. Dal bhat which is lentils and rice is a staple diet of the locals in Nepal – a diet which is believed to be the only thing nutritious enough to sustain the hard life in these high mountains and the abundance of physical labour that the local staff need to put in. Dal Bhat Set is one thing you will find on every menu in every tea house, small or big, that you go to. Dal Bhat set is an unlimited serving of a bowl of lentils + one vegetable + rice and some homemade pickle and some papad to go with the rest of the food. Sometimes if you are lucky, you also get salad. For how satisfying this meal is, do not be surprised if by the end of your trip you also find yourself chanting ‘Dal Bhat Power, 24 Hour’.
7) Travel Insurance is a must
Given the altitudes the trekking routes in Nepal take you to in addition to the various kinds of terrain and the changing air with it, trekkers are prone to a multitude of altitude related sicknesses, injuries and other health risks. The rescue and evacuation systems in Nepal are extremely advanced and very quick. For the amount of risk involved in a foreign land with health care not easily available in case of an emergency, travel insurance while trekking in Nepal is a must. Do not shy away from spending the few extra thousands to ensure safety and safe return. Mountains are unpredictable and demand an extreme level of caution. Things might go awry under such conditions since there is no such thing as ‘careful enough’. There are a couple of options to avail insurance – choose the insurance plan based on the maximum height you are planning to visit. If you choose to go with a trekking organization, the insurance is not included in the cost of the trek and has to be taken on your own.
8) Food and Accommodation
The trekking routes in Nepal follow a peculiar system of servicing. Accommodation is at tea houses which are wooden structures with warm rooms and basic beds with bed sheets and blankets. Now, what’s peculiar about the arrangement is that if you choose to eat all three meals at the same tea house where you are bunked for the night, there is no charge for the accommodation. The cost of accommodation is included in the cost of the meals. However, if you choose to stay in one tea house, but eat your meals in another, some might not agree to give you a room at all while others may choose to do so at a certain cost.
So basically, the lodging cost is included in the cost of the meals and the cost of the meals remains the same whether you stay there or not.
It is also important to remember that the cost of the meals keeps getting steeper with altitude. The tea which you would spend 50 NPR for at lower altitudes, by the time you get to your last camp, could possibly cost up to 400 NPR.
Another thing of relevance to know about accommodation is that they get scarcer as you go higher. So, if you have not pre-booked a room, you might find yourself in a dormitory sharing a room with people from all over the globe – which is not such a bad deal either. But if you prefer privacy and comfort, remember to book your stay well in advance.
Some (very few) tea houses have rooms with toilets inside the room. Mostly, the restrooms are shared – one on each floor.
Remember to keep your Indian SIM cards off when in Nepal unless you have activated International Roaming on your number if you want to avoid running high phone/data bills. The alternative is to get a local SIM card. There are two telecom services in Nepal: NTC and NCELL. Getting a SIM card is easy – there are multiple booths on the airport of Kathmandu, so you can get one as soon as you land. For this, the only documentation required is a copy of your passport and your visa. You will also find booths to buy local SIM cards all though the city and city markets. While the network does not cover the entire region, it is available on most places across most trekking routes. Also, calling and messaging charges on a local SIM are much lower than the cost for activating international roaming.
As for internet, there is Wi-Fi available along long stretches of major trekking routes in Nepal. Some of the teahouses where you will be staying, may provide Wi-Fi services for free but some others might charge a minimal cost between 50-200 NPR for 24 hours of Wi-Fi.
After the beginning of the many development projects across Nepal connecting most of the country by concrete roads, services such as internet and phone connectivity have followed with few places on trekking routes remaining remote in that sense.
10) Be a Tourist
Because of the rich and vibrant culture, the cities of Nepal have much to offer too. Nepal is full of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, amazing architecture, a lot of architecture of various faiths and a lot of local culture to explore. We would recommend that the first thing you do on getting to Nepal is go to the market and pick up travel catalogues for the specific city which you want to explore. The travel catalogues at the many bookstores around each city are extremely helpful, very detailed and amazingly extensive with clear directions. You can hire bicycles to go around the city but you might be restricted in your reach if you plan to do so. The benefit of exploring the city on bicycles is that, like a plethora of trekking routes, the cities and their outskirts are also littered with a lot of bicycling routes. The public transport system is not the best in Nepal, forcing you to alternatively hire a cab service to take you around the many tourist spots across the city. Some places make it worthwhile to be a tourist – Nepal is definitely one of them!
We hope that this article gives you some basic information to plan your travel to Nepal with ease. In case you have any other questions or concerns, we are only a phone call away.