Nepal sits in a region regarded as the uppermost place on earth. Way up in a land of majestic Himalayan scenery, it contains eight of the world's ten highest mountains, including Mt Everest. It's also known as a nation of good-natured and accommodating people.
From the hot Indian plains and steamy southern Tarai lowlands, the terrain crosses the Kathmandu Valley and rises to the frozen heights of the Himalayan peaks towards the Tibetan plateau known as the 'Roof of the World'.
Situated between India and Tibet, its position consequently reflected in the diverse range of ethnic groups, customs, and traditions that fill the wonderfully varied geography. Numerous colourful communities populate the land, as well as its animated cities, villages, and towns.
Life in Nepal revolves around an intricate intermingling of ancient Hindu and Buddhist religious rituals. Throughout the year, numerous festivals celebrate a diversity of religious and tribal traditions.
The capital of Kathmandu brings an assortment of these different societies together into a vibrant collection of brilliant sights and exotic smells, with modern shops co-existing with street sellers, while pyramidal Buddhist temples, holy Sadhus of the Hindu faith and medieval palace squares fill the urban landscape.
Nepal boasts many attractions. But the essence of the country is its smiling, friendly people with their heartfelt palm-pressed greetings. With its inspiring scenery, this beguiling kingdom is a place where one visit is usually not enough to satisfy the captivated traveller.
Home to eight of the world's highest peaks, Nepal is a mountaineer's dream. Most tourists begin journeys in the bustling capital of Kathmandu, soon making their way to the Himalayas. Whether exploring the Annapurna, Langrang, or Everest regions, trekkers will encounter turquoise lakes, mountain villages, and lush valleys with snowy titans towering above.
Visitors will have no problem finding treks that suit their level of experience and budget. Hikers lighten their loads on 'teahouse treks' by relying on teahouses for food and accommodation, with both casual and veteran mountaineers equally captivated by the country's majesty.
Travellers can further take advantage of the country's diverse natural beauty by embarking on white water rafting trips or exploring the jungles of the southern Tarai belt, seeking sightings of Bengal tigers from the back of an elephant.
With countless shrines and temples scattered across the county, Nepal's spiritual and religious heritage attracts numerous pilgrims. Travellers can visit Pashupatinath, one of the world's largest Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva, and step back in at the ancient royal cities of Patan and Bhaktapur.
The UNESCO World Heritage site at Lumbini is seen as the birthplace of the Buddha while the 5th-century Swayambhu Stupa is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the country, with prayer flags fluttering from its golden spire.
Protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Durbar Square is the religious and social heart of Kathmandu's old city. Built between the 12th and 18th centuries by the ancient kings of Nepal, it's a complex of palaces, temples, shrines, statues, and courtyards.
The square is a queer assortment of the old and the new: elaborately carved architectural features and curving roofs provide shelter for cows and weary tourists. Brahman priests and painted sadhus perform rituals and pose for photos, while souvenir sellers and rickshaw drivers compete for attention among the crowds.
Stone lions guard the gates to the Old Royal Palace which contains a number of courtyards and houses the Narayanhity Durbar Museum. Set into the palace wall is a 17th-century stone inscription written in 15 languages. It's believed milk will flow from the spout if anyone deciphers the entire inscription.
Colourful fluttering prayer flags adorns the golden spire of the 5th-century Swayambhu Stupa. It crowns a hill overlooking the Kathmandu Valley and offers fantastic views over the capital city of Kathmandu.
The Swayambhunath Stupa is one of the most recognisable symbols in Nepal, with the painted eyes of the Buddha watching all those who ascend the worn stone steps. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal and is at the source of the valley's mythical beginning.
Legend has it that the history of the valley began with the draining of an ancient lake by an Enlightened Being, when a lotus flower was transformed into the hill and the shining light became the stupa itself.
Also called the Monkey Temple, swarms of pilgrims and red-clad monks circle the complex, spinning the prayer wheels while scores of monkeys which give the temple its nickname prance about in irreverent troupes.
The temple complex is scattered with shrines and statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities, and the assortment of pilgrims from both faiths characterises the country's unique religious harmony. Visitors should note that although they are often adorable and entertaining, the monkeys can sometimes become aggressive if you have something they want.
One of the most popular stops on any Himalayan trek, Namche Bazaar makes a good rest stop on the climb to Mount Everest base camp. Many trekkers spend at least a day there to acclimatise to the high altitude, with two days being better.
Namche is the unofficial capital of the Khumbu region. It started out as a trading post, a place where locals met to barter and exchange goods. Despite its popularity as a stop for trekkers, it has remained a small settlement.
The town has a variety of accommodation, restaurants, teahouses, and shops that mostly sell supplies. From just above the village, trekkers will get their first view of Mount Everest itself. The main attractions in Namche Bazaar include the weekly market at the centre of the village and the small Namche Monastery.
The Sagarmatha National Park Visitors Centre is located in the top end of the village and offers information on wildlife in the area. The Museum of Sherpa Life, located just above the village, is worth a visit while the Museum of Local Medicinal Plants is interesting for those curious about traditional healing techniques.
As Namche is the only place in the region to offer money changing facilities (besides Lukla), trekkers should ensure that they have sufficient cash for the remainder of their journey before leaving.
One of the most sacred Hindu shrines in the world, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pashupatinath is one of the major temples devoted to Lord Shiva on the Indian subcontinent. It attracts thousands of Hindu pilgrims each year, with Shiva being the patron deity of Nepal.
The Temple of Pashupatinath is renowned for its beautiful architecture and stands on the banks of the holy Bagmati River, a tributary of the Ganges. Other temples, shrines, statues, and pagods surrounded this large temple complex, which can take some time to explore. The temple buildings are closed to non-Hindu visitors but the grounds are not.
Shiva devotees and holy Hindi ascetics called sadhus roam the complex in great numbers, meditating and praying on the steps throughout the temple. One of the richest temples in Nepal, it received a great deal of wealth from kings and aristocrats in devotion to the god.
The complex is also home to Kathmandu's funeral ghats, a series of cremation platforms spread along the river where the bodies of Hindus are burnt and the ashes scattered into the holy river. Tourists should be respectful when witnessing these cremation ceremonies and particularly cautious about taking photographs.
The Boudhanath Stupa is the largest in the Kathmandu Valley, standing about 131 feet (40m) tall. It's one of the biggest and most important Buddhist stupas in the world. The all-seeing red, white, and blue eyes of the Buddha are painted on all four sides of the stupa, similar to Swayambhunath.
Hundreds of fluttering prayer flags, prayer wheels, and small images of the Buddha surround the building. It is central to the Tibetan culture in Nepal and said to date back 500 years, although there is some debate about the exact date of construction.
The Boudhanath Stupa is on the ancient trade route from Tibet to Nepal, and Tibetan pilgrims and merchants have been praying at the site for centuries. The influx of Tibetan refuges has led to more than 50 Tibetan monasteries built around the stupa. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kathmandu.
It is conveniently close to the city, located just 6.8 miles (11km) outside Kathmandu. Buddhist festivals cause a flurry of activity at the stupa, with thousands of pilgrims joining together in the sacred rituals, such as the Tibetan New Year, or Lhosar, in February every year.
The most popular region for trekking in Nepal, the Annapurna region passes through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. It has deep valleys, ancient stone settlements, Tibetan culture, Buddhist temples and monasteries, and mountains over 22,966 feet (7,000m) tall.
Excellent lodges line the main routes of the Annapurna Circuit, the Annapurna Sanctuary, and the Jomsom trek to Muktinath. The Annapurna Circuit is one of the most walked treks in the country and is one of the most exceptional routes on earth, crossing Thorong-La pass at 17,769 feet (5,416m) and requiring about three weeks to complete.
The Sanctuary requires about 10 days and is a direct route straight to the heart of the Himalayas, where tremendous sheer-walled peaks of 19,685 to 26,247 feet (6,000 to 8,000m) encircle the reverent trekker at the Annapurna Base Camp.
Easily accessible via a short flight from Pokhara or Kathmandu, Jomsom is a town situated between two gigantic mountains in the Kali Gandaki Valley, at the bottom of the world's deepest gorge.
From Jomsom, there are options to walk in either direction along the Annapurna Circuit. The trek to the holy shrine at Muktinath is very popular and follows the ancient trade and pilgrimage route across the Himalayas.
The sight and challenge of the highest mountain the world draws trekkers and mountaineers from across the world. They set out to explore the Sagarmartha National Park in the northeast of Nepal, even if not attempting an ascent.
The Sagarmartha National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing a mixed terrain of deep gorges, glaciers, and rocky landscapes. Home to some interesting fauna and flora, the alpine vegetation nevertheless gives way to bare rock and snow as the altitude increases.
Most trekkers fly to the airstrip at Lukla at an altitude of 9,350 feet (2,850m) from where the trek begins to Everest Base Camp. From Lukla, the trail winds up the Dudhkoshi River Valley to the famous Sherpa village of Namche Bazaar.
Above Namche, travellers will find the smaller traditional villages of Khunde and Khumjung, and across the canyon from Khunde is the fascinating Tengboche Monastery, one of the highlights of the area. Visitors will find lodges and campsites at the monastery.
By flying in and out, the trek requires about two weeks. It's also possible to walk in but this requires much more time. Multi-day treks in the region are a wonderful opportunity to observe and participate in the daily life of the Sherpa people, and of course, the views and landscapes are breath-taking.
Nepal has two seasons: the dry season from October to May, and the rainy monsoon season from June to September. Climatic conditions vary according to altitude in Nepal, with temperatures becoming steadily lower as altitude increases.
In the north it is seldom hot, with cool summers and freezing winters. In the south, it's almost tropical with mild winters and hot summers. In the Terai, summer temperatures can exceed 98°F (37°C) and winter temperatures range from 44°F to 73°F (7°C to 23°C).
Kathmandu has a pleasant climate, with temperatures averaging 66°F to 95°F (19°C to 35°C) in summer, and 35°F to 53°F (2°C to 12°C) in winter. Nepal is actually a year-round destination, especially the more tropical south.
However, early spring (March to April) and late autumn (October and November) are the best times to visit Nepal, and also offer the clearest mountain views and good weather for trekking. In the winter, from December to February, there is snow on the mountains with freezing temperatures at high altitudes. The summer months of June to August can be very hot for travel to the south.
Himalayan Java is a coffee shop and restaurant in Kathmandu, offering a fine selection of Nepali coffee blends. Try the subtle Mountain Supreme, the darker House Blend, or perhaps Long Black, the darkest roast used for espressos.
The restaurant serves fantastic wood-fired pizza and the venue has a lovely garden terrace and lounge area to enjoy. Himalayan Java has been doing business in Kathmandu since 1999, and a number of branches have opened across the country.
Krishnarpan exudes a rich and historic atmosphere, featuring lattice wood tables, antique dinnerware, and staff dressed in traditional clothing. The venue serves classic Nepalese cuisine, combining fresh meats and vegetables with exotic spices and oils to create a delicious blend of flavours.
Set in the modern and elegant Radisson Hotel, the Olive Garden offers up familiar international cuisine as well as dishes with a Mediterranean flair. This superb fine-dining establishment is replete with green linens and lively colour, serving as the ideal spot for a business meeting or even a memorable evening with loved ones. Prior booking is required for lunch.
Located within an old building in the heart of Kathmandu, Bhojan Griha offers diners a genuine taste of Nepal. Inside the exquisite setting, traditional music and dance performances entertain guests as guests enjoy their food. Favourites include dumplings, called momos, and the masu, a type of stewed meat, while the achar, a mixture of fruits and vegetables with spices, is a great accompaniment to any of the choices off the menu.
The official currency is the Nepalese rupee (NPR) which is divided into 100 paisa. As getting change can be a problem, one recommends visitors have a supply of small notes handy. Tourist activities are often quoted in US Dollars.
It is advisable to carry new dollar bills in varied denominations. There are ATMs in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express credit cards are accepted in many tourist hotels, shops, restaurants, and travel agencies.
Banks and moneychangers are present in all tourist centres and major cities. All receipts from foreign exchange transactions should be kept so rupees can be exchanged back into foreign currencies on departure. Cash is needed when trekking.
Nepali is the official language. English is spoken in all major tourist areas.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round two and three-pin plugs are used.
US nationals: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for six months beyond their date of arrival in Nepal. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum of 90 days.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid six months beyond their date of arrival in Nepal. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum of 90 days.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid six months beyond their date of arrival in Nepal. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum of 90 days.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond their date of arrival in Nepal. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum of 90 days.
ZA nationals: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for six months beyond their date of arrival in Nepal. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum of 90 days.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond their date of arrival in Nepal. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum of 90 days.
NZ nationals: New Zealand citizens must have a passport valid for six months beyond their date of arrival in Nepal. A visa is required, and can be obtained on arrival for a maximum of 90 days.
Most foreign passengers to Nepal can obtain a tourist visa on arrival in the country. These visas are valid for a maximum of 90 days, and cost between USD 25 and USD 100 (depending on the length of intended stay). Note that extensions of touristic stays (up to 150 days) can be arranged after arrival, by applying at the Department of Immigration in Kathmandu or Pokhara (fee: USD 20, plus an additional charge of USD 2 per day extended). All tourist visas are valid for Kathmandu Valley, Pokhara Valley, and Tiger Tops (Meghauli airport) in Chitwan. However, if travellers wish to visit other places, or trek in Nepal, permits can be obtained from the Central Immigration Office. Note also that passengers who need a visa for India, and who also want to visit Nepal, should hold a visa valid for two entries into India; and that persons wishing to re-enter into Nepal, and having in their passports any previous Nepalese visas cancelled (invalidated) by the Central Immigration Office, will be refused entry and deported. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required, if arriving in Nepal within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area.
It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travellers arriving from infected areas require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Malaria is a health risk between June and September in the low-lying areas of Nepal, including Chitwan National Park, but not in the common trekking areas.
Travellers should consult their doctor about whether malaria prophylaxis is necessary. Outbreaks of Japanese encephalitis occur annually, particularly between July and December, and vaccination is advised.
Vaccinations are also recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. Those who will be in contact with animals, especially bats, may want to consider a rabies vaccination as well. Cholera outbreaks occur and food and water precautions should be followed.
Untreated water must be avoided; visitors should buy bottled water or purify their own. When trekking it is preferable to treat river water rather than leaving a trail of plastic bottles behind. Purifying water with iodine is the cheapest and easiest way to treat water.
Altitude sickness is a real risk for trekkers: many people suffer from altitude sickness above 8,202ft (2,500m); if symptoms persist it is wise to descend as quickly as possible. The standard of care in hospitals varies, but there are traveller's clinics in Kathmandu and numerous pharmacies in the major towns.
Medical insurance is essential, and should include air evacuation. All required medications should be taken into the country in their original packaging and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what they are and why they are needed.
Restaurants and hotels may add 10 percent to bills, in which case no further tip is required. Otherwise, a 10 percent tip is customary in places that cater to tourists. It is customary to tip guides and porters on treks. Elsewhere, gratuities are not expected but always appreciated.
There are safety concerns in Nepal. Demonstrations and public gatherings should be avoided as there is a risk of violence. Due to previous bomb attacks and shootings in public places, including the main tourist areas of Kathmandu, Pokhara, and Lukla, as well as on popular trekking routes, visitors are warned to be particularly vigilant.
Tourists have been involved in several violent incidents, with foreigners targeted in recent attacks in the Thamel district of Kathmandu. All visitors are advised to be cautious after dark and to stay in a group at night.
There have been incidences of violent robbery against trekkers and there is an armed Maoist presence on many of the major trekking routes who demand a 'tax' before allowing trekkers to pass.
Trekkers are advised to stay on established routes and walk in groups or with professional guides. Foreigners have been attacked in the Nagarjun Forest Reserve just outside Kathmandu and visitors are advised to be cautious in the area and to travel in a group.
Nepal has numerous cultural practices that may be unusual for foreigners. In the tourist areas, there is a high degree of tolerance towards visitors. But away from these places, foreigners should be sensitive to local customs. Never accept, offer, or eat anything with the left hand.
Do not eat from someone else's plate or offer food from one's own. Women should dress conservatively and cover up as much as possible. Permission should be sought before taking photographs, particularly at religious sites. Public displays of affection between men and women are frowned upon.
The Nepalese are warm and friendly, with business conducted with a combination of formality and sincerity. Much time is given to small talk and socialising. Handshakes are fairly common but one should wait to see if offered a hand.
Alternatively, a traditional namaste greeting involves a small bow accompanied by hands clasped as if in prayer. Visitors should return the greeting as it is given. Dress tends to be formal and conservative, with suits and ties the norm.
Titles and surnames are usually used. The elderly in particular are treated with great respect and the word 'gi' is added after the name as a polite form. Punctuality is important, although it may take some time to get down to business, and negotiation can be a long process.
English is widely spoken and understood. But discussions in Nepali may occur between locals within a meeting. Business hours are usually 9.30am or 10am to 5pm, Sunday to Thursday. Closing time is 4pm in winter. Saturday is a holiday.
The country code for Nepal is +977, and the outgoing code is 00, followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the UK). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)1 for Kathmandu and (0)41 for Pokhara. Two mobile phone operators provide GSM 900 network coverage in the main cities and towns. In the main tourist centres of Kathmandu and Pokhara, there are internet cafes on every corner.
Travellers to Nepal do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 20g of tobacco. 1.15 litre of spirits or wine, and perfume for personal use. It is illegal to export goods that are over 100 years old.
Nepal Tourist Office, Kathmandu: +977 (0)1 425 6909 or www.welcomenepal.com
Royal Nepalese Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 667 4550.
Royal Nepalese Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 871 200 1099
Embassy of Nepal, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: +1 613-680-5513
Royal Nepalese Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6162 1554.
Royal Nepalese Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 342 7546.
Royal Nepalese Consulate-General, Auckland: +64 (07) 439 2312.
United States Embassy, Kathmandu: +977 1 423 4000.
British Embassy, Kathmandu: +977 (0)1 441 4588.
Canadian High Commission, New Delhi, India (also responsible for Nepal): +91 (11) 4178 2000.
Australian Embassy, Kathmandu: +977 (0)1 437 1678.
South African High Commission, Colombo, Sri Lanka (also responsible for Nepal): +94 11 246 3000.
Irish Embassy, New Delhi, India (also responsible for Nepal): +91 (0)11 4940 3200.
New Zealand Consulate, New Delhi, India (also responsible for Nepal): +91 11 4688 3170.
Of the 14 national parks and reserves in Nepal, the Royal Chitwan National Park is the oldest and most popular safari destination for visitors. Situated in the subtropical Tarai lowlands, the jungle is home to endangered animals such as the one-horned rhinoceros and the royal Bengal tiger.
Other animals include leopards, wild elephants, Indian bison, sloth bears, crocodiles, pythons, monitor lizards, pangolins, and over 400 species of birds. The terrain is mostly flat, consisting of dense jungle, marsh, and grassland. There's no guarantee of good game sightings, so it is best to spend at least two days in the park.
Elephant safaris are the most popular way to explore the park. Jeep safaris, guided walks, overnight jungle expeditions, and canoe trips are also available. There is a wide choice of accommodation, ranging from luxury camps or hotels within the park to budget options on the outskirts.
The best place to look for budget accommodation is Sauraha, becoming something of a tourist centre with hotels, restaurants, bars, travel agents, money changing facilities, shops, and even internet cafes. The town has a beautiful setting, sitting on the banks of a wide river in the jungle.
Also known as the City of Devotees, Bhaktapur lies just 22 miles (35km) east of Kathmandu. The wealth of fabulous architectural showpieces, soaring pagodas, richly ornamented houses, and medieval layout is testament to the period when the city was the capital of the Kathmandu Valley during the 14th and 16th centuries.
The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with palaces, temples, statues, and squares, connected by a maze of largely pedestrian streets. The main Durbar Square boasts many architectural attractions, including the Golden Gate, the 15th-century Palace of 55 Windows, and several statues of ancient kings.
Taumadhi Square is presided over by the elegant Nyatpola Temple. Sitting atop a five-story platform, Nyatpola is the tallest pagoda temple in the Kathmandu Valley. Bhaktapur is also the centre of traditional pottery and weaving industries in the region.
Visiting Bhaktapur is like stepping back in time, with its largely preserved ancient traditions, frequent colourful festivals and a meticulously restored cityscape. Visitors to this magnificent ancient city are required to pay a fairly steep entry fee, after which it's possible to stay in the city for up to a week.
Officially called Lalitpur Metropolitan City, Patan is one of the three royal cities in the Kathmandu Valley. It has a rich cultural heritage and is known for its fine crafts, evident in the elaborate architecture, stone carvings, and metal statues found all over the city.
Patan is actually one of the biggest cities in Nepal, with historic attractions mostly located near Durbar Square and best explored on foot. Patan Durbar Square is a good place to see beautiful examples of palaces, temples, and shrines, and stunning stone carvings of the Sundari Courtyards.
The entire city of Patan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and is a centre of both Buddhist and Hindu culture in Nepal. Patan is home to more than 1,200 monuments, so tourists are spoiled for choice.
One of the most stunning sites is the Krishna Mandir, a stone temple with magnificent friezes built in the 16th century. Other amazing temples include the Mahaboudha Temple, the Rudravarna Mahavihar, the Machchhendranath Temple, the Golden Temple, and the Kumbheshwar Temple. The Patan Museum is also a very popular tourist attraction.
Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Changu Narayan Temple sits on a ridge overlooking the Kathmandu Valley. Believed to be 1,600 years old, it's one of the oldest and most impressive examples of pagoda architecture in Nepal.
The complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its incredible woodcarvings, metal inscriptions, and stone statues adorning the courtyard, all dating from between the 5th and 13th centuries. The complex is located on a high hilltop and surrounded by a forest and a small village called Changu.
The views from the top are spectacular on a clear day and there are various shrines and sculptures in the extensive temple grounds, as well as vendors and artisans who offer comparatively well-priced and crafted souvenirs.
The temple is a deservedly popular attraction but its location just outside of the city ensures it's not too crowded. There is an information centre at the entrance to Changu where tickets are issued and information about the temple and wider area is available. Those wanting refreshments will find a number of cafes and restaurants near the temple.
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