1. VISAS & AIRPORT ARRIVAL TIPS
Getting a Visa:
Foreigners who travel to Nepal must hold both, 6months valid passport and visa.
You should apply for the tourist visa online within 14 days before you leave your country and bring a print out of the visa application receipt, which you have to produce before the Immigration Authority at the Kathmandu airport. Please follow this link for application:
If you did not already buy an entry visa for Nepal from your home country, you may buy one at either the border, or the airport. In most cases it will be cheaper if you pay for the visa in Nepal rather than paying for the service of “getting” the visa in your home country.
Upon arriving in Kathmandu, there are a few things you should have ready for the quickest exit of the airport. First, you will need to have two small pieces of paper filled out: a customs/declaration form and visa application form. Sometimes the airline will provide you with the visa application form on the plane, but they usually do not have the customs form which asks for the same information as the visa form but has a different paper format. To find the customs form, walk into the airport and you will see a group of tables to the left with papers scattered around. The customs form and (if you need another copy) the visa application form will be one of these, so have a pen (there won’t be any there) ready as well to fill this out and get into the visa line as quickly as possible.
The visa line can take some time to get through, especially when not all the passengers are as prepared as you with the two papers filled out, and particularly during the tourist season (September-May). When you approach the counter to buy your entry visa, have your passport, money (price of visa is available online and at the airport), and a passport-sized photo of yourself ready to surrender to the Nepali officials. (If you did not get a photo before you left your home country, they have a photo booth where you can buy one for a few dollars.) But if you are trying to avoid much time spent in this line you will already have the photo in hand when you get off the plane.
Tourist Visa: Good for multi entry
15 days: US$ 25 or equivalent convertible currency
30 days: US$ 40 or equivalent convertible currency
90 days: US$ 100 or equivalent convertible currency
Tourist Visa Extension
The Visa extension fee for 15 days or less is US $30 or equivalent convertible currency and visa extension fee for more than 15 days is US $2 per day. Tourist visas can be extended for a maximum period of 150 days in a single visa year (January – December).
Gratis (Free) Visa: Gratis visa for 30 days available only for tourists of SAARC countries. Indian nationals do not require visa to enter into Nepal.
All baggage must be declared and cleared through the customs on arrival at the entry. Personal effects are permitted free entry. Passengers arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) without any dutiable goods can proceed through the Green Channel for quick clearance without a baggage check. If you are carrying dutiable articles, you have to pass through the Red Channel for detailed customs clearance.
Import: Apart from used personal belongings, visitors are allowed to bring to Nepal free of duty, cigarette (200) or cigars (50), distilled liquor (one 1.15 liter bottle), and film (15 rolls). You can also bring in the following articles free of duty on condition that you take them out with you when you leave: binocular, movie or video camera, still camera, laptop computer, and portable music system.
Export: The export of antiques require special certification from the Department of Archeology, National Archive Building, Ram Shah Path, Kathmandu. It is illegal to export objects over 100 years old like sacred images, paintings, manuscripts that are valued for culture and religious reasons. Visitors are advised not to purchase such items as they are Nepal’s cultural heritage and belong here.
For more information on customs matters, contact the Chief Customs Administrator, TIA Customs Office (Phone: 4470110, 4472266).
Once you get through the visa line, you head down the escalator to baggage claim. There are only two conveyor belts and a limited space on them at any one time. It is normal for people to take bags off the conveyor belt and put them around the room in order to have more room for the other bags to come off the plane. So do not panic if you see someone else handling your bag, and if you do not see your bag, make sure to do a thorough walk-around before claiming your bag is missing.
If you walked around and there are no more bags coming off the plane and your bag(s) are missing, do not panic. The chances are there was not enough time between one of your connecting flights somewhere to transfer your bags to your plane. Your bags will most likely be on the next “whichever airways” flight into Kathmandu. To report your bags, have your baggage claim ticket and walk to the person behind a desk against the wall and give them your information (also get their phone information this way you can call and check in with the airport about your bag status and/or next incoming flight).
In the airport it is possible to change your money for rupees. It is a good idea to change a small amount of money here. But since the exchange rate will be higher here than elsewhere do not worry about getting more than a few days cash. VSN staff will take you to an ATM as soon as possible. Please note that ATMs in Nepal accept Visa, Mastercard and American Express. They do not accept Cirrus or Maestro cards.
Leaving the airport
Now you have your bags in hand and you are ready to leave the airport. Please note that inside and outside the arrivals gate there will be lots of people wanting to help you with your bags. These people will want a lot of money for their services unless you pre-arrange a price before they touch your bags. Best thing is to keep hold of your bags yourself or pre-arrange a price (no more than $2).
VSN representative will be waiting for you at the arrival gate, holding up a banner with your name on it. From here he will drive you to the hotel/host family where VSN official will meet you with further program details. At hotel, you will have plenty of time to relax before you begin your language classes and sightseeing tour.
2. WHAT TO PACK
Give yourself plenty of time to say goodbyes. Packing up and leaving things can be emotionally and physically draining. Arriving, settling in and starting language learning will also be exhausting, please do try to come refreshed and ready to learn, not exhausted from the last minute things! Most things you will need in Nepal are available in the tourist hub of Thamel, in Kathmandu, so don’t worry too much about getting everything before you arrive if it is a hassle.
What time of year and where are you volunteering?
One of the main things to take into account is the time of year you are volunteering and where you are going to be based.
Nepal’s weather is generally predictable and pleasant. There are four climatic seasons: March to May (spring), June to August (summer), September to November (autumn) and December to February (winter). The monsoon is approximately from the end of June to the middle of September. About 80% of the rain falls during that period, so the remainder of the year is dry. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant seasons; winter temperatures drop to freezing with a high level of snowfall in the mountains. Summer and late spring temperatures range from 28ºC (83ºF) in the hill regions to more than 40ºC (104ºF) in the Terai. In winter, average maximum and minimum temperatures in the Terai range from a brisk 7ºC (45ºF) to a mild 23ºC (74ºF). The central valleys experience a minimum temperature often falling bellow freezing point and a chilly 12ºC (54ºF) maximum. Much colder temperatures prevail at higher elevations. The Kathmandu Valley, at an altitude of 1,310m (4,297ft), has a mild climate, ranging from 19-27ºC (67-81ºF) in summer, and 2-20ºC (36-68ºF) in winter.
The cold months of December to February see the temperature drop and this means you need a warm jacket, gloves and warm socks and hats. There is no heating in most Nepali houses where you will be living and so you may find you spend your whole time in your warm clothes. During the day in the sun it warms up, but the houses remain cold throughout the day. A sleeping bag for these winter months to go with the provided blankets is also a good idea.
Also please note that Nepal is full of cheap shops for tourists – selling every kind of trekking equipment/ clothing you could want so do not panic if you forget something. In fact if you need a new fleece/ sleeping bag etc it might work out cheaper to buy it out here.
Essential to bring:
- Clothes – You will (most likely) be hand washing and line drying your clothes, so don’t bring heavy clothing. For example, one pair of jeans you might enjoy having but many pairs of jeans will become a pain. Bring light cotton pants for the summer. Bring cotton/poly blends for t-shirts, collared shirts etc as they don’t wrinkle as much, wring out easier, and dry faster). Women – In respect to the culture, please do not wear strappy tank tops, shorts, short skirts, and clothing made of sheer material. You’ll be fine wearing pants most of the time. Anything below the knee is acceptable, for example, skirts and capri pants. Sleeveless tops are fine.
- Shoes – You will be walking a lot on unpaved roads. You will be removing your shoes often (every time you enter a home). Athletic shoes are a must and sandals with a thick or hard sole will be appreciated in hot weather.
- Light rain jacket and/or small umbrella to use for sun/rain cover
- Water bottle
- A roll of toilet paper- You can buy TP at the grocery stores here
- Day backpack
- Alcohol based hand sanitizer
- Sleeping Bag- depending on season you should think about the min degree.
- Flash light– LED headlamps are worth their weight in gold!
- First aid supplies
- Pocket Knife
- Money – Bring some cash with you that you can exchange for rupees to last you for a few days until you’ve sorted out an easy way to get money. You need to pay for your visa in foreign currency at the airport when you arrive in Nepal. Bring a couple ways to get cash. ATM card, credit card, traveler’s checks. You can bring the volunteer fee with you, or you can get money out from the ATM spread over a few days (in case your bank has a daily limit).
- Insect Repellent
- Copies of passport and other important documents
- Passport Photos: You will need at least four. One in the airport for your visa, as well as one for each time you renew your visa, then a few for VSN to use.A few pictures of your family and friends to show around.
Would be nice to have:
- Laptop: luxury item, but great to have. You can hook into the VSN internet connection (if you have one then bring an ethernet cord) The VSN computers are fine, but slow. They also get congested at times. If you are going to be keeping a blog or doing a lot of emailing or typing for your project then it is probably worth it. Don’t bring your laptop if you want it to stay pristine. It will get dirty and things might happen to it.
- Cell Phone: you can buy a pretty cheap SIM card and minutes to use while you are here.
- USB drive: nice to keep your files and transfer between internet cafes.
- Rechargeable batteries and the charger
- A good book to read: There are some great book stores in the main city area, but it might be a few days before you get to one. Bring bring many books with you. You can also trade in books at the many bookstores.
- A great Nepali language book, which most of the volunteers use here, is the Nepali Phrasebook, published by the Lonely Planet, 4th edition, 2002. You can buy it here also.
- Ear plugs for times when you need to catch some shut eye, but either the streets are loud or your family is still awake. Also, Nepal “wakes up” much earlier in the morning than many western places, so then they might be useful also.
- Night time eye mask
- Bring some tunes/songs of personal choice in your mobile phone or pen-drive. The kids here listen all kinds of western music.
Better to bring than to buy:
- Baby wipes- just a good all purpose way to clean up spills and dirt
- Women – Tampons are difficult to find here.
- A pair of flip-flops to wear strictly in shower and bathroom.
- A towel, because it may be a few days before you can find one.
- Toiletries- You can buy most things such as shampoo, soap, razors, etc. in Kathmandu and Pokhara, but you may not have an opportunity to shop immediately. Razors etc will be more expensive here. Shampoo is pretty easy to find here, but if you’re particular about brands then bring your own supply.
Better to buy than to bring:
- Ladies- bringing fewer clothes and buying some when you get here probably works for the less picky type, as it’s sometimes difficult to pick a wardrobe ahead of time when you’re unsure of what the weather and comfort level will really be like.
To teach English:
VSN will provide a small teaching manual on the basics of a lesson plan and some ideas for learning games that are realistic to play in the Nepali classrooms. This will be available at the VSN office for your perusal. Also a limited number of leveled flashcards and sentence building posters will be available. You might want to bring ESL books which support conversational English as a support tool.
You may be spending some after school hours with the children. During this time you will probably help with homework as well as do crafts and games with the kids. It might be helpful to bring some craft ideas that can be done with simple materials and games that can be played with small groups.
For health programs: The clinics are poorly stocked, so bringing your own stuff is a good idea.
- Pen Light
- Stethoscope if you know how to use it…
- BP Cuff and a cheap stethoscope
- A small reference manual or two
- A box of examination gloves
- Jackets, trekking poles, down coats, vests, gaiters, etc can all be purchased on the cheap in Kathmandu, but the quality usually follows the price.
The trekking guidebooks have pretty good packing lists.
3. The Culture Shock
There are certainly thousands of descriptive articles about travel to Nepal and the many attractions and sights to see as well as people’s family vacation experiences. These articles do a great deal of describing the “what” and “where,” but very few choose to address and deal with the inter personal experiences of travel to Nepal. The cultural topics of Nepal travel. One such topic is the idea of culture shock, an idea that can be both a welcome and a rather startling experience for any tourist.
There are hundreds of definitions to what Nepal culture shock is, but in the plainest of English, it’s the apprehension and feelings of surprise, disorientation, uncertainty and anxiety one experiences when faced with surroundings and cultural norms very different from those at home.
Culture shock on some level, is felt when traveling to any country even remotely different from one’s homeland. As such, the culture shock one feels when traveling to Nepal may be significant, brought on by Nepal’s substantial cultural contrasts.
Being flexible, open-minded and participating in non-judgmental observation are some of the necessary adjustments that have to be made for sanity reasons when choosing to travel to Nepal as well as being mentally prepared to cope with the cultural differences that will be seen.
Your first 10 minutes in Nepal can give you a more intense feeling of culture shock than three months traveling through Europe. It can be surprising, when you finally land at the airport and walk to collect your things, (more on this in the visa and airport tips section) to find complete strangers roughly pulling your luggage from the conveyor belt and throwing the bags into an empty spot on the dirty ground. When you get in a taxi to go to your hotel you just might be surprised at the driving laws – or lack thereof. High speeds with the chaos of the busy Kathmandu city and many small pieces of information for your brain to process at one time can be disorienting and when your driver passes a car by merely driving into oncoming traffic it will create a feeling of anxiety.
Your route will pass a blur of ethnic Nepali women in brightly colored printed dresses buying and selling merchandise, Nepali men laughing in a large group, police men wearing what looks like a hospital mask calmly sitting on a well groomed horse observing the swarms of pedestrians, wild dogs and sacred cows are seen eating a buffet from the local garbage piles and boys and boys hold hands walking down the street while it is a rarity to see a man and woman doing the same. Pedestrians attempting to cross the street, step forwards in front of vehicles then backwards always being flexible with the changing traffic conditions from moment to moment.
A repetitive sound that is somewhat annoying and alarming at first, are constant car and motorcycle horns blaring. Your nerves will learn that these sounds are actually not supposed to be an alert noise as they are in the western world, but here, they are helpful hints that say ‘I am here, so do not hit me with your car’ or the horn can also mean ‘Hello pedestrian, I see you but I will not be stopping or slowing down to let you cross the road, so you better wait.’ Occasionally a taxi driver will seem to be stocking walking tourists and when the travelers turn to see who is following them the driver will let out a nice ‘honk’ but it is their way of offering you a ride – by you paying them for their services.
As you zip along in the taxi your gaze might suddenly focus on a cow that is standing with no urgency to move in the middle of your driving path! In the nick of time your driver will swerve around the animal as if it were a typical roundabout.
Besides the live ‘middle of the street’ cow statues, you will see dogs roaming the streets. They wander the neighborhoods aimlessly and they sleep wherever they please even following the influence of the cow by taking rest in the middle of the street. It will be a shock the first time (maybe every time) to watch a motorcycle drive past these unmoving dead looking dogs. The tires come within inches of the animals snout and the dog will not even stir at their near-death experience.
For those wanting to travel to Nepal, expect daily life activities that are not normal to you and your home country. Much of the alarming and disorientating effects of culture shock felt when you travel to Nepal, can be avoided by preparing yourself for the cultural differences and a better understanding of Nepal as a country in general. Read books or Nepal travel articles and dig deeper than the generic ‘travel’ guides by getting information about the countries social aspects.
It is impossible for anyone to travel to Nepal and avoid contact with the contrasts between Nepal and your homeland, and it is likely one of the reasons you are going, but doing a little research before you travel will help to prepare you mentally for when these contrasts become part of your reality and will only add ease to the coping with strange situations and increase your enjoyment of travel in Nepal.
4. Cultural Background and Etiquette
- One old Nepali peeve is to not share plates of food with your friends/family. It used to be thought of as rude to give food or take food from your friends’ plate. In other parts of the world this is very normal, and is mostly accepted now in Nepal, but some places still find it offensive.
- Do not take a bite of some food item or touch your lips to a bottle and then offer some to your Nepali or home-country friend. Actually for those that will travel around Nepal, you will see a local taking a drink from a water bottle by tilting their heads back and drinking it without it touching their mouths. This way more people can share the bottle because it is not contaminated.
- If you want to take a photo of someone, ask them first. How would you feel if someone came up to you and started taking your photo as if you were an animal without respectfully asking you? Even if your travel buddy asked it is polite that you also ask.
- This might sound like common sense but do not take photos of people bathing or going to the bathroom. A large number of Nepali people do in fact bathe on the side of the road (not usually in the large cities). Even though they are bathing in front of complete strangers, does not mean that they are doing it for you to watch.
- Spitting is quite normal here. You will see men, women, and children spitting on the sidewalks here. The same goes for littering. You might see a local throwing something on the ground, but to help keep Nepal beautiful it is best to dispose of trash in designated trash bins or the community trash piles.
- Never show affection in public. Although some of the younger generations of couples hold hands in public, it is still frowned upon. It is more common to see friends- girl and another girl, and a boy and another boy holding hands.
- Just for an extra fact, a Nepali person will never tell you if they think you are being rude. If they told you that you were being offensive, it would make them rude.
- Do not step over a person. That said, do not make other people step over you. For example if you have your legs stretched out and someone wishes to pass, move them out of their way.
- Do not use your left hand as it is known as your bathroom hand.
- Give items and receive with two hands (like giving or receiving a cup of tea).
- Do not point your feet, especially if they are dirty, at people it is considered to be the lowest and dirtiest part of a person. Also do not point your finger at anything, rather use your whole hand.
- Do not ask for or give gifts (even as small and seemingly insignificant as a pen or candy) to the local children.
- If your vacation involves travel through the older (could be more remote areas) do not buy antiques or anything made by/of an animal product, flora or fauna, most of these are protected and there could also be a government punishment.
- Unless it is an older person or has some sort of disability that makes them unable to get a job, do not give to beggars, it only promotes this behavior. Do not give food to children, they do have a home.
- When shopping do not overpay- pay fair prices. (see shopping tips below for more info.)
VISITING RELIGIOUS SITES
- Do not eat, smoke or be loud at religious sites.
- There are a few rules written on walls for you in specific temples.
- Pay attention to signs.
- Some temples only allow Hindus to enter.
- Walk clockwise around stupas and temples or places of worship.
- Never touch or step over offerings like red powder or rice/flowers.
- When you travel to certain places of worship you may or may not be permitted to take photos or film these sacred places.
- Make sure to take note if you are supposed to take your shoes off before you enter.
- For the most part, just be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what the locals are doing and any writing on the wall.
- Women that travel to Nepal can wear short sleeve, long sleeve, sleeveless t-shirts or dress shirts.
- Skirts should be about knee length or longer and if worn is very much appreciated by the locals.
Women do not usually wear shorts here but if you choose to, make sure they are longer shorts.
- It is recommended for women traveling through Nepal to wear slightly more conservative clothing.
- Men that travel to Nepal can wear almost anything. Short sleeve, long sleeve, sleeveless t-shirts or dress shirts.
Shorts or long pants it does not matter.
- You should always have a shirt on and if it buttons up, it should have all the buttons fastened.
- Just dress appropriately for your activity and if you are not sure if what you are wearing is “right” just observe local traditions.
5. DAY TO DAY ADMIN: Money, Health, Transport, Food, Shopping, Business Hours, Communications, Electricity
- The Nepali money is the Rupee (this is different from the Indian rupee). Mostly paper money is used, although their are coins of rupee one, two and five.
- There are many designated money exchange businesses. The first place in Nepal that you will find to exchange your money into Nepali Rupees is at the Kathmandu or Pokhara airport. There is a counter that is safe and has a fair rate for exchanging your home currency. You may need to have some cash on you for cab fare.
- Payment in hotels, travel agencies, and airlines can be made in foreign currency. Credit cards like American Express, Master and Visa are widely accepted at major hotels, shops, and restaurants. Remember to keep your “Foreign Exchange of cash Receipt” while making foreign exchange payments or transferring foreign currency into Nepalese rupees. The receipts may be needed to change left-over Nepalese Rupees into hard currency before leaving the country. However, only 10 percent of the total amount may be converted back to your home currency by the bank, so don’t take out more than you need. ATMs are widely used in Kathmandu and in Pokhara so there is no need to take out all you plan to spend at one time.
- Make sure you check and are familiar with the exchange rate as it can change daily. If you are unsure of the current exchange rate offered upon your arrival in Kathmandu, you can always check the rates published in English in regularly circulating newspapers such as The Rising Nepal, The Kathmandu Post and The Himalayan Times. Nepali Rupees are found in denominations of 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1. Coins are found in 1, 2 and 5 rupees. One rupee equals 100 paisa.
- You can also go into a bank. To exchange money, you need a debit/credit card or cash (no coin) and your passport. The bank will take a copy of your passport and they should give you a receipt. You will need to keep this receipt until your travels in Nepal are over and you go to leave the country, which as stated above, can be used to exchange the unused portion of Nepali currency back into your home currency.
- Most of the time banks will not want to take any torn or ripped money, so make sure all your bills (from your home country and Nepal) are kept in good conditions while you travel through Nepal and when exchanging.
- Along trekking routes, it is less common to have a bank. There are some in the mountains, but if you are not in a town with one and need cash for some unexpected expense (like a pony ride) then some lodges might offer the exchange service for a slightly elevated rate. (The price difference would be for their hassle of needing to travel to a bank to exchange your currency later). Always prefer to carry some small denominations while trekking and walking at out of the city.
IF YOU GET SICK
When traveling to a new country it is inevitable that you and/or someone you are traveling with will get travelers diarrhea. You can not prevent this!!! But you can get some relief. There are little medicine markets everywhere. You do not need insurance or a doctor note to get most of this medication. Just go up to the shop and tell them what you need and they give it to you for a few measly dollars. They even sell antibiotics, allergy pills, and ibuprofen straight to you. This makes travel through Nepal even more convenient if you happen to get a cold.
IF YOU GET HURT
- Now no one ever plans to get hurt (or sick for that matter), but it happens. Where to go when you get hurt?
- There are doctor offices in all the major cities as well as hospitals. Your stay and check-up should not be too, expensive depending on your injury.
- If you are trekking with a travel agency and become seriously injured, they should be able to arrange a rescue evacuation quickly or get to where you need to be in a safe and timely manner.
- If your travel in Nepal is not through an agency, there are emergency helicopters available. For faster evacuation you should carry with you a credit card, have travel insurance (and have the policy # with you), never travel alone, and register with police and your embassy before heading into the mountains.
MODES OF TRANSPORTATION
- If you are not traveling Nepal with help from a travel agency, there are a few different modes of transportation available to you.
- Taxis- are available in all the major cities, although it is not usually cost-efficient if you are only using cabs to get around. Taxi drivers take great pride in their vehicles and clean them daily. Even if the seat covers look old, they still have them to help “beautify” their vehicle for the tourist.
- Tuk-tuk- are also available in the larger towns like Kathmandu, you can see the number of passengers allowed is fluid to how many passengers need to get in the three-wheeled vehicles. They do have numbers on them, but if you do not know where their destination ends, you might not want to get on one.
- Buses or vans- run through the major cities and they can be quite crowded. A “ten passenger van” could fit as many as 17 people with the windows open (or not), so if personal space is important to you, this mode of transportation might not be for you.
- You can take a Bicycle Trolley also known as a rickshaw, which is a three wheeled bike with a carriage like seat on the back. These fit 2-3 people.
- If you are feeling adventurous, you could rent a motorcycle. This is not always recommended since Nepal’s driving style is a lot different from most of the world but they are available for the fearless traveler. Many times you just rent it from an average local. They have a bike, they do not need it for a few days or weeks, and then you can rent it from them for the agreed price.
- The different modes of transportation do not always have a set destination – or price for visitors – and can often be crowded and confusing. It is a lot less of a headache for you to have a travel agency help you plan and book your transportation for you. This way you have less time spent stressing and more time enjoying this new and exciting country.
VISITING OR STAYING IN THE JUNGLE
- Make sure to drink a lot of (bottled) water, you may be unaware of the dehydrating climate.
- A few things to be aware of are leeches. This is the jungle so they do live here, during the day, watch where you step or bring some salt along with you.
- You will want to invest in a mosquito cream or a plug-in if you are staying in the jungle, for your room (if there is power), mosquito candles and incense are also helpful when there is no power.
- Make sure to bring the right clothes. Pack some shoes to do light walking through the jungle and some that will stay on your feet (not flip flops) like if you are on the back of an elephant.
- You will want to have a change of clothes if there is a change in weather or if your itinerary involves elephant bathing. (If you have the option, you will want to do this! When else in your life will you have the opportunity to be this intimate with such a huge and graceful animal?)
- If staying at a resort, they will often provide you with food, but drinks outside of breakfast/lunch/dinner are for you to pay for. By drinks I mean any bottled water, sodas, or alcoholic beverages.
- Make sure to be flexible if staying in the jungle. There is not power 24hours a day because most of the lodges or resorts run on solar power and have no internet access.
- If a lizard shows up in your room, do not be scared, you are in fact in the jungle.
- Take time to sit and relax, there is not always provided entertainment so entertain yourself with listening to real nature (no automobiles/traffic) write about your stay, or read a book.
Nepal has a wide variety of food available- from traditional Nepali foods to international cuisine. Below, are just a few items you are certain to run into while in Nepal.
- Daal Bhaat Takari is the Nepali staple food. Bhaat is rice and dal is the lentil soup/gravy to pour over the rice and is easily interchanged from place to place with a side of vegetables (takari) and possibly meat and maybe yogurt. Nepali’s are proud of their dal bhat and it is always different from one restaurant to the next. To get to know this country even better, give it a try at different eating spots as you travel through Nepal.
- Achar is a traditional Nepali flavorful, pickled, (sometimes very spicy) sauce/paste that is served as a garnish with almost every Nepali dish. There are countless ways of making this special treat (endless possibilities of ingredients) so you should try every different one offered to you.
- Mo-mo is a tasty popular Newari dumpling with meat (usually lamb, chicken, buffalo, or pork not beef) or vegetables and cheese, which you can find at almost any place that serves food and is served with achar.
- Noodle soup is now very common especially on a trekking route. Although it is not a traditional Nepali dish, it is mostly there for foreign travelers as a comfort item or an added option for Nepalese travelers. It is pretty much the Nepali version of fast food. Actually many Nepali’s do not even cook it but eat it as a crunchy snack food.
- Naan/Roti – roti means bread in Nepal and is usually a round piece of bread that is usually deep fried in oil and is served with some achar or some other side. Naan is also a bread product. It is served alone or with curry dishes. There are different kinds of naan like butter or garlic naan and is bigger in size than roti.
- Apples-the town of Marpha is known for their apples. In fact there is an alcoholic drink made out of apples called “Marpha.” If you do not try any apples while you are in Nepal, even if they are not from Marpha, you would be missing out on some of the best fruit.
- Bananas in Nepal do not look appealing but in fact they are small yet very sweet.
- Yogurt here can be either sweet or salty. It is served by itself or can come on the side of dhal bat and is surprisingly tasty and it is good for you, too. If your body is not used to the many spices used in Nepali food, the yogurt here helps soothe the digestion process.
- The ice cream here is some of the best in the world. Simple (chemical-free) ingredients and all-natural flavors make it a refreshing treat anytime of day or night.
- Bottled water is a must! Do not drink any water unless it is from a bottle. [There are safe drinking water stations that were put in some of the trekking routes to help reduce the use of plastic waste- in this case it is safe to not drink only water from a bottle.] But just as a pre-caution you may not even want to have ice in your drinks.
- Tea is very popular and helps to relax your body after a long days trek or an alternative option for morning drink. It is sometimes served black with the option for sugar or can be served with milk.
- Coffee here is not as strong as Starbucks (which is actually a good thing!). The coffee here is full of flavor and is even appealing to the non-coffee drinker.
- Khukuri Rum is one of the liquors locally made in Nepal. If you are eating dinner with some Nepali’s they will most likely be pleased if you ordered a bottle with coke-a-cola.
TIME AND BUSINESS HOURS
- Nepal is five hours 45 minutes ahead of GMT.
- Business hours within the Valley: Government offices are open from 10 am to 5 p.m. from Sunday through Friday.
- Banks are open Sunday through Friday from 10 am to 3.30 pm. and until 12 pm only on Friday.
- Most Business offices are open from 10 am to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday.
- Embassies and international organizations are open from 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.
- Most shops open after 10 am and close at about 8 pm and are usually closed on Saturdays with many open all week.
- Holidays: Nepal observes numerous holidays, at the least a couple in a month. So please check the holiday calendar. Government offices observe all the national holidays and banks observe most of them. Businesses observe major holidays only.
- If you are shopping for food, there are a few places to go. In the larger cities they have “department” stores or malls which carry food and anything else you might want (clothes, refrigerators, bicycles, movies, etc.). Everything here has a set price so no need to bargain, everyone spends the same amount.
- You can also buy fresh fruits and vegetables at an outdoor market. You are usually given a plastic bag which you can fill with however much of that item you want and then they weigh it and tell you the price.
- If you are souvenir or clothing shopping, then you can either go to the department stores with everything at a set price, or you can go to the very common little street shops. Usually, nothing will have a price on it. The people running these shops will tell you a price (and although this may sound like a deal to you compared to where you come from) you should always offer them 50% of the price they told you. Of course they will never agree to that, so you better be smart and quick and bargain with them until you find a price you will agree on.
- They expect all who travel here to bargain with them. It is best to have a price in mind before asking for the price because most people will ask you what you think is a fair price and this gives you a better chance at the price you said. Also if you do not like the price just leave and head on to the next shop. You can always come back another day to this one.
- It is good for you and for the general Nepali people if you pay the lowest price. If every tourist started buying items at a high rate, this might cause the shop owners to not sell the items at a fair rate for the Nepali mass causing inflation in the country.
- Do not feel guilty about bargaining. You can most likely afford their initial price, but the Nepalis cannot.
CONTACTING HOME & OTHER COMMUNICATION
- When traveling you might not want to completely forget about everyone you left at home, this said, there are many different locations that provide phone or internet services for a fee.
- Cell Phone– you can buy a pretty cheap SIM card and use for international calls and internet.
- Numerous cyber cafes at all over places in Nepal, even at trekking routes will be comfortable & economic mode of communication.
- For your safety it is always a good idea to carry the phone number of your home, travel agency, embassy and any other important contact you might have.
- Postal Services – The Central Post Office located near Dharahara Tower, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday. The counters are open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and provide stamps, postcards and aerograms. Post Restante is available Sunday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Express Mail Service (EMS) is available at GPO and at Thamel, Basantapur and airport postal counters.
- As for friends and family contacting you from home while you are out traveling the world, the country code for Nepal is 977 and the area code for Kathmandu is 1 and for Pokhara 61.
Major towns have electricity and the voltage available is 220-volts and 50 cycles. Load shedding (power cut) can be experienced for hours everyday. However, most major hotels have installed their own generators. It is helpful to carry a small flashlight for the unexpected power outages, rechargeable batteries and a charger .
Other comments that they found useful / would like to tell you:
- Don’t bring too much. Be Flexible. Keep expectations low.
- Good shoes are important.
- Get plenty of rest and sleep before you come.
- Don’t leave things until the last minute!
- Even if you can’t get exactly what you want here it is possible to improvise and more fun.