Haggling is an integral part of most commercial transactions in Nepal, especially when dealing with souvenir shops, hotels and guides. Ideally, it should be an enjoyable social exchange, rather than a conflict of egos. A good deal is reached when both parties are happy; Rs 10 might make quite a difference to the seller, but to a foreign traveller it amounts to less than US$0.10.
Dangers & Annoyances
In political terms, Nepal is more stable than it has been in years, and crime is not a major risk for travellers. It makes sense to consult local and international news sources before you travel to Nepal so you are aware of any issues.
- Be aware that damage from the earthquake has affected travel in many areas. Some roads are still damaged and experts warn of an increased risk of landslides and avalanches following the disaster.
- Statistically speaking, the most dangerous thing you'll do in Nepal is simply taking public transport along the country's busy highways.
Government Travel Advice
The folllowing government websites offer travel advisories and information on current hotspots. Some of this official travel advice can sound a little alarmist, but if your government issues a travel warning advising against ‘all travel’ or ‘all but essential travel’ to a specific area, then your travel insurance may be invalid if you ignore this advice.
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Government of Canada (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- New Zealand Depaqrtment of Foreign Affairs & Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US Department of State (www.state.gov/travel)
Demonstrations & Strikes
Nepal has a long history of demonstrations and strikes – some by politicians, some by students, some by Maoists, and some by all three! The political situation has greatly improved, but occasionally demonstrations still occur and they can turn violent.
A normal demonstration is a julus. If things escalate there may be a chakka jam (‘jam the wheels’), when all vehicles stay off the street, or a bandh, when all shops, schools and offices are closed. In the event of a strike, the best thing to do is hole up in your hotel with a good book. In this case you’ll likely have to dine at your hotel.
If political instability returns, it pays to heed the following points:
- Keep an eye on the local press and news websites to find out about impending strikes, demonstrations and curfews – follow websites such as www.kathmandupost.ekantipur.com, www.thehimalayantimes.com and www.nepalitimes.com.
- Don’t ever break curfews and avoid travelling by road during bandhs or blockades, particularly in a rented vehicle, as vehicles flouting travel bans are often vandalised. Be nervous if you notice that your car is the only one on the streets of Kathmandu!
- When roads are closed, the government generally runs buses with armed police from the airport to major hotels, returning to the airport from Tridevi Marg at the east end of Thamel.
You should heed the following general advice for travelling in Nepal:
- Register with your embassy in Kathmandu, especially if you plan to go trekking.
- Don’t trek alone. Solo women should avoid travelling alone with a male guide.
- Be familiar with the symptoms of altitude sickness when trekking and follow the guidelines for safe acclimatisation.
- Avoid travelling on night buses as these are prone to accidents.
- Take copies of your passport, visa, air ticket and trekking permits and keep these separate from the originals.
Whilst the overwhelming majority of Nepalis couldn't be any nicer, there are some who are impressively inventive in their range of imaginative scams. Watch out for the following:
- Deals offered by gem dealers that involve you buying stones to sell for a ‘vast profit’ at home. The dealers normally claim they are not able to export the stones without paying heavy taxes, so you take them and meet another dealer when you get home, who will sell them to a local contact and you both share the profit. Except they don’t. And you don’t.
- Children or young mothers asking for milk. You buy the milk at a designated store at an inflated price, the child then returns the milk and pockets some of the mark-up.
- Kids who seem to know the capital of any country you can think of; they are charming but a request for money will arrive at some point.
- ‘Holy men’ who do their best to plant a tika (a red paste denoting a blessing) on your forehead, only to then demand significant payment.
- Credit card scams; travellers have bought souvenirs and then found thousands of dollars worth of internet porn subscriptions chalked up on their bill.
While petty theft is not on the scale that exists in many countries, reports of theft from hotel rooms in tourist areas (including along trekking routes) do occasionally reach us, and theft with violence is not unheard of. Never store valuables or money in your hotel room.
One of the most common forms of theft is when backpacks are rifled through when they’re left on the roof of a bus. Try to make your pack as theft-proof as possible – small padlocks and cover bags are a good deterrent.
There’s little chance of ever retrieving your gear if it is stolen, and even getting a police report for an insurance claim can be difficult. Try the tourist police, or, if there aren’t any, the local police station. If you’re not getting anywhere, go to Interpol at the Police Headquarters in Naxal, Kathmandu.
There aren’t any noticeable discounts for holders of student or senior cards. Those under 30 can sometimes get discounts on flights to India without a student card.
Electricity is 230V/50 cycles; 120V appliances from the USA will need a transformer. Sockets usually take plugs with three round pins: sometimes the small variety, sometimes the large. Some sockets take plugs with two round pins. Local electrical shops sell cheap adapters.
Embassies & Consulates
Travellers continuing beyond Nepal may need visas for Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand.
The only visas available in Kathmandu for Tibet (actually there’s no such thing as a ‘visa for Tibet’; it’s just a Chinese group visa and a travel permit for Tibet) are for organised groups. Individuals wishing to travel directly to China (not Tibet) will need to show an air ticket to Chengdu, Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou to prove that they aren’t going to Tibet.
To find Nepali embassies and consulates in other countries, check out the websites of Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mofa.gov.np) or Department of Immigration (www.nepalimmigration.gov.np). Major embassies and consulates in Nepal include the following:
Chinese Embassy Visa applications are accepted on Monday to Friday from 9.45am to 11am; visas normally take three working days to be issued but can be done in just one day if you pay extra. The visa section is located in Hattisar; the main embassy is in Baluwatar.
Indian Embassy Most tourists can now get an e-visa for up to 60 days if they apply in advance. Getting an Indian tourist visa in Nepal is a more expensive and time-consuming process.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Nepal's Country code||977|
|International access code||00|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Nepal makes things easy for foreign travellers. Visas are available on arrival at the international airport in Kathmandu and at all land border crossings that are open to foreigners, as long as you have passport photos on hand (not necessary at Kathmandu airport) and can pay the visa fee in foreign currency (some crossings insist on payment in US dollars). Your passport must be valid for at least six months and you will need a whole free page for your visa.
All baggage is X-rayed on arrival and departure, though it’s a pretty haphazard process. In addition to the import and export of drugs, customs is concerned with the illegal export of antiques.
- You may not import Nepali rupees, and only nationals of Nepal and India may import Indian currency.
- There are no other restrictions on bringing in either cash or travellers cheques, but the amount taken out at departure should not exceed the amount brought in.
- Officially you should declare cash or travellers cheques in excess of US$2000, or the equivalent, but no one seems to bother with this, and it is laxly enforced.
Customs’ main concern is preventing the export of antique works of art, and with good reason: Nepal has been a particular victim of international art theft over the last 20 years.
It is very unlikely that souvenirs sold to travellers will be antique (despite the claims of the vendors), but if there is any doubt, they should be cleared and a certificate obtained from the Department of Archaeology in central Kathmandu’s National Archives building. If you visit the department between 10am and 1pm, you should be able to pick up a certificate by 5pm the same day. These controls also apply to the export of precious and semiprecious stones.
Tourist visas (15/30/90 days) are available on arrival for US$25/40/100; fill in your details online beforehand or on the spot, and bring US dollars cash.
All foreigners, except Indians, must have a visa. Nepali embassies and consulates overseas issue visas with no fuss but most people get one on the spot on arrival in Nepal, either at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport or at road borders at Nepalganj, Birganj/Raxaul Bazaar, Sunauli, Kakarbhitta, Mahendranagar, Dhangadhi and even the Rasuwagadhi checkpoint at the China/Tibetan border.
A Nepali visa is valid for entry for three to six months from the date of issue. Children aged under 10 require a visa but are not charged a visa fee. Citizens of South Asian countries (except India) and China need visas, but if you're only entering once in a calendar year, these are free.
To obtain a visa upon arrival by air in Nepal you must fill in an application form at one of the automatic registration machines, which will also take your digital photo. You can save some time by filling in the form beforehand online at www.online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/tourist-visa and uploading a digital photo, but you must do this less than 15 days before your arrival date.
A single-entry visa valid for 15/30/90 days costs US$25/40/100. At Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport the fee is payable in any major currency, but at land borders officials require payment in cash (US dollars); bring small bills.
SAARC countries can get a 30-day visa for free on arrival. Indian passport holders do not need a visa to enter Nepal.
Multiple-entry visas are useful if you are planning a side trip to Tibet, Bhutan or India and cost US$20 extra. You can change your single-entry visa to a multiple-entry visa at Kathmandu’s Central Immigration Office for the same US$20 fee.
Don’t overstay your visa. You can pay a fine of US$3 per day at the airport if you have overstayed less than 30 days (plus a US$2 per day visa extension fee), but it’s far better to get it all sorted out in advance at Kathmandu’s Central Immigration Office, as a delay could cause you to miss your flight.
It’s a good idea to keep a number of passport photos with your passport so they are immediately handy for trekking permits, visa applications and other official documents.
Visa extensions are available from immigration offices in Kathmandu and Pokhara only and cost a minimum US$30 (payable in rupees only) for a 15-day extension, plus US$2 per day after that. To extend for 30 days is US$50 and to extend a multiple-entry visa add on US$20. If you’ll be in Nepal for more than 60 days, you are better off getting a 90-day visa on arrival, rather than a 60-day visa plus an extension.
Every visa extension requires your passport, the fee, one photo and an application form that must be completed online first. One of the questions on this online application form asks for your Nepalese street address with house/building number. Hardly any street addresses have a building number so feel free to just make this up. Collect all these documents together before you join the queue; plenty of photo shops in Kathmandu and Pokhara can make a set of eight digital passport photos for around Rs 250.
Visa extensions are available the same day, normally within two hours, though some travellers have paid an extra Rs 300 fee to get their extensions within 10 minutes. For a fee, trekking and travel agencies can assist with the visa-extension process and save you the time and tedium of queuing.
You can extend a tourist visa up to a total stay of 150 days within a calendar year, though as you get close to that maximum you’ll have to provide an air ticket to show you’re leaving the country.
You can get up-to-date visa information at the website of the Department of Immigration (www.nepalimmigration.gov.np).
Feature: Indian Visas in Nepal
Many travellers now get their Indian visa online and fly to New Delhi. However, if you want to travel overland to India and don't already have a visa, you'll need to get one in Nepal and it’s not a straightforward process.
Visa applications must be made at the India Visa Service Centre, at the State Bank of India to the right of the embassy, not at the embassy itself. Applications are accepted only between 9.30am and midday, but it pays to get there earlier than 9.30am so as to be one of the first people in line. You will need a printed copy of the completed online visa form (https://indianvisaonline.gov.in), your passport, a copy of your passport info pages and a copy of your Nepalese visa. You will also need two 51mm x 51mm passport photos (this is larger than a standard passport photo, but most passport photo places in Kathmandu know about Indian visa regulations) and the visa fee. Five working days later you will need to return to the embassy between 9.30am and 1pm with your passport and visa payment receipt. At this point you will leave your passport with the embassy. The following working day you can collect your passport between 5pm and 5.30pm – hopefully with a shiny, new Indian tourist visa in it.
Visa fees for a six-month tourist visa vary depending on nationality, but for most nationalities it's Rs 4350. However, for Japanese passport holders it's a mere Rs 1050, for US passport holders the fee is Rs 6450 and for UK passport holders it's a whopping Rs 13,600.
Transit visas (Rs 2300 for most nationalities) are issued the same day, but start from the date of issue and are non-extendable.
Many remote rural areas, especially those close to the Tibet border, require a restricted area permit. This applies to those trekking in the Manaslu, Mustang, Nar-Phu, Tsum Valley, Dolpo, Humla and Kanchenjunga regions. Permits range from US$10 to US$500 per week and you will need the help of a registered trekking agency to secure one.
- Buddhist Sites Always walk clockwise around Buddhist stupas (bell-shaped religious structures), chörtens (Tibetan-style stupas) and mani (stone carved with a Tibetan Buddhist chant) walls.
- Head Wobble A sideways tilt or wobble of the head conveys agreement in Nepal, not a ‘no’.
- Greetings Nepalis rarely shake hands – the namaste greeting (placing your palms together in a prayer position) is a better choice.
- Respect When giving or receiving money, use your right hand and touch your right elbow with your left hand, as a gesture of respect.
- No shoes Always remove your shoes before you enter a private house or monastery.
- Dining Don’t use your left hand for eating or passing food to others as this hand is used for personal ablutions. Wash your hands and mouth before dining.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
Nepal is the only country in South Asia that does not criminalise same-sex relations. A landmark Supreme Court hearing in December 2007 ordered the government to end discrimination against sexual minorities and to ensure equal rights. That said, there’s not a big open gay scene in Nepal and gay Nepalis are vulnerable to police harassment and blackmail.
Gay couples holding hands in public will experience no difficulties, as this is socially acceptable, but public displays of intimacy by anyone are frowned upon.
Nepal recognises a third gender in its official documents, including passports. Kathmandu has a long tradition of hijra (transsexuals), though many report police harassment.
Pink Mountain Travels is a LGBT-friendly agency in Kathmandu that can arrange treks and tours.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is an excellent idea for travel in Nepal. There are a wide variety of policies available, so check the small print carefully. Some policies exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which may include riding a motorbike and trekking (and definitely bungee jumping and rafting).
Choose a policy that covers medical and emergency repatriation, including helicopter evacuation for trekkers and general medical evacuation to Bangkok or Delhi, which alone can cost a cool US$40,000.
You may prefer a policy that pays doctors or hospitals directly rather than you having to pay on the spot and claim later. In Nepal, most medical treatment must be paid for at the point of delivery. If your insurance company does not provide upfront payment, be sure to obtain receipts so you can reclaim later.
Worldwide traveller insurance is available at http://www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you are already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Almost every hotel, restaurant and cafe in Kathmandu, Pokhara and larger towns offer free wi-fi and connections are pretty good. You can even get (paid) wi-fi in places like Namche Bazaar along the Everest Base Camp trek.
Internet cafes are available in smaller towns and generally cost around Rs 50 per hour.
Hashish has been illegal since 1973, but it’s still readily available in Nepal. Thamel is full of shifty, whispering dealers. In practice, Nepali police aren’t very interested in people with a small amount of marijuana on them (they’re more focused on smuggling), but the technical penalty for drug possession is around five years in prison, so potential smokers should keep the less-than-salubrious condition of Nepali jails firmly in mind. Don’t try taking any out of the country, either – travellers have been arrested at the airport on departure.
If you get caught smuggling something serious – drugs or gold – the chances are you’ll end up in jail, without trial, and will remain there until someone pays for you to get out. Jail conditions in Nepal are reportedly horrific. Bribery is sometimes used to avoid jail. This is illegal and can land the perpetrator in deeper strife. Deniability that a bribe was offered – where the accused believed it was a legitimate fee – is the only defence.
Killing a cow is illegal in Nepal and carries a punishment of two years in prison.
- Newspapers Nepal’s main English-language papers are the daily Kathmandu Post (www.kathmandupost.ekantipur.com), Himalayan Times (www.thehimalayantimes.com) and Republica (www.myrepublica.com). The Nepali Times (www.nepalitimes.com) comes out weekly.
- Magazines ECS (www.ecs.com.np) is a glossy, expat-oriented monthly magazine with interesting articles on travel and culture, plus apartment listings. Himal magazine (www.himalmag.com) is also good.
- TV Most hotel rooms offer satellite TV, which generally includes Star TV, BBC World and CNN.
It's easy to change cash and access ATMs in Kathmandu, Pokhara and other cities, but almost impossible in rural areas or on treks.
The Nepali rupee (Rs) is divided into 100 paisa (p). There are coins for denominations of one, two, five and 10 rupees, and banknotes in denominations of one, two, five, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 rupees. Since the abolition of the monarchy in 2008, images of Mt Everest have replaced the king on all banknotes.
Away from major centres, changing a Rs 1000 note can be difficult, so it is always a good idea to keep a stash of small denomination notes.
Standard Chartered Bank has 24-hour ATMs in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Other banks, such as Himalaya Bank and Nabil Bank, have ATMs and are present in most reasonable sized towns, but some don't accept foreign bank cards (despite Visa signs indicating that they do). Quite a lot of machines seem to have a per-transaction withdrawal limit of Rs 15,000, but there doesn't appear to be any rhyme or reason as to which machines do and don't. Fess are around Rs 500 per withdrawal.
Frequent power outages can limit the machines’ working hours, so use one when you see it’s working. Using an ATM attached to a bank during business hours will minimise hassle in the rare event that the machine eats your card.
Inform your bank that you’ll be using your card in Nepal, otherwise they might suspect fraud and freeze your card.
Official exchange rates are set by the government’s Nepal Rastra Bank and listed in the daily newspapers. Rates at the private banks vary, but are generally not far from the official rate.
There are exchange counters at the international terminal at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport and banks and/or moneychangers at the various border crossings. Pokhara and the major border towns also have official money-changing facilities, but changing travellers cheques can be time consuming elsewhere in the country, even in some quite large towns. If you are trekking, take enough cash in small-denomination rupees to last the whole trek.
The best private banks are Himalaya Bank, Nepal Bank and Standard Chartered Bank. Some hotels and resorts are licensed to change money, but their rates are lower. Travellers cheques from the main companies can be exchanged in banks in Kathmandu and Pokhara for a 2% surcharge. Euro travellers cheques are also charged a flat US$10 fee per cheque. With each passing year it gets harder to change cheques.
When you change money officially, you are required to show your passport, and you are issued with a foreign exchange encashment receipt showing your identity and the amount of currency you have changed. Hang onto the receipts as you need them to change excess rupees back into foreign currency at banks. You can change rupees back into foreign currency at most moneychangers without a receipt.
Many upmarket hotels and businesses are obliged by the government to demand payment in hard currency (euros or US dollars); they will also accept rupees, but only if you can show a foreign exchange encashment receipt that covers the amount you owe them. In practice this regulation seems to be widely disregarded. Airlines are also required to charge tourists in hard currency, either in cash US dollars, travellers cheques or credit cards, and this rule is generally followed.
In addition to the banks, there are licensed moneychangers in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Birganj, Kakarbhitta and Sunauli/Bhairawa. The rates are often marginally lower than the banks, but there are no commissions; they have much longer opening hours (typically from 9am to 7pm daily) and they are also much quicker, the whole process often taking no more than a few minutes.
Most licensed moneychangers will provide an exchange receipt; if they don’t you may be able to negotiate better rates than those posted on their boards.
Major credit cards are widely accepted at midrange and better hotels, restaurants and fancy shops in the Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara only. Most places levy a 3% to 4% surcharge to cover the credit card company’s fees to the vendor.
Branches of Standard Chartered Bank and some other banks such as Nabil Bank and Himalaya Bank give cash advances against Visa and MasterCard in Nepali rupees only (no commission is charged), and will also sell you foreign-currency travellers cheques against the cards with a 2% commission.
In general, it’s easiest to send money through companies such as Western Union (www.westernunion.com) or Moneygram (www.visitnepal.com/moneygram), which can arrange transfers within minutes. To pick up funds at a Western Union branch, you’ll need your passport and 10-digit transfer code.
Note that money can often only be received in Nepali rupees, rather than US dollars.
- Taxis Round up the fare for taxi drivers; rickshaw drivers will also appreciate a modest tip.
- Restaurants Tipping waiting staff is uncommon, but tips are invariably appreciated.
- Guides & Porters Trekking guides and porters generally expect a tip of 10% to 15% for a job well done.
|Euro zone||€1||Rs 124|
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Business hours are year-round for banks and most offices. Many places in the mountains keep slightly longer summer hours and shorter winter hours.
Banks 9am–noon and 2–4pm Sunday to Friday, 10am–noon Saturday
Bars and clubs Usually close by midnight or 1am, even in Kathmandu
Museums generally 10.30am–4.30pm, often closed Tuesday
Shops 10am–8pm (varies widely, some closed Saturday)
Opening Hours Table
Standard opening hours are as follows.
9am-1pm & 2-6pm Sun-Fri, 9am-1pm Sat
9am-noon, 2-4pm Sun-Fri, 10am-noon Sat
Bars & clubs
generally closed by midnight (1am in Kathmandu)
9am-1pm & 2-5pm Mon-Fri
10am-1pm & 2-5pm (to 4pm in winter) Mon-Thu, 10am-1pm Fri (also 10am-5pm Sun outside the Kathmandu Valley)
generally 10.30am-4.30pm, often closed Tue
10am-8pm (some shops closed on Sat)
Bringing a video camera to Nepal poses no real problem and there are no video fees to worry about. The exception to this is in the upper Mustang region, where there is technically an astonishing US$1000 fee to take video footage, though unless you're obviously a professional film crew it's highly unlikely anyone will ask you for this.
Film & Equipment
- Almost all flavours of memory stick, flash card etc and batteries are available in Kathmandu. Note that travellers have reported buying cheap cards in Kathmandu that do not have as much memory as the packet claims.
- Most Nepalis are content to have their photograph taken, but always ask permission first. Sherpa people are an exception and can be very camera-shy.
- Bear in mind that if a sadhu (holy man) poses for you, they will probably insist on being given baksheesh (a tip).
- It is not uncommon for temple guardians to not allow photos of their temple, and these wishes should be respected.
- Don’t photograph army camps, checkpoints or bridges.
- To photograph Nepal’s diverse attractions you need a variety of lenses, from a wide-angle lens for compact temple compounds to a long telephoto lens for mountain shots or close-ups of wildlife.
- A polarising filter is useful to increase contrast and bring out the blue of the sky.
- Remember to allow for the intensity of mountain light when setting exposures at high altitude.
- When it comes to taking portraits, remember that the bright Nepalese sky and darker Nepalese skin can be too much of a contrast for your camera. A fill-in flash can do wonders to the quality of your images.
Budding bloggers, photojournalists and citizen journalists might be interested in the annual eight-day photography course run by Kathmandu Inside Out (www.kathmanduinsideout.com), which focuses on storytelling through photos. The US$1600 fee includes the course and funding for two aspiring Nepali journalists. The course usually takes place in November or December.
The postal service to and from Nepal is, at best, erratic but can occasionally be amazingly efficient. Most articles do arrive at their destination…eventually.
Having stocked up on gifts and souvenirs in Nepal, many people send them home from Kathmandu. Parcel post is not cheap or quick, but the service is reliable. Sea mail is much cheaper than airmail, but it is also much slower (packages take about 3½ months) and less reliable.
As an indication, a 2kg package to the UK/USA costs Rs 1645/2045 via airmail, or 25% less at ‘book post’ rate (a special rate for books only).
The contents of a parcel must be inspected by officials before it is wrapped. There are packers at the Kathmandu foreign post office who will wrap it for a small fee. The maximum weight for sea mail is 20kg; for airmail it’s 10kg, or 5kg for book post.
If an object is shipped out to you in Nepal, you may find that customs’ charges for clearance and collection at your end add up to more than the initial cost of sending it. Often it’s worth paying extra to take it with you on the plane in the first place.
Airmail rates for a 20g letter/postcard within Nepal are Rs 5/2; to India and surrounding countries Rs 25/20; to Europe and the UK Rs 40/30; and to the USA and Australia Rs 50/35.
A remarkable number of holidays and festivals affect the working hours of Nepal’s government offices and banks, which seem to close every other day and certainly for public holidays and some or all festival days. Exact festival timings (and thus their public holiday dates) change annually according to Nepal’s lunar calendar. The following are just the major holidays.
Prithvi Narayan Shah’s Birthday 10 January
Basanta Panchami (start of Spring) January/February
Maha Shivaratri (Shiva’s Birthday) February/March
Bisket Jatra (Nepali New Year) 14 April
Janai Purnima July/August
Teej (Festival of Women) August/September
Constitution Day 19 September
Indra Jatra (Indra Festival) September
Tihar (Divali) October/November
Dasain (15 days in September or October) is the most important of all Nepali celebrations. Tens of thousands of Nepalis hit the road to return home to celebrate with their families. This means that while villages are full of life if you are trekking, buses and planes are fully booked and overflowing, porters may be hard to find (or more expensive than usual) and cars are difficult to hire. Many hotels and restaurants in regional towns close down completely, and doing business in Kathmandu (outside Thamel) becomes almost impossible. Most restaurants run a limited menu at this time.
The most important days, when everything comes to a total halt, are the ninth day (when thousands of animals are sacrificed) and the 10th day (when blessings are received from elder relatives and superiors). Banks and government offices are generally closed from the eighth day of the festival to the 12th day.
Most restaurants and public transport are non-smoking and the rules are generally followed. Most bars and restaurants have a designated smoking area.
Taxes & Refunds
Most midrange and top end hotels and restaurants add 13% VAT and then a 10% service charge.
It is possible for tourists to get the value added tax (VAT) refunded on consumer goods but it’s an ordeal and is probably only relevant if you’ve made a major purchase, for example buying a new camera on New Rd in Kathmandu. For more information, see the website of Tribhuvan International Airport (www.tiairport.com.np).
Nepali Telephone Networks
The phone system in Nepal works pretty well and making local, STD and international calls is easy. Reverse-charge (collect) calls can only be made to the UK, USA, Canada and Japan.
To make a call, look for signs advertising STD/ISD services. Many hotels offer international direct-dial facilities, but always check their charges before making a call. Out in rural areas you may find yourself using someone’s mobile phone at a public call centre.
Most people in rural areas use mobile phones rather than fixed lines to communicate.
Buy SIM cards at Kathmandu airport on arrival or at Nepal Telecom (Namaste) or Ncell outlets across the country.
Nepali SIM Cards
You will need an unlocked GSM 900–compatible phone to use local Nepali networks.
Unlike using a landline, you need to dial the local area code when making a local call on a mobile.
Ncell (www.ncell.com.np) is the most popular and convenient provider for tourists, but in mountain areas Ncell reception is often non-existent. To get a SIM card take a copy of your passport and one photo to an Ncell office. Ncell offer a 'traveller package' for Rs 1000 that gets you Rs 600 worth of local calls, Rs 500 of international calls and 500MB of data, for 15 days. Otherwise, local calls cost around Rs 2 to Rs 3 per minute and incoming calls are free. International calls cost around Rs 5 to Rs 15 per minute depending on the destination. It’s easy to buy a scratch card to top up your balance, in denominations from Rs 50 to 1000.
If you are staying longer than 15 days you can buy a SIM card for Rs 150 and then top up your balance with scratch cards. Call *101# to check your balance and *102# to add balance with a scratch card.
For data use you are better off adding a pre-paid data package; a 2.5GB package costs Rs 800 for 30 days.
With a 3G connection you can even get internet access on the Everest Base Camp Trek! (The first tweet from the summit of Everest was sent in May 2011…)
Nepal Telecom (www.ntc.net.np) operates the Namaste Mobile network, but signing up for a SIM card is a more laborious process than for Ncell. However, Namaste has much wider reception in the mountains so is the one to go for if you're spending a lot of time hiking and contact with the world beyond is important to you.
Nepal is 5¾ hours ahead of GMT/UTC; this curious time differential is intended to make it very clear that Nepal is a separate place to India, where the time is 5½ hours ahead of GMT/UTC. There is no daylight-saving time in Nepal.
When it’s noon in Nepal it’s 1.15am in New York, 6.15am in London, 1.15pm in Bangkok, 2.15pm in Tibet, 4.15pm in Sydney and 10.15pm the previous day in Los Angeles, not allowing for daylight saving or other local variations.
Nepali holidays and festivals are principally dated by the lunar calendar, falling on days relating to new or full moons. The lunar calendar is divided into bright and dark fortnights. The bright fortnight is the two weeks of the waxing moon, as it grows to become purnima (the full moon). The dark fortnight is the two weeks of the waning moon, as the full moon shrinks to become aunsi (the new moon).
The Nepali New Year starts on 14 April with the month of Baisakh. The Nepali calendar is 57 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar used in the West, thus the year 2018 in the West is 2075 in Nepal.
The Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, on the other hand, start their New Year from the day after Deepawali (the third day of Tihar), which falls on the night of the new moon in late October or early November. Their calendar is 880 years behind the Gregorian calendar, so 2018 in the West is 1138 to the Newars.
- Outside of Kathmandu and Pokhara, the ‘squat toilet’ is the norm, except in hotels and guesthouses geared towards tourists.
- Next to a squat toilet (charpi in Nepali) is a bucket and/or tap, which has a twofold function: flushing the toilet and cleaning the nether regions (with the left hand only) while still squatting over the toilet.
- In tourist areas you’ll find Western toilets and probably toilet paper (depending on how classy the place is). In general, put used toilet paper in the separate bin; don’t flush it down the toilet.
- Most rural places don’t supply toilet paper, so always carry an emergency stash.
- More rustic toilets in rural areas may consist of a few planks precariously positioned over a pit in the ground.
The Nepal Tourism Board (www.welcomenepal.com) operates a booth in Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport and a more substantial office at the Tourist Service Centre in central Kathmandu, both of which have simple brochures and maps but not much else.
The other tourist offices in Pokhara, Bhairawa, Birganj, Janakpur and Kakarbhitta are virtually useless unless you have a specific question.
Travellers with Disabilities
Wheelchair facilities, ramps and lifts (and even pavements!) are virtually nonexistent throughout Nepal and getting around the packed, twisting streets of traditional towns can be a real challenge if you are in a wheelchair. It is common for hotels to be multilevel, with most rooms on the upper floors. Many places – even midrange establishments – do not have lifts. Bathrooms equipped with grips and railings are not found anywhere, except perhaps in some of the top-end hotels.
There is no reason why a visit and even a trek could not be customised through a reliable agent for those with reasonable mobility. As an inspiration, consider Erik Weihenmayer, who became the first blind climber to summit Everest in 2001 (and wrote a book called Touch the Top of the World), or Thomas Whittaker, who summited in 1998 with an artificial leg, at the age of 50.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from https://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Other useful online resources include Access-Able Travel Source (www.access-able) and Accessible Journeys (www.disabilitytravel.com).
Travel with Children
Increasing numbers of people are travelling with their children in Nepal, and with a bit of planning it can be remarkably hassle-free. Many people trek with older children, but heading out on the trail with smaller children for any length of time or on any higher routes with children of any age is generally not to be advised.
Check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children for handy hints and advice about the pros and cons of travelling with kids.
- In the main tourist centres (Kathmandu and Pokhara), most hotels have triple rooms and quite often a suite with four beds, which are ideal for families with young children. Finding a room with a bathtub can be a problem at the bottom end of the market.
- Many Kathmandu hotels have a garden or roof garden, which can be good play areas. Check them thoroughly, however, as some are definitely not safe for young children.
- Walking the crowded, narrow and pavement-less streets of Kathmandu and other towns can be a hassle with young kids unless you can get them up off the ground – a backpack or sling is ideal. A pusher or stroller is more trouble than it’s worth unless you bring one with oversized wheels, suitable for rough pavements.
- Keep mealtimes stress-free by eating breakfast at your hotel, having lunch at a place with a garden (there are plenty of these) and going to restaurants armed with colouring books, stories and other distractions.
- Disposable nappies (diapers) are available in Kathmandu and Pokhara, but for a price – it's better to bring them with you if possible.
- Cots are generally not available in budget or midrange hotels; similarly, nappy-changing facilities and high chairs are a rarity.
- Trekking is possible with children, but it pays to limit the altitude; consider hiring a porter to carry younger children in a doko basket.
Tourism certainly brings revenue and other benefits to the people of Nepal, yet sadly there are also negative impacts, such as begging in city streets and disappearing forests along trekking trails. Read on to see how you can maximise your contribution and minimise your footprint through voluntary work and responsible travel.
- Consider honestly how your skill set may best benefit an organisation and community, choose a cause that you are passionate about and do some research to ensure your potential organisation is reputable and transparent.
- Think realistically about how much time you can devote to the project. You are unlikely to be of lasting help if you stay for less than a couple of months.
- It may surprise you to have to pay to volunteer but many companies charge substantial placement fees and ask you to cover your own costs, including accommodation, food and transport.
For further information, www.ethicalvolunteering.org offers useful tips on selecting an ethical volunteer agency and Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World (Lonely Planet) offers invaluable information and a directory.
Volunteering in Nepal
Hundreds of travellers volunteer in Nepal every year, working on an incredible range of development and conservation projects, covering everything from volunteering with street children in Kathmandu to counting the tracks of endangered animals in the high Himalaya. The potential for personal growth and the opportunity to forge a connection with a local community can give a profoundly deeper significance to the notion of travel. In the wake of Nepal's 2015 earthquake, volunteers have never been in greater need.
However, it is important to remember the principles of ethical volunteering – good volunteer agencies match a volunteer’s skill sets to suitable projects that result in real and lasting benefit to local communities, rather than simply offering travellers the chance to feel better about themselves during a fleeting two-week placement.
As so-called ‘voluntourism’ has grown in popularity, dozens of organisations have sprung up to take advantage of a new source of revenue, muddying an already murky issue. You’ll need to do serious research to ensure that your time and money are genuinely going to help the cause you are trying to advance. Do it right though, and an extended time spent volunteering will bring you much closer to the country. Dare we say it, it may even change your life.
A number of trekking and tour agencies use the proceeds from their trips to support charitable projects around Nepal, and many travellers also undertake sponsored treks and climbing expeditions in Nepal to raise money for specific charities and projects.
There are a number of organisations that set up expeditions of this kind, including the following:
- Australian Himalayan Foundation (www.australianhimalayanfoundation.org.au) Offers fundraising treks to its aid projects.
- Community Action Treks (www.catreks.com) Offers various treks that contribute to the work of Community Action Nepal.
- Crooked Trails (www.crookedtrails.com) Runs fundraising treks and volunteer programs.
- Himalayan Healthcare (www.himalayan-healthcare.org) Arranges medical and dental treks around Nepal.
- Nepal Trust (www.nepaltrust.org) British agency that runs treks in Humla to support its development work.
- Red Panda Network (www.redpandanetwork.org) Runs an annual nine-day trip to eastern Nepal to photograph red pandas, with proceeds going to panda conservation.
- Summit Climb (www.summitclimb.com) Runs an annual service trek providing health care in remote parts of Solu Khumbu.
Voluntourism has become a booming business in Nepal, with travel companies co-opting the idea as a branch of their for-profit enterprises. To avoid the bulk of your placement fees going into the pockets of third-party agencies, it’s important to do your research on the hundreds of organisations that now offer volunteer work and find a suitable one that supports your skills.
Although you give your time for free, you will be expected to pay for food and lodging, and you may also be asked to pay a placement fee. Volunteers should try to find out exactly how much of their placement fees is going into Nepal, and how much is going towards company profit and administrative costs. Fees paid to local agencies tend to be much lower than those charged by international volunteer agencies.
Nepal’s orphanages in particular have come under a critical spotlight in recent years, with several operations linked to child trafficking and adoption scandals. Conor Grennan’s book Little Princes is an inspiring account of time volunteering in a Nepali orphanage that touches on the corruption and murky moral dilemmas inherent in trying to do the right thing in Nepal. Following a damning UNICEF report in 2014, many foreign governments now advise their citizens against volunteering at orphanages unless they have been verified as legitimate by the Nepali Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB; www.ccwb.gov.np).
When looking for a volunteer placement, it is essential to investigate what your chosen organisation does and, more importantly, how it goes about it. If the focus is not primarily on your skills, and how these can be applied to help local people, then this should ring alarm bells. Any organisation that promises to let you do any kind of work, wherever you like, for as long as you like, is unlikely to be putting the needs of local people first.
For any organisation working with children, child protection is a serious concern; places that do not conduct background checks on volunteers should be regarded with extreme caution. For some sobering perspectives on the volunteering industry, see www.nextgenerationnepal.org/ethical-volunteering and www.just-one.org/your-chance/volunteering.
Following is a list of organisations offering volunteering opportunities in Nepal, but Lonely Planet does not endorse any organisations that we do not work with directly, so it is essential that you do your own thorough research before agreeing to volunteer with anyone.
- Butterfly Foundation (www.butterflyfoundation.org) Accepts volunteers to help with administration and child care in Pokhara; linked to Butterfly Lodge.
- Child Environment Nepal (www.cennepal.org.np) Accepts child-care volunteers at its premises at Naya Bazaar in Kathmandu.
- Child Rescue Nepal (www.childrescuenepal.org) Can arrange placements working to improve the lives of trafficked and abandoned children.
- Ford Foundation (www.fordnepal.org) Arranges volunteer work focusing on teaching and child care.
- Global Vision International (www.gvi.co.uk) Offers both short- and long-term internships and volunteer placements, some combined with trekking.
- Helping Hands (www.helpinghandsusa.org) Places medical volunteers at clinics around Nepal.
- Himalayan Children Care Home (www.hchmustang.org) Accepts volunteers to help with the care and education of kids from remote Mustang who are attending schools in Pokhara.
- Insight Nepal (www.insightnepal.org) Combines a cultural and education program near Pokhara with a volunteer placement and a trek in the Annapurna region; lasts seven weeks or three months.
- Kathmandu Environmental Education Project (KEEP; www.keepnepal.org) Placements in education and training in and around Kathmandu; minimum two-month placements preferred and a US$50 administration fee.
- Mountain Fund (www.mountainvolunteer.org) Education, media, agriculture and health-care opportunities at Her Farm.
- Mountain Trust Nepal (www.mountain-trust.org) British NGO that can arrange volunteer placements in social projects around Pokhara.
- Nepal Trust (www.nepaltrust.org) Has a focus on Humla in western Nepal.
- Nepali Children’s Trust (www.nepalichildrenstrust.com) Works with disabled Nepali children.
- People & Places (www.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk) Placements for responsible and ethical volunteering.
- Prisoners Assistance Nepal (www.panepal.org) Kathmandu-based organisation that needs volunteers to help with social justice and look after children whose parents are in prison.
- Rokpa (www.rokpa.org) Swiss-Tibetan organisation that needs volunteers for its medical tent at Bodhnath for six or more weeks (December to March).
- Rural Assistance Nepal (www.rannepal.org) UK-based charity that places volunteers in education and health care.
- Sustainable Agriculture Development Program (www.sadpnepal.org) Arranges placements in sustainable agriculture and social programs near Pokhara.
- Volunteers Initiative Nepal (www.volunteeringnepal.org) Wide range of opportunities; see also www.friendsofvin.nl.
Feature: Donating in Nepal
While travelling in Nepal, many people are struck by the challenges faced by ordinary people. As one of the poorest nations on earth, Nepal has few public services provided by government, and access to even basic essentials such as health care, sanitation and education is limited, particularly in rural areas, leaving many local people in a desperate position. The 2015 earthquake has only worsened the plight of Nepal's poor, with many families still living in temporary accommodation over two years after the earthquake.
Just by visiting Nepal and spending money in businesses owned by local people, you are making a contribution to their future, but should you wish to make a more lasting contribution, consider making a donation to a non-government organisation that is working long-term to improve the lives of people in Nepal. Dozens of Nepali and international organisations are working in areas as diverse as installing water pumps and reuniting trafficked children with their families, and almost all rely on support from donations as well as funding from international governments.
As in any sphere, some organisations are more effective than others, so it is important to investigate the options carefully before you contribute. Seek out organisations that spend the bulk of donations on local projects, rather than on administration costs and salaries for their staff. The website www.ethicalconsumer.org has some useful information on ethical giving – search the site for ‘comparing charities’. For listings of charities working in Nepal, visit www.charity-charities.org/Nepal-charities/Nepal.html.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Nepal uses the metric system, alongside some traditional measures.
Generally speaking, Nepal is a safe country for women travellers. However, women should still be cautious. Some Nepali men may have peculiar ideas about the morality of Western women, given their exposure to Western films portraying women wearing ‘immodest’ clothing. Dress modestly, which means wearing clothes that cover the shoulders and thighs – take your cue from the locals to gauge what’s acceptable in the area. Several women have written to say that a long skirt is very useful for impromptu toilet trips, especially when trekking.
Sexual harassment is low-key but does exist. Trekking guides have been known to take advantage of their position of trust and responsibility and some lone women trekkers who hire a guide have had to put up with repeated sexual pestering. The best advice is to never trek alone with a local male guide. 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking in Pokhara is run by women and specialises in providing female staff for treks.
It's unlikely that you will be able to find work in Nepal, and it is technically illegal to work here on a tourist visa. Most trekking and adventure companies employ Nepali staff, rather than bringing in workers from abroad.