Nepal is wedged between China to the north and India to the south. Only small in length and breadth, in height it amazes. Four great rivers split Nepal into four main areas: vast plains in the south, the foothill jungle, fertile valleys in the midlands, and the inner Himalayas, with peaks of 6000 to 8848 metres.
The capital Kathmandu, positioned between the world’s tallest mountains and lowland tropical jungle, simultaneously embodies history and modernity. Its tightly packed centre preserves a world very different to the shanty towns, expensive hotels, restaurants and shops on the city’s outskirts.
The second largest city in the valley, Patan lies just across the Bagmati River, and is a much quieter place to visit. Bhaktapur is the most medieval of the three major cities in the Kathmandu Valley and, despite recent development, retains a timeless air with much of its architecture dating from the end of the 17th century. The city of Pokhara, near the base of the mountains, is an ideal place to gear up for, or recover from, a trek.
Nepal People & History
The People in Nepal
Nepal has a population of about 27 million people from more than 101 ethnic groups, each coexisting peacefully with its own language, customs and rituals. While around 92 languages are spoken, the national language is Nepali, written in a distinctive Devanagari script. English is widely spoken and understood in Kathmandu.
Religion is the lifeblood of the Nepalese. Nepal is a secular country with a high degree of intermingling of Hinduism and Buddhism. Other religions include Islam, Christianity and shamanism. Nepal is the birthplace of both Gautama Buddha, born in Lumbini, and Sita, the heroine of the epic Hindu Ramayana, who was born in Janakpur.
History in Nepal
Nepal’s recorded history began with the Kiratis, who arrived in the 7th or 8th century BC and established a dynasty in the east, where they ruled for 1000 years. During this period Buddhism first came to the country. By 200 AD Buddhism had waned and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India. The Newars of the Kathmandu Valley are believed to be their descendants. The Hindus also introduced the caste system (which still exists) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture. Another great contribution to Nepal’s artistic heritage came with the reign of the Malla dynasty.
Despite earthquakes, the odd invasion and feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under yaksha Malla. After a 600-year rule, however, conflicts arose between the kings and, during the late 18th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, King of Gorkha, conquered Kathmandu and united Nepal into one kingdom. With the threatening presence of the British Raj in India, he cleared the country of European missionaries and Nepal remained in isolation for more than a 100 years.
The first prime minister to wield absolute power in Nepal was Jung Bahadur Rana, who implemented an oligarchy and reduced the Shah kings to figureheads during the mid-19th century. A democratic movement saw the Ranas overthrown in the early 1950s. Until recently, Nepal enjoyed a multi-party democratic system with a constitutional monarch. In September 2007, the interim parliament abolished the monarchy, declaring Nepal a federal democratic republic. The first meeting of the Constituent Assembly officially implemented that declaration on May 28, 2008.
Things to do in Nepal
Activities in Nepal
Most visitors head to Nepal for adventure travel. Rafting, kayaking and trekking are incredibly popular. Other activities include mountain biking, mountaineering, pony trekking and jungle safaris. Less strenuous pursuits include orchid tours, nature and culture tours.
Hot Air Ballooning is a perfect way to see Nepal’s breathtaking scenery and magnificent valleys, which are unmatched anywhere else on the planet. Horseriding is a very popular choice for touring various hill regions, especially where there are no other forms of transport.
Once you’ve seen the temples you’re likely to want to take some Nepalese handiwork home. Many of the wood carved pagodas, temple struts, bronze cast deities, windows and woodblocks of traditional design and stone sculptures available are surprisingly inexpensive. Brass and copperware and traditional Nepali and Tibetan silver jewellery are also available.
Food and Entertainment
Nepal lies at the intersection of two of the world’s greatest gastronomic giants, India and China and, while their influence is evident, Nepalese food is quite different. A common dish, dal bhat tarkari, is a combination of lentil soup, rice and curried vegetables. Popular drinks are lassis and chang, the Himalayan home brew made from barley. In the evenings, traditional folk musicians or gaines gather to sing and socialise, with classical dancing and trance-like masked dances enlivening the Kathmandu Valley and Bhaktapur regions.
Essential Travel Tips for Nepal
Where to Stay
Accommodation spans the spectrum, from international-standard hotels in Kathmandu to very basic and economical tea houses dotted around the countryside.
Getting Around Nepal
Most of the valley attractions around Kathmandu can be reached on foot but the easiest way to get around is by bicycle, tempo (three-wheeled bus) or auto-rickshaw. Taxis (which aren’t all metered), cars with drivers, mountain bikes or motorbikes can be hired for the day. There are no self-drive cars, or trains although both China and India are exploring extending their rail links to Nepal. In early 2008, China began building a railway connecting the Tibetan capital of Lhasa with the market town of Khasa on the Sino-Nepal border.
Meanwhile public buses are the main form of transportation and are incredibly cheap but slow and uncomfortable. Tourist buses between Kathmandu and Pokhara are a better option. Royal Nepal Airlines and other private airlines offer domestic services but book domestic flights in advance and confirm your ticket.
Climate in Nepal
Varies from tropical heat in the Terai to freezing cold in the mountains. In the mid-hills it’s temperate with warm summers and cool winters. The rainy season is from June to August.
In Kathmandu light clothing with a jacket for evenings in the warm months of May to October. For the rest of the year, warm clothing, particularly from November to February.
AEST, 4hrs 15mins; GMT +5 hrs 45mins.
Nepalese rupees in banknotes of 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 5, 2, 1. The rupee is made up of 100 paisa.
While tipping is not expected it is becoming more common in upmarket restaurants in Kathmandu. Porters on treks, however, should be tipped around Rs 100 per day.
Visa and Health
Passports and visas are required except for Indian nationals. Tourists can obtain visas on arrival.
Yellow fever vaccination is required if arriving or transiting from infected areas. Inoculations against typhoid, paratyphoid and hepatitis are recommended. Other health risks are altitude sickness, malaria and meningococcal meningitis.
TIA in Kathmandu is the only international airport of Nepal. Royal Nepal Airlines (RA) is the national carrier and flies from Kathmandu to Delhi, Dubai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Osaka, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.
Other international carriers to Kathmandu include Air Arabia, Air China, Air Sahara, Biman Bangladesh, China Southern Airlines, GMG Airlines, Gulf Air, Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Korean Air, PIA, Qatar Airways, Royal Druk Air, and Thai Airways.