Nepal - tips
|In short||In the 1960ies the ultimate target
for the overland freak. Now, much more touristic, however, the country has not changed
according to the influx but has managed to maintain it's unique culture.
Kathmandu is still one of the most pleasant capitals of the world, and nearby Bakthapur is even better. And, don't even think about going to Nepal without spending a few days or weeks in the mountains. Nepalese trekking justifiably ranks as the best is the world and noone leaves the country unaffected. Just do it!
In short, Nepal is one of the rare countries which is so easy to love and so hard to hate. Nepal is a country providing the visitor with a maximum of experience combined with a minimum of money. Not a bad combination.
|Highlights||Lots, and considering the size of
the country, the huge number of higlights and the price level, Nepal is a safe bet as one
of the top 3 countries in the world according to a value-for-money evaluation.
Kathmandu still ranks as my number 1 capital of the world (together with San'a of Yemen). A cosy place where the internet cafees fo the future mingle gently with the old tempels at Durbar Square. Climbing the Buddhist stupa of Swoyambunath or watching the Hindu cremations at Pashupatinath is likely to stay forever in your mind....
A few kilometers away, the old royal (and all wooden) city of Bakhtapur is definitely worth more than the usual one-day stay (despite tourists having to pay an exhorbitant fee to get inside the city), and joining the bloody sacrifices at Dakhshan Kali Temple south of the capital is likely to turn you into a vegetarian, at least for a short while.
In the mountains, the Everest region is a fantastic place, however, for the beginner, Annapurna is likely to be even more rewarding as the highlights are more accesible and requires less effort than the ones in the Everest region. For the same reason, Annapurna is by far the most touristy of the major trekking region.
A big drawback on the trekking is the fact that, in 2006, the Nepalese government has decided to focus on "quality tourists". that means big spenders with only short time to go, while they don't really want to see the independent freaks. Reportedly, if you want to go trekking you HAVE TO take a porter, and they won't allow you to hire a local. Instead, you have to hire the porter back in Kathmandu AND to pay the air fare all the way to Lukla. A big rip-off for any independent traveller and a sad reminder that most countries don't really like the freaky non-spenders.
Almost forgotten by the tourists, the comparatively unspoilt Terai plains is more like North India than the rest of Nepal, but shouldn't be overlooked. The Royal Chitwan National Park is one of the few places where there is still a good chance to see an Asian rhino, and further east, the flat lowlands give en excellent opportunity to get a glimpse of the common farmers life. As elsewhere in Nepal, it's a very friendly experience. Actually, it's hard not to love the Nepalese people for, despite the huge influx of foreigners, being able to maintain their culture and identity.
|Places to avoid||From being a very calm and quiet
country, Nepal has gradually changed into a volatile, political bomb. For a decade or so,
the Maoist rebels have made parts of the country very unsafe for the Nepalese and the
tourists, and reportedly tourists have actually been killed. More common, though, seems to
be the policy of forcing the trekkers to pay a certain "protection fee", very
much like the happy days of Al Capone.
The only good thing about these guerillas is that they keep some of the mass tourists away and that you're very likely to have it all to yourself! But, in any case, don't venture into the mountains without checking the situation.
Apart from that, despite the huge influx of tourists, Nepal has remained a quiet destination, and the crazy crowds of neighbour India appears to be a couple of centuries away. For that reason alone, Nepal is an excellent starting point for any first-time traveler to Asia. Much better than India!
|Seasons||The seasons are entirely determined
by the summer monsoon, and the best ones are, in particular for trekking, are on both
sides: In April and May and from October to December. The summers are hot and wet, while
the mountain winters are extremely cold.
Comparing spring and autumn, the skies are generally clearer during the latter, whereas the colours of the spring are hard to beat if you like flowers.
|Do's and don'ts||Nothing really. The Nepalese are extremely religious, however, most of them being Hindus, they are very tolerant towards any mistakes. Some temples require that you take off your shoes before entering but that shouldn't pose a problem. Just do as the locals.|
|Visa||Easy to get at the border or in the immigration at the Airport.|
|Value for money||Fantastic! It takes a long time to go broke even in Kathmandu. Unfortunately, the recent policy of forcing tourists to take a porter makes trekking much less economic than before. The sad price of focusing on "quality tourists".|
|Others||Compared to the ease of doing it,
Nepalese trekking is the best in the world. Due to the abundancy of "tea
houses", trekking in the standard regions (Langtang, Annapurna and Everest) is very
easy and can be undertaken with much less equipment than a similar experience in Pakistan
Forget about carrying a tent and a stove, or bringing the heavy water-proof military boots. Unlike New Zealand and Patagonia, you will never be forced to wade though icy streams and, due to the tea houses, a cheap bed (and food) is easy to find, so carry as little as possible. Just don't forget some very warm clothes, in particular for the high and cold Everest region.
As elsewhere in the Hindu world, there are lots of beggars, all too eager to test the softness of the tourist bleeding hearts. Remember, it's not your fault that they are beggars, and there is absolutely no need to feel guilty for that. If you decide to give, keep your alms at a very low level, corresponding to the donations of the locals. Huge donation will just confirm their observation that begging is a much better business than working. And, with a lots of tourists around, it actually is.