Nepal  is a landlocked country in Southern Asia, between the Tibet autonomous region of China and India. It contains eight of the world's 10 highest peaks, including Mount Everest - the world's tallest - on the border with Tibet, and Lumbini, the birth place of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. Nepal recently was declared a republic and has abolished the monarchy.
Nepal has been divided into elevation zones, south to north:
are also important geographic divisions. The Mahabharat Range is a major hydrologic barrier in Nepal and other parts of the Himalaya. South-flowing rivers converge in candelabra shapes to break through this range in a few narrow gorges. Travel is usually easier within these candelabra drainage systems than between them, so high divides between river systems became historically important political, linguistic and cultural boundaries.
The Karnali system in the far west is the birthplace of Pahari ('hill') culture. It was settled by people called Khas speaking an indo-european language called Khaskura ('Khas talk') that was related to other north indian languages, all claiming descent from classical Sanskrit.
East of the Karnali proper, along a major tributary called the Bheri and further east in another basin called the Rapti lived a Tibeto-Burman people called Kham. Khas and Kham people seem to have been allies and probably intermarried to create the synthesis of aryan and mongoloid features that especially characterizes the second-highest Chhetri (Kshatriya) caste. It appears that Khas kings recruited Kham men as guards and soldiers. Khas and Kham territories in the far west were subdivided into small kingdoms called the Baisi, literally '22' as they were counted.
Nepal has one of the world's highest birthrates because Hindu girls usually marry by their early teens, causing their entire reproductive potential to be utilized. Furthermore, men who can afford it often take multiple wives. This may trace back to Khas culture, explaining relentless Khas colonization eastward as finite amounts of land suitable for rice cultivation were inevitably outstripped by high birthrates.
Rapti and Gandaki
The Rapti river system east of the Karnali-Bheri had few lowlands suitable for growing rice and extensive highlands that were not attractive for Khas settlement but were a barrier to migration. However the Rapti's upper tributaries rose somewhat south of the Himalaya. Between these tributaries and the Dhaulagiri range of the Himalaya, a large east-west valley called Dhorpatan branching off the upper Bheri provided a detour eastward, over an easy pass called Jaljala into the Gandaki river system further east. The Gandaki is said to have seven major tributaries, most rising in or beyond the high Himalaya. They merge to cut through the Mahabharat and Siwalik ranges. In this basin elevations were generally lower and rainfall was higher compared to the Karnali-Bheri and Rapti basins. There was great potential for rice cultivation, the agricultural base of the Khas way of life. A collection of small principalities called the Chaubisi developed. Chaubisi literally means '24', as these kingdoms were counted. Not all were Khas kindoms. Some were Magar -- a large indigenous hill tribe people related to the Kham. Other kingdoms were Gurung and Tamang. Several Gandaki tributaries rose in the transhimalayan region where inhabitants and rulers became increasingly Tibetanized to the north.
Within the Chaubisi kingdoms of the Gandaki basin, Gorkha was a small valley east of Pokhara ruled by a Khas family now called Shah, an honorific title that may have come later, however any earlier name seems to be forgotten. In 1743 A.D. Prithvi Narayan Shah became the ruler of Gorkha after his father Nara Bhupal Shah died. Prithvi Narayan already had a reputation as a hotheaded upstart. Resolving to modernize Gorkha's army, he was bringing modern arms from India when customs officers demanded inspection and payment of duties. Prithvi Narayan refused and attacked the officers, killing several before escaping with his arms and men. He also visited Benares to study the situation of local rulers and the growing encroachment of British interests. Prithvi concluded that invasion was a chronic danger to rulers on the plains of northern India, whereas the hills were more defensible and offered more scope to carve out a lasting empire.
Kathmandu Valley (Bagmati)
Prithvi Narayan must have been a charismatic figure, for he recruited, equipped and trained a formidable army and persuaded his subjects to underwrite all this from his ascension until his death in 1775. Through conquest and treaty, he consolidated several Chaubisi kingdoms. As his domain expanded, Khaskura became known as Gorkhali, i.e. the language of the Gorkha kingdom. Then he moved east into the next river basin, the Bagmati which drains the Kathmandu Valley that held three small but prosperous urban kingdoms. Like the Rapti, the Bagmati rises somewhat south of the Himalaya. Unlike the Rapti basin, this valley had once held a large lake and the remaining alluvial soil was exceptionally fertile. Between the agricultural abundance, local crafts, and extensive trade with Tibet, the cities were prosperous. Prithvi Narayan encircled the valley, cutting off trade and restricting ordinary activities, even farming and getting water. With a combination of stealth, brutality and intimidation he he prevailed and deposed the local kings in 1769, making Kathmandu his new capital. This was the high point of Prithvi Narayan's career, however he continued consolidating the Kathmandu Valley with the Chaubisi and Baisi federations to the west until his death in 1775. Gorkhali was re-dubbed Nepali as 'Nepal' came to mean not only the urbanized Kathmandu Valley, but all lands ruled by the Shahs.
Prithvi Narayan's heirs Pratap Singh, Rana Bahadur and Girvan Yuddha continued expansion of their kingdom into the Koshi river basin east of the Bagmati system. Like the Gandaki, the Koshi traditionally has seven major tributaries descending from the Himalaya before joining forces to break through the Mahabharat and Siwalik ranges. Ranges drained by Koshi tributaries include Mount Everest and its neighboring peaks, as well as the western side of the Kangchenjunga massif. Kangchenjunga and a high ridge to the south are the watershed between the Koshi and Tista basins as well as the border between Nepal and the former kingdom Sikkim that India annexed it in 1975.
Containment by British
The Shah dynasty's expansion continued eastward across Sikkim and westward across Kumaon and beyond Dehra Dun to the Sutlej River, until the British declared war in 1814 and finally defeated Nepalese forces in 1816. The British wanted a buffer state between British India and the Chinese empire that ultimately controlled Tibet, so it trimmed Nepal back approximately to its present size and let it remain independent.
Informal Settlement in Sikkim and Bhutan
Nevertheless Nepalese eastward colonization beyond the Kosi continued informally, still driven by high birthrates. By the 1800s land-hungry Nepalis were settling in the Tista basin, which happened to be a different country, Sikkim. In the 1900s they were settling beyond Sikkim in the kingdom of Bhutan. This kingdom -- where late marriage and low population densities prevailed among the indigenous, culturally Tibetan population -- saw the demographic writing on the wall and expelled as many as 100,000 Nepalis in 1990.
Caste, Ethnicity, Religion and languages
The caste and ethnic groups of Nepal according to the 2001 census are classified into five main categories: (a)Castes originating from Hindu groups (b) Newars (c) the ethnic groups or janajati (d) Muslims (e)Others.
Hindu castes migrated from India to Nepal after 11th century due to Muslim invasion of northern India. The traditional Hindu caste system is based on the four Varna Vyawastha "the class system" of Brahman (Bahun) priests, scholars and advisors; Kshatriya (Chhetri) rulers and warriors, Vaishya (merchants); Shudra (farmers and menial occupations not considered polluting). Below the Shudra Dalit perform 'polluting' work such as tanning and cleaning latrines. However the middle Vaishya and Shudra are underrepresented in the hills, apparently because they did not have compelling reason to leave the plains while Muslim invaders tried to eliminate previous elites. Dalits seem to have accompanied the upper castes into the hills because they were bound by longstanding patronage arrangements.
Traditional caste rules govern who can eat with whom, especially when boiled rice is served, and who can accept water from whom. Until the 1950s these rules were enforced by law.
Dalits are subject to caste-based discrimination and so called ‘untouchability’ in social, economic, educational, political and religious areas. The National Dalit Commission (2002) categorized 28 cultural groups as Dalits. Some argue that the use of the term Dalit will never ever help to abolish caste-based untouchability. (Literally, 'Dalit' translates to 'suppressed' in Nepali.) There are suggestions that the term should not be used because it not only breeds inferiority but is also insulting.
Newars -- the indigenous people of the Kathmandu valley -- follow both Hinduism and Buddhism. According to the 2001 census they can be classified into 40 distinct cultural groups, but all speak a common language called Nepal bhasa (Newa bhaaya). Newars use prevailing lingua francas to communicate outside their community: Nepali in the hills and Maithili, Bhojpuri and Awadhi in the Terai.
The ethnic groups of the hills, Terai and mountain areas are grouped as Janajati. According to the National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities (NFDIN), ethnic groups are those “who have their own mother tongue and traditional customs, a distinct cultural identity, a distinct social structure and written or oral history all of their own" (NFDIN, 2003). A total of 61 Adibasi Janajatis have been recognised by the Nepal Government, 5 are from the mountain regions, 20 from the Hills, 7 from inner Terai and 11 from the Terai region. A Janajati is a community who has its own mother tongue and traditional culture and yet does not fall under the conventional fourfold Varna of the Hindu system or the Hindu hierarchical caste structure. Many of these ethnic groups are Hinduized to some degree, although Hindu practices supplement rather than replace more ancient beliefs and practices. Unlike the Hindus, many indigenous nationalities of Nepal such as the Sherpa people as well as the people of Muslim & Christian faiths, have a culture of eating beef.
Other caste and ethnic groups included in the ‘other’ category are; Sikhs, Christians, Bengalis, and Marawadis.
Different indigenous nationalities are in different stages of development. Some indigenous nationalities are nomads, e.g. Raute, and some are forest dwellers, e.g. Chepang and Bankaria. Most of the indigenous nationalities rely on agriculture and pastoralism and very few are cosmopolitan, e.g. Newar.
The census of 2001 has listed 8 religions—Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, Kiranti, Christian, Jain, Sikh and Bahai. In addition, are animism or Bon are still practiced. Hindu comprises 80.6% and other religions are 19.4%.
Nepal has a Monsoonal climate with four main seasons - though traditionally a year was categorized into six distinct climate periods: Basanta (spring), Grishma (early summer), Barkha (summer monsoon), Sharad (early autumn), Hemanta (late autumn) and Shishir (winter).
Below is a general guide to conditions at different seasons:
The recording of temperatures and rainfall of the major locations across Nepal was started in 1962 and their averages  provides a reference point for analyzing the climate trend.
Nepal is officially divided into 14 administrative zones and five development regions, but travellers might be more comfortable with the conceptual division below (based on the country's elevation). From north to south:
Locked between the snow peaks of the Himalayas and the seething Ganges plain, Nepal has long been home to wandering ascetics and tantric yogis. Consequently, the country has a wealth of sacred sites and natural wonders:
See also: Sacred sites of the Indian sub-continent.
Visas for citizens of most countries are available on arrival at the land borders and at the airport in Kathmandu at a cost of US$25 for 15 days, US$40 for 30 days and US$100 for 90 days multiple entry visa. Tourist visa can be granted for a maximum of 150 days in a visa year. You can pay this in Nepali Rupees, US dollars or Indian rupees. The Nepali Rupee is tied to the Indian Rupee at a rate of 1.6. Note 500 Indian Rupee notes are not accepted. To obtain a visa, you need to bring one passport photo.
Entry points for foreigners are Tribhuvan International Airport (Kathmandu), Kakarvitta, Jhapa (Eastern Nepal), Birganj, Parsa (Central Nepal), Kodari, Sindhupalchowk (Northern Border) ,Belahia, Bhairahawa (Rupandehi, Western Nepal), Jamunaha, Nepalgunj (Banke, Mid Western Nepal), Mohana, Dhangadhi (Kailali, Far Western Nepal), Gaddachauki, and Mahendranagar (Kanchanpur, Far Western Nepal).
Visas are free for all tourists who come from a SAARC country. Indian nationals do not need a visa.
Nationals from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq, Liberia, Nigeria, Israel, Somalia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe need to arrange a visa before arriving.
The ceasefire signed by the Maoists has seen the opening up of routes with new airlines in the country. There are direct flights from Kathmandu to Bangkok with Thai Airways  and the flag carrier Nepal Airlines. Currently Nepal Airlines doesn't offer yet an online booking system. You can make reservations through agencies . One-way tickets from Kathmandu to Bangkok cost USD 220 (including all taxes), Singapore , Hong Kong with Dragon Air/Cathay Pacific . ArkeFly  flies direct to Europe (Amsterdam, Netherlands). Many European destinations can be reached via Doha with Qatar Airways , Abu Dhabi with Ethihad , Dubai with Emirates  or the low cost carrier FlyDubai , Bahrain with Gulf Air . Flights are also available via Delhi on Jet Airways and UAE on Air Arabia.
Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport is located just outside of the Ring Road in Kathmandu. The terminal is a one-room brick building with a large wooden table serving as both customs and immigration. Tourist visa of 15 days or more is available on arrival. Money can be changed to the local currency as well, but these services are only available directly after scheduled arrivals.
Outside the airport, all 'representatives' of the tourist industry are required to remain 10 meters (about 30 feet) from the front door. This does not prevent them from waving large signs and yelling in an attempt to encourage you to choose them as your guide/taxi/hotel/luggage carrier. Make your choice before crossing the line, or better yet, arrange your first night's accommodation before you arrive and ask the hotel to send someone to meet you. Many hotel and guest houses offer complimentary pick up and delivery from the airport. Fixed priceTaxis are also available before you exit the building but you may get a cheaper fare if you are willing to haggle. As always, negotiate the price beforehand with the driver. A taxi ride to Thamel or Boudha should be around 300 NRS. Otherwise, order a taxi at the pre-paid booth inside the airport, which costs 400+NRs (and rising). This is more than the normal taxi rate, but it saves the hassle of long negotiations.
By car or motorcycle
It is quite easy to rent a car with a driver in Nepal, however you would need to haggle to get a reasonable price. If you come in summer, better take a car with AC. Car rental without a driver in Nepal is almost unheard of, as is renting a car in India and taking it across the border.
Many travellers drive from India on Royal Enfield motorcycles. Technically, foreigners have to pay customs at the borders but most don't bother. Selling the bike in Nepal is easy as other travelers are looking for bikes to ride back to India.
If you are coming from India you will find driving in Nepal a lot less chaotic! The roads are amazing and the new east-west highway currently under construction with support from the Japanese will open up new destinations for those interested in exploring Nepal by motor-bike.
Please check before hiring a motorbike on the current state of fuel. At time of writing (13DEC 09) there was large problems with fuel supply which can leave riders stranded. At time of writing, bike hire should be no more than 500Rs a day (Pulsar, Hero Honda, scooter) unless you are hiring an Indian Enfield.
Hirers are also notorious for trying to charge tourists large amounts of money on returning the bike for 'damage payment' that may not have been from you. Therefore make sure a thorough damage assessment with the hirer is carried out before departing and if the hirer tries to scam you on return go to local police.
The best route to explore nepal by road on motorcycle, is to enter from the border crossing of Banbasa- Mahendra Nagar, just after the border crossing, the Mahendra Highway (made with collaboration from India) is amazing to ride on.
Crossing the border requires you to pay a daily toll of 120 rs (Nepali) and a transport permit of 50 rs Nepali(one time), the cops can ask you for these two pieces of document anytime during the ride.
There are Five border crossings open to tourists. The Sunauli-Bhairawa border crossing is the closest to Varanasi, the Raxaul-Birganj crossing to Patna, Kolkata, and Siliguri-Kakarbhitta is to Darjeeling. The Banbassa-Mahendrenagar border crossing in the extreme west of Nepal, is the closest to Delhi. The bahraich-Nepalganj border is the one closest to Lucknow which is the easiest destination by air or train from Delhi.
The crossing between Nepal and Tibet via Kodari is open to independent travelers entering Nepal, but only to organised groups entering Tibet.
Cargo and passanger trains operate between Sirsiya in southern Nepal, and the Indian town of Raxaul. However, except for Indians, foreigners are not allowed to cross border with it. Internal train network is limited to few kilometers of train network in Janakpur.
The great biological and cultural diversity of present-day Nepal is matched by its linguistic diversity. Nepal boasts a variety of living languages many of which are remnants of the traditional Asiatic cultural amalgamation in the region. impressively large number for a country with a small land mass like Nepal. Nepal has more distinct and individual languages in one country than the whole of the European community.
The official language of Nepal is Nepali. It's related to Hindi, Punjabi, and other Indo-Aryan languages, and is normally written with the Devanagari script (as is Hindi). While most Nepali speak at least some Nepali, a large percentage of the population has as their mother tongue another language, such as Tharu around Chitwan, Newari in the Kathmandu Valley, and Sherpa in the Everest area.
Although Nepal was never a British colony, proximity to India has made English somewhat widespread among educated Nepalis. Nevertheless learning even a few words of Nepali is fun and useful, especially outside of the tourist district and while trekking.As Asian languages go, Nepali has to be one of the easiest to learn, and the traveler making the effort isn't likely to make worse blunders than many natives with a different first language.
See: Nepali phrasebook,
A disturbingly large number of Nepal’s mother tongues are severely endangered and will likely be reduced to symbolic identity markers within a generation. So why not try to pick up a few phrases!
A total of 101,320 trekkers visited Nepal in 2007. Out of total 60,237 (59.4%) visited Annapurna area while those visiting the Everest and Langtang regions accounted for 26,511 (26.5%) and 8,165 (8.1%) respectively.
"Tea-House Trekking" is the easiest way to trek as it doesn't require support. Tea Houses have now developed into full-scale tourist lodges with hot showers, pizza, pasta and beer. The day's hikes are between lodge-filled settlements or villages: there's no need for tents, food, water, or beer-- all those things, plus luxuries such as apple-pie, can be purchased along the way. Physical requirements go from very soft to strenuous.
Facilities available in remote areas are less extensive than in the more popular areas thus these areas are often visited as organised groups, including guide, porters and full support. Manaslu, Kanchenjunga, Dolpo, Mustang and Humla require Restricted Area Permits requiring a minimum of two foreign trekkers plus a registered/qualified guide. Progress is being made in Nepal however, and tea-houses are becoming more available in all of these areas.
Annapurna Region Treks
Everest Region Treks
Everest lies in the region known as Khumbu - To get here, take a bus to Jiri or fly to Lukla then hike up to Namche Bazzar, capital of the Sherpa lands at the foot of Everest. Main "teahouse trek" regions, in each of these areas there are a number of trail options, there is plenty of scope for short treks of less than a week to much longer if you have time and wanderlust.
Trekking Peaks require a qualified "climbing guide", permits and deposits to cover camp waste disposal
Langtang Region Treks
Pro-Poor Rural Treks
Tourism is a dynamic sector of economy and accepting it as a vehicle of poverty reduction is a relatively new concept in Nepal. Nepal is a predominantly rural society, with 85% of the population living in the countryside. Naturally, Nepal’s rich culture and ethnic diversity are best experienced in its village communities. You can engage in local activities, learn how to cook local cuisine or take part in agricultural activities like kitchen gardening, etc.
In the rural Nepal context, pro-poor tourism means expanding employment and small enterprise opportunities especially pro-Indigenous Peoples, youth and pro-women. Recent pro-poor initiatives in Nepal include the UNDP-TRPAP  and ILO-EMPLED  projects.
Trekking on the Indigenous Peoples Trail and the Numbur Cheese Circuit is a means for Nepali as well as foreign visitors to experience the rural and traditional Nepali way of life, and for the local Community to participate in and benefit directly from tourism. You'll feel better knowing that your visit is genuinely helping your hosts. And if you want to simply lie on a beach.... well, The Majhi Fishing Experience on the Sun Kosi in Ramechhap features one of the best beaches in Nepal!
'Ethno-Tourism' or Cultural Treks
Ethno-tourism is increasingly popular in Nepal and is designed to maximize social and economic benefits to the local communities and minimize negative impacts to cultural heritage and the environment. Ethno-tourism is a specialized type of cultural tourism and can be defined as any excursion which focuses on the works of humans rather than nature, and attempts to give the tourist an understanding of the lifestyles of local people.
Other more remote regions will require a bit more planning and probably local assistance, not least as the required permits are only issued via Nepali guides/agents. Camping is required on one or more nights.
Social Responsibility and Responsible Travel
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world and hiring a local company will benefit the local economy, however the involvement of travel agents in Kathmandu must be approached with caution. The numbers of travel, trekking and Rafting agencies registered in 2007 were 1,078, 872 and 94 respectively. The rapid growth in tourism in Nepal coupled with the absence of a self-regulating code of conduct has helped to grow unhealthy competition among travel agents with regular undercutting in tariffs. Such undesirable actions take away benefits not only from trekking guides and porters but also from others engaged in supplying goods and providing services to the tourists. By paying lower tariffs tourists may save money but directly at the expense of local Communities. Try to use 'socially responsible' tour operators that promote proper porter treatment and cultural and environmental sensitivity among their clients in line with the UN-WTO Sustainable Tourism Criteria 
While organized groups from "western" tour operators drain the big chunck of the profit out of the country, still organized groups hire a larger amount of local workforce from porters to guides. While with local agents most of the profit remains in the country. Groups are more likely to go remote areas, and rely as much as possible on local resources to minimize transport cost and hire maximum local porters. Cost of full organized tours might be also very high, depending on services.
In comparison, independent trekkers while concentrated on the main trails with Lodges, stay often longer also in one place with less budget. They usually use simpler lodges with less costs. They venture seldom in remote areas, as that would mean more expense or very basic local services which most try to avoid. While individual travellers may consume more locally easy producable services, they generally spend less than organized travellers on same trails simply because they often have longer travel periods with less budgets.
Safety and comfort are higher with organized tours, freedom of changing itinerary is the domain of the individual traveller. There is a full range of choice for any demand, just be sure to think about well what trekking means. For the hard core trekkers, no porter will ever carry, while for many to carry a 15-18 kg backpack might be just simple too much.
It is also possible depending on the river to practice Kayaking and canyoning. Rafting is considered dangerous on most rivers in Nepal (on all during monsoon) so check that your travel insurance covers that.
Mountain biking in Nepal is fun and at times challenging event. There are many popular biking routes in Nepal that are in operation at the moment. They are:
The best time to go for biking is between mid October and late March, when the atmosphere is clear the the climate is temperate - warm during the days and cool during the night. Biking in other times of the year is also okay but great care should be taken while biking during the monsoon season (June to September) as the roads are slippery. Biking can be done independently or can be organized through biking companies of Nepal.
You can rent mountain bikes from simple indian made to real good ones locally, but remember that if your'e going on a longer or harder ride, at least your own saddle would be a good option to bring. Rent goes from anywhere (november 2009) 3 (simple bike) to 30 US Dollars (western bikes with suspension).
Nepal's geography and climate makes for some of the best motorcycling roads in the world. The traffic is a little chaotic, but not aggressive, and the speeds are low. Be aware that you need an international driving licence in Nepal, even though you might never be stopped by the police as a tourist on a bike.
Perhaps the best and most original way to explore the country is by motorcycle. Kathmandu should be avoided by beginners, but the rest of Nepal is simply amazing. Hearts and Tears Motorcycle Club, Wild Experience Tours & Blazing Trails Tours are the better known Names in the industry. They specialize in motorcycle touring, and have a great collection of custom bikes. They are professional set-ups with imported safety equipment, structured training, and well organized group tours.
Chitwan National Park offers elephant rides, jungle canoeing, nature walks, and birding, as well as more adventurous tiger and rhino-viewing. There are also many other less visited parks like Bardiya and Sagarmatha.
"The Last Resort", near the Tibetan border, has frequent Full Moon Trance Parties, lasting 2-3 days. Watch for posters and check music shops. Pokhara has started featuring its own brand of Full Moon raves and interesting Western takes on Nepali festivals.
There are banks in Kathmandu, Pokhara and in several other major cities that will allow you to retrieve cash from ATM or credit cards. You may be charged a service fee, depending on your bank. There are quite a number of ATMs now in those cities that are open round the clock. Although Indian currency is valid in Nepal (at an official exchange rate of 1.60 Nepalese rupees to 1 Indian rupee), the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes are not acceptable. Carrying 500- and 1000-Indian rupee notes is a punishable offence in Nepal. Be sure to keep all currency exchange and ATM receipts as they are required at the airport bank to convert back to your original currency. If you don't have them, they will refuse to convert your currency but they will suggest going to the Duty Free shop upstairs, even though it isn't a licensed money changer. Traveller's checks may be useful outside of the major cities.
The Nepali national meal is daal bhaat tarkaari. It is essentially spiced lentils poured over boiled rice, and served with tarkari: vegetables such as mustard greens, daikon radish, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, squash etc, cooked with spices. This is served in most Nepalese homes and teahouses, two meals a day at about 10 AM and 7 or 8 PM. If rice is scarce the grain part may be cornmeal mush called Ato, barley, or chapatis (whole wheat 'tortillas'). The meal may be accompanied by dahi (yogurt) and a small helping of ultra-spicy fresh chutney or achar (pickle). Traditionally this meal is eaten with the right hand. Curried meat -- goat or chicken -- is an occasional luxury, and freshwater fish is often available near near lakes and rivers. Because Hindus hold cattle to be sacred, beef is forbidden but still can be obtained for a high price in some expensive restaurants (the price is high mainly because it is imported from India). Buffalo and yak are eaten by some but considered too cow-like by others. Pork is eaten by some tribes, but not by upper-caste Hindus. And like in India, some communities and tribes are vegetarians and do not eat meat of any sort.
Outside the main morning and evening meals, a variety of snacks may be available. Tea, made with milk and sugar is certainly a pick-me-up. Corn may be heated and partially popped, although it really isn't popcorn. This is called "kha-ja", meaning "eat and run!" Rice may be heated and crushed into "chiura" resembling uncooked oatmeal that can be eaten with yogurt, hot milk and sugar, or other flavorings. Fritters called 'pakora' and turnovers called "samosa" can sometimes be found, as can sweets made from sugar, milk, fried batter, sugar cane juice, etc. Be sure such delicacies are either freshly cooked or have been protected from flies. Otherwise flies land in the human waste that is everywhere in the streets, then on your food, and so you become a walking medical textbook of gastrological conditions.
Because of the multi-ethnic nature of Nepali society, differing degrees of adherence to Hindu dietary norms, and the extreme range of climates and microclimates throughout the country, different ethnic communities often have their own specialties.
Newars, an ethnic group originally living in the Kathmandu Valley, are connoisseurs of great foods who lament that feasting is their downfall (whereas sexual indulgence is said to be the downfall of Paharis). In the fertile Kathmandu and Pokhara valleys this cuisine often includes a greater variety of foodstuffs -- particularly vegetables -- than what are available in most of the hills. As such, Newari cuisine is quite distinct and diverse relatively compared to the other indigenous regional cuisines of Nepal, so watch out for Newari restaurants. Some of them even come with cultural shows...a great way to enjoy good food while having a crash-course in Nepalese culture.
The cuisine of the Terai lowlands is almost the same as in adjacent parts of India. Locally-grown tropical fruits are sold alongside subtropical and temperate temperate crops from the hills. In addition to bananas ('kera') and papayas ('mewa') familiar to travelers, jackfruit ('katar') is a local delicacy.
Some dishes, particularly in the Himalayan region, are Tibetan in origin and not at all spicy. Some dishes to look for include momos, a meat or vegetable filled dumpling (similar to Chinese pot-stickers) often served with beer, and Tibetan Bread and Honey a puffy fried bread with heavy raw honey that's great for breakfast. One delicacy that you do not want to miss while in Nepal is the dried meat (it especially complements with beer/alcoholic beverages. Up in the Himalayan mountains, potatoes are the staple of the Sherpa people. Try the local dish of potato pancakes (rikikul). They are delicious eaten straight off the griddle and covered with dzo (female yak) butter or cheese.
Pizza, Mexican, Thai and Chinese food, and Middle-Eastern food can all be found in the tourist districts of Kathmandu and Pokhara. If you are on a budget, sticking with local dishes will save a lot of money.
Note that many small restaurants are not prepared to cook several different dishes; try to stick with one or two dishes or you will find yourself waiting as the cook tries to make one after another on a one-burner stove.
As far as possible, eat only Nepali village products. Do not eat junk foods like biscuits, noodles etc. If you take only village product foods, it will help to rise their economic life.
Although not as internationally famous as Indian brands, Nepal does in fact have a large organic tea industry. Most plantations are located in the east of the country and the type of tea grown is very similar to that produced in neighboring Darjeeling. Well known varieties are Dhankuta, Illam, Jhapa, Terathhum and Panchthar (all named after their growing regions). Unfortunately over 70% of Nepal's tea is exported and the tea you see for sale in Thamel, while they serve as token mementos, are merely the scrapings from the bottom of the barrel.
Problematic due to lack of sanitary facilities and sewage treatment. It is safest to assume that water is unsafe for drinking without being chemically treated or boiled, which is one reason to stick to tea or bottled water. In the Nepali neighborhoods, a five gallon clear container of filtered/clean water sells for 55rps. In some areas stores let people fill water bottles with clean/filtered water for 10rps. per liter.
Budget accommodation in Nepal ranges from around 250 NPR to around 750 NPR for a double. The prices you are told at first are not fixed so you should haggle. Especially if you want to stay for a longer period, you can get a large discount. Cheaper rooms usually do not have sheets, blankets, towels, or anything else besides a bed and a door. Most budget hotels and guesthouses have a wide range of rooms, so be sure to see what you are getting, even if you have stayed there before. Usual price for three-star equivalent hotel (AC, bathroom, Internet access and satelite TV in the room) is around 20 USD (1,500 NPR) for a double, a bit more in Kathmandu. Accommodations might easily be the cheapest part of your budget in Nepal.
However, if you prefer luxurious accomodation, the best hotels equal approximately to four star hotels in western countries (unlimited access to swimming pool or whirlpool, no power outages, room service, very good restaurant and buffet breakfests). Expect the price being much higher (circa 50 USD for a double or 100 USD for an appartment, even more in Kathmandu). In these hotels, all prices are usually fixed. In Kathmandu, some luxurious hotels require going through security check when entering.
Volunteer in Nepal
Volunteering in Nepal can be a rewarding alternative to simple tourism. Currently in Nepal, the tourism industry is far removed from the everyday village life of most of the population. Trekking or package tours often move too quickly through the country to provide an appreciation of the natural beauty and diverse cultures. Volunteering is sometimes the only way to see remote areas outside the Kathmandu Valley and well-trod trekking trails.
Unfortunately, volunteer tourism has mostly become more profitable than real tourism. Foreign operators and Nepali agents have found an inexhaustible supply of well-meaning but naieve people who will pay big money to "volunteer" in Thamel, Lakeside and Chitwan.
Teaching English is a popular project for volunteers and is often combined with courses in computer literacy or health and physical education. The Nepali school system, which many children only attend for a few years, requires English fluency so there is always a demand for native English speakers of all ages, races, and nationalities. There are no prerequisites for teaching beyond English fluency and, in some programs, any university level degree.
There are many options for finding volunteer opportunities. Several international organizations will find you a project, room, and boarding - either at the school or with a local family - for a fee. This fee can range from 500 USD to 2000 USD depending on the type and length of program. Often only little of the money will go to the school and host family, often they are too poor even to support a volunteer, the bulk often goes however to the agency. In some cases the agency will provide language and culture lessons as well as general teaching supplies and support. Once you make a deposit on a particular program there may be limited options for change. Programs can last from two weeks to six months, but keep in mind the longer stay is more rewarding for both you and the school, as it can take several weeks to get into the swing of things. Above all, examine carefully how your money is spend and who really benefits.
An alternative to paid placement is to find a local, grassroots program, or to contact schools directly in Kathmandu when you arrive. Local hostels and restaurants usually have bulletin boards full of requests for volunteers. More and more local groups are placing ads on the web as well. These programs are more likely to charge only for room & board, but you will need to do some research to find out the specifics of each group and what, if any, support you will receive. Waiting until you arrive also lets you get to know the areas you can volunteer in and allows you to shop around for a situation that best suits you. These placements tend to be longer term (3-6 months), but this is always negotiable with a specific school or project.
Sometimes, there are strikes ("bandas") and demonstrations to contend with. Some businesses close, but many allowances are usually made for tourists, who are widely respected. Ask about strikes at your hotel or read the English Nepali newspapers.
The Maoist insurgency ended in 2006 after they signed comprehensive peace agreement with the government. The former rebels are now leading the government. Their activists have not harassed the tourists. The trekking routes and other tourist destinations are safe for travel . If your country has an embassy or consulate in Nepal, let them know your whereabouts & plans, and at least listen seriously to any cautionary advice they offer.
Nepal's cities are safer than most. Even pickpockets are rare. Still, don't flash cash or make ostentatious displays of wealth, out of respect for the non materialistic reality of the people.
Be cautious with the public transportation. Roads are narrow, steep, winding & frequently crowded. Domestic flights with a private company are safer than the roads. Flying risks are greatest before & during the monsoon season when the mountains are usually clouded over.
If you should be seriously injured or sick where there are no motorable roads or airports, medical evacuation by helicopter may be your last best chance. If there is no firm guarantee that the bill will be paid, companies offering these services may demur, so look into insurance covering medical evacuations. You might ask if your embassy or consulate guarantees payment.
Greet people with a warm Namaste (or "Namaskar" formal version - to an older or high-status person) with palms together, fingers up. It is used in place of hello or goodbye. Don't say it more than once per person, per day. The least watered down definition of the word: 'The divine in me salutes the divine in you.'
Show marked respect to elders.
Say Thank you: Dhanyabaad (DHAN-naii-bat)
Feet are considered dirty. Don't point the bottoms of your feet (or your bum!) at people, or at religious icons. In this vein, be sure not to step over a person who may be seated or lying on the ground. Be sensitive to when it is proper to remove your hat or shoes.
The left hand is considered unclean because it is used to wash after defecating. Many Nepal Hotel & Guest House toilets have bidet attachments (like a kitchen sink sprayer) for this purpose in lieu of toilet paper. It is considered insulting to touch anyone with the left hand.
Circumambulate temples, chortens, stupas, mani walls, etc. clockwise. (ie, with your right side closest to the object or respect)
When haggling over prices, smile, laugh, and be friendly. Be prepared to allow a reasonable profit. Don't be a miser or insult fine craftsmanship, it's much better to lament that you are too poor to afford such princely quality.
Many Hindu temples do not allow non-Hindus inside certain parts of the temple complex. Be aware & respectful of this fact, as these are places of worship, not tourist attractions.
Being a non-Hindu makes you moderately low caste, but not an untouchable. Avoid touching containers of water; let someone pour it into your drinking container. Likewise avoid touching food that others will be eating. Make sure you are invited before entering someone's house. You may only be welcome on the outer porch, or in the yard. Shoes are routinely left on the front porch or in a specific area near the front door.
Wash hands before and after eating. Touch food only with the right hand.
The use of email is growing, although its avaliability is most widespread in Kathmandu (especially in Thamel and around the Boudha Stupa in Boudhanath) or Pokhara. However, Namche, in the the Everest region, has several internet cafes that use satellite connections, but the cost is more that US$2/min(140 NRs) compared to 30NRs in Kathmandu. Mail can be received at many guesthouses or at Everest Postal Care, opposite Fire & Ice on Tri Devi MAag. Phone calls are best made from any of the international phone offices in Kathmandu-- Voice over Internet (VOI) is usually 1-2 NRs/min.
Mero Mobile SIM cards can be purchased for 100NRs in Kathmandu and most major towns and the Nepal Telecom SIM cost Rs 200. You will need to bring a passport photo, fill in a form and have your passport and visa page photocopied. Try to buy the SIM card at a shop owned by the phone company as if you buy it from a corner shop it can take some time for the card to be activated, despite promises that it will be done in " a couple of hours" .
The standard Nepalese electrical outlet is a three-pronged triangle, but some have been retrofitted to accept US and European plugs. Simple adapters can be purchased inexpensively, around 80NRs, in Kathmandu to change the shape of the plug (but not the voltage of the electricity!); some have fuses built in. Try Mahaboudha near Bir Hospital for cheap electrical alternative. Be sure to decrease the price by baout 25-30% before buying.