Earth : Asia : South Asia : Nepal
Nepal is a landlocked country in Southern Asia, between the Tibet autonomous region of China and India. It contains 8 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.
A monarchy for hundreds of years, Nepal was declared a republic in June 2008.
Visitors to Nepal generally associate the nation with snow-capped mountain peaks. While there are over 90 peaks which lie above 7000m (22,966 ft), approximately one-third of the country is low-lying and subtropical. The nation's altitude rises from less than 100 metres (328 ft) elevation in the tropical Terai (the northern rim of the Gangetic Plain) to Sagarmāthā (Mount Everest) - the world's highest mountain at 8,848m (29,029 ft).
Nepal has been divided into elevation zones, south to north:
River basins 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 Himalayas. Between these tributaries and the Dhaulagiri range of the Himalayas, 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 trans-Himalayan 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 1743AD 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 Himalayas before joining forces to break through the Mahabharat and Siwalik ranges. Ranges drained by Koshi tributaries include Mount Everest and its neighbouring 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 of Sikkim that India annexed 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.
Hindu castes migrated from Southern part of present day Nepal to Nepal after 11th century. 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). 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 long standing 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". 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 2011 has listed 10 religions— Hindu, Buddhist, Islam, Kiranti, Christian, Prakriti, Bon, Jain, Bahai and Sikh. According to census 2011 main religions are Hinduism (81.3% / 21,551,492), Buddhism (9.0% / 2,396,099), Islam (4.4% / 1,162,370), Kirat (3.1% / 807,169), Christianity (1.4% / 375,699), Prakriti (0.5% / 121,982), Bon (13,006), Jainism (3,214), Bahai (1,283) and Sikhism (609).
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.
There are couple of maps available for Nepal:
With Nepal Trilogy being superior of these two ones.
Electricity is produced by hydro-electric dams and cannot meet demand. Power is usually cut to just a few hours a day, although it may be on for most of the day in areas near a dam. Hotels and businesses often have battery back-up and noisy diesel generators. On treks and outside of major cities electricity is scarce. Expect to pay 100 - 800Rs per hour to charge goods on many tea-house treks, including the Everest base camp trek. One alternative is to buy a bayonet light to electricity power plug converter, however these only work while voltage remains high (they often won't work on low power solar systems you find right up in the mountains).
The standard Nepalese electrical outlet is the Type D (three round-pronged triangle) outlet common to India, but nearly all will accept Europlugs, and some have been retrofitted to accept American and/or British plugs. Simple adapters can be purchased inexpensively, around NPR80, in Kathmandu to change the shape of the plug (but not the voltage of the electricity!); some have fuses built in. Try shopping in Kumari Arcade at Mahaboudha near Bir Hospital of Kathmandu for cheap electrical alternative. Be sure to decrease the price by about 25-30% before buying.
The output voltage from the wall outlet is 220V AC and frequency is between 50-60Hz. People visiting from countries using different voltage and frequency should make sure that their adapter/charger is capable of operating in this range. For example, the United States uses about 120V AC and some electronic devices might be designed to operate in that voltage only. So, US travellers must be careful about the voltage range of their devices.
Nepal is officially divided into 14 administrative zones and 7 states, 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.
Citizens of India do not need a visa to enter Nepal - they may enter using a passport, photo drivers licence or governmental/ration/voter ID card and may stay and work indefinitely.
Tourist visas are available on arrival for citizens of all other countries (except Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iraq, Liberia, Nigeria, Palestine, Somalia, Swaziland, Syria and Zimbabwe) at the designated land borders (see below) for USD25, for 15 days, USD40 for 30 days and USD100 for 90 days. They can only be granted for a maximum of 150 days in each 12 month period.
As well as US dollars, other convertible currencies like the euro, Pound sterling and Australian dollars can also be used but some smaller entry points (like Birgunj) may not accept them.
All tourist visas are currently "multiple entry" type visa and permit multiple entries and exits during the period of validity.
Be aware that, without permission, voluntary services while on a tourist visa is strictly prohibited. It is a punishable offence.
There is detailed information on the official website of Nepal Immigration.
As of November 2016, there are a number of automated machines as you enter the Kathmandu airport where you can either scan your passport or enter your details manually and have your photo taken. Once complete, the machines will provide you with a receipt which you can then take to the payment kiosk before finally presenting everything to the immigration officers at the booths in exchange for your visa.
How to extend your visa (as of May 2016): To extend your tourist visa, visit the Nepal Immigration Department in Kathmandu with your passport and another photo (photo not needed for tourist visa extension), and pay US $2 for every day past your visa you want to stay, up to the maximum of 150 days per year. They require to submit electronic application form in advance, but it can be done in special kiosk in the office. Minimum visa extension period is 15 days for tourist visas (thus it costs 30 USD or equivalent in rupees). However, if you already missed your visa expiration date, 20 USD of additional charge may apply. For tourist visa photo is not needed, just go to electronic application kiosk inside the Immigration Department, where nice Nepali will fill the form for you and take a visa photo for free. Then proceed to the visa application counter, pay the money and wait for like one hour and they will call your name. You can ask travel agency in Thamel to do it for you, but they will charge like 25 USD for this service (or less if you're a good negotiator).
Some bloggers mentioned, that if you overstay and just try to cross border in the airport, they'll charge you some extra money, but the nearest ATM is outside the security check, so it's easy to miss your plane. On the other hand, they accept dollars.
Points of entry or exit:
The points of entry and exit for tourists:
Visas are free for all tourists who come from a SAARC country.
Be aware that if coming from India, INR500 and INR1000 bank notes may not be imported since their circulation is prohibited in Nepal. However, in entry points that are adjourning India (Karkavitta for example) will have plenty of currency exchange points that exchange Indian rupees (IC) to Nepali rupees (NC). Inquire from a few places for the rates. Best rates you would get will be 0-3% off from the mid-market rates. Anything more than that, walk away and try the next one.
Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport is the main entry point for those arriving by air, and is located just outside of the Ring Road in Kathmandu. The airport serves as the hub for Nepal Airlines, which flies from various destinations in India, as well as Bangkok, Doha, Dubai, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur.
Other major airlines that serve Nepal from across Asia include Air Arabia, Air Asia X, Air China, Air India, Ethiad, flydubai, Jet Airways, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Silk Air and Thai Airways.
Tourist visas are available on arrival (see above). 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 metres (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 price Taxis 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 500 NRS. Otherwise, order a taxi at the pre-paid booth inside the airport, which costs 700+NRs (minimum charge is 500 NRS). This is more than the normal taxi rate, but it saves the hassle of long negotiations. You can also walk a few hundred metres to the Ring Road and grab a city bus or taxi there, which will be cheaper.
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 air-con. 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. As of Dec 2014, bike rental generally start at 700NPR for a day, (counted as 8am to shop closing time, not 24hrs) for a basic 125cc Bajaj Pulsar or Hero Honda, Royal Enfield and Hartford off road bikes cost from upward of 1700NPR. Note the hire bikes have no insurance, and frequently they are poorly maintained with various reliability issues such as juddering brakes, loose gear lever, throttle linkage, cranking troubles etc.
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 , 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 kilometres of train network in Janakpur.
There are now many airlines, offering frequent flights to several destinations include companies with beautiful names like Yeti air, Buddha Air and Cosmic Air. Destinations to and from Kathmandu include places such as Pokhara, Biratnagar, Nepalganj, Lukla, Pokhara, Simikot, Jomsom, Janakpur and Bharatpur.
For bookings from outside Nepal, there are internet agents (like NepalAirFlight, NepalFlightCentre and air viva) who can make bookings, take payment (credit/debit cards/Paypal) and then send e-tickets. Other than these agents, tickets can only be bought on arrival in Nepal so if you are flying at short notice it is necessary to be flexible on flight times/dates as the planes often get fully booked in advance. Note that cancellations and delays due to severe weather conditions do occur. If you have time, just board the next plane.
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. An impressively large number for a country with a small land mass like Nepal, it 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, Bengali, Sanskrit, and other Indo-Aryan languages, and is normally written with the Devanagari script. While most Nepalis speak at least some Nepali, a large percentage of the population speak another language as their mother tongue, such as Tharu around Chitwan, Newari in the Kathmandu Valley, Sherpa in the Everest area, and Maithili and Bhojpuri in the Terai.
Although Nepal was never a British colony, English is 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 traveller making the effort isn't likely to make worse blunders than many natives with a different first language.
Owing to its similarities with Nepali, and the prevalence of Indian media in Nepal, Hindi is widely understood and spoken, particularly in the south of the country.
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 
Organised Group Trekking or Independent Trekking?
While organized groups from "western tour operators" from overseas drain the operational profit out of the country, still organized groups hire a larger amount of local workforce from porters to guides. With "local tour operators"   most of the operational 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.
Traveling with a western company you will have more assurance that your money and life will be slightly safer due to the higher standards, rules and regulations we have in the western world. Traveling in Nepal can be quite difficult and local guides and operators sometimes do not understand the needs of westerners or provide a high level of service. It can be worth paying slightly more to enjoy a hassle free experience. It is also handy to know that your guide will speak perfect English or whatever language you speak. There are plenty of decent overseas specialists that offer travel to Nepal such as Lost Earth Adventures, High Adventure, Exodus, or Intrepid. There have been many cases of people booking tours with local operators and people not getting quite the experience they thought they would receive. As with most things a personal recommendation from a friend is the best resource for finding out about a company.
The maps in Nepal are not the greatest in the world and it is not recommended that you trek without a guide unless you have a solid background in hiking and can navigate yourself and know how to survive in the mountains. Many people each year go trekking in Nepal because they hear it is a nice thing to do. Many are un-equipped and ill prepared and many go missing or get hurt.
Monsoon season can be nice to trek in but beware there are many landslides on steep hills and mountain roads can become treacherous. It would be prudent to avoid high mountain roads in the Monsoon Season.
In comparison, individual travellers while concentrated on the main trails with Lodges 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. They generally spend less than organized travellers on same trails simply because they often have lesser budgets.
Safety and comfort are higher with organized tours. There is a full range of choice for any demand, just be sure to think about well what trekking means for you. 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.
Rafting / Kayaking
Nepal has been called a 'Whitewater Paradise'. With world class rapids in the tallest mountain range on earth, there is nothing not to love about rafting and kayaking here. From half day sessions to full 10 day expeditions there is something for everyone of any ability. Rafting and Kayaking Rafting trips in Nepal tend to be multi-day trips. You get to play on the rivers during the day and by night camp out under the stars with a fire on river beaches. Tours typically start and end at Kathmandu or Pokhara. For detailed itineraries visit the Nepal Association of Rafting Agents. The main rivers for rafting are:
Many companies offer Learn to Kayak Clinics on the Trisuli and Lower Seti rivers, an ideal spot to take your first steps into the world of whitewater. GRG's (http://www.grgadventurekayaking.com) and RAPIDRUNNER EXPEDITIONS [www.rapidrunnerexpeditions.com] are the highest recommended companies to specialise in kayaking in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Other companies, such as River and Soul, provide fully inclusive and custom made tours to Nepal where whitewater rafting and or kayaking plays a major role. Nepal is without doubt one of the best places in the world for whitewater adventures.
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 permit 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.
The official currency is the Nepalese rupee (रू, Rs.), which is pegged to the Indian rupee (₹) at a rate of 1.6 Nepali rupees to 1 Indian rupee. However, Indian rupee notes worth more than ₹100 are prohibited in Nepal, although some local non-government establishments will accept them.
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.
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 licenced money changer. Traveller's cheques may be useful outside of the major cities.
Momo - 100 to 160NPR at touristy area restaurants; or 50NPR at local restaurants, often shabby looking sheds, even cheaper at non tourist areas where only locals eat, can be as cheap as 30NPR, but generally quite small motorcycle rental - 700NPR per day (counted as until end of business, e.g. 7pm), all are without insurance coverage.
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 lakes and rivers. Because Hindus hold cattle to be sacred, beef (cow meat) 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 from the streets or inefficient sewage systems, 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 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 raise 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 neighbouring 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 neighbourhoods, 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 (air-con, 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
It is to be understood, that by the prevailing law of Nepal, you are not allowed to do volunteering on a tourist visa. In order to volunteer legally, the organization which will engage you must procure, accordingly, a permit and respective non-tourist visa.
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 naive people who will pay sometimes even big amounts 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. Mostly the organizations have no any prerequisites for teaching beyond English fluency. Be aware that many schools, especially private ones, charge families higher fees for "foreign teachers present" and often local available English teachers may not find work due to foreign (mostly illegally engaged) volunteers. If you want to teach, a school may request and obtain a non-tourist visa so you can eventually teach legally.
There are many options for finding volunteer opportunities. Several international volunteer organizations, INGO and local NGOs (International Non Government Organization, Non Government Organization) 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 US ~$500 to US $2000 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 to even support a volunteer; the bulk often goes however to the agency.)
Another option would be to look for a volunteer program on Volunteer World. Volunteer World, Düsseldorf, Germany, . is a social start up that helps grassroot projects all over Nepal and interested volunteers worldwide to get in touch. Volunteers can compare and contact the social projects while the local NGOs receive the support and attention they need to fulfill their great cause. edit
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 often doubtful 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 (3-5 months), but this is always negotiable with a specific school or project.
Always check that your volunteer work is done legally. It is also recommended that you check whether your engagement does not take away work of other people (although it is unclear how to check that), and that the community profits most from the deal. Report to police or other serious NGO/INGO any kind of misuse. Always demand written receipts with complete organization address, stamp and signatures. This helps to prevent syphoning off of precious development funds, which generally tend to not reach the intended beneficiaries most of time (estimates go from 85-95% wasted money for "logistics", "office expenses", "allowances", vehicles and so forth!!)
Nepal is internationally known for its overwhelming friendliness and hospitality towards foreigners. However, there is still a low crime rate so use your common sense.
Watch out for pick-pockets and bag-snatching, particularly in airports, buses in tourist areas like Thamel, Sanepa and Kupondol in Kathmandu. Take care when walking around at night.
Avoid solo trekking. Murders and disappearances happen in Langtang. Consider walking in pairs.
Travel by bus or air into the hills and mountains is statistically hundreds of times riskier than normal travel in Western Europe and the U.S. As an example, Lukla - the entry point for the Mount Everest trek - is home to the most dangerous airport in the world owing to its infamous cliff-top location. Be conservative about your exposure to these risks. Risks are highest during the summer monsoon (June-September) and scheduled bus or air service may be cancelled due to storms and landslides.
Stay away from strikes and demonstrations. They can turn violent.
If your country has an embassy or consulate in Nepal, let them know your whereabouts and plans. Listen seriously to any cautionary advice they offer.
Get insurance that will cover medical evacuation by helicopter if you become seriously ill or injured while trekking. Inform your embassy or consulate about this insurance and contact them if you need evacuation.
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 /'ðɅnjɅbɑ:d/ (Dhan-ya-baad)
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. It is proper to take off your shoes before entering a residental house.
The left hand is considered unclean because it is used to wash after defecating. Many Nepali 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. It is proper to poke someone, take and give something with the right 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 if you're not left-handed.
The use of email is growing, although its availability 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 than NPR140/min (USD2) compared to NPR30 in Kathmandu.
Phone calls are best made from any of the international phone offices in Kathmandu-- Voice over Internet (VOI) is usually NPR1-2/min. Wi-Fi in Hotels is free from any cafes and hotels if you tune in and ask for a password or host a hub in your cell. Whatsapp is obviously the most reliable way to stay in touch with those out of the country and to hotel operators who use the main mobile number as password to connect the inhouse Wi-Fi.
Mail can be received at many guesthouses or at Everest Postal Care, opposite Fire & Ice on Tri Devi MAag.
There are two main mobile operators in Nepal - the government-run NTC (Nepali Telecom Company), and private Ncell (previously called Spice Mobile and Mero Mobile).
Both operators allow tourists to buy SIM cards for about NPR200 in Kathmandu and most towns. You will need to bring a passport photo, fill in a form and have your passport and visa page photocopied, also expect to have your fingerprints taken. Try to buy the SIM card at a shop owned by the phone company; 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".
Ncell SIM's - can be bought from many stores, but are best bought from official stores in Birgunj or Kathmandu (they can also cut it to micro SIM for free if you need). Ncell offers two different SIM cards. The first is a usual SIM card that allows you to make calls to any phone (local calls are about NPR2.5/min); you can also buy mobile data to use. The second is a data only SIM card which can not be used for making or receiving calls. The advantage of the second sim is that the rates for data are significantly cheaper than a call and data SIM. Note that on Ncell SIM cards, tethering is not enabled by default. However their data works when you just switch between 2g and 3g depending on what reception is available (there is no cheaper prices for only 2g). Just to give an idea on data package prices: 500MB: NPR199, 1GB: NPR699, 5GB: NPR1999 + taxes (as of Aug 2013). You can get coverage maps on their site, although they now have 3G reception at the Mt Everest base camp (although not on the trek to the base camp).
NTC SIMs - NTC SIMs can usually only be bought from their official offices. They often have a shortage of SIM cards, and you may have to wait up to 10 days to receive one. They do not publish their coverage maps. However they do have superior remote coverage to Ncell, particularly on the Anapurna Circuit trek. Besides 2G network NTC also has 3G(UMTS) network and CDMA one. For accessing 3G(UMTS) you need to pay some extra money as it's shown as forbidden by default. Prices for data traffic in 2G and CDMA networks is 1MB: NPR0.50 (as of Aug 2013). The only data package available for CDMA is 5GB for NPR2,500 and it comes with CDMA modem (which is usually out of stock in their offices).