Nepal itself is small but emcompassing and having a first timer’s guide to Nepal will help with your adjusting quickly to the food, transportation, and many more. From the plains of Terai to the roof of the world, it is so diverse, it has something to offer to everyone. Whether you are an adrenaline junkie, anthropologist, biologist or just an avid traveler, Nepal welcomes you.
First Timer’s Guide to Nepal
As a first timer though, any country can be confusing. Where? How? What? It can be scary too; landing into trouble for something ‘wrong’ only on this side of the earth. So here are some points that can help you out.
Language in Nepal
Nepali is the national language. Most people know and use it. Therefore, learning certain Nepali words and phrases can come handy. Some, usually grandpas and grandmas, might only know their ethnic language. Take a guide who can speak the local language when visiting places with specific settlement. People in cities, however, speak fairly good English.
What’s Not Legal in Nepal?
Killing a cow is illegal in Nepal. But you can enjoy imported beef served in some places. And no matter who says what hashish or marijuana or cannabis or ganja has been illegal since 1973. You will have to serve jail time if found in possession of it. Do not be misguided by the shifty dealers of Thamel!
Transportation in Nepal (an experience in itself)
The most common form of transportation are buses. They are also the cheapest and most crowded, especially during rush hour. As long as there is a breathing space, the conductor will tell you there is a seat and will try to get you in. There is no seat. Catching the bus in its starting or ending point may promise a seat for you. Else, it is a game of twister.
If you don’t want to experience the stuffy ride with other riders’ stuffs close up your face, you can always take a taxi. They are supposed to run on meter but they don’t. Thus, the fee needs to be negotiated beforehand. Bargain. $3 should be enough for about 3Km. First, note the license plate number. All public transportation will have a black plate with letters in white.
Tempo, a three wheeled vehicle, runs only within the Kathmandu valley. Taking tempo can be fun, for a while. There are a few companies offering cab on call and one can hire a bike in Pokhara. Only special jeeps run on some remote winding trails of Nepal. Such rides can be a thrilling experience.
Practical Matters you need to know in Nepal
Using toilet is a part of everyday life. Therefore, you should know that squat toilets are most common in Nepal, especially in rural areas unless it is a big hotel aimed at tourists. There will be a bucket with which to conduct water for cleaning and flushing purpose. So make sure it is full of water. If there is a tap, checking whether water actually runs through it would be a good idea before starting your business. Always carry a roll of toilet paper. Always!
Nepal is still largely a conservative society. Public display of affection is frowned upon. Even married couples find it odd to walk neck to neck in the streets. Youngsters in the cities might be seen holding hands but remember, there is always a larger group of people shaking their heads behind them. In Nepal, all matters intimate are strictly “Behind the door” activity.
Dress modestly. Big cities are used to western fashion but dressing too openly can still earn some stares and ogling eyes. Out of cities, always dress modestly.
Shopping in Nepal
Buy packed goods from supermarkets but fruits and vegetables from street vendors. There will be a certain place in every area that turns into a vegetable market in the morning and evening. Buying from them will be cheap and will guarantee fresh products. And you can bargain. Everywhere. Kalimati Tarkari Bazaar (literally, Kalimati vegetable market) and the vegetable market of Lagankhel are popular. Personally, I prefer to go to Kalimati.
In Bhat Bhateni, a chain supermarket, and big malls such as City mall, Kathmandu mall, you can find everything from foods to clothes and a lot of western products. Malls may have a food court, a theatre and some games like mini golf, bowling and a small football court as well. It is a good place to hang out with your friends.
*Read how to Conquer the Foreign Shopping Markets like a Boss*
Thamel in Kathmandu, is a major tourist area. There are hundreds of shops that sell typical tourist oriented things- souvenirs, Nepali arts, ethnic dresses, spices, culture and travel books, trekking gears etc. Quality budget hotels, restaurants, bakeries, spas, clubs and range of activities like meditation and yoga have made Thamel a tourist’s hang out.
Foods to Try when in Nepal
Trying new and strange cuisines is a part of travelling. Cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara offer most of national and international dishes but some items like Po Cha should be tasted in its home town. Here are some Nepali foods that you just have to taste.
Dal Bhat Tarkari
Dal Bhat Tarkari, Nepal’s staple food, is a must mention. Bhat (steamed rice), Dal (lentil soup) and Tarkari (vegetable item) is a proper combination, both in terms of taste and nutrition. We Nepalese never get tired of eating it. Achar (pickle) and any meat curry can be eaten with Dal Bhat Tarkari for added flavor.
Momos are basically dumplings and gaining in popularity is “Momo Cha” or “Jhol Momo” which is momo but served in a soybean based soupy pickle. In some places, the soup tastes more like a liquefied version of the common tomato pickle. Try to taste the classic “jhol momo” instead of these newer innovations. Remember, ‘old is gold’.
There are variety of traditional Newari foods that are loved by people of all ethnicity. Yomari, Chatamari, Sekuwa, Wa, Chwela, Samay Baji are only a few items. When in Nepal try to participate in a Newari fair where you can try a Newari style feast served in Lapti, a plate sewn out of leaves and in Salincha, a small clay bowl.
Butter tea called ‘Po Cha’ in Tibet and ‘Su Cha’ in Sherpa language is traditionally prepared by churning yak butter and salt with tea. It is not very difficult to prepare butter tea in your own kitchen. You probably don’t own a yak though and would have to use the store bought butter made of cow milk. So when you are in Nepal, visit the Himalayas and try a cup of authentic Po cha.
Dhindo is the main meal in the parts of Nepal where rice do not grow. It is made by slowly adding flour of maize, barley, wheat or millet in the boiling water. The mixture is stirred continually until a chunk of cooked dough is left. It can be, like Bhat, eaten with vegetables, achhar and/ or meat. These days, it is a popular dish offered in many places.
Places to Visit in Nepal
Every part of Nepal has so much for the tourists to see that it would make a long list. The following are only a few major places to visit.
It was once said that there are as many temples in Kathmandu as there are houses. This may not be true today but it is still the “city of temples”. Within its 220 square miles area, it houses 7 UNESCO World Heritage Site and numerous monuments of great significance. Since the only international airport of Nepal, Tribhuvan International Airport is in Kathmandu, you cannot miss a tour of Kathmandu valley.
Pokhara is a lovely city with an amazing view of mountains like Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchchhre, Manaslu and others. There are seven beautiful lakes and the famous waterfall- Davis Falls. There are several things to do in Pokhara. Boating, swimming and fishing here can be a great fun. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the nature.
Also known as Mukti Kshetra (Place of Salvation), Muktinath is an important pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. Situated at an altitude of 3,710m (12,172ft), it attracts a lot of trekkers as well. The Muktinath Temple, 108 water sprouts called Muktidhara, eternal flame worshiped as fire goddess, clear view of magnificent peaks like Annapurna and Dhaulagiri, old monasteries and holy ponds are the attractions of Muktinath.
Lumbini, the birth place of Sakyamuni Buddha, is a place of historical, religious and archeological importance. Vihars and temples built by different nations and places, or rather ruins, that mark the life story of Lord Buddha are spread around within a walking distance. Be prepared to be fascinated by the art and architecture. Boating on the central canal can be a fun way to begin the tour.
Janakpur city is famous for the Janaki Mandir, the only railway station of Nepal and Mithila arts. It is a place where goddess Sita was born and was married to Lord Ram. As such, there are many shrines dedicated to them. Also, there are more than a 100 ponds of historical and mythical importance.
Mountain Regions and Trekking in Nepal
This list cannot be complete without the Himalayas that Nepal is recognized for. There are three main regions- Annapurna, Mount Everest and Langtang region that offer different level of trekking and climbing activities. In fact, Annapurna trails are among the top 10 trek routes in the world and nothing can beat trekking to the base camp of the tallest mountain Mt. Everest. All three regions are rich in culture, wildlife and scenic beauty. You have not visited Nepal without visiting at least one of these regions.
Now that you know the what, how and where, it is just that easy to book a ticket and fly to Nepal.
By Fellow Travel Nut – Raushan at Trekroute.com
Raushan is from Nepal, a popular travel destination between China and India. He is a traveller and a blogger. He has travelled to several places in Nepal. His favourite place so far has been Annapurna region, which is considered by many one of the best trekking destination in the world. Raushan regularly blogs about travelling in Nepal on Trekroute.com. He could be reached via Twitter and Facebook.