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|Introduction to Nepal
Draped along the greatest heights of the Himalaya, Nepal is a land of sublime scenery, time-worn temples, and some of the best walking trails on earth. It's a poor country, but it is rich in scenic splendour and cultural treasures. The kingdom has long exerted a pull on the Western imagination.
It's the kind of country that lingers in your dreams long after you leave it. This is why so many travellers are drawn back to Nepal, armed the second time round with a greater appreciation of its natural and cultural complexity, a stout pair of walking boots and a desire for sculpted calf muscles.
Whether you get your adrenaline kicks from some of the world's premier white-water rafting, kayaking and mountain biking, or from the sight of a tiger or rhino through the dawn mist from atop an elephant in Chitwan National Park, Nepal is destined to make a big impression on you. Many visitors, drawn to Nepal by the promise of adventure, leave equally bewitched by the friendliness of the Nepali people and their amazingly rich and diverse culture.
Nepal has plunged into a constitutional crisis following the dissolution of the Nepalese government by King Gyanendra. Long-standing tensions between government forces loyal to the King and Maoist rebels have resulted in sporadic violence across the country.
While the safety of travellers isn't directly under threat, the tense environment could deteriorate rapidly and leave visitors stranded. A recent state of emergency saw the King invoke eergency powers including complete censorship of the media and the suspension of civil rights. Some travel advisories are urging travellers to avoid going to Nepal until the political situation is resolved, however, tourist numbers are on the rise.
A Maoist 'people's war' was declared in 1996 in response to government corruption. A ceasefire temporarily halted hostilities, but negotiations faltered and on August 27, 2003, the ceasefire was called off. Bombings, including several on the same day, have hit Kathmandu and the surrounding valley.
Maoists have threatened tourist facilities throughout Nepal, and Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai warned travellers that they could be 'caught in the crossfire of the contending armies', while perversely encouraging them to visit anyway. Travellers to Nepal are urged to remain vigilant, keep a low profile and avoid demonstrations.
Check travel advisories for possible bandhs (strikes) that may be called at short notice. If a bandh is called, do not travel during it and keep an extra low profile until it is over.
Official curfews can be declared at short notice, in the capital and towns throughout the Kathmandu valley. Soldiers loyal to the King have the authority to shoot those disobeying curfew. Army and police checkpoints can make travel slow, and there are reports that rebels threatening violence - and bandits posing as rebels using actual violence - are sporadically targeting travellers for revenue-raising purposes. The districts of Banke, Dang, Syangja, Surkhet, Rukum, Kalikot, Jajarkot, Rolpa, Salyan and Gorkha are considered especially dangerous.
Full country name: Kingdom of Nepal
Area: 140,800 sq km
Population: 26.46 million
Capital City: Kathmandu
People: Newars, Thakalis, Tibetans, Gurungs, Magars, Tamangs, Bhotias, Rais, Limbus, Sherpas, Bahuns, Chhetris, Tharus
Language: Nepali, English
GDP: US$27.4 billion
GDP per capita: US$1,100
Annual Growth: 6%
Major Industries: Tourism, carpet, textile, small rice, jute, sugar, oilseed mills, cigarettes, cement & brick production, rice, corn, wheat, sugarcane, root crops, milk, water buffalo meat
Major Trading Partners: India, US, Germany, UK, Singapore, Japan
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Visas: All foreigners (except Indian nationals) require visas, which can be obtained in advance or on arrival. Single-entry tourist visas costing 30.00 are issued for up to 60 days and can be extended for a maximum of three months (for an extra 50.00). Double and multiple-entry visas are also available. Visas permit travel around the Kathmandu Valley, Pokhara and Chitwan National Park in the Terai. Trekking permits are required if you intend striking out from the main areas; they can be obtained from immigration offices in Kathmandu and Pokhara. National park and conservation fees have risen substantially: it now costs 2000.00 to enter the Annapurna Conservation area.
Health risks: altitude sickness (In the thinner atmosphere above 3000m (9842ft), or even lower in some cases, lack of oxygen causes many individuals to suffer headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, physical weakness and other symptoms that can lead to very serious consequences, especially if combined with heat exhaustion, sunburn or hypothermia. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can affect anyone and care should be taken to avoid ascending mountain peaks above 3000m too quickly. Sleep at a lower altitude than the greatest height reached during the day, if possible), hepatitis (Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminated food and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way as hepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles (and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread in the same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines against hepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rules about food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are important preventative measures), malaria (This disease occurs in low-lying areas of Nepal. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts.; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) – it may be worth taking your own and impregnating clothes with permethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects), meningococcal meningitis (This occurs in the Kathmandu Valley region - but remember that not every headache is likely to be meningitis. There is an effective vaccine available which is often recommended for travel to epidemic areas. Generally, you're at pretty low risk of getting meningococcal meningitis, unless an epidemic is ongoing, but the disease is important because it can be very serious and rapidly fatal. You get infected by breathing in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by sufferers or, more likely, by healthy carriers of the bacteria. You're more at risk in crowded, poorly ventilated places, including public transport and eating places. The symptoms of meningitis are fever, severe headache, neck stiffness that prevents you from bending your head forward, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, which makes you prefer the darkness. With meningococcal meningitis, you may get a widespread, blotchy purple rash before any other symptoms appear. Meningococcal meningitis is an extremely serious disease that can cause death within a few hours of you first feeling unwell. Seek medical help without delay if you have any of the symptoms listed earlier, especially if you are in a risk area. If you've been in close contact with a sufferer it's best to seek medical advice), typhoid (Also known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains. You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38?C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +5.75
Dialling Code: 977
Electricity: 230V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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Nepal's festive calendar is hectic. Dasain, celebrated nationwide in October, is the most important of all Nepalese celebrations and features the biggest animal sacrifice of the year. Running a close second is Tihar (November), but unlike Dasain, animals are honoured rather than slaughtered. Other festivals celebrated nationally include the water-tinged Holi (March) and Chaitra Dasain (April), which is yet another bad day for animals. Hindu festivals include the Haribodhini Ekadashi (November) and Maha Shivaratri (March), both celebrated in Pashupatinath, the Gai Jatra (August) in Kathmandu and the Krishna Jayanti (August/September) in Patan. Buddhist celebrations are just as thick on the ground, and include Mani Rimdu (November) in Solu Khumbu, Buddha Jayanti (May) in Kathmandu, and Losar (Tibetan New Year) (February) in Swayambhunath, Jawalakhel and highland communities.
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|Best time to Visit
Climatic factors are very important in deciding when to visit Nepal. October-November, the start of the dry season, is in many ways the best time of year: the weather is balmy, the air is clean, visibility is perfect and the country is lush following the monsoon. February-April, the tail end of the dry season, is the second-best period: visibility is not so good because of dust, but the weather is warm and many of Nepal's wonderful wild flowers are in bloom. In December and January the climate and visibility are good but it can be chilly: trekkers need to be well prepared for snow, and for cheaper hotels in Kathmandu - nonexistent heating makes for rather gloomy evenings. The rest of the year is fairly unpleasant for travelling: May and early June are generally too hot and dusty for comfort, and the monsoon from mid-June to September obscures the mountains in cloud and turns trails and roads to mud.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Nepali Rupee
If you stay in rock-bottom accommodation and survive on a predominantly Nepalese diet, you could live in Nepal on US$5 a day. If you prefer to stay in comfortable lodgings, eat in tourist-oriented restaurants and take the occasional taxi, your living costs are likely to be between US$15 and US$40 a day. The high-life, including an organised trek thrown in will sting you US$40-US$50 a day. An independent trek between village inns, should cost between US$10 and US$15 a day, as long as you don't indulge in too many 'luxury' items, like beer and chocolate.
There are effectively three exchange rates in Nepal: the rate set by the government's Nepal Rastra Bank, the slightly more generous (but still legal) rate set by the private banks, and the even more generous black-market rate set by carpet shops and travel agents. The daily Rising Nepal newspaper lists the Nepal Rastra Bank's rate, which is a useful reference point. Exchange rates and commissions can vary quite significantly, so shop around.
When you change money legally, you are issued with a Foreign Exchange Encashment Receipt showing the amount of hard currency you have exchanged. If you leave Nepal via Kathmandu airport and haven't spent all your rupees, you can exchange up to 15% of the amount shown on these unused receipts back into hard currency.
Major international currencies such as the US dollar and pounds sterling are readily accepted, and the Indian rupee is also considered a 'hard' currency. Outside the Kathmandu Valley, it may be difficult to use large-denomination Nepalese notes, so keep a decent portion of your money in small-denomination notes. If you're trekking, take enough small-denomination cash with you to last the whole trek.
Tipping is becoming fairly common in upmarket restaurants in Kathmandu, so leave around 10% of the bill if service was good. There's no need to tip in cheaper establishments or to tip taxi drivers. Porters on treks, however, should be tipped around Rs 100 per day. Bargaining is commonplace in markets and tourist shops, but treat it as a form of polite social discourse rather than a matter of life and death.
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Kathmandu is really two cities: a fabled capital of convivial pilgrims and carved rose-brick temples, and a splenetic sprawl smothered in dirt, monkeys, beggars and the pollution of diesel fumes. It simultaneously reeks of history and the wear and tear of increasing modernity.
Kathmandu has been attracting travellers since the 1960s and today's visitors range from well-heeled group tourists and GoreTex-clad climbers to the dreadlocked descendants of Nepal's original hippie trailblazers.
Bhaktapur is in many ways the most medieval of the three major cities in the Kathmandu Valley. Despite recent development, the city still retains a distinctly timeless air, with much of its glorious architecture dating from the end of the 17th century.
Highlights include Nyatapola, the highest temple in the valley, and Til Mahadev Narayan, an important place of pilgrimage. Nearby is Potters' Square, where thousands of clay pots are made and sold. Just east is Tachupal Tole, another square containing temples and monasteries and craft museums.
There are a number of fascinating smaller villages, temples and stupas scattered around the valley. One of these is probably the best known site in Nepal - the Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath, colloquially known as the 'monkey temple', after the tribe of garrulous monkeys which guard the hill.
Beyond Swayambhunath, on the banks of the Bagmati River, is Pashupatinath, the country's pre-eminent Hindu temple and one of the most significant Shiva temples on the subcontinent. As the Bagmati is a holy river, Pashupatinath has become a popular place to be cremated.
Patan, the second-largest city in the valley, lies just across the Bagmati River from Kathmandu, but it's a much quieter and less frenetic place to visit. The city is justly proud of its temples and artisans and it is their handiwork that provides the focus of the stunning Durbar Square.
Durbar Square is choc-a-block with the largest display of Newari architecture in Nepal. It includes the Royal Palace and the two-tiered brick Jagannarayan Temple. Look up to the roof struts to see carvings of figures engaged in quite athletic acts of intercourse.
The city of Pokara is renowned for its setting rather than its historical or cultural endowments. Its quiet lakeside location and proximity to the mountains mean it is an ideal place for recovering from (or gearing up for) a trek, taking leisurely strolls or simply putting your nose in a good book.
And wouldn't you know it, Pokhara has some of the country's best accommodation and restaurants as well. There's a batch of Tibetan settlements, a hilltop monastery and the pretty Devi Falls nearby. Day walks can be taken to Sarangkot (1592m), the limestone caves at Mahendra Gufa or Rupa and Begnas Tals lakes. More exertion (but not much more) is required to tackle the three to four-day Annapurna Skyline Trek.
For Himalayan views sit on the right-hand side of the plane if you're heading to Pokhara by air, and left if heading to Kathmandu.
If you come to the Terai expecting snow-clad mountains and jaw-dropping vistas, you'll soon be disappointed. What you get instead is hot subtropical plains and some of the most fascinating attractions in Nepal. Foremost among them is the magnificent Royal Chitwan National Park.
Probably the greatest thrill here is to scout for wildlife on the back of an elephant. If that's too uncomfortable, you can do the same thing in a jeep or canoe, or go jungle walking with experienced guides. Watch out for leeches, which operate with stealth-like efficiency during the monsoon.
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