Nepal travel guide, including map of Nepal, top Nepal travel experiences, tips for travel in Nepal, plus the best hiking routes and tiger-spotting areas
For decades Nepal stood proud as the world’s top trekking and mountaineering destination. Then came the Maoist rebellion – and tourists deserted in droves. Since the 2006 peace settlement ended ten years of violence Nepal is now firmly back on the travel agenda.
Kathmandu, the capital, is a very liveable city, with pagodas dominating open squares and narrow alleys hemmed in by wooden buildings and fretwork screens. The restaurants are amongst the best in Asia and the city is always thronged with travellers. Treks from here tend to reach up the Kathmandu Valley, integrating dramatic views with constant interaction with the local inhabitants who share the same trails.
Pokhara, Nepal's second city six hours by bus (or a short flight) to the west of Kathmandu, is an alternative base for planning your trek. Set by a lake it is at the heart of hundreds of trekking routes, some great day-treks and overnight hikes.
Sagamartha (the Nepalese name for Everest), is the major draw, but there are countless trails to choose from, threading through green foothills and past creaking glaciers, snow-cloaked peaks and high-altitude deserts.
The adventurous sort don’t just have to stick to trekking. Nepal is also one of the world’s premier rafting destinations, with a broad sweep of rapids from Grade I to Grade VI, as well as being the home of parahawking – paragliding guided by trained hawks and eagles.
Spiritually-inclined travellers can rub shoulders with Buddhist monks and Hindu ascetics in Nepal’s medieval towns, each with their own temples, always busy with locals making their devotions. Nature fans should also head south to the Royal Chitwan National Park, to comb the grasslands and forests in search of rhino and tiger.
Nepal has an excellent infrastructure for trekkers. Independent trekkers can hire porters, guides and pack animals in Kathmandu and Pokhara, as well as purchasing used trekking gear. You should ensure that your porters enjoy the same protection as other trekkers; the International Porter Protection Group provides useful guidelines for responsible trekking.Take water purification tablets with you instead of buying – and leaving behind – non-biodegradable water bottles. Bear in mind trekking permits are essential, and have to be paid for and booked in Pokhara or Kathmandu before you set off.
Rains lash Nepal from June to September, washing away roads and obscuring mountain views. The best months for trekking are October and November. Two major festivals, Dasain and Tihaar, also fall during this period. The downside is that because so many people chose to visit Nepal at this time, it can be hard to find a decent room if you don’t book in advance, and prices rise. Temperatures drop dramatically between December and February and many lodges in trekking areas close but this is a good time to visit the low-lying jungle regions on the border with India, including Chitwan National Park. April to early June sees warmer weather and rhododendrons coming into bloom. This is the best time to view wildlife. A haze can obscure views of the mountain areas but you can normally trek above it. This is the second most popular period to visit Nepal.
Kathmandu Airport (KTM) is 6.5km from the city.
Nepal has an extensive domestic air network served by several airlines. Routes often used by travellers include those between Kathmandu and Pokhara, Meghauli (for Chitwan) and Lukla. Flights are reasonably priced. Hour-long ‘Mountain Flights’ – a scenic loop out of Kathmandu, with fantastic views of Everest – are extremely popular and not much more expensive than a normal flight. Nepal has one of the least-developed road networks in the world; each year the monsoon season takes its toll. Public buses serve every paved road; these are cheap but slow and often very uncomfortable. Regularly scheduled, ‘luxury’ tourist buses can be booked through travel agents. Bicycle rental shops can be found in Kathmandu: elsewhere they're rare.
Outside the October to December high season prices can drop by 50%. In Kathmandu and Pokhara accommodation ranges from rock-bottom budget guesthouses to 5* hotels costing £150 per night. In other major tourist destinations you will find a good range of well-run, friendly guesthouses; teahouses and other accommodation options dot most of the major trekking trails. On the quieter trails accommodation can be spartan, but popular regions such as Annapurna and Everest have hotels with hot water, electricity and sometimes Western menus. Village homestays are also becoming increasing popular.
Nepali food is generally less spicy than across the rest of the subcontinent. Nepal’s national dish is daal bhaat – rice, lentils and lightly curried vegetables. Vegetarians are well served here as most Hindu Nepalis don’t eat meat. In contrast, the Newars indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley are big meat- eaters, with water buffalo, goat and wild boar all on the menu. In Kathmandu you’ll also find many restaurants serving Tibetan and Indian cuisine.
Local liquors include chang (a barley beer), arak (a spirit brewed from potatoes) and, for the brave, rakshi (a knock-out distilled rice wine). If you’re after something non-alcoholic, coconut water and lassi (a sweet yoghurt drink) are great refreshers. Don’t leave Nepal without trying a cup of chiya – sugary, milky, black tea infused with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
Consult your GP or travel health clinic well before departure to check on recommended vaccinations, which may include typhoid and hepatitis A, plus meningitis if trekking to outlying areas. Malaria is present below 1,200m; consider taking antimalarials. In town, stick to bottled water. Take water-purifying tablets with you if you’re trekking or heading off the beaten track.
If trekking at high altitude take precautions to avoid AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Make sure you are physically fit, acclimatise to the altitude slowly, eat high-carb meals and drink plenty of water. Wear sunscreen in the mountains, even when it’s cloudy. Robbery can be a problem in some areas; trek in a group to reduce the risk and keep an eye on the local press to find out about disturbances and impending demonstrations.
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