The lure and romance of Nepal comes from its very remoteness.
Nestled high in the Himalaya the kingdom was closed to the outside world until 1951. Since then it has become one of the premier tourist destinations of the world.
Apart from Nepal’s world-renowned physical attractions – frozen peaks, broad valleys, lush jungles and exotic wildlife – it is a country with an ancient, rich and diverse cultural heritage.
With a recorded history of almost 3000 years, and legendary beginnings dating back further still, the legacy and influences of the past are a constant presence in modern life. Traditional architecture mingles with the modern, busy streets divert around sacred shrines, festivals celebrate gods and heroes and suited-businessmen offer katak’s to departing visitors.
The lives of all of Nepal’s numerous ethnic groups and castes are strongly influenced by religion. Whether Hindu, Buddhist, Shamanist or, as is common, an amalgam of belief, daily and life-long routines - morning puja, making offerings at a shrine on the way to work and the bigger events of birth and death – are a vibrant aspect of Nepalese life. Architecture follows styles that provide for household shrines, deities are painted in vibrant color and festivals are an integral part of life.
Capital city: Kathmandu
Area: 147,181 sq km
Population: 29.5 million
Currency: Nepalese Rupee (NPR)
Time zone: GMT +5.75
Dialing code: +977
People: Hindu (75%), Buddhists (20%), Others (5%)
Thai flies daily between Kathmandu and Bangkok with connections throughout the world.
From Europe there are daily flights via the Middle East on Emirates, Gulf Air and Qatar Airways as well as connections via Delhi on Lufthansa and KLM.
There are daily flights from Delhi on Indian Airways and RNAC.
RNAC has twice weekly flights to Osaka via Shanghai and to Hong Kong.
China Eastern Airways is due to begin operating between Beijing and Shanghai and Kathmandu early 2004.
Visas and Permits
Visa for Nepal: All foreign nationals (except Indians) require a visa to enter Nepal. Visas are obtainable from embassies abroad or on arrival at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan airport. If getting the visa at the airport be prepared for long queues. There have been instances when passengers were asked to show return flight tickets. You will also need to provide two passport photos and the following fees in US dollars cash only: multi entry visa valid for 15 days - US$25, multi entry visa valid for 30 days - US$40, multi entry visa valid for 90 days - US$100.
***Please note if you are staying in Nepal for less than 24 hours while in transit a transit visa can be issued on presentation of your international flight ticket, there is a nominal charge of US$5 and two photos are required
Nepal has a generally temperate climate, however altitude makes distinct variations. The monsoon sweeps up from India each summer, making mid June to mid September humid and wet. The three other distinct seasons are all suitable for trekking and each has its own advantages.
Changing global weather patterns have had their effect on the Himalayan climate and mountain weather is notoriously changeable. Always be prepared for a change in conditions and note that if severe or dangerous weather conditions occur your guide’s decision on any course of action is final.
Winter (December-February) It is cold and you will need to be prepared, but the air is very clear providing the best mountain views.
Spring (March-May) Days are increasingly warm and the rhododendrons are in bloom. Mist and clouds are not uncommon.
Summer (June-August) The monsoon season. It will rain every day, although generally in the evening and night. The hills turn lush and green and at higher elevations the alpine plants will bloom.
Autumn (September-November) The most pleasant trekking season where days are warm, but not hot; there is little chance of snow and skies are clear.
Religion and Culture
Religion is the lifeblood of the Nepalese, defining art, culture, social position and the ritual of daily life. Religion in Nepal comprises a net of magical, mystical and spiritual beliefs with a multitude of gods reflecting the diverse facets of Nepalese life.
Officially Nepal is a Hindu country, but in practice religion is a complex and unique interweaving of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs with a pantheon of Tantric deities tagged on, all against a background of ancient animist traditions. In very broad terms lowlanders are Hindu, highlanders are Buddhist and the middle hills are a mixture of both. The greatest intermingling is in the Kathmandu valley where there is a hardly a ‘pure’ temple to be found and everyone joins in the major celebrations and worships the most popular deities. For about 95% of people these deities are not a matter of faith, but living beings to be pleased or appeased by devotees.
The majority religion is Hindu, with a substantial number of Buddhists (being the birthplace of Buddha).
Nepalese society is traditional and conservative.
Couples should be aware that public displays of affection are considered inappropriate.
The left hand is considered unclean so the right hand should always be used for giving, taking, eating, shaking hands, etc.
The feet are also considered unclean so it is impolite to kick someone, put your feet up on a chair or table, point your feet at someone or something revered or to touch someone else's feet.
Dress:Cleanliness in appearance and modesty are greatly appreciated.
Brahmans: are at the top. Traditionally they served as priests and moneylenders, today they are found in government, education and commerce. Chettri are the largest Hindu caste specializing in military and political affairs. The royal family belongs to this caste.
The traditional middle-castes are absent in Nepal, filled instead by ethnic groups. At the bottom are the occupational castes- blacksmiths, cobblers, tailors etc. and at the very bottom, the outcaste sweepers and butchers.
Terai Ethnic Groups
Approximately 25% of Nepal’s population belongs to the Indo-Aryan groups of the Terai. The Maithili comprise Nepal’s largest single ethnic group.
Hill Ethnic Groups
Newar are the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley. Originally Buddhist the majority are now Hindu or a tangled mixture of the two beliefs. Newari society is divided into 64 occupational castes, the largest being the Jyapu, peasant farmer.
Tamang are one of the largest ethnic groups whose homeland is central and eastern Nepal. To a greater extent than the Newars they have retained their farmers, porters and craftsmen.
Gurung inhabit the foothills of the Lamjung and Annapurna Himal. There, intensively farmed hillsides surround neat villages of stone houses, linked by a network of trails paved with percisely cut and fitted stone blocks. They speak an unwritten Tibeto-Burman language and, at higher altitudes, retain Buddhist traditions whlist in lower regions they have generally become Hindu.
Magar people inhabit roughly the same region as the Gurung, but farm the lower slopes. Originally followers of an animistic folk religion with a Buddhist veneer most are now Hindu.Along with Gurungs, Magar’s make up the bulk of the Gurkha and Nepalese armed forces.
Thakali, natives of the Thak Khola region near Annapurna are known as shrewd and agressive traders who enjoyed a profitable position as middlemen in the salt trade between Tibet and lowland Nepal. Originally a mix of Tibetan Buddhist and Shamanist, many have converted to Hinduism.
The Kirati, Rai and Limbu can trace thier history at least 2,300 years when they were mentioned in the epic Mahabharata. Said to have once ruled the Kathmandu valley thay have now resettled in the eastern hills following a mixture of animist, Buddhist and Hindu beliefs.
Mountain Ethnic Groups
Bhotia is the term used throughout the subcontinent to describe the northern mountain peoples with close ties to Tibet. They speak a variety of Tibetan-based dialects and are followers of Vajrayana Buddhism with Shamanist Bon influences. Inhabiting the high valleys they live by a mixture of farming, herding and trade. There are dozens of Bhotia groups including the Dolpo-pa, Lo-pa, Manang-pa and the famous sher-pa of the Solukhumbu region. Although the name Sherpa has become synonymous with ‘porter’’, properly speaking the sher-pa are a group tracing their origins to eastern Tibet from where they immigrated about 400 years ago.
At the bottom are the occupational castes- blacksmiths, cobblers, tailors etc. and at the very bottom, the outcaste sweepers and butchers
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