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NEPAL – GENERAL INFORMATION

                 Fig.1 – Nepal Flag

GEOGRAPHY

Nepal is a landlocked kingdom sharing borders with Tibet to the north and India to the west, south and east. The country can be divided into six zones: the Terai, the Chure hills, the Mahabharat range, the Pahar zone, the Himalaya and the Trans-Himalaya. The greater part of the country lies on the southern slope of the Himalayas, extending down from the highest peaks through hill country to the upper edge of the Ganges Plain. The hilly central area is crossed by the Lower Himalayas, where there are eight of the highest peaks in the world, leading up to Mount Everest. Wildlife in Nepal includes tigers, leopards, gaur, elephants, buffalo, deer and rhinos.

HISTORY

Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

Nepal was established as a kingdom in 1768 by Prithvi Narayan Shah, who unified a group of neighboring principalities in the Himalayas. An ambitious man, Shah attempted to expand into nearby Tibet, but his plan was thwarted by the Chinese during what became known as the Sino-Nepalese War (1788-1792). Barely 20 years later and the country was fighting unsuccessfully again, this time with Britain over disputed borders with India. In losing the Anglo-Nepalese War (1814-1816), Nepal ceded a lot of territory and political power to Britain, whose presence in Nepal destabilized the country and helped Jang Bahadur Rana to power in 1848. Under Rana’s rule, the monarchy was stripped of power and an undemocratic dynasty of hereditary prime ministers was established. This suited the British – who were well-respected by Rana – and in 1923 they granted Nepal independence. However, rather than being liberated, Nepal slid into obscurity under Rana, leading to growing dissatisfaction within the country and, ultimately, a coup, in which his regime was overthrown in 1951.

With Rana gone, the monarchy was restored and the Nepalese Congress Party – comprised mainly of anti-Rana rebels – was installed in government. With Nepal back on the map, visitors returned, including New Zealander, Edmund Hillary, who became the first person to scale Mount Everest in 1953.

But by 1960 Nepal was once again thrown into turmoil; realizing that a monarchy and democratic government were incompatible, King Mahendra dissolved parliament. Bowing to growing disquiet, his successor, King Birendra, held a referendum in 1979 to decide the future of Nepali politics. However, its people voted, by a small minority, to maintain the status quo, which failed to placate critics. In 1990, once again, unrest forced the king’s hand and he agreed that a new democratic constitution was necessary.

The following year Nepal held its first democratic elections in 50 years. Yet the nineties were characterized by economic failure, which laid the foundations for the Nepalese Civil War. The armed conflict – between the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal and the beleaguered government – lasted a decade and reached its nadir in 2001, when a state of emergency was declared. In the same year, Crown Prince Dipendra, heir to the throne, went on a drunken rampage, murdering the King and several family members before committing suicide.

Eventually, in 2006, a peace deal was signed, which brought the Maoists into mainstream politics and curtailed the power of the monarchy further (a year later, the monarchy was abolished). Nepal has been largely peaceful since and Nepal’s most recent elections in 2013 – which are disputed by Maoists – show signs of forward momentum. But, politically speaking, there’s still a mountain to climb.

THE PEOPLE

Nepali or Nepalese or Gurkha are descendants of migrants from parts of Kashmir, earlier Greater Nepal, Tibet, India, and parts of Burma and Yunnan, along with native tribal populations. Indo-Aryans and East Asian looking (Mongoloid) are the Nepali origin people. The mountainous region is sparsely populated above 3,000 m (9,800 ft), but in central and western Nepal ethnic Sherpa and Lama People inhabit even higher semi-arid valleys north of the Himalaya. Kathmandu Valley, in the middle hill region, constitutes a small fraction of the nation’s area but is the most densely populated, with almost 5 percent of the nation’s population. Nepali society is multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic.

SOCIAL CONVENTIONS

Be careful to respect local customs: Never step over the feet of a person – always walk round; never offer food and drink that you have tasted or bitten; never offer or accept anything with the left hand – use the right or both hands; it is rude to point at a person or statue with a finger (or even with a foot).

Often when people shake their head, it means ‘yes’. Footwear should be removed when entering houses, especially kitchens and shrines. Do not stand in front of a person who is eating. Shaking hands is not a common form of greeting; instead, press the palms together in a prayer-like gesture (Namaste).

Casual-wear is suitable except for the most formal meetings or social occasions. However, bikinis, shorts, bare shoulders and backs may not be appreciated. Men only remove their shirts when bathing. Overt public displays of affection, especially near religious places, are inappropriate.

Seek permission before entering a temple, and do not take leather articles inside them.

LANGUAGES

The official language is Nepali (spoken by 49%). There are many other languages, including Maithili and Bhojpuri. English is spoken in business circles and by people involved in the travel trade.

GOVERNMENT

The Government of Nepal is the executive body and the central government of Nepal. Prior to the abolition of the monarchy, it was officially known as His Majesty’s Government.

The Head of State is the President. This role is largely ceremonial as the functioning of the government is managed entirely by the Prime Minister who is appointed by the Parliament. The heads of constitutional bodies are appointed by the President on the recommendation of Constitutional Council, with the exception of the Attorney General, who is appointed by the Prime Minister.

TIME ZONE

Nepal is 9 hours and 45 minutes ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).

 ELECTRICITY

The voltage in Nepal is 230 Volts, 50 Hz. Bring a universal plug and voltage adapter kit for your Electronics.

 CLIMATE

Monsoon season begins around the end of June and lasts until the middle of September. About 80% of Nepal’s annual rainfall is during that period, so the remainder of the year is pretty dry. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant seasons; winter temperatures drop to freezing, with a high level of snowfall in the mountains, while high summer can be blisteringly hot. Summer and late spring temperatures range from 28ºC (83ºF) in the hill regions to more than 40ºC (104ºF) in the Terai.

In winter, average maximum and minimum temperatures in the Terai range from a brisk 7ºC (45ºF) to a mild 23ºC (74ºF). The central valleys experience a minimum temperature often falling below freezing point and a chilly 12ºC (54ºF) maximum. Much colder temperatures prevail at higher elevations. The Kathmandu Valley, at an altitude of 1,310m (4,297ft), has a mild climate, ranging from 19-27ºC (67-81ºF) in summer, and 2-20ºC (36-68ºF) in winter.

CLOTHES TO WEAR

Lightweight and tropical clothes with umbrella are advised for June to August. Between October and March, lightweight clothes are worn in Kathmandu, with a coat for evenings and warm clothing for the mountains. When trekking in the mountains, high quality trekking gear that can handle minus temperatures is recommended all year round.

 LOGISTICAL

Entry & Exit Requirements:

A passport and visa are required to both enter and exit Nepal.  Many countries require at least 6 months validity remaining on your current passport to enter or obtain a visa from that country.  This requirement is applied inconsistently at Nepal’s ports of entry.

Travelers may obtain visas prior to travel from a Nepalese embassy or consulate, or may purchase a one-day tourist visa ($5), a fifteen-day multiple-entry tourist visa ($25), a one-month multiple-entry tourist visa ($40), or a three-month multiple-entry tourist visa ($100) upon arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu and at the following land border points of entry:  Kakarvitta, Jhapa District (Eastern Nepal); Birgunj, Parsa District (Central Nepal); Kodari, Sindhupalchowk District (Northern Border– for group tourists only); Belahia, Bhairahawa (Rupandehi District, Western Nepal); Jamunaha, Nepalgunj (Banke District, Mid-Western Nepal); Mohana, Dhangadhi (Kailali District, Far Western Nepal); and Gadda Chauki, Mahendranagar (Kanchanpur District, Far Western Nepal).  Visas and information on entry/exit requirements can be obtained from the Embassy of Nepal at 2131 Leroy Place NW, Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 667-4550 or the Consulate General of Nepal in New York at (212) 370-3988. Outside the United States, inquiries should be made at the nearest Nepalese embassy or consulate.

Tourists may stay in Nepal for a total of no more than 150 aggregate days in any given calendar year. Visas are extended only by the Department of Immigration (DOI) located in the Kalikasthan neighborhood of Kathmandu, as well as by the Immigration Office in Pokhara. The Immigration Office at Tribhuvan International Airport is not authorized to extend visas.  Some U.S. citizens who have waited until their departure date to extend their visa at the airport have been sent to the Immigration Office in Kathmandu to pay the extension fee and, as a result, have missed their flights.  If a traveler finds that he or she must stay longer than expected, the traveler is strongly encouraged to extend his/her visa well before its expiration.  Visa overstays carry a significant fine and, in some cases, result in jail time.  U.S. citizens who have obtained a new passport from the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu must have their valid Nepali visa transferred from their previous passport to the new passport through the Department of Immigration.  For more information about Nepali immigration rules and regulations, please refer to the Government of Nepal’s Department of Immigration website.  Please note that active duty U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense contractors must have a country clearance request from their parent unit forwarded to the Defense Attaché’s Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu for both official and unofficial travel to Nepal.

Your purpose of travel will dictate what category of visa you will need to obtain.  In addition to tourist visas, Nepal issues a number of other categories, including student and work visas.  Each category of visa has a different issuing and renewing authority.  Please visit the website of the Nepal Department of Immigration which has direct links to the online application for each category of visa.  The website also provides the duration, issuing authority and application process information for each category of visa.

Travelers occasionally report immigration difficulties with Chinese authorities when crossing the Nepal-China border over land in either direction.  Chinese authorities often require U.S. citizens and other foreign tourists to organize “group” tours through established travel agencies as a prerequisite for obtaining visas and entry permits into Tibet.  The Chinese authorities have occasionally closed the border, especially around the anniversary of significant events in Tibet.  U.S. citizens wishing to travel to Tibet should factor this possibility into their travel plans, and should read the Department of State’s travel information for China.  Travelers in Nepal should check with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Nepal for current regulations on entry into Tibet and obtain current information about border crossing status.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors or foreign residents of Nepal.

Embassy & High Commission Locations:

U.S. Embassy in Nepal

Maharajgunj in Kathmandu

Tel: + (977) (1) 423-4500

Emergency Telephone: + (977) (1) 400-7266 and + (977) (1) 400-7269

Fax: + (977) (1) 400-7281

http://nepal.usembassy.gov/

Consulate of Canada in Nepal

47 Lal Durbar Marg
Kathmandu
Nepal

Telephone: +977-1-4441976
Fax: +977-1-4434713

http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/india-inde/offices-bureaux/nepal.aspx

HEALTH

Medical care in Nepal is limited and generally not up to Western standards.  Typical travel medical complaints can be addressed by clinics in Kathmandu and some surgeries can be performed in the capital.  However, serious illnesses often require evacuation to the nearest adequate medical facility (New Delhi, Singapore, or Bangkok).  Serious illnesses and injuries suffered while hiking in remote areas may require evacuation by helicopter to Kathmandu.  Those trekking in remote areas of Nepal should factor the high cost of a potential helicopter rescue into their financial considerations.  Travelers are recommended to purchase medical evacuation insurance as medical evacuations can cost thousands of dollars and payment will be expected in cash before the medevac can take place, if there is no insurance coverage.  Older and disabled travelers should be aware that Medicare does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs incurred outside of the United States.  There is minimal mental health care available in Nepal.  U.S. citizens with mental health problems are generally stabilized and transported to the United States or to another regional center for care.  The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu maintains a list of local medical facilities and practitioners.

Stray dogs are common on the streets of Kathmandu.  Visitors should be aware that stray dogs and monkeys may be infected with rabies.  Any animal bites should be carefully handled and immediately brought to a medical practitioner’s attention.

Medical facilities are often overwhelmed due to insufficient resources.  Emergency medical services, especially in public hospitals, are of poor quality compared to that available in the United States.  Food hygiene and sanitary food handling practices are uncommon in Nepal and precautions should be taken to prevent water and food-borne illnesses.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

 BANKS AND CURRENCY

The Nepali rupee (Rs) is divided into 100 paisa (p). There are coins for denominations of one, two, five and 10 rupees, and bank notes in denominations of one, two, five, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 rupees. This is a great contrast to a time not long ago, when outside the Kathmandu Valley, it was rare to see any paper money. Mountaineering books from the 1950s often comment on the porters whose sole duty was to carry the expedition’s money – in cold, hard cash. Away from major centers, changing a Rs 1000 note can be very difficult, so it is always a good idea to keep a stash of small-denomination notes. Even in Kathmandu, many small businesses – especially rickshaw and taxi drivers – simply don’t have sufficient spare money to allow them the luxury of carrying a wad of change.

Standard Chartered Bank has ATMs in Kathmandu and Pokhara; you can get cash advances on both Visa and MasterCard 24 hours a day, though travelers have reported that these machines don’t take cards that run on the Cirrus system. Other banks, such as the Himalaya Bank, also have ATMs but some only accept local cards. Using an ATM attached to a bank during business hours will minimize the hassle in the rare event that the machine eats your card.
Major international currencies, including the US dollar, euro and pounds sterling, are readily accepted. In Nepal the Indian rupee is also like a hard currency – the Nepali rupee is pegged to the Indian rupee at the rate of INRs 100 = Rs 160. Be aware that INRs 500 and INRs 1000 notes are not accepted anywhere in Nepal, apparently due to forgeries.
Official exchange rates are set by the government’s Nepal Rastra Bank and listed in the daily newspapers. Rates at the private banks vary, but are generally not far from the official rate. There are exchange counters at the international terminal at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport and banks and/or moneychangers at the various border crossings. Pokhara and the major border towns also have official money changing facilities, but changing traveler’s cheques can be difficult elsewhere in the country, even in some quite large towns. If you are trekking, take enough small-denomination cash rupees to last the whole trek.

When you change money officially, you are required to show your passport, and you are issued with a foreign exchange encashment receipt showing your identity and the amount of hard currency you have changed. Hang onto the receipts as you need them to change excess rupees back into hard currency at banks. You can change rupees back into hard currency at most moneychangers without a receipt. If you leave Nepal via Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport, the downstairs exchange counter will re-exchange the amount shown on ‘unused’ exchange certificates. Official re-exchange is not possible at any bank branches at the border crossings. Many up market hotels and businesses are obliged by the government to demand payment in hard currency; they will also accept rupees, but only if you can show a foreign exchange encashment receipt that covers the amount you owe them. In practice this regulation seems to be widely disregarded. Airlines are also required to charge tourists in hard currency, either in cash US dollars, traveler’s cheques or credit cards, and this rule is generally followed.

Major credit cards are widely accepted at midrange and better hotels, restaurants and fancy shops in the Kathmandu Valley and Pokhara only.

Branches of Standard Chartered Bank and some other banks such as Nabil Bank and Himalaya Bank give cash advances against Visa and MasterCard in Nepali rupees only (no commission), and will also sell you foreign currency traveler’s cheques against the cards with a 2% commission. The American Express (Amex) agent is Yeti Travels in Kathmandu. It advances traveler’s cheques to cardholders for a standard 1% commission.

In addition to the banks there are licensed moneychangers in Kathmandu, Pokhara, Birganj, Kakarbhitta and Sunauli/Bhairawa. The rates are often marginally lower than the banks, but there are no commissions, they have much longer opening hours (typically from 9am to 7pm daily) and they are also much quicker, the whole process often taking no more than a few minutes.

Most licensed moneychangers will provide an exchange receipt; if they don’t you may be able to negotiate better rates than those posted on their boards.

COMMUNICATIONS

International Dialing Code is +977

 Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.

 ENTERTAINMENT

Food and Drink:

Sandwiched between India and China, Nepal’s cuisine is heavily influenced by its neighbors – although dishes tend to be simpler and less varied.

Meals are typically spicy and meaty, although that’s not to say you can’t find good vegetarian cuisine. Indeed, the national dish is dal bhat (lentil curry), which, like most dishes, is accompanied with rice and thin pancake-like bread known as chapatti.

Nepal’s unreliable electricity supply restricts the ability to refrigerate produce, which, perversely, has a positive effect because it means most food is prepared to order.

Adventurous gastronomes should venture into the markets to sample fresh fruits including umpteen varieties of bananas, which are some of the sweetest you’ll ever taste.

At the higher end of the market, Kathmandu has developed an international culinary scene where diners can find dishes from all over the world. Chefs artistically prepare five-star menus, and food competitions have aimed to encourage budding restaurateurs.

Bakeries and cafés are scattered around tourist towns, where patrons can quaff Nepali tea (ask for it kaalo [black] or with chini [sugar]).

 Specialties: 

  • Dal bhat (lentils and rice)
  • Tarkari (spiced vegetables)
  • Thukpha(Tibetan stew of noodles and meat)
  • Rotis (flat pancake-like bread made from wheat or rice flour)
  • Chapatti (similar to rotibut thinner)
  • Choyla (diced and roasted water buffalo, spiced and eaten with rice)
  • Cel roti(Nepali equivalent of a donut; circular, fried dough)
  • Pani puri (round pastries filled with spices, potatoes, and water)
  • Momos (handmade dumplings filled with meat or veggies; order them friend or steamed)
Note:

It is considered rude to eat with your left hand. Utensils are provided in most tourist destinations, but locals still eat with their hands. Bring your own water bottle to be eco-conscious or buy bottled for cheap on the street.

 Regional drinks: 

  • Chai(tea brewed with milk, sugar and spices)
  • Butter tea(popular among Tibetan cultures; the combination of salt, butter, and hot water)
  • Lassi (curd mixed with sugar in a mixture of sweet and salty flavours)
  • Raksi (wheat or rice alcohol)
  • Chang (homebrewed beer made from fermented barley, maize, rye or millet)

Nightlife:

Kathmandu’s nightlife may not be considered wild, but there are plenty of late bars, live music spots and nightclubs in which to have a good knees-up. Most are located around Thamel and near the city’s 5-star hotels. Many restaurants put on traditional Newari dance shows for tourists – particularly in Pokara – and there are a couple of casinos for those who fancy trying their luck. In Thamel Hollywood blockbusters are shown in bars and restaurants, while local cinemas play a range of Bollywood films. In Pokhara, the nightlife centers around snooker halls and dance bars, which play Bollywood pop music until the early hours.

Live music is ubiquitous in Lakeside, and drinks can be found on the cheap throughout the day. Nepalis do like to drink, so if that’s your thing you will make friends easily. In mountain towns near Lukla, if you stay up late enough, you can toast with porters and guides who will muster the strength to wake up early and lug large loads up the mountain despite putting back glass after glass of Kuhkari rum late into the evening.

Shopping:

If you like shopping you’ll love Nepal’s many and varied markets. These lively bazaars are packed with vibrant wares and hard-haggling hawkers. Popular buys include locally made garments such as pashmina scarves, sweaters, topis (lopsided caps), mittens, socks, Tibetan dresses, woven shawls and multi-colored jackets.

Other common items include the Khukri (the national knife), saranghi (a small, four-stringed viola played with a horse-hair bow), papier mâché dance masks, Buddhist statuettes and bamboo flutes. Teas and spices are also popular. With its burgeoning arts scene, Kathmandu and Patan are exciting places to shop for traditional and modern paintings and sculptures. More practically speaking, Thamel and Lukla are packed with outlets selling outdoor wear for those thinking of heading into the mountains.

 Shopping hours: Sunday through Friday, 1000-2000 in most tourist areas.

Note: 

Antiques cannot be taken out of the country and must be inspected by the Department of Archeology.

BAGGAGE

Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.

TIPPING

Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.

LAUNDRY

There is no public laundry on the streets. Laundry services are available in hotels and cruise ships, usually through the floor attendant or housekeeping. One-day dry cleaning and pressing services are offered at better hotels.

PHOTOS & VIDEOS

In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.

USE OF DRONES 

The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.

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