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The country can be divided into three different regions: the north, which is covered by the Himalaya mountain range that includes the world’s tallest peak Mt. Everest, which rises to 8,848 m (29,000 ft); the central area, consisting of the relatively low Himalayan foothills which are home to the capital Kathmandu and a fascinating variety of cultural groups; and the south, which consists of vast plains and jungle and is home to most of the country’s population.

Facts

Official Name: Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal
Capital:           Kathmandu
Population:     Approx 29 million
Languages:     Nepali is the National language but there are thought to be 20 language groups and many more dialects
Main Religions: 81% Hindu, 9% Buddhist, 4% Muslim, 6% other (Kirat, Christianity, Bon po, Shaman, other)
Time Zone:      5 hours 45 ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+5:45 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
Voltage Requirements: 220 Volts. Sockets are of the European two pronged round pin variety. Supply is erratic and power cuts are common – even in the cities.
Telephone Codes: 977, country code for Nepal; 1, city code for Kathmandu.

If you're going to Nepal for trekking, there are two main seasons: October-December and February-April. This is because the majority of trekkers come to visit the popular areas of Annapurna and Everest and spring and autumn are the best times for these areas. Autumn is best, when the air has been washed clean by summer monsoons and the passes haven't yet been snowed in. The weather is brisk but not too cold. In spring, the alpine passes are open again, but the air is hazy, and the views, while good, aren't the same as in autumn (if spring is the only time available, it's still worth going!).

If however you are more intrepid and want to explore the Nepal that lives off the beaten trail, then there is somewhere for you to trek in Nepal all the year round. In spring and autumn you can trek basically anywhere; in the monsoon you can trek in the rain shadow of the Himalayan Range; in winter you can have delightful trekking in the culturally rich mid-hills! If you're going to Chitwan National Park be aware that it can be very hot and humid for most of the year, although from December to March it’s fantastic! The monsoons, which occur June-September, affect the whole country except for those areas in the rain shadow, and flooding is a strong possibility in the Chitwan region.

The following chart shows average daytime temperatures (in degrees Celsius);
      J   F   M  A   M   J   J   A   S  O  N  D
K   18 19 25 28 30 29 29 28 28 27 23 19
C   24 26 33 35 35 35 33 33 32 31 29 24
(K – Kathmandu, C – Chitwan)
Please note that temperatures do drop much lower at high altitudes.

All nationalities except Indians require a visa for Nepal. Tourists are allowed a total of 150 days per year in Nepal. Visas are obtainable from embassies abroad or on arrival at Kathmandu's airport, be prepared for long queues.

If getting your visa on arrival you will need to provide one passport photo (just a small photo of yourself, no rules about how your tilt your head etc!) and the following fees in US dollars only:
1.    US $ 25 or equivalent foreign currency for Tourist Visa with Multiple Entry for 15 days.
2.    US $ 40 or equivalent foreign currency for Tourist Visa with Multiple Entry for 30 days.
3.    US $ 100 or equivalent foreign currency for Tourist Visa with Multiple Entry for 90 days.
4.    US $ 2 or equivalent foreign currency per day for visa extensions (and you have to spend time in the immigration office, so best to get the full time you need in your first visa!)
5.    Tourists with passport from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations aren't required to pay visa fee for the first 30 days.
 
It’s a good idea to carry the cash with you in US dollars and to fill out your two forms on the plane (you may have to ask for them), as you will get further up the visa queue! When you come into the arrival hall, look for the sign at the far end that says ‘foreigners with or without visa’ – just past the diplomats!

Please note regulations and costs for visas change frequently so it’s advisable to check the current rules with your nearest Nepalese embassy or consulate. For information on the location of your nearest embassy or consulate we recommend the following website: http://www.embassyworld.com/embassy/nepal1.html  

Nepal's recorded history began with the Kiratis, who arrived in the 7th century BC from the east. Little is known about them, other than their deftness as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. It was during this period that Buddhism first came to the country; it is claimed that Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the Kathmandu Valley and stayed for a time in Patan. By 200 AD, Buddhism had waned and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India and overthrew the last Kirati king. The Hindu Licchavis also introduced the caste system (which still continues today) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture.

Hinduism and Buddhism constitute the two major religions of Nepal. A remarkable feature of this country is the religious tolerance and even blending that exists between these, the main religious communities. The exquisite medieval art & architecture of the Kathmandu Valley vividly reflect the artistic ingenuity and religious tradition of the people. In many places you will see a Buddhist shrine or sacred symbols in a Hindu temple and vice versa. In the hills you will often find a blurring between Hinduism, Buddhism and the more ancient pagan religions of the hills. It’s fascinating!

Hinduism

Roughly 85% of the population are Hindu, worshiping millions of gods and goddesses that make up the Hindu pantheon. Each god has His/Her own steed which is often seen kneeling faithfully at the feet of the deity or sometimes outside that god's temple. Symbolic objects are carried by the multiple hands of each deity which empowers them to perform great feats.

Buddhism

Sakyamuni Buddha is the founder of Buddhism who lived and taught in this part of the world during the sixth century BC after his birth at Lumbini in Southern Nepal. The great stupas of Swayambhunath and Bouddanath are among the oldest and most beautiful worship sites in the Kathmandu Valley. With almost 10% of Nepalese and all Tibetan refugees here following this religious path, the spinning of prayer wheels, prostrating pilgrims, collective chants and burning butter lamps are but some Buddhist practices encountered by visitors.

While there is so much to see here, following is a list of recommended places to visit in Nepal. There is of course much, much more, but this will get you started...

Nepal is a land of many festivals with rich cultural heritage. More than 90% of Nepalese festivals have their origin in the religious practises of the many different ethnic groups that live here. Such is the diversity of these groups and there are so many festivals, that you can often see one happening and ask a local person what it is for and they can only tell you which cultural group has the festival but not what it is for.

This diversity can also be seen in the fact that the country has a range of calendars; including two solar calendars and three lunar ones making it difficult to predict many of the religious festival dates! The official Nepali calendar is 365 days, but is 57 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar. Religious festivals follow the lunar calendar, while national festivals have fixed dates.

Read on to find out about some of the major festivals...

The national dish is dal-baat. Dal is a lentil sauce, baat is rice. The dish is in fact rarely as simple as this however as it invariably comes with a number of different side dishes, such as achar (pickle), curd (yoghurt), and usually vegetable curries. Another common dish found on many menus is momos – Tibetan dumplings made with vegetables or meat.

You will be astonished by the huge variety of international dishes (such as Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Middle Eastern) available in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Likewise you will also often be able to find steak on the menu – although you will generally not be eating beef (except in some restaurants in Kathmandu where they import beef). Water buffalo (or buff as it is called!) is the usual substitute for beef and is actually quite tasty – if a little chewy.

Please be aware though, that sanitation standards are not always as you’d expect and it's very easy to get very sick on appealing food. We will make restaurant recommendations and, if you are going out to the mountains, we urge you to do your experimenting after your trip, or you may not get to go. Outside Kathmandu and Pokhara there is a very limited choice of food, so (except for the unique Newari food of Kathmandu) it’s often best to save eating heaps of local food until you’re out of the big towns, where you won’t get much else!

Vegetarians

Nepal is a fantastic place for vegetarians! Much of the cuisine is vegetarian and you will often find a much better (and tastier) selection of vegetarian options than meat dishes.

Food Allergies

If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to us before your arrival and we will do our best to ensure that your requirements are met!

Tipping

In Kathmandu and Pokhara restaurants only, tip 10% (if a service charge is not already on the bill). For city sightseeing it is nice to tip your guide if you had a great day and learnt a lot. If you go trekking, tip your porters and guides well as they work very hard to ensure your safety and enjoyment. Some of our trips include a tips kitty to take the hassle out of this sensitive issue for our guests – please ask for this if you would like us to handle it for you.

Popular items include ‘tanka’ (religious) paintings and Buddhist articles, such as prayer wheels and prayer flags. There are great clothes, jewellery and craft items available and some really good Fair Trade shops opening up now. While it's officially forbidden to export precious stones, gold or silver, customs officials don’t worry about jewellery – you will see many beautiful jewellery items for sale in the bazaars and you will not be stopped from taking these as souvenirs out of the country. If you buy an antique or religious sculpture, check that you can get it out of the country, as some items (religious or cultural heritage) are not allowed out. There has been a busy trade over the years stripping temples etc, so this is an understandable precaution taken by the Nepali authorities.

The market is saturated with books on Nepal. Good general books include Peter Matthiessen's "The Snow Leopard", a beautifully written account of the author's pilgrimage to Dolpa to track the elusive cat; and Peter Somerville-Large's engagingly dotty "To the Navel of the World", which chronicles his adventures through Nepal's uncharted lands. Try also Pico Iyer's '"Video Night in Kathmandu", a collection of essays which has a chapter on the collision between Nepalese tradition and Western culture.

Recent histories are limited but "Fatalism & Development - Nepal's Struggle for Modernisation" by Nepalese anthropologist Dor Bahadur Bista is a good place to start. There are more up-to-date books on the country's natural history, including K K Guring's "The Heart of the Jungle",  George Schaller's "Stones of Silence - Journeys in the Himalaya" and Robert Fleming Sr et al's "Birds of Nepal".

"The Boy From Siklis" by Manjushree Thapa is a great read, which outlines much about the history of conservation in Nepal and the creation of the Annapurna Conservation Area Program. This was a huge milestone for community based conservation and had a massive impact in the trekking world - great to read if you're heading to this area! Another of Manjushree Thapa's books, "A Tutor of History" is a great insight into life and culture of Nepal told via a political novel.

Good introductions to Nepalese art can be found in Lydia Aran's "The Art of Nepal" and Hallvard Kare Kuloy's "Tibetan Rugs", while facets of the country's culture are revealed in "People of Nepal" by Dor Bahadur Bista and "Festivals of Nepal "by Mary Andersen.

"The Rough Guide to Nepal" is a great travel book for general information on the country and the Lonely Planet's "Trekking in the Nepal Himalaya" is good if you want more detailed trekking information - although it does cover all of Nepal so might be a bit much to buy just for info on one trek!

Mountaineering breeds either writers or braggarts, judging by the number of publications written after every first ascent of a Himalayan peak. Often choosing which account to read can become one's own personal Everest, but H W Tilman's "Nepal Himalaya", Chris Bonington's "Annapurna South Face" and Mark Anderson's "On the Big Hill" should steady the nerves. Otherwise, try "The Ascent of Rum Doodle" by W E Bowman - a classic mountaineering tall story.

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