Nepal’s history dates back more than 2,500 years. But much of that ancient history is unknown. Many of the UNESCO sites worth visiting date back to the 1400s. It’s worth knowing a bit about Nepali politics, as it’s an unstable and ever-changing topic. A monarchy ruled Nepal until 2008, at which time a democratic republic and a constitution were established and adjusted over the next several years.
As Nepal developed, unlike many countries it remains about 80% rural. It’s also one of the least developed countries in the world according to the U.N. This means travelers will see drastic differences between life in the cities and life in the small villages. As a result of this mix, lifting the rural areas out of extreme poverty has proven difficult. The political climate is often tense, and the lack of education in these rural areas has had a direct impact on the preservation of Nepal’s natural resources. As tourists come to Nepal, the country struggled to meet tourism demand. This has resulted in poorly maintained transportation infrastructures and the use of natural resources in unsustainable ways. It’s a bit of a tough situation, as the tourists are both the core issue, and yet also the only way to bring money into these areas.
Modern Nepal is a fascinating, diverse place. Neighboring countries have had a marked influence on modern Nepali life. Travelers will see influences from India, Tibet, China, and even Mongolia. The country has 30+ ethnic groups, and with these a large variation in the number of religions and dialects. With all this diversity, the country has a mixed bag of religions as well. Predominantly Hindu, the country integrates Buddhism and animism too. All this to say, the mixing of cultures over the years have given Nepal a history as beautiful as the landscape.
When to Go: You’ll need to plan your visit around your planned activities. If you’re hiking, the trails are closed during monsoon season, which runs from June through August. Trekking season is September through May. Autumn and spring are beautiful; lush and green in the fall and flowering and cool in the spring. Winter can be chilly at altitude, but is pleasant in the Kathmandu Valley.
Food Considerations: Vegetarians will love traveling through Nepal because the national dish, dal bhat, is lentil soup and traditionally served with rice and veggies. Warning though, don’t be fooled into thinking that the food is similar to India — there is much less variety and the Nepalese do eat meat (unlike most of India). The Tibetan momos (dumplings) are fantastic and a staple of any vegetarian diet in Nepal. Also, many travelers get gastrointestinals issues as there is very poor sanitation. Avoid unpeeled fruits and salads. Please always sterilize your water, and follow these food safety principles.
Transportation: Transportation between cities is easy to organize and takes the form of buses. If you’re faint of heart, don’t watch as the buses careen around curves and the rusting carcasses of other buses dot the bottom of the hillsides. The buses are the main form of transportation, but Nepal has serious infrastructure issues so be careful. But, the buses are effective and they’re virtually the only budget option. In more recent years, there has been a rise in micro-buses of 10-12 people — a bit more but likely a bit safer. If you’re in a group, it’s fairly affordable to hire a private driver or taxi for longer distances. Bicycle and taxis are great for navigating around Kathmandu.
Budget: Nepal is very budget-friendly and cheap to travel. Hiking and trekking will add some expenses, but even those are reasonable. A solo traveler can anticipate rock-bottom budget of $15 per day if traveling around. If you’re volunteering some daily rates are in the $10-15 per day range to cover food and board. A little extra budget goes a long way here and you can upgrade to nice digs and eat decent food on just $30 per day per person when you are not trekking. Once you add in trekking fees, that gets a bit more. Baseline though — it’s cheap.
Safety: One of the most common issues facing travelers is gastrointestinal issues. There is very poor sanitation in Nepal so you will need to be careful with your food and water consumption. You must carry a medical kit; make sure you have several courses of antibiotics as well as a decent supply of oral rehydration salts. These ORS can save your life in the case of diarrheal illness