Nepal has a lot of things that attract tourists. Be it the snowy mountain ranges that almost meet the skies, the fluttering prayer flags, or the dense jungles with different wild animals, oftentimes people get what they come for and go back with a satisfied heart. It is always good to have a positive attitude towards the circumstances especially when it comes to traveling. Sure, the above-mentioned things are present in Nepal but, traveling is something more than that. You might come across several conditions that will require you to push yourself out of the comfort zone. If one decides to brood over these uncertain hindrances, traveling becomes spiteful with each sunset. On the contrary, taking these challenges as a way to stretch out of the comfort box will bring out the true colors of adventure.
Continuing this subject matter, I would like to put a light on some of the things that might make tourists uneasy in Nepal. But, tourism is supposed to facilitate tourists, isn't it? Yes, but the things we consider hospitality might not suffice with the needs of the people with different cultural background and upbringing. Nepal has grown so much with time and with this, we have a solid foundation of the ways of living. Some of the habits are quite different from that one might expect. These differences in lifestyle and habits might upset the visitors who expect Nepal to be just mountains, green fields, and cultural storage. With that being said, let's discuss some of the problems that you might come across during traveling in Nepal. Rather than getting worried about these problems, you might want to search for options that will help you in such situations.
1. POWER OUTAGE?
Yes, we have uninvited power cuts in this day and age. While the Nepalese people have grown accustomed to these malfunctions, other people find it very unpleasant. I mean you have just returned to your hotel from a long day of hiking and want to share your ups and downs with your peers and family and snap, the power goes off. These situations can test your patience sometimes. But part of traveling is to expose yourself to such situations and still let it go. Before snapping with rage, consider this time as a way to separate yourself from technology and just focus on self-realization. You can chat with your companion, learn some new things about Nepali culture or even meditate if it's fine with you. Learn to calm yourself and if the power cut is not due to physical damage, it will most likely return. It is not that you will sit in complete darkness; the management will provide you alternatives like lamps or candles. Make the most out of these situations by writing your daily journal or read the book that describes your travel destination. You will feel more motivated.
2. Hate Squatting? Think Again!
Who would have thought that the squat exercise you hated on every Friday of your gym session will haunt you to the traveling experience? So, where do you need to squat? It’s the toilet. Nepal has a long history of using traditional squatting in the morning. The toilet pan has two sides where you keep your feet and a hole in the middle where you target your biological archery. And another thing, be sure to grab the toilet paper before you rush inside the toilet. In Nepal, people rarely use toilet paper to clean their business. Often, we have a mug and a bucket of water for cleansing. The main problem tourists face is the uncomfortable sitting position while they struggle to keep their pants dry. I would recommend, squatting naked. Yeah, why not? You don't have to impress anybody inside there. Do what makes you comfortable. Face towards the direction of the tap. You will be provided with a soap to wash your hands afterward which is either inside the bathroom or sometimes on the basin just outside. I have even heard of some tourists dehydrating themselves just to avoid these kinds of toilets. Well, I don't think I need to tell you about the negative effects of reducing water content in your body during traveling. Don't sweat the details; you will eventually learn the squatting position.
Also, you can find western toilets in some rest spots. If you hate the squats, then find hotels that provide western bathroom facilities. If you are thinking of staying at homestays then I would recommend asking the owner first as the majority of them have traditional toilets.
3. Learn Money Language:
Nepalese people have a separate language just for talking about money. Just kidding! By learning the money language I meant getting accustomed to the bills. Unlike other currencies, the money in Nepal has different sizes and colors. This might confuse a lot of foreigners. Here is an easy trick, the greater the value of the money, the bigger its size. At first, you need to know our currency. We call it "Rupee" like you guys call dollars or pounds. Also, we use the term dollar for coins which are mostly used for change like any other place. The most common coins you will come across are ones and twos as the note version of ones and twos have almost stopped getting printed. The bills start with Rupees 5 and end with a thousand rupee notes which have an elephant printed in the middle. The middle notes are 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500. For easy transactions, I will recommend organizing the bills based on size. The numbers on the corners of the bills will also help you so don't overthink the colors and pictures.
4. Get Ready for Kathmandu Adventures with a Mask:
A mask? Do I mean there is a Halloween costume party every day? No, these are not the costume masks that you wear as costumes; they are masks to protect you from the pollution and dirt. The capital city of Kathmandu is very polluted. Air pollution has been going on for decades now and the government is slow on responding to this problem. I do want to talk on Nepalese politics but, as a citizen of Kathmandu I struggle with pollution problems every day. The Yale's Environmental Performance Index has listed Nepal 176 on the position out of 180 countries. So I would recommend bringing a good quality mask with you and carrying it at all times. You will see people walking around with surgical masks but, I think it's ineffective when the mask itself gets covered with dirt at the end of the day. This problem is in Kathmandu though. If you move outside the capital city, the air is pretty decent.
5. The Nepalese People are recovering from a Civil War:
Yes, the country often related to terms like "land of peace" or anti-war zone has its internal wounds that are yet to heal. The civil war in this country started from the mid-'90s and haunted the citizens for almost a decade. It has only been like 15 years since the war stopped and people are enjoying their freedom. It was a literal war with killings and brutality. The fighting started with conflicts between the monarchy and communism. With several twists and turns, it even turned out to a situation where the derivatives of monarchy fought amongst themselves. But as the sun sets down, it welcomes a new sunrise filled with hopes and dreams. After years of struggle, the land finally came down to peace with both the parties ending on a peace agreement. Both of these representatives now rule over the country. While there are still unsettling matters, Nepal is slowly and steadily finding its original peace again. So, why do you need this information for travelling? You don't but, it is great to know the background and the hardships of the people living in the place you intend to visit. Maybe you can relate to things more deeply.
Another thing that emerged out of the decade long war is the need for security. Visitors will find armies on several checkpoints during their journey. While most of them are easy to pass, some require strict paperwork. If you have a local guide with you, they can pretty much handle these situations out of the experience. Also, you will mind tons of army camps near the border areas for obvious reasons.
6. Nepal is a developing country:
Let's face the fact; anyone who has already visited Nepal or read about it on the internet knows the condition of this country. I don't want to sugar coat our economic and political conditions just to boast in front of foreigners as the situation is clear to the naked eyes. Yes, the roads are bumpy as hell, and construction is going on everywhere. The civilization is unplanned and you will come across several homeless people during the journey. Sadly, you cannot do anything on this matter. You will be surprised to know that the average annual income of a Nepali person is just $745. Those numbers are very unsatisfactory and push us among the least developed countries. Progress is slow and the people are helping to build the country but, the economy still needs a boost.
The main problem with national development is the brain-drain problem. For those of you unaware of this term, it means the capable and literate population of Nepal is moving abroad for better opportunities and lifestyles. You can ask any teenager in this country of his future goals and you will hear them getting their passports ready. Well, we can't entirely blame them as all of us want better lives for us and those around us. With that said, remittance stands as the biggest source of national income. And that, my friend, is a problem for developing countries like Nepal. Another source of income for Nepal is tourism. So, it has flourished as the largest industry in our country. The geography of Nepal helps the tourism industry is a positive way with its natural beauty. 2020 was supposed to be a "Visit Nepal Year" but as we all know, a certain virus thought otherwise. So, I thank our visitors for the opportunity they bring to the locals and their contribution to the national income.
7. There is more than just Mt. Everest:
This is of no surprise because it is Mount Everest that connects Nepal with the world. I mean, there are several other things like the birthplace of Buddha but, Mt. Everest is something globally known among adventurers. Talking about mountain peaks, there are several other Himalayan ranges in our country which are above 6000 meters. If you are hesitant and short on money for Everest adventures, you have several other options that provide the same level of excitement. One can visit the national parks, wildlife reserves, explore the beautiful lakes, rivers, or even participate in extreme sports. Sure, Everest is the main tourist attraction but, you will come across several alternatives if you keep your eyes open. If you do not like hiking or anything that puts a strain on your weak knees, then I would suggest chilling at tourist destinations. It can be the "Thamel" area of Kathmandu, Lakeside area of Pokhara, deep jungle safaris of Chitwan, or cultural treats of rural sites.
8. Uber facility; on two-wheelers:
There are no Uber facilities in Nepal. You can book a cab or any other vehicle as per your requirement. Yes, the prices will vary according to the route and the distance. While some foreigners have no trouble paying the fees, others have to cut a large budget off of their late-night beer sessions for such rides. So, what is the alternative? There is a famous mobile application called Tootle and Pathao that picks up people with the help of Google maps. A person picks you up from your location and takes you to the desired destination on a motorcycle. I know, sitting back while some stranger drives you through the busy streets of Kathmandu is very risky. But, you don't have an option if you like to play on the thrifty side. Don't worry, there are no recorded cases of accidents or any type of harm to the passenger to this date. The only problem is Tootle is available in Kathmandu only for now. The company has set its goal for expansion and wants to make this facility available in other cities too. We might see the results shortly. If you happen to summon a Tootle rider, use mask, and helmet for your safety. Also, you have to pay in cash after they have dropped you to the final point.
9. The wildlife treasure:
Nepal has wide area coverage when it comes to forests and jungles. Considering the geography, the most greenery lies in the hilly regions where the climate is just right for the flourishing of different types of vegetation. The plains of terai have acres and acres of jungles too, just with another kind of vegetation. Forests do not appear overnight and these large areas took hundreds of years to get stuffed with greenery. Where there are forests, you will undoubtedly come across the wildlife that depends on that particular terrain. It is very pleasing to see the fierce and cuddly animals living together in harmony with themselves and their natural habitat. What attracts most visitors are the daily lives of these animals when they are free of any metal bars or cages (I mean zoos).
Here is a list of some of the rare animals that people mostly adore watching during the jungle safaris and sightings. I have not included birds because they are like little bonuses and you might get a chance to watch them under suitable circumstances only.
- Bengal Tigers: Traditional tigers but with a larger body frame and more awesomeness. One can catch the glimpses of Bengal tigers at Chitwan and Bardiya National Parks.
- Snow Leopards: Well, the name is self-explanatory. You can see snow leopards at high altitudes during trekking and mountain climbing adventures. They are truly amazing with the skin color that helps them camouflage with the surrounding snow.
- Red Pandas: These cute little creatures are very rare and only a handful of them are remaining on the face of the Earth. Being endangered, they can be found in few wildlife reserves like the Langtang National Park, Manaslu Conservation Area, Sagarmatha National Park, and Kanchenjunga Conservation Area.
- One-Horned Rhinos: The only kind of rhinoceros that only lives within Nepali territories. As we can see from the name, these rhinos have only one horn in comparison to the normal ones with two. They are super rare and are under the strict surveillance of the Nepal Government for protection against poaching.
- Sloth Bears: Yup, the big, grizzly bears you hear in stories. The only different thing is they do not go for honey hunting like your adorable "Winnie-the-Pooh" like in stories. You need to maintain distance with them especially during the mating seasons. If you are on a jeep or top of an elephant, you can rest easy though.
- Marbled Cat: A fancy version of the everyday domestic cat. You could say that they are the kind of cats that your cats will follow on Instagram. Cute yet fierce, these creatures are pleasant to watch.
- Elephants: Of course, the big monsters of the Earth with long noses and sharp pointy teeth protruding outwards. There are wild elephants are there are domesticated ones too. Feel free to touch them or play with them with the permission of the caretaker. Despite their looks, elephants are known to be very sentimental and caring creatures.
- Peacocks: Yeah yeah, we all have seen peacocks in zoos. But, what about the wild? It is so satisfying to see them spread their colorful wings for attracting their opposite mates.
Lately, there have been questions arising on elephant rides or any type of recreation that involves animal cruelty. Most people turn down elephant rides because they do not want to put a strain on them. Sure, one or two people riding on top is nothing to an animal that weights above a ton but, too much is always too much. I am not to judge anyone so I will leave the decision up to you guys. But not all animals are kept in misery. They have been raised from an early age with care and proper nutrition for that particular job. Also, I find it hilarious that people reject elephants or horse rides and come home to swallow a whole hamburger without thinking too much about the process that involves bringing that ham to their houses. Anyways, for those with true caring hearts, I would recommend safaris via jeeps.
10. Prepare your tongue and palates for spices:
For those of your completely unaware of the type of food we serve in Nepal, it mostly inclines towards the Indian culture. Wherever you are, you must have tasted an Indian dish once. Take that with some Nepali style twist and some other specialties and you have a complete Nepali meal. It is not surprising to see that we resemble our spice choices and cooking techniques with Indians because Nepal is surrounded by Indian borders on three sides and just one by Tibet. The curries and the chilies have made their way through the borders and deeply engraved it in our daily life eatables. I don't mean to say, it is exactly like any other Indian dish but, you will find familiarity. As for the influences from Chinese borders, you will have to move towards the Himalayan region to see the influence on food and culture. Well, "momos" can be considered a huge gift from the Tibetan culture. They are dumplings with meat and other veggies filled inside and steamed. "Momos" are the go-to snacks for almost every Nepali. There are places in major cities that have competitive business all day long just selling momos. I would recommend trying once. For vegetarians, other options like veg momos and "Paneer" momos are also available. The main meal of Nepali is "Daal Bhat" which means white rice with a lentil soup. We serve the Daal Bhat combo with at least two vegetables and a pickle locally known as chutney. The meat, fish, eggs, and other options are according to the choice of the order maker. We have a funny yet true saying in Nepal which is "Daal Bhat power 24 hours".
Another thing that I need to tell you is do not to expect the same level of hygiene in Nepali kitchens or restaurants like in your home country. For this reason, many tourists choose to be vegetarian while traveling in Nepal. The meat quality might not satisfy everyone and if you see flies hovering around your meat, it makes you question the healthy factors. And traveling requires strong health conditions. We do not want our guests to hit the bathrooms every 20 minutes between visit sessions. Also, I hope you have not forgotten the things we discussed squatting earlier.
11. A Hindu country but the birthplace of Buddhism:
Nepal has been a Hindu country since ancient times. Yes, the country is officially a secular place after the civil war rested down but, you can see the dominance of Hinduism. By dominance, I do not mean there are things like discrimination and suppression on religious terms. Statistics show that more than 80% of residents in Nepal are Hindus followed by 10% Buddhists and the remaining others in the next 10%. While traveling, you will come across hundreds of temples and religious sites. If you happen to visit any temple, be sure to take off your shoes before entering. The rules vary from place to place but it is good manners to leave your shoes outside.
Of course, anyone from foreign terrains is welcome to follow the practices of Hinduism. In Nepal, forcing a foreigner to convert the religion is crimes so don't worry about those details. Most Buddhists are found in the Himalayan region of Nepal as they have a closer relationship with Tibetan borders. You know you have entered a Buddhist territory when you witness hundreds of prayer flags hanging from the roofs. The different colors of these flags signify different elements and sometimes directions too. According to the belief system, prayer flags are a medium to transfer your prayers to the wind. So, an old prayer flag with tattered lines will have answered thousands of prayers for thousands of people in its lifetime. Isn't that lovely and soothing? IF you think the flags are fascinating, you can buy them at cheap prices on craft shops and souvenir shops in different parts of Nepal. One thing you need to be careful is not letting these flags touch the ground which is kind of disrespectful.
So, these are some of the things I wanted to share with our beloved visitors and those of you planning to visit Nepal as soon as this lockdown ends. Everyone just focuses on the bright and shining side of traveling in Nepal and it is okay to do so. But, I felt that someone had to be honest about the different aspects of Nepali culture and the potential problems one might face during their stay. Just go through the article topic wise if you find it lengthy and search for measures to counter these problems. It is safe to be well-prepared during traveling rather than tackling situations when they arrive. With that said, do not worry too much about the small things. Travelling is supposed to be fun and exciting. Of course, some problems will still come across your paths even if you take all the countermeasures. But, that is what makes traveling so much fun.