"Three years ago I couldn't have even told you where Nepal was on the map and it had definitely never occurred to me to go there - I thought the only people that went to Nepal were mountaineers."
"Gradually I began to realise that not only could I go to Nepal but that I actually really wanted to. I didn't plan to climb any peaks, but I found out that to fall in love with Nepal you don't need to. It all began with the laid back feel of Kathmandu where you can follow narrow streets past intricately carved buildings and glimpse the unmistakable shape of Buddhist stupas adorned with colourful prayer flags. Then there was the glistening green of the Trisuli River as it snaked alongside the road, bordered by forested slopes and crossed by precarious bridges and zip wires. Next was my first ever sighting of a very large, very wild rhino from just a few feet away atop an elephant in Chitwan National Park and finally, in blissful Pokhara, my scepticism about picture postcard beauty was destroyed by one sighting of the mighty Annapurna range reflected in the glasslike surface of Phewa Lake. Now I just wonder why I didn't go sooner!"
Terri Harris, Traveller
Official Language: Nepali (also called Gurkhali)
Religions: 85% Hindu, 10% Buddhist, 3% Muslim, 2% other
Voltage: 220 Volts. Sockets are of the European two pronged round pin variety. Supply is erratic and power cuts are common – even in the cities.
Visas are required by all nationalities (except Indian nationals). Visas can be obtained in advance or on arrival at Kathmandu International Airport or at the India/Nepal border. You will require US$30 in cash (this is payable in any major currency but NOT travellers cheques) and 2 passport photos to purchase a Nepal visa on arrival at Kathmandu airport or at the Nepal/India border. Single-entry tourist visas are issued for up to 60 days and can be extended for a maximum of three months (for an extra charge). If you wish to leave and re-enter Nepal you’ll need to pay additional fees. US$25 for single re-entry, US$40 for double re-entry and US$60 for multiple re-entry.
Note: At Kathmandu airport visas are available free of charge for those spending 3 days or less in Nepal. Please note these visas are NOT suitable for ANY of our tours in Nepal. Though some tours may only spend 3 days in Nepal, they leave Nepal by land borders, which do not recognise the 3 day visas issued at Kathmandu Airport.
Please note regulations and costs do change frequently so it is advisable to check the current rules with your nearest Nepalese embassy or consulate.
Trekking permits are required for most visits to the Himalayan areas. If your tour includes a trek for which a permit is required, this will be obtained for you by our local office and is included in the price of your tour. However you will probably need to give your passport and 2 passport photos to your Tour Leader so he/she can obtain your permit.
The monetary unit in Nepal is the Nepal Rupee (NPR). Approximate exchange rates (as at May 2008) are as follows:
You do not have to declare the amount of foreign or local currency you are bringing into the country, nor are you limited to the amount you wish to bring in. India Rupees (INR) are widely accepted in Nepal even though in theory it is illegal to export them from India! Please note however that 500 INR & 1000 INR notes can be difficult to change in Nepal. The rate is set at 100 INR = 160 NPR.
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
Changing money is a quick and simple process in the major tourist centres (Kathmandu or Pokhara) where there are many banks, exchange offices and hotels etc. Most major currencies can be changed into Nepali Rupees in Kathmandu, but please remember to bring the local payment amount in USD cash, as other currencies cannot be changed into dollars once in Nepal, and we cannot accept Nepali Rupees for the local payment. ATM's can also be found in Kathmandu and Pokhara and credit cards are usually accepted here in larger shops and more expensive hotels and restaurants. In more remote areas, particularly while trekking, exchange facilities will not be available so you must make sure you have enough currency to last the duration of your trek. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the best places to change money and how much you should budget for during treks. The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money.
Left over Nepal Rupees can be exchanged back on production of your original encashment receipt. It is not possible to change back more than is shown on your encashment receipt.
The Pre-Departure Information contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in Nepal.
Although Traveller trips include entrance fees to all sites specified in your itinerary there are additional sights that you may like to visit. Adventurer trips do not include any entrance fees. On average entrance fees are not more than US$1-2, although a handful of sites cost a few dollars more than this.
The historic towns of Bhaktapur and Patan levy a charge on tourists of US$10 and US$3 respectively to help towards heritage conservation. Likewise entry to Kathmandu's Durbar Square is subject to a US$3 fee (once purchased your ticket is valid for 7 days and can be extended by visiting the Durbar Square site office).
Three of the most popular temples in the Kathmandu Valley: Boudnarth Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple and the Swayambhunath Temple cost US$1
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Remember to bring your student card if you have one or are entitled to one as you may be able to get discounts on certain entrance fees, though the actual policy on this varies from site to site.
All of our itineraries include some free time, the amount of which usually depends on the style of tour you are travelling on (Adventurer trips generally have more than Traveller). If you wish to take optional excursions your Tour Leader will be able to advise you of the possibilities in each area.
Approximate costs (per person) for the popular excursion from Kathmandu is:
On Traveller tours you will find the meal plan clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Breakfast is provided each day on most Traveller tours, and many tours also include a number of dinners. Lunches are rarely included to give you more freedom. Meals are not included on Adventurer tours.
Approximate costs for meals and snacks not included are shown below;: Simple snack - US$1-2 Light meal - US$2-5 Fancy restaurant - US$7-10
On trekking routes meals will depend greatly on the size of the place you are staying and the popularity of the route. In some places you may be able to find 'continental' style food, however this may cost as much as US$10 (compared to a healthy serving of the local dish which usually only costs around a dollar).
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Nepal see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Tea and coffee is always provided with breakfast on Traveller tours. All other drinks (i.e. bottled water, soft drinks) are at your own expense.
Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below. Note: Prices in restaurants and hotels can be as much as double those specified.
Note: When trekking, prices rise (sometimes double or triple) with altitude.
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in Nepal however bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available throughout the country.
You will probably find the best way to get around the centre of Nepal's cities and towns is to walk. Even in Kathmandu, a walk from Thamel (the hotel district in the north) through the old city and Durbar Square down to where the city meets the river in the south will only take half an hour or so. For greater distances, or when your legs get tired, taxis are almost always on hand and generally cost very little (no more than a few dollars). In Kathmandu auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are also available. Auto rickshaws usually take 2-3 people and are great for shorter journeys and nipping through the traffic. They are usually cheaper than taxis but are not always as readily available. Cycle rickshaws (a three wheeled cycle with an uncovered seat at the back) usually take 1-2 people (depending on how heavy you are!) and are ideal for shorter journeys through the narrow streets of the old city.
In Nepal taxi and auto rickshaw meters are for show only and you will find yourself engaging in a bit of haggling with the driver to agree upon the fare you will pay. This can be fun, but it is a good idea to find out, from your Tour Leader or the hotel receptionist, approximately how much the fare should be for the journey you propose. You will probably have to accept that you will pay more than the Nepalis do.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. There are also certain items of specific equipment (e.g. sleeping bags, down jackets, walking boots, towels) that you will need on some tours and not on others. Check your Trip Dossier for these special requirements.
As a general guideline, clothing for both trekking and non-trekking trips should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. In the hotter summer months, cotton clothing is much more comfortable than man-made materials like nylon. In the winter months (Dec-Feb) Nepal can get extremely cold (particularly in the mountains) so you should bring plenty of warm clothing. Make sure you allow for climate changes (even in the lowlands) and remember that even when day-time temperatures are quite high, night-time and early morning temperatures can be extremely cold. You will generally find it is better to have several thin layers rather than one thick layer as it gives you more flexibility and warmth. A fleece can be invaluable and double as a pillow.
You should also bear in mind that Nepal has conservative attitudes towards dress, particularly in remote and mountain areas. Women, and also to a certain extent men, will find that the way they dress will often determine the degree of respect they receive from both men and women.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Make sure you bring lots of clothing that covers shoulders and knees and also more than one outfit which covers your legs to ankles and your arms past the elbows. A sarong is an invaluable item to carry as it can be used to instantly cover any exposed areas (i.e. head, legs).
In certain areas and religious sites your Tour Leader may ask you to dress conservatively. Out of respect for local values, we ask that you follow your Tour Leader’s advice at all times.
Clothing for trekking depends on the altitude your trek will reach and the time of year you are travelling. For example if you're going up to Everest Base Camp in the middle of winter you must be prepared with down gear*, thermal underwear, gloves, woollen or fleece hat and waterproofs. If your trek is shorter, at a lower altitude and taking place towards the beginning or end of the winter (Oct/Nov or March/Apr) you will probably only need lightweight trousers, T-shirts and a fleece. Whenever and wherever you trek it is vitally important that you make sure your feet are comfortable. Sturdy trainers are suitable for warm weather trekking and hiking in the foothills although they do lack ankle support. For all other treks, (well worn in) hiking boots and cotton or woollen socks are essential.
Other useful equipment
You will find a general equipment list in our Pre Departure Booklet which should help you decide what to bring – and may remind you of a few things you haven't thought of! However there are some items on this list which we highly recommend you bring on any hiking or trekking trip. A torch (and spare batteries), spare boot laces, water bottle and strap/holder, sun block and lip balm can be invaluable. An emergency first aid kit is carried by the guide during the trek, however this kit DOES NOT include any kind of oral medications. You should bring personal medical supplies, including rehydration salts, a blister kit, supply of plasters, aspirins, sunscreen, necessary medicines, etc. It is also worth noting that you DO NOT need a mosquito net on any of our tours in Nepal.
Luggage & load limits
If your tour includes a serviced trek, your luggage will be carried by porters. Therefore it is important to bring durable soft luggage or a back pack which does not weigh more than 10kg. You may also want to bring a waterproof pack cover or line your pack with a bin bag to protect against water/dust. Please note it is possible to store excess luggage in our hotels in Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Generally you do not need to take valuables on your trek. Many hotels in Kathmandu therefore have safe deposit boxes for items like passports, travellers’ cheques and jewellery.
All our treks can be considered manageable even for those who have not trekked before. You don’t have to be young or super-fit, and age in itself is no barrier. However on any trek, even those graded "Easy", have some steep ascents and descents so you do require a reasonable level of fitness. The more physically fit you are, the more easily your body will adapt to hiking in the Himalayas. It also goes without saying that you should be pretty certain you will enjoy a walking holiday before you even consider trekking in Nepal.
It’s in your interest to devote some time developing your fitness prior to travel. We highly recommend that you develop a fitness plan (in conjunction with your doctor if necessary). Getting started is the hardest part, so you might want begin slowly with brisk daily walks or jogging. For any trek you should build up your routine until you can easily enjoy a good 4-hr hike up and down hills at the weekends. This is also a good time to break in your hiking boots too! Nothing ruins a trek more than blisters from new boots. Aerobic activities like jogging, tennis, swimming and aerobics classes are all excellent exercise. Consult your doctor if in any doubt about your ability to complete your chosen trek and show him/her our Trip Dossier and this dossier.
You will be able to walk at your own pace, so if you are confident you can complete the trek you need not be concerned about “holding up the group” or “racing ahead”. Most people in good health who have prepared physically will have no problem in enjoying themselves. Before making your choice, things to consider are the duration of your trip, its grading, style of accommodation and maximum and average altitude.
Our treks have been graded A, B or C depending on their difficulty. More difficult treks are possible, but we would tend to categorise them as expeditions. Hopefully this will give you an idea of which trek you will best suit your needs and abilities. The grading system is not a straightforward measure of how far you are walking. Rather it is an overall indication of how tough it will be. It takes into account the number of hours trekking, altitude gain/ loss and trail conditions (rough track, steep uphill etc.) and usual temperatures. So even though a trek is graded A – Easy it does not mean you will never feel tired. Similarly inexperienced trekkers need not necessarily avoid treks graded C – Strenuous.
Some treks have a few days where toilets are not available (usually this only applies on camping treks). We use toilet tents at camp sites and dig deep holes for the outlet of these tents. However if it is not possible to use a toilet tent (or there is no where to put your toilet paper) please burn your toilet paper – do not bury it. If it is not possible to burn it take it back to the camp where it can be placed in the rubbish bin and disposed of appropriately.
Wherever you use a western or squat style toilet remember to place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: You may find it useful to take along a supply of antiseptic wet wipes and plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if it cannot be burnt.
While trekking or rafting it is particularly important to take all rubbish and non-biodegradable items with you when you leave camp sites. Try to leave camp sites even cleaner than you found them!
If your trip includes a serviced trek you will be accompanied by a team of porters. Porters are responsible for carrying all equipment, food and your main pack. Some travellers feel uneasy about someone else carrying their load however we ask that you do not insist on carrying your own pack (we do ask that you do not bring more than 10kg on your trek – see the 'What to take' section of this dossier). Portering is an important part of the Nepali economy and porters are proud of their job. Upsetting the system will only result in uncertainty and disunity among crew members. Instead get to know your porter – ask his name, be appreciative of his amazing strength and stamina and take the time to look out for his well being. We have strong regulations regarding the treatment of our porters and insist that they are fairly treated. If you would like further information on this please visit www.imaginative-traveller.com/planet
Too big for your boots?
If you've grown out of your walking boots but there's still lots of life in them - give them to your porter. On a recent trekking trip, our Operations Manager discovered that there is a lack of good quality walking boots for porters as most are made for westerners and are far too big for the average Nepali. So if you have a pair of unwanted good quality walking boots (size 34-40) please make room in your bag and take them to Nepal with you where your trek leader / sirdar will arrange for them to be donated to a porter or porter group. You can be sure your boots will be hugely appreciated and will enjoy a whole new Himalayan lifestyle!
Travellers should respect that religion is an inherent part of Nepali life. We encourage travellers to experience religious festivals and visit temples and shrines but ask that you follow religious rules such as removing your shoes and refraining from taking photographs at certain sites. At Hindu temples, non-Hindus are not usually permitted to enter the inner sanctum – look for signs or ask for advice. Your Tour Leader will be on hand to advise you of local sensitivities.
There are many simple rules of etiquette in Nepal and in most cases your Tour Leader will brief you accordingly, however there are a couple of good points which are worth noting. The left hand is considered unclean, therefore you should remember to use your right hand for giving, receiving, shaking hands or eating (if there is no cutlery). You should also note that public displays of affection (such as kissing and holding hands) are generally not acceptable even though you will see Nepali men holding hands (this is a sign of friendship or 'brotherliness' rather than sexuality). You should also avoid pointing the soles of your feet at anyone. This may seem unlikely to happen but you could inadvertently do this while laying down or sitting with your feet up.
Haggling is a way of life in Nepal. In most shops there is no fixed price so the shop keeper will start with a high price which you are then expected to haggle down until you reach a fair price. Haggling should always be relaxed and can be a lot of fun – you will find most shop owners are very friendly.
Upon arrival, please look for our representative who will be holding an Imaginative Traveller sign. He should be waiting for you outside the Arrivals Hall (i.e. after exiting the arrival terminal).
Although in general Nepalese are very laid back, taxi drivers seeking business at the airport exit may try to whisk you away to your meeting point hotel before you have a chance to locate our transfer man. Please take your time to establish that you have met our transfer person and not just a taxi driver with a business card for our hotel.
Please also note that at Kathmandu arport there are various people who may ask for money or tips for various services. These people are best ignored. It is not necessary to make any payment to any of our representatives at Kathmandu airport.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers. A complete list of all meeting point hotels can also be found at Imaginative Traveller Downloads.
It is a relatively simple matter to make your own way to the meeting point if you are not being transferred. As you leave the arrival terminal you will see the ‘pre-paid taxi booth’. At this booth you give your destination, pay the fare and are given a receipt with the taxi number on it. Simply give the receipt to the driver when you reach your destination (not before!). The cost for a taxi should be approx US$3.
Most people find that Nepal is a very friendly and hospitable country and feel quite comfortable wandering around alone during the day. However, as with any country you are not familiar with (and in particular in larger cities such as Kathmandu), it is recommended that you exercise more caution at night and generally take taxis rather than walk especially if you are a lone female.
Because of political instability strikes have recently become a regular feature of life in Nepal. These are often called at short notice. When they occur, we may be obliged to re-schedule travel arrangements so as to avoid travelling on days when a strike has been called. We will endeavour to do this in a way that causes the minimum of disruption to your tour itinerary.
Keeping healthy while trekking
To help stay healthy during your trek you should ensure you drink plenty of water at all times, use high factor sunscreen and wear a hat to protect against the sun, even when overcast; when cold, wear a head covering and gloves to reduce loss of body heat; always maintain personal hygiene and use disinfectant for your hands, especially after going to the toilet and before eating. Should you encounter any problems, please make sure you let your trek guide and/or Tour Leader know.
Altitude & Acclimatisation
It is common in the Himalayas to trek above 4,500m and sometimes 5,500m. There is no need to worry unduly about altitude, but above 3,000m air becomes thinner and your performance may be affected. No one understands why some people are affected and others not. Being young, strong and fit is no guarantee of success. The only way to acclimatise is to ascend slowly. Our routes have been carefully designed based on years of experience managing possible altitude related difficulties. The average and maximum altitude reached on each of our treks can be found on your Trip Dossier. Be aware that altitude sickness can be fatal, so if your leader advises you to stay at a certain altitude or descend, please do as instructed. He/she has the experience and is there to ensure your safety. If you do need to descend you will be accompanied by one of our team and a porter and will be well looked after. The descent may be just a short-term measure and does not necessarily mean you will be unable to complete your ascent. There is no shame in being affected or not reaching the highest point on a trek.
It is worth remembering that relaxed attitudes to time and efficiency ensure that treks do not function like clockwork, so please don’t expect them to.
Your Tour Leader's role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our regionally based office staff and, in most cases, a locally based manager.
We also use the services of specialist guides at selected sights in Kathmandu.
Please note that some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness. On Adventurer tours our accommodation can best be described as comfortable "simple hotels" or "rest houses". Most hotels have twin share rooms with private bathrooms, however there are some locations where we are forced to use 'dormitory' style multi share rooms and/or shared bathroom facilities. Hotels on Traveller tours are generally "medium range" and vary from a business class hotel in Kathmandu to a family run guesthouse in a smaller town. All Traveller hotels have private bathrooms and generally air conditioning and/or a ceiling fan and bar / restaurant facilities. On some trekking tours we overnight in "teahouses". Teahouses vary dramatically across Nepal and can range from relatively sophisticated lodges with electricity, solar showers and twin rooms to basic dormitory style. Please bear in mind that all levels of hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex (unless you have paid a single supplement*). If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
Please note that few hotels have heating to cope with the cold in winters, and may also suffer from a shortage of hot water at this time. If you are travelling between November and February please be prepared for cold rooms, and possibly cold showers.
An inexpensive laundry service is available in most of the hotels we are use (especially in cities and sizable towns).
Nepali food is simple but wholesome and quite similar to Indian cuisine but without the amazing variety. The national dish is dal bhat. Dal is a lentil sauce, bhat 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 (usually chicken).
Nepalese cooks can prepare virtually any sort of food on demand and you will be astonished by the huge variety of international dishes (such as Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Mexican and Italian) available in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Likewise you will also often be able to find steak on the menu – although you will almost certainly not be eating beef. Water buffalo (or buff as it is called!) is the usual substitute for beef and is actually quite tasty – if a little chewy.
Those on trekking tours will be amazed at the elaborate meals that your camp cook is able to produce from his very simple kitchen. Salads, fried chicken, pasta, vegetable curries, and also chocolate cakes.
Tea is available everywhere. Traditionally this is black tea served with sugar. Hotels usually serve tea western style, i.e. with milk and sugar separately. Street stalls usually prepare it Indian style, i.e. with plenty of milk and sugar already added. Major international brands of soft drinks are readily available, as well as local brands and fresh fruit juice. A local drink found on every menu is Lassi, this is yoghurt based and can be salted, sweetened or flavoured with a variety of fruits.
Alcohol is widely available. Locally brewed beers are good, and many international brands (e.g. Carlsberg, Tuborg) are brewed in Nepal too. Local spirits are also available and some of them are very good. Imported wines are available but can be expensive.
Nepal is a fantastic place for vegetarians. Much of the cuisine in is vegetarian and you will often find a much better (and tastier) selection of vegetarian options.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
Internet cafes can now be found in most cities and sizable towns. Connection times can be slow although this does vary from place to place. The average cost for an hour varies between US$0.30 (Kathmandu) and US$1 (elsewhere).
The Nepali phone system is fairly good. Look out for shops/booths labelled with a yellow "PCO-STD-ISD" sign which can be found almost everywhere (except in remote areas). A 3 minute call (to the UK) will cost approx. US$10 from a hotel and approx. US$5 from a shop/booth. There is no such thing as international or pre-paid phonecards in Nepal.
The postal service is fairly good and stamps are available everywhere. An overseas stamp will cost approx. US$0.25.
Availability of Film
Camera film can be found in all cities and sizable towns but it is best to bring your supply from home to be sure of the quality. Digital camera users should bring an adequate supply of memory cards.
The climate of Nepal is as varied as its geography. The low-lying Terai has a sub-tropical monsoonal climate similar to northern India, i.e. most pleasant during the warm and dry winter season from October to March. April to June is very hot and humid and July to September is wet and humid. The Himalayan foothills, where most of our treks take place, are best in the cool dry season from October to April. The visibility is generally good, days are pleasantly warm, although nights can be cold, and snow is possible above 3,000 metres. The High Himalayas can be extremely cold during this season and snow makes many parts inaccessible.
The following shows average daytime temperatures (in degrees celsius):
Please note that temperatures do drop much lower at high altitudes
|City / Temp||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
Nepal has a range of calendars; including 2 solar calendars and 3 lunar ones making it difficult to predict many of the religious festival dates. The official calendar is 365 days, but is 57 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar. So the year 2000 was celebrated some time ago.
Several books (including the ones listed above) are available for cheap purchase in Nepal.