Nepal is a landlocked kingdom sharing borders with Tibet to the north and northwest, and India to the west, south and east. The country can be divided into five zones: the Terai, the Siwaliks, the Mahabharat Lekh, the Midlands or Pahar and the Himalayas.
Nepal is known as the abode of the gods. For many years a secret, unknown country, it was, in the 1950s, faced with making a leap from the 11th century to modern times. Visited first by mountaineers and trekkers, it later became the haunt of hippies. In 1989 restrictions barring several areas to tourists were lifted.
Despite its isolation and the variety of its local produce, Nepal has not developed a distinctive style of cooking. It is, more often than not, Dal Bhat lentils and rice. An e
xception is Newar cuisine, which can be very elaborate and spicy. Most dishes here are regional Indian.
Kathmandu has a few cinemas featuring mainly Indian films. For Western films, see the programmes of the European and American cultural centres. Most people are asleep by 2200. Nightlife is fairly limited; a few temples and restaurants offer entertainment and some tourist hotels stage Nepalese folk dances and musical shows.
< AREA: 147,181 sq km (56,827 sq miles).
POPULATION: 24,302,653 (1999).
POPULATION DENSITY: 143.5 per sq km.
CAPITAL: Kathmandu. Population: 535,000 (1993).
GOVERNMENT: Constitutional monarchy. Head of State: King Birendra Bir Bikram Sh??h Dev since 1972. Head of Government: Prime Minister Krishna Prasad Bhattari since 1999.
LANGUAGE: The official language is Nepali. There are many other languages, including Maithir and Bhojpuri. English is spoken in business circles and people involved in the travel trade.
RELIGION: Mainly Hindu and Buddhist with a small Muslim minority.
TIME: GMT + 5.45.
ELECTRICITY: 220 volts AC, 50Hz. There are frequent power cuts.
COMMUNICATIONS: Telephone: IDD is available to Kathmandu only. All other calls go through the operator. Country code: 977. Outgoing international code: 00. The Telecommunication Office, Tripureshnawar, deals with telephone calls and cables. The International Telephone Office is open 1000-1700 Sunday to Friday, but international telephone connections can be difficult. Hotels and private communication centres provide long-distance telephone services (ISD, STD). Fax: Many travel agents and a few hotels have fax services. The Nepal Telecommunications Corporation booth at the airport has fax services. Telegram: The Central Telegraph Office offers a 24-hour international telephone and telegram service seven days a week. E-mail: Services are provided by hotels and private communication centres. Post: Postal services are available in most centres. Make sure that letters are hand-cancelled at the post office (post boxes should not be used for important communications). The General Post Office in Kathmandu (near the Dharahara Tower) is open 1000-1700 Sunday to Thursday and 1000-1500 Friday. Poste restante services are available from 1000-1600. Express post services are also available. Main hotels will also handle post. Press: English-language dailies available in Nepal are The Kathmandu Post and The Rising Nepal. The Independent is published weekly. The International Herald Tribune, Time and Newsweek can all be found in Kathmandu. Himal is a magazine published six times a year, devoted to environmental issues throughout the Himalayas. At certain times of day there are radio and television news broadcasts in English.
Nepal is a landlocked kingdom sharing borders with Tibet to the north and northwest, and India to the west, south and east. The country can be divided into five zones: the Terai, the Siwaliks, the Mahabharat Lekh, the Midlands or Pahar and the Himalayas. 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 and deer.
Nepal’s weather is generally predictable and pleasant. Summer and monsoon are from June to October. The remainder of the year is dry. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant seasons; winter temperatures drop to freezing with a high level of snowfall in the mountains.
Required clothing: 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.
For most of its known history, Nepal was ruled by an hereditary king but, from the middle of the 19th century, hereditary prime ministers of the Rana family controlled the country. In 1951 the Ranas were overthrown and the monarchy restored under King Tribhuvan. Four years later he was succeeded by his son, King Mahendra. In 1959 Mahendra established a parliamentary constitution, and the ensuing elections were won by the Nepali Congress (led by B P Koirala) which had played a key role in the re-establishment of the monarchy. A year later, however, a royal coup led to the banning of all political parties and the establishment of a constitution based on the traditional village councils (the Panchayat system). Mahendra ruled until his death in 1972 when he was succeeded by his son Birendra, who is the current ruler.
Following a referendum, in which the Panchayat regime was approved by a narrow majority, Birendra persevered with the system, assisted by censorship and repression where necessary. As serious opposition to the regime gathered strength through the 1980s, the King wavered in his response to the movement between more repressive measures and cosmetic administrative reforms designed to defuse the situation.
In 1986, a member of the minority Newari community, Marich Man Singh Shrestha, became Prime Minister for the first time, holding the office until his dismissal and replacement by Lokendra Bahadur Chand in 1990. During 1990, growing public unrest brought the underlying political tension to the surface, and forced the King to make concessions on the introduction of representative government. Following negotiations between the Government and the newly legalised opposition parties, a draft constitution was promulgated in November 1990 which allowed for direct elections to a bicameral parliament.
The first poll under the new system was held in May 1991: the Congress Party (linked to the Indian party of the same name) took 110 of the 205 seats in the new parliament to become the largest single party; the United Marxist-Leninist Party (UML) became the largest opposition grouping.
Despite an overall majority, Congress was unable to lead a stable government and the next election was brought forward from its scheduled date in 1996 to take place in November 1994. The UML unexpectedly emerged as the largest party with 88 seats; Congress came second with 85. The UML formed a minority government, the first of six governments which held office over the next five years (including three in the twelve months leading up to the latest poll).
The most recent election, staggered over two weeks in May 1999, returned Congress with 110 seats once again but given the faction-ridden nature of the party (a feature it shares with the UML) the new government is unlikely to prove any more stable than its various predecessors.
The major domestic problems facing the new government are the state of the economy and the three-year-old insurgency conducted by a group of self-styled ‘Maoist’ guerillas. Recent foreign policy has been dominated by relations with India, which have improved since Nepal’s larger neighbour imposed a trade embargo after the expiry of an old trade agreement.
In February 1996, the two countries signed a treaty regarding the shared utilisation of the Mahakali River basin. Some tension remains over border disputes. Relations with Nepal’s other large neighbour, China, have improved greatly during the early 1990s. Nepal has also had to face the problem of a large influx of refugees fleeing political strife in neighbouring Bhutan, which now approaches 100,000.
The relaxation of censorship that followed the overthrow of Rana rule in 1951 encouraged a revival of artistic and intellectual expression. In literature and poetry, Nepali works emphasize the cultural renaissance and national patriotism. King Mahendra, a poet whose Nepali lyrics have been published in English translation under the name of M.B.B. Shah (for Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah), did much to promote the revival of arts and literature.
The cultural heritage of Nepal, particularly contributions made by the Newar of Kathmandu Valley to sculpture, painting, and architecture, is a source of great pride. Hindu and Buddhist religious values have provided the basic source of inspiration to Newar artisans. The themes of most artistic works have been primarily religious; the lives of the gods, saints, and heroes and the relationship of man to society and to the universe are expounded in sculpture, architecture, and drama. In Kathmandu Valley some 2,500 temples and shrines display the skill and highly developed aesthetic sense of Newar artisans.
Music and dance are favourite pastimes among the Nepalese. Religious ceremonies require the use of drums and wind instruments preserved from ancient times. Important in most religious and family occasions are devotional songs that have elements of both classical and folk music and that have been used by some contemporary musical revivalists in their attempt to bridge the gap between the two. The government-owned Radio Nepal broadcasts programs in Nepali and English. The country’s first television station, at Kathmandu, began broadcasting in 1986.
Newspapers and periodicals are published in Nepali and in English. Newspapers are frequently sensational in tone and are poorly staffed and financed. Gorkha Patra, published by the government, occupies a commanding position in the Nepalese press. Nepalese newspaper readers rely on the foreign press, particularly Indian newspapers, which are flown daily into Kathmandu, for more sophisticated coverage of world and national news.
After 1960 King Mahendra required newspapers to obtain official clearance for all reports of political activity. Subsequently the government increased its censorship, and in 1985 the publication of many newspapers was suspended. In 1990, reflecting the change in the country’s political climate, freedom of the press was restored.
PASSPORTS: Valid passport required by all except nationals of India holding proof of identity and arriving from India.
VISAS: Required by all except the following:
(a) nationals of India;
(b) transit passengers continuing their journey by the same or first connecting aircraft provided holding valid onward or return documentation and not leaving the airport.
Types of visa and cost: Where prices are given in pounds, visas may be obtained in advance from the Embassy/Consulate. Where they are given in US dollars, visas may only be obtained on arrival at the airport. Tourist: $15 (15-day single-entry); $25/??20 (60-day single-entry); $40/??30 (30-day double-entry); $60/??45 (60-day multiple-entry). Business: $25 (60-day single-entry); $175 (6-month multiple-entry); $350 (1-year multiple-entry). Transit: $5.
Note: Business can be conducted on a Tourist visa for up to 30 days.
Validity: Visas are valid for up to 6 months from date of issue. They may be extended in Nepal at the Department of Immigration, Kathmandu, or the Immigration Office, Pokhara. Maximum stay in Nepal is 4 months in any calendar year. For full conditions on visa extension (including charges and conditions), contact the Consulate (or Consular section at Embassy).
Application to: Consulate (or Consular section at Embassy); see Useful Contacts section for details. Visas can also be obtained on arrival from the Immigration authorities at all entry points (with fees payable in US Dollars) provided travellers are in possession of valid travel documents, two passport photographs and the relevant fee.
Application requirements: (a) 1 completed application form. (b) Valid passport. (c) 1 passport-size photo. (d) Fee. (e) For business visas, letter from company explaining purpose of visit.
Working days required: 1.
Currency: Nepalese rupee Relative costs:
HOTELS: Kathmandu has an increasing number of international-class hotels which are particularly busy during spring and autumn, when it is advisable to book well in advance. Comfortable hotels can also be found in Pokhara, and the Royal Chitwan National Park in the Terai Jungle. A government tax is added to bills, which varies according to the star rating of the hotel. For more information, contact the General Secretary, Hotel Association of Nepal (HAN), PO Box 2151, Russian Centre for Science and Culture, Kamalpokhari, Kathmandu, Nepal (tel: (1) 412 705 or 410 522; fax: (1) 424 914; e-mail: [email protected]).
LODGES: Besides the officially recognised hotels, there are a number of lodges or hostels. In Kathmandu these are located in the old part of the town, in the streets around the Durbar Square or in the Thamel district. Lodges are available outside the main towns, and provide suitable accommodation for mountaineers and trekkers. For a list of approved hostels and lodges, contact the Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu or one of their representatives abroad (see Useful Contacts section for details).
Since February 1996, a rural Maoist insurgency in Nepal has resulted in the deaths of approximately 1,400 people. While Maoist violence is typically aimed at Nepalese Government offices, police, and political leaders, in at least three instances, one involving a rafting party, another a group of trekkers, and a third a popular resort hotel in Pokhara, tourists or tourist facilities have been robbed by groups of armed Maoists. While there have been no injuries associated with these confrontations, they underscore the need for American tourists and residents in Nepal to exercise extreme caution when planning travel to or through Nepal. Because of the potential for violence, the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu forbids U.S. Government employees from traveling to or through Jajarkot, Kalikot, Rolpa, Rukum, Salyan, and Sindhuli districts. These districts have been most seriously affected by the insurgency. The Department of State cautions American citizens to avoid travel to or through these areas. In addition, the Embassy restricts U.S. Government employee travel to or through Dolakha, Gorkha, Kabhre Palanchok, Dang, Dolpa, Pyuthan, Ramechaap, Sindupalchok, and Surkhet districts. Only essential, daylight travel is permitted in these areas. American citizens traveling in these districts are advised to exercise extreme caution. Maoist incidents have also occurred in other districts, including in the Kathmandu Valley. Security problems may occur anywhere in Nepal. Maoist groups have threatened to take actions against non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that they perceive to have an American affiliation. Several American NGOs and multinational businesses working in Nepal have been attacked by Maoists, in at least one case explicitly because of the organization’s association with the United States. Because of frequently changing security conditions, U.S. Government employees are periodically forbidden from road travel outside the Kathmandu Valley, particularly when the likelihood of violence is high, such as during elections or on Maoist anniversary dates in February and April. The U.S. Embassy recommends that road travel outside the Kathmandu Valley be undertaken only during daylight. American citizens are strongly urged to check with the U.S. Embassy upon arrival in Nepal to receive the latest security information, since the potential for violence now extends to areas that have in the past been relatively free of such activity.
Public demonstrations and strikes are popular forms of political expression in Nepal, and they may occur on short notice. These demonstrations are usually nonviolent and not directed towards foreigners. On occasion, however, rock throwers have targeted vehicles, and acts of intimidation by strike supporters have been reported. During general strikes (called “Bandha” in Nepal), many businesses close, and transportation and city services may be disrupted. Americans are urged to exercise caution and to avoid travel from the evening immediately preceding a strike through the evening of the strike.
CRIME INFORMATION: Although the rate of violent crime is low in Kathmandu relative to comparably sized American cities, street crime is prevalent in Kathmandu, as well as in other areas frequented by foreigners. To avoid falling victim to crime, visitors should take prudent safety precautions. Visitors should avoid walking alone after dark and carrying large sums of cash or expensive jewelry. In addition, visitors should consider exchanging money only at banks and hotels and limiting shopping to daylight hours. Valuables should be stored in the hotel safety deposit box and should never be left unattended in hotel rooms. Travelers should be especially alert at or near major tourist sites, where most pick-pocketing occurs. Passports and cash should be carried in a protected neck pouch — not in a backpack. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. U.S. citizens may refer to the Department of State’s pamphlets, A Safe Trip Abroad and Tips forTravelers to South Asia, for was to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlets are available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, or via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country’s laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than those in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating Nepalese laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession of, use of, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Nepal are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines.
Source: Bureau of Consular Affairs
Health Concerns 1: A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required of travellers coming from infected areas.
2: Following WHO guidelines issued in 1973, a cholera vaccination certificate is not a condition of entry to Nepal. However, cholera is a serious risk in this country and precautions are essential. Up-to-date advice should be sought before deciding whether these precautions should include vaccination, as medical opinion is divided over its effectiveness.
3: Malaria risk, mainly in the benign vivax form, exists throughout the year in rural areas of the Terai districts of Dhanukha, Mahotari, Sarlahi, Rautahat, Bara, Parsa, Rupendehi, Kapilvastu and especially along the Indian border. The malignant falciparum form resistant to chloroquine has been reported.
4: All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised, but make sure that it is reconstituted with pure water. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Pork, salad and mayonnaise may carry increased risk. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Rabies is present. For those at high risk, vaccination before arrival should be considered. If you are bitten, seek medical advice without delay.
High altitude sickness is a hazard for trekkers, so it is important to be in good health before travelling. Advice can be obtained from the Himalayan Rescue Association near the Kathmandu Guest House, Thamel. It is advisable, particularly when in rural areas, to carry a medical kit containing items such as rehydration mixture for the treatment of severe diarrhoea and ‘dry spray’ for cuts and bruises. Contact the Nepal Tourism Board for advice (see Useful Contacts section). Hepatitis A, B and E occur. Meningitis has been reported in some areas. There has been a sharp rise in visceral leishmaniasis, and trachoma is fairly common.
Health care: The most convenient hospital for visitor care is Patan Hospital in Lagankhel. Most hospitals have English-speaking staff and big hotels have doctors. Pharmacies in Kathmandu, mainly along New Road, offer a wide range of Western drugs at low prices. In Kathmandu you can get certain vaccinations free of charge at the Infectious Diseases Clinic. Full medical insurance is essential.
Kathmandu, the capital and also the cultural, commercial and business hub of the Kingdom, is a magical place. In the centre is Durbar Square where there is a wonderful collection of temples and shrines, both Buddhist and Hindu. They are generally built in the pagoda style with a mass of intricate exterior carving. The old Royal Palace is in the square, as is the Statue of Hanuman the Monkey God, clad in a red cloak. Here also is the house of the living goddess ?€“ the Kumari. Climbing upwards from the city one can reach the famous Monkey Temple. There are a great many steps leading up to the temple frequented by an even greater number of monkeys. The monkeys should be treated with some caution since their behaviour can be unpredictable. A few kilometres from Kathmandu is Bodnath Stupa. It has become a centre of Tibetan exile culture and is a good place to buy Tibetan handicrafts and artefacts. It is a hugely impressive stupa. There are also a number of monasteries. Respect should be shown for local sensitivities when visiting religious sites or temples.
Just 5km (3 miles) west of the city, below the Nagarjun Forest, are the Balaju Water Gardens, with a reclining statue of Lord Vishnu and a 22-headed seadragon fountain. 19km (12 miles) south of Kathmandu, and accessible by taxi, are the Godavari Royal Botanical Gardens housing trees, shrubs and beautiful orchids in an idyllic setting.
Nepal’s national airline is Royal Nepal Airways (RA). A number of major international airlines operate direct flights from Kathmandu to major European cities (including Paris, London, Frankfurt, Moscow and Vienna) as well as major cities and destinations in Asia (including Calcutta, Mumbai, New Delhi, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Osaka) and the Middle East (including Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai). Airlines operating to Kathmandu include Aeroflot, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, China South West Airlines, Dragon Air, Druk Air, Indian Airlines, Lufthansa, Pakistan International Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai International.
Approximate flight time: From Kathmandu to London is 10 hours 15 minutes.
International airport: Kathmandu (KTM) (Tribhuvan) is 6.5km (4 miles) east of the city (travel time ?€“ 20 minutes). Buses and taxis to the city are available. Airport facilities include bank/bureau de change, duty-free shop, refreshments and tourist information.
Departure tax: NRs1000 for international flights (NRs600 within the Indian sub-continent, eg Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka). Children under two years are exempt.
Note: Foreign nationals must pay for airfares in foreign currency. Only Nepalese and Indian nationals are allowed to pay in rupees for air passage between Nepal and India.
AIR: There is a network of domestic flights linking major towns, radiating from Kathmandu. Many of these offer spectacular views across the mountains. Royal Nepal Airlines operates an extensive network of scheduled flights to over 30 destinations in the interior parts of Nepal. Other domestic airlines providing regular and charter services to popular destinations include Asian Airlines, Necon Air, Lumbini Airways, Cosmic Air, Yeti Airways, Buddha Air, Gorkha Airlines and Manakamana Airways. Helicopters can be chartered from the Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation.
Departure tax: Nrs100.
Note: Air fares must be paid in foreign currency by foreign nationals. Only Nepalese and Indian nationals are allowed to pay in rupees.
RAIL: Nepal Janakpur-Jayanager Railways (NJJR) operates a freight and passenger service in the eastern Terai.
ROAD: Traffic drives on the left. The interior parts of the country are linked with a number of motorable roads. The road system is of unpredictable quality. Bus: There are regular bus services to Kathmandu from all the border points. Buses for the different parts of the country are available at the Gongabu bus terminal, which is located near Balaju. Services operated by the Transport Corporation of Nepal and by private operators. Car hire: Cars can be hired from the Hertz representative and Gorkha Travels, or from the Avis representative and Yeti Travels, both in Kathmandu. Chauffeur-driven cars can only be hired in the Kathmandu Valley. Documentation: An International Driving Permit is valid in Nepal for 15 days after which a local licence is required. The minimum driving age is 18. A temporary licence to drive is available from local authorities on presentation of a valid national driving licence.
URBAN: There are bus services in the populous areas around Kathmandu, which include the neighbouring cities of Patan and Bhaktapur. A trolleybus route provides frequent journeys over the 11km (7-mile) Kathmandu?€“Bhaktapur road. Private minibuses feed the trolleybus route from nearby villages. On buses and trolleybuses belonging to the Transport Corporation of Nepal, a 4-stage fare system applies, with colour-coded tickets issued by conductors. Taxi: Metered taxis are plentiful in Kathmandu; at night the meter reading plus 50% is standard. Private taxis are more expensive and fares should be agreed before departure. Tempos: These are metered 3-wheel scooters, which work out slightly cheaper than taxis. Rickshaws: These operate throughout the city. Fares should be negotiated in advance. Bicycles and motorcycles: These can be hired from bike-shops or hotels by the hour or day. Motorcyclists require a driving licence. Cyclists should make sure they have a working bell.
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