Places To See
At the southern end of the Kathmandu Valley, in a dark, somewhat spooky location, stands the temple of Dakshinkali. The temple is dedicated to the six-armed goddess Kali, Shiva's consort in her most sanguinary incarnation. Twice a week, Nepalese visitors journey here to satisfy her bloodlust.
They bring buffaloes, chickens, ducks, goats, sheep and pigs, which are matter-of-factly dispatched by having their throats slit or heads lopped off. These animals, some still writhing, are then dragged to a nearby stream where they are butchered for a feast at a later date. The blood runs freely every Saturday and especially during the October festival of Dasain when the image of Kali is literally bathed in the stuff.
This is Nepal's most famous Buddhist monument, a shimmering white stupa topped by a towering golden spire and watched over by the eyes of the Buddha. Thousands of multi-coloured prayer flags flutter overhead and hordes of pilgrims flock here daily to perform the ceremonial circumnavigation of the shrine.
Bodhnath is one of those places that has a tangible spiritual energy. Tibetan pilgrims come here from across Nepal and some measure out the distance around the stupa with their own bodies, throwing themselves to the ground before the stupa in the ultimate act of ritual prostration. Many of the pilgrims are refugees from Tibet and the surrounding shops are crammed with Tibetan antiques and essential household items for Tibetan Buddhists.
Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve
This rarely-visited reserve is a great place to escape the crowds for a few days and do some animal- and bird spotting. Water-bird species outnumber tourists 400:1, and the reserve is home to the last surviving population of wild arna (water buffalo), various deer, nilgai, mugger crocodiles and Gangetic dolphins.
Royal Chitwan National Park
Royal Chitwan National Park provides one of the finest wildlife experiences in Asia. While you'd have to be lucky to see one of the tigers or leopards, an elephant safari is an unforgettable experience and you are almost certain to see rhinos, deer, monkeys and numerous bird species, as well as the jumbo underneath you!
Hanuman Dhoka (Old Royal Palace)
The old royal palace is a part of Durbar Square, which remains the traditional heart of the old town and a spectacular example of traditional architecture. The king no longer lives here - the royal family moved to Narayanhiti more than a century ago - and the 1934 earthquake damaged the complex, but it remains a fascinating place to explore.
The western part of the palace, overlooking Durbar Square, is home to an interesting museum that celebrates King Tribhuvan's successful putsch against the Ranas. Wander inside and you get an eerie insight into his life: lots of personal effects, extensive photos and newspaper clippings and magnificent furniture and knick-knackery.
Nepal's festive calendar is hectic; exact festival dates change annually due to Nepal's lunar calendar.
Dasain, celebrated nationwide in September/October, is the most important of all Nepali celebrations and features the biggest animal sacrifice of the year. Running a close second is Tihar (October/November), when crows, dogs and cows are venerated and everyone offers tika marks and food to friends and relations. Other important Hindu festivals include colourful Holi (February/March), lively Indra Jatra (August/September) and Chaitra Dasain (March/April), which is yet another bad day for animals. Some of the local festivals in the Kathmandu Valley are epic affairs - the Rato Machhendranath (April/May) in Patan features incredible chariot parades to honour Lord Krishna. Followers of Shiva celebrate Haribodhini Ekadashi (October/November) and Maha Shivaratri (February/March) with great pomp at Pashupatinath. As Buddhism is a philosophy rather than a religion, Buddhist festivals are thinner on the ground. However, Losar (Tibetan New Year, held in February) is celebrated with masked chaam dances at Swayambhunath, Bodhnath and Tibetan monasteries across the country. Other important Buddhist feast days include Mani Rimdu (October/November) in Solu Khumbu and Buddha Jayanti (Buddha's birthday - held in May/June) in Kathmandu and Lumbini.
When to go?
Always consider the climate when you plan a trip to Nepal. Judge it wrong and you may never see the mountains. The best time to visit is probably the start of the dry season in October-November: the weather is balmy, the air is clean, visibility is perfect and the countryside is lush and green following the monsoon. However, roads and trails damaged during the monsoon may not be repaired until later in the year. There are some important and colourful festivals to enjoy too, though the Dasain festival in October can be disruptive if you are on a tight schedule.
February-April, the tail end of the dry season, is the second-best period: the weather is warm and many of Nepal's wonderful wild flowers are in bloom, but dust can reduce visibility (and the pleasure of travelling by road).
In December and January the skies are as clear as Swarovski crystal but it can be chilly: trekkers need to be well prepared for snow, and a warm sleeping bag is an asset in cheaper hotels, even in Kathmandu. On the other hand, sitting around an open fire wrapped in a yak wool blanket can be a very cosy experience.
The rest of the year is fairly unpleasant for travelling: May and early June are generally too hot and dusty for comfort, and the monsoon from mid-June to September obscures the mountains in cloud and turns trails and roads to mud. Flying is often the only way to reach outlying areas at this time of year, and the western border crossings to India are often impassable.
Travel Visa Overview
All foreigners, except Indians, must have a visa. Nepali embassies and consulates overseas issue visas with no fuss. You can also get one on the spot when you arrive in Nepal, either at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan Airport or at road borders. A Nepali visa is valid for entry for three to six months from the date of issue. Children under 10 require a visa but are not charged a visa fee. Your passport must have at least six months validity. Citizens of South Asian countries and China need visas, but these are free.
To obtain a visa upon arrival by air in Nepal you must fill in an application form and provide a passport photograph. Visa application forms are available on a table in the arrivals hall, though some airlines (like Thai) provide this form on the flight. To get a jump on the immigration queue, you can download the visa-on-arrival form from www.treks.com.np/visa. A single-entry visa valid for 15 costs
European plug with two circular metal pins
Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave.Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
This occurs in the Kathmandu Valley region - but remember that not every headache is likely to be meningitis. There is an effective vaccine available which is often recommended for travel to epidemic areas. Generally, you're at pretty low risk of getting meningococcal meningitis, unless an epidemic is ongoing, but the disease is important because it can be very serious and rapidly fatal. You get infected by breathing in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by sufferers or, more likely, by healthy carriers of the bacteria. You're more at risk in crowded, poorly ventilated places, including public transport and eating places. The symptoms of meningitis are fever, severe headache, neck stiffness that prevents you from bending your head forward, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, which makes you prefer the darkness. With meningococcal meningitis, you may get a widespread, blotchy purple rash before any other symptoms appear. Meningococcal meningitis is an extremely serious disease that can cause death within a few hours of you first feeling unwell. Seek medical help without delay if you have any of the symptoms listed earlier, especially if you are in a risk area. If you've been in close contact with a sufferer it's best to seek medical advice.
In the thinner atmosphere above 3000m (9842ft), or even lower in some cases, lack of oxygen causes many individuals to suffer headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, physical weakness and other symptoms that can lead to very serious consequences, especially if combined with heat exhaustion, sunburn or hypothermia. Acute mountain sickness (AMS) can affect anyone and care should be taken to avoid ascending mountain peaks above 3000m too quickly. Sleep at a lower altitude than the greatest height reached during the day, if possible.
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
There are 6 known types of viral hepatitis:A, B, C, D, E and G. G is not dangerous. A and E are passed on by the fecal-oral route of transmission; there is a vaccine. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. A and E cause an acute illness, but you will recover fully from it.
B and D are passed on via blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. They can be passed on by close contact, sexual contact, and blood-to-blood contact. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. There is a vaccine.
Hepatitis C is only passed on from blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine.
Also known as enteric fever, typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease.
The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains.
You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity.
Seek medical help for any fever (38C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating.
Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment.
Because of the varied topography, the weather in Nepal can vary wildly from one district to another. As a general rule, temperatures fall and rainfall decreases the higher up you go. In the high-altitude deserts of the Tibetan Plateau, temperatures hover just above freezing for most of the year and it almost never rains. From March to April and October to November - the best times to visit Nepal - days are generally warm with little rain, decent sunshine and temperatures in the 24-28°C (75-83°F) range. From November to March, night-time temperatures can drop close to freezing, and snow can block mountain passes, though Pokhara and Kathmandu rarely see more than a few flakes. May and early June are unbearably hot and sticky and rain buckets down most days from May to September. Kathmandu is generally drier than Pokhara at this time of year, while the Terai positively drowns.
History and Culture
At once a time machine and a magic carpet, Nepal sweeps you along crooked, ancient streets flanked by dazzling, multi-roofed pagodas, gold-topped stupas and arcane stone sculptures, and into low-ceilinged rooms cluttered with horror-eyed masks, spinning prayer wheels, Buddhist thangka scrolls and Tibetan carpets. Muttered chants and Nepali flute music hang in the air and animal sacrifices add an extra shade of red to the crimson tika powder thrown around at temples and shrines.
Pre-20th Century History
Nepal's recorded history began with the Kiratis, who arrived in the 7th or 8th century BC from the east. Little is known about them, other than their skill as sheep farmers and their fondness for knives. It is generally assumed that they followed a mixture of Hindu and Tantric beliefs. During the same period, a new religion arrived in Nepal - Buddhism, created by Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha and the prince of the kingdom of Kapilavastu, near Lumbini. By 200 AD, Buddhism was on the decline. The Licchavis invaded from northern India and overthrew the last Kirati king, re-imposing Hinduism and the caste system (which still continues today) and ushering in a golden age of Nepali art and architecture.
By 879, the Licchavi era had petered out and was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty. A grim period of instability and invasion often referred to as the 'Dark Ages' followed, but Kathmandu Valley's strategic location ensured the kingdom's survival and growth. Several centuries later, the Thakuri king, Arideva, founded the Malla dynasty, kick-starting another renaissance of Nepali culture. Despite earthquakes, the odd invasion and feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under Yaksha Malla.
The rulers of the western city-state of Gorkha had always coveted the Mallas' wealth and under the inspired leadership of Prithvi Narayan Shah the Gurkhas launched a campaign to conquer the Kathmandu Valley. In 1768 - after 27 years of fighting - they triumphed and moved their capital to Kathmandu. From this new base the kingdom's power expanded, borne by a seemingly unstoppable army, until progress was halted in 1792 by a brief and chastening war with Tibet. The courage of the Gurkhas under fire is legendary. Many fighting forces around the world still maintain Gurkha regiments, including the British Army.
Further hostilities followed in 1814, this time with the British. After years of skirmishes over the ownership of the Terai, The Nepali forces were eventually brought to heel and compelled to sign the 1816 Sugauli Treaty, which surrendered Sikkim and most of Terai, establishing Nepal's present eastern and western boundaries. Some of the land was eventually restored in return for Nepalese help in quelling the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
The Shah dynasty continued in power during the first half of the 19th century until the ghastly Kot Massacre of 1846. Taking advantage of the intrigue and assassinations that had plagued the ruling family, Jung Bahadur seized control by butchering several hundred of the most important men. He took the more prestigious title Rana, proclaimed himself prime minister for life, and later made the office hereditary. For the next century, the Ranas and their offspring luxuriated in huge Kathmandu palaces, while the remainder of the population eked out a living in medieval conditions. The borders of Nepal were sealed to foreigners until after WWII and the country receded into myth and legend.
The Rana's antiquated regime came to an end soon after WWII. In 1948, the British withdrew from India, and with them went the Ranas' chief support. Isurrectional movements emerged and the Ranas, at the behest of India, reluctantly agreed to negotiations. King Tribhuvan was anointed ruler in 1951 and struck up a government comprised of Ranas and members of the newly formed Nepali Congress Party. The borders were also finally re-opened.
But the political harmony was shortlived. Tribhuvan's son, King Mahendra had the elected cabinet arrested and assumed control of the government.
Cronyism, corruption and the creaming-off of lucrative foreign aid into royal coffers continued even as Mahendra was succeeded by his son. The Nepalis rose up in popular protest and though the authorities cracked down hard, killing hundreds of protestors, King Birendra eventually bowed to pressure, dissolved his cabinet, legalised political parties and invited the opposition to form an interim government.
The changeover to democracy proceeded in an orderly, if leisurely, fashion, and in May 1991 the Nepali Congress Party and the Communist Party of Nepal shared most of the votes.
But the political waters remained turbulent, with a general strike in 1992 resulting in a number of deaths and a midterm election called in 1994. A resulting tripartite coalition did nothing to calm the volatility and the late 1990s were littered with dozens of broken coalitions, dissolved governments and sacked politicians. In 1996 the Maoists (of the Communist Party of Nepal), fed up with government corruption, the failure of democracy to deliver improvements to the people, and the dissolution of the Communist government, declared a 'people's war'.
The 2001 massacre of the royal family by Crown Prince Dipendra was not enough to shock the country out of its turmoil. Gyanedra become monarch but prime ministers came and went like mayflies while the Maoists made and unmade truces and ceasefires.
Nepal's 12-year experiment with democracy faced a major setback in October 2002 when King Gyanendra, frustrated with the political stalemate and the continued delay in holding national elections, dissolved the government. Gyanendra again dissolved the government in February 2005, amid a state of emergency.
Following days of mass demonstrations, parlimentary democracy was grudgingly restored by the king in April 2006, whereupon the parliament reduced the king to a figurehead, ending powers the royal Shah lineage had enjoyed for over 200 years. A peace deal brokered with the Maoists saw them joining an interim government and a possible end to the grisly internal fighting that had cost more than 10,000 lives. The pace of political change in Nepal was remarkable. The Maoists achieved a majority in the elections of April 2008 and a month later parliament abolished the monarchy by a margin of 560 votes to four. After 240 years of royal rule, Nepal became a federal democratic republic.
Political tensions and power-sharing battles continue, however. The Maoist-led coalition government disintegrated in May 2009, and was succeeded by another coalition excluding the Maoists. Unfortunately, this partnership has followed a typical pattern of Nepalese politics and appears to have broken down, leaving the country in an uneasy, though familiar, limbo.