What to expect before coming to Nepal
Nepal is an amazing country for many different reasons. Some of the most obvious reasons are its colossal mountains, adventurous jungle safaris, and ancient religious sites. Nepal is also extremely culturally rich, bolstering more cultural diversity than the USA. Though it is not winning any culinary accolades, its samosas are divine. If you are planning a trip to Nepal to experience the grandeur of Mt. Everest, or to see the endangered 1 horned rhinoceros, but don’t know what to expect, keep reading! Consider it a part of your trip preparation. You can skip ahead to day 1 of trekking to Everest Base Camp too.
Kick back, kick your feet up, relax, and kick it while I reveal the ins and outs of what to expect before coming to Nepal.
I am quite particular when it comes to my food. I am not so particular though, that I won’t try new foods. In fact, I’ll try most things once. However, I am not as brave as Andrew Zimmerman. If something is just downright nasty, I won’t eat it. I have tried a lot of great foods in Nepal. Chicken pakora, pumpkin pickle, and samosas are on that list. I have also been severely disappointed by many other foods. I’ve found that it’s better to be a vegetarian, and stick to the traditional dishes, then it is to eat the “American food”, “German bakery products”, or most meat dishes.
Does anybody want some undercooked wheat flower and water? This doughy concoction is called a pancake in Nepal, and it is gross! Do not expect a fluffy stack of deliciousness smothered in syrup. Do not expect butter or maple syrup as condiments either. I don’t think maple syrup exists in Nepal, and gee is the closest thing you can get to butter in most places. If you are lucky you can get a side of honey or jam. My advice is stay away from the pancakes and avoid the disappointment.
One “pancake” costs about $2.
My first meat experience in Nepal involved a water buffalo meat momo. My friend had been telling me about how good the momos were. When I finial agreed to sit down with him, and try the now infamous momo, I was disappointed and disgusted. My first bite into the steamed dumpling resulted in its immediate and involuntary expulsion back onto the plate. Inside the momo was a thick piece of buffalo hide with the hair. My friend still swears by momos and eats them every chance he gets.
You can find a plate of buff momos for 0.15 cents in Kathmandu. Chicken and veg momos are also available for about 0.10 cents.
Coming out of my buff momo catastrophe, my adopted Nepali family asked me if I wanted to eat chicken with them. I reluctantly agreed and jokingly included a clause to only eat it if all the feathers were removed. Little did I know, I should have included bone, cartilage, and fat in the clause. It seemed like the only things that were removed were the innards and most of the feathers. I still got a small piece of a feather in the fried chicken my family made.
I’ll just start off by saying I don’t like goat meat. It has too strong of a flavor for my liking. I especially don’t like it when it is turned into jerky. During the holy days of Dashain, goats and other animals are sacrificed in Nepal. The left-over goat meat is hung up to dry. As its drying, all sorts of animals have access to it. My biggest problems with it were the flies. I’ve seen strips of goat meat that seemed to move autonomously. I will talk more about flies in the “Leftovers” section.
Road side vendors
You can see all types of road side food vendors in Nepal. They range in shape from “hot dog” carts to brick and mortar restaurants. Almost all of them have some sort of display, which shows off their “food.” Most of the time the displayed food is not covered. Just like the dried goat meat, it is open to flies, dirt and dust from the road, and people touching, and coughing on the food.
In addition to the above mentioned hygienic conditions of the roadside food vendors, there is one more issue that exacerbates the condition. Any food that is not sold or eaten the day it was made, is kept and sold in the following days. This increases the likelihood of someone picking their nose then touching the displayed food. Believe me, a lot of people pick their nose. I had to bold it to emphasize the amount and frequency of nose picking and food touching.
Flies and OD
Nepal is developing exponentially. One of the development goals is to stop people from openly defecating. Though this goal has almost been achieved, it is not fully realized. In addition to human feces being present, there is also an abundant amount of cow paddies laying around. Most of the bowel movements are visited by flies. Guess where the flies go after they land on the poops. You got it, straight to the road side food stalls, and goat meat.
Bars all over the world tend to overcharge for alcoholic beverages. Nepal is no exception. Be cautious of mixed drinks. I once saw a bartender watering down his liquor supply. At a different location, I ordered an Irish car bomb and got a Guinness shot. I started drinking wine after a few disappointing nights out and was again disappointed by some spoiled bottles. After a while, I just stopped drinking. My wallet and liver have been happier since then.
A beer can cost between $3 to $8. Mixed drinks tend to range between $5 and $12. A bottle of wine can be $10 to $20.
Eating with hands
Traditionally people eat with their right hand in Nepal. The tradition is kept alive in the houses of the natives. However, in most of the tourist destinations, like on trekking trails, Kathmandu, and Pokhara you will be given utensils with your food. However, most of the road side stands will not. These places cater to domestic patrons. The food is also served with the right hand. Be cautious of anyone serving you food with their left hand.
Most hotels and tourist attractions cater to foreigners. As such, a lot of western style, sit down and flush, toilets have been installed in these locations. The traditional style toilet is called a charpi. It is a squat toilet like a porcelain covered hole in the ground. If you happen to be in a desperate situation and only have a charpi for relief, do not worry. It is better to go in the hole than to go in your pants. Most places have a bucket of water for cleanup in place of toilet paper. To “clean up” use your right hand to pour the water over your butt while wiping with your left hand. Then wash your hands afterward and hope nobody sees you have a wet butt. If you use the toilet paper, dispose of it in a waste bin. The septic systems cannot accept the paper.
Some public toilets are for hire. I’ve seen two public toilets charge people for use. The cost was 0.60 cents.
According to Wikipedia’s page on the most polluted cities by concentration of particulate matter (in air) Nepal ranks as the 263 rd most polluted city out of about 3000 areas in 103 countries. The majority of the 262 positions on the list are occupied by India and China, which border Nepal on the south and north. It’s like sitting on a plane next to 2 smokers. I’m not blaming India and China for the pollution problems in Nepal. I am just informing you of the trends of the 2 countries that most frequently and abundantly visit the country. The pollution issue extends past Nepali citizens, who are also at fault, to a lack of government provided facilities.
The air in Kathmandu in 2013 had a small particulate matter concentration of 49 ppm. Its large particulate matter concentration was 88 ppm. The air pollution is so bad that it is difficult to see the moon at night time. I have had many experiences were street dust would fly into my mouth while talking with people. If you see people talking then spit mid-sentence, it is because of street dust.
On clear days though Kathmandu is beautiful.
The government of Nepal does not provide a solid waste disposal and collection service. The citizens must pay for private unregulated companies to collect and dispose of their garbage. Some of the companies will dispose of the garbage on the street. Others dispose of it properly. I found one company that will even recycle the garbage, but it costs a premium that a lot of Nepali people are not willing to pay. Some Nepali people will dump their garbage directly onto the street. A lot of times, small piles are burned for heat in the winter.
A lot of people litter in Nepal. Most of this pollution goes directly into the waterways. The litter that is not directly thrown in the water ways gets taken there by the monsoon rains. In addition, there are companies that contribute to point source pollution by directly disposing of their waste products in the water. This includes detergents, dies, and byproducts from manufacturing.
There are 3 types of public transportation in Nepal. Busses, minivans (micros), and public jeeps are all communally available for hire. When traveling on a bus, be warned, if you hear someone say “plastic” in a frantic or queasy tone, vomit will soon follow. Also, be careful of walking too close to busses. It is possible to get hit by vomit bombs or throw up from people who didn’t get the plastic bag on time. The busses and micros can be severely overcrowded at times. the severity might extend to somebody sitting on your lap or passengers riding on the top of the bus, which is a practice long since outlawed. The public jeeps are better in terms of crowding but are more expensive.
The cost of public transportation depends on the distance traveled and the price of fuel. A ticket for a bus from Kathmandu to Pokhara will cost about $25.
The conditions of the hotels in Nepal range from very nice 5-star lodging to the grimmest no star cow shed. I have been in all types of “hotels”, but have only stayed in 2, and 3-star accommodations. A decent hotel will have a clean bed and a connected bathroom. A great hotel has hot water showers at all hours of the day and night. Most hotels have semi clean or stained sheets, and cold to lukewarm or tepid showers. The hotels in the big cities, Kathmandu and Pokhara, have solid cement walls that are extremely efficient at cooling. Hotels on treks, tea houses, have extremely thin walls. You can hear your neighbor think through the walls.
Hotels will generally cost between $10 to $80 per night.
Associated costs is a term I use in place of price gouging. The associated costs are generally exploitative, and unethical.
There are a few associated costs for everything in Nepal. For the most part though, they are all associated with being a foreigner or a native. As a foreigner you can expect to pay 2 to 3 times more than a native. In addition to the inflated prices, you are required to pay a 13% VAT (value added tax) which is supposed to go to the workers as a tip, but usually goes to the business owner. In some cities like Kathmandu, there is also a cheaper cost on goods for Kathmandu residents.
For the most part, the political climate is stable in Nepal. There are occasional shut downs (bandas) of educational, business, and transportation institutions. The bandas usually occur after an election or during and elected officials term. Bandas are a form of protest and can become violent if enough people support the banda. If a banda or protest is happening, it is better to not get involved.
There is not a lot of street crime in Nepal unless you count the associated costs as stealing. However, there is a lot of political corruption and bribes to government officials. There are also some very seedy areas in the major cities. These areas are associated with prostitution and muggings. But muggings are not that common. I have also heard of people being stabbed in night clubs, but that too is not common.
An even less common occurrence are kidnappings of foreigners. I’ve only heard of one in 5 years, and it was by a mentally challenged man. He kidnapped a solo trekker.
It’s kind of difficult to talk about Nepal without talking about the weather. Since it is such an important aspect of planning you trip, I thought it would be best to cover it, because it can throw you some curve balls. The best weather conditions occur in late September through early December.
The monsoon rains are not that bad. In fact, they are quite nice if you are indoors. If you are at a restaurant or wine bar overlooking a lake you can have a wonderful hygge experience with the monsoon season. Be warned though, the temperatures can be uncomfortably hot, and humid when it is not raining.
The winters are quite pleasant in Nepal. They can be cold but if you are prepared with layers of warm clothes or with your favorite person, they are not that bad. The weather can be cloudy, especially during morning in the city. This often delays air traffic. The weather can also be as clear as an unmuddied lake. Like a crystal. In general, you have more clear days than cloudy ones in the winter.
The spring season, February through April, has the second-best weather in Nepal. February is dryer and colder, while April is warmer and wetter. You can expect late afternoon to early evening rain. After the rain the conditions are foggy, but the following day the sky is generally clear. You can manage in a t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt.
More people come to Nepal from late September through November than all other seasons. The Fall season tends to have the best weather. It is not to cold or hot. It doesn’t rain that much. And the views are great. Though most of the days are nice, be prepared for unexpected weather or heavy fog. Some of your views may also be blocked by clouds. However, this is not common.