Nepal (officially, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal) is a small, landlocked country in South Asia, nestled between China to the north and India to the south. For much of its recent history, its rulers enforced a strict policy of isolation. It wasn't until a palace revolt and the reinstitution of the monarchy in 1950 that the country opened its borders to the rest of the world. As a result of this isolation, Nepal remains one of the least-developed nations in the world. Its capital, Kathmandu, is the only major urban center in the country. Its population as of 2018 was just under 30 million people.
Nepal lies along the southern edge of the Himalayas and is notable for containing eight of the ten tallest mountain peaks in the world—including the tallest, Mount Everest. This mountainous geography makes the country a popular destination for adventure tourism and ecotourism. Nepal also has strong ties to Hindu and Buddhist heritage (including the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu and the city of Lumbini, the birthplace of Gautama Buddha) and, as such, is a magnet for religious pilgrimages.
The tourism industry has become a mainstay of Nepal's economy. The government has made efforts to encourage travel to the area; it declared 2011 to be "Nepal Tourism Year" with the goal of attracting one million tourists, and it recently launched its "Visit Nepal 2020" campaign in hopes of bringing in two million during 2020. The number of annual visitors has increased steadily during the last fifteen years, with the exception of 2015, when a series of earthquakes rocked the country. If you're planning a vacation to Nepal, make sure to purchase Nepal travel insurance to protect yourself from any complications that may arise during your trip.
Trekking and Mountaineering
The portion of the Great Himalaya Range that runs through Nepal contains eight of the world's highest peaks: Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga I, Lhotse I, Makalu I, Cho Oyu, Dhaulagiri I, Manaslu I, and Annapurna I, all of them above 26,400 feet. Everest straddles the Nepal-China border, but as the southeast ridge on the Nepal side is the easiest route to the top, most adventurers opt to start their climb in Nepal. Everest stands at an elevation of 29,028 feet and has gained popularity since Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Norgay's first successful ascent in 1953. In 2017, Nepal's government announced a ban on unguided ascents up the mountain. The Everest Base Camp is a popular tourist destination in its own right, offering common travelers and tourists a glimpse of the peak.
If you're looking for something a little less daunting, try the Annapurna region in north-central Nepal. It's the most popular and diverse trekking area in the country, and it offers routes lasting anywhere from three days to three weeks. The Annapurna Circuit lasts 21 days and is sometimes called the "Apple Pie Circuit", as many teahouses along the way serve fried apple pie. Popular sites and stops along the way include the Annapurna Sanctuary, Muktinath, the Kali Gandaki Valley, and Mustang. The route offers a firsthand look at the country's geographic diversity, from subtropical vegetation to the dry rain shadow area to arid, desert-like landscapes. Trekkers can choose to do either the full route or a portion of it to fit their schedules. Due to its popularity, the region was declared a protected area in 1986. The paths are well maintained, and there are plenty of options for food and lodging along the way.
The Langtang region is another popular hiking spot. Langtang National Park offers high passes, extensive views of mountain scenery, and sights like old monasteries and rhododendron forests. Villages along the way offer guesthouses and food, although these stops are a bit more spread out.
If you plan to participate in any trekking or mountain-climbing activities, we highly recommend that you purchase hazardous sports travel insurance. Hiking and mountaineering are potentially dangerous activities with a level of risk higher than what a base travel insurance plan can cover. You might think you can be careful, but this type of insurance is always best to have in your back pocket if the worst should happen.
Nepal contains many important religious historical sites and attractions related to Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism is the major religion of Nepal. The Pashupatinath Temple, the world's largest temple of Shiva, is located in Kathmandu and attracts devout Hindus and curious tourists alike. The temple was built in the 5th century and is the largest temple complex in the country. The main temple features a gilded roof, four sides covered in silver, and is decorated with intricate wood carvings, but only adherents of the Hindu faith are allowed inside. The complex has around 492 temples, 15 shrines of Lord Shiva, and 12 phallic shrines to see. The yearly Maha Shivaratri festival each spring attracts hundreds of thousands of Hindus from Nepal and beyond. The gates open to visitors at 4 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. each day.
Other destinations of note to Hindus are the Swargadwari temple complex, Janaki Mandir in Janakpurdham, Lake Gosainkunda, and the temples at Devghat.
The largest minority religion in Nepal is Buddhism. The founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama (also known as Gautama Buddha) was born in the Nepalese city of Lumbini in the 5th century BCE. Today, Lumbini is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The vast majority of visitors are Buddhist pilgrims tracing the steps of Buddha throughout his life. Lumbini is also the site of the Maya Devi Temple, dedicated to Buddha's mother and located at the spot where he was purportedly born; Puskarini (the Holy Pond); and the Pillar of Ashoka, one of the earliest known stone sculptural remains on the Indian subcontinent.
Social Etiquette in Nepal
It's worth noting that, as Nepal is a conservative country, there are certain social customs and rules of etiquette that you should be aware of. When meeting someone new, instead of reaching out to shake his or her hand, clasp your hands together and say, "Namaste." Physical touch is customary only for closer relationships like friends and family. Make sure to finish the food served on your plate—an unfinished meal suggests that it wasn't satisfying. When visiting religious sites, dress conservatively and respectfully; cover your shoulders and knees. Also, whenever possible, try to avoid whistling indoors, as it's said to bring bad luck.
Nepal's cuisine consists of a variety of flavors based on the ethnicity, soil, and climate of a given region. Many dishes contain variations on Asian, Tibetan, Indian, and Thai food. Two signature Nepalese dishes are dal bhat (rice and lentils) and momos (dumplings). A standard Nepali meal might consist of dal (lentil soup), bhat (boiled rice), and tarkari (curried vegetables). Rotis (flatbread) and dhedo (boiled flour) are popular choices in rural areas. Specialty dishes include sel roti (a sweet, ring-shaped rice bread / donut) and a vegetarian dish called patrode. Chow mein is also a popular modern choice for a quick, easy lunch.
Also, be advised that tap water and river water in Nepal is non-potable. To avoid getting sick, your best options are bottled water, boiled water, or purification tablets.
Nepal Travel Insurance
Before you leave for Nepal, it's a good idea to purchase travel health insurance and travel insurance. Travel health insurance provides medical insurance while you're travelling outside your home country. Standard benefits include coverage of trip interruption, emergency medical evacuations / repatriations, return of mortal remains, accidental death & dismemberment, and ancillary benefits like ID theft assistance, terrorism, and natural disaster relief. Travel insurance primarily provides coverage for prepaid, non-refundable expenses like emergency medical care, trip interruption, lost baggage, emergency cash transfers, rental car coverage, and flight accidents. Our licensed, experienced representatives will be happy to help you pick the plan that best fits your individual needs.