Nepal is a landlocked country in Southern Asia, between the Tibet autonomous region of China and India. It contains 8 of the world's 10 highest peaks, including Mount Everest - the world's tallest - on the border with Tibet, and Lumbini, the birth place of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.A monarchy for hundreds of years, Nepal was declared a republic in June 2008.
Nepal has a very diverse geography, rising from less than 100 metres (328 ft) elevation in the tropical Terai—the northern rim of the Gangetic Plain, beyond the perpetual snow line to some 90 peaks over 7,000 metres (22,966 ft) including Earth's highest Mount Everest or Sagarmatha at 8,848m (29,029 ft).
Nepal has been divided into elevation zones, south to north:
Outer Terai - Level plains, a cultural and linguistic extension of northern India. Nepali is spoken less than Awadhi and Bhojpuri dialects related to Hindi and Maithili. Lumbini, Buddha's birthplace and Janakpur, Sita's birthplace are in this zone. Other cities -- Dhangadhi, Nepalgunj, Bhairawa, Butwal, Birgunj, Janakpur and Biratnagar -- are transportation hubs and border towns more than travel destinations. Nevertheless the Terai may offer opportunities for intimate exposure to traditional Indian culture that have become less available in India itself.
Siwalik Range or Churia Hills - the outermost and lowest range of foothills, about 600m (2,000 ft) high. Extends across the country east to west but with significant gaps and many subranges. Poor soils and no agriculture to speak of. No developed tourist destinations, however the forests are wild and the sparse population of primitive hunters and gatherers is unique.
Inner Terai - large valleys between the Siwaliks and higher foothills to the north. The Dang and Deukhuri valleys in the Mid West are the largest, offering opportunities to experience Tharu art and culture. Chitwan south of Kathmandu is another of these valleys, known for Royal Chitwan National Park where tigers, rhinos, crocodiles, deer and birds can be observed. Originally these valleys were malarial and lightly populated by Tharus who had evolved resistance and developed architectural and behavioural adaptations limiting exposure to the most dangerous nocturnal mosquitoes. Suppression of mosquitoes with DDT in the 1960s opened these these valleys to settlers from the hills who cleared forests and displaced and exploited Tharus. Nevertheless remoter parts of these valleys still have a Garden of Eden quality - forests broken by indefinite fields, lazy rivers, fascinating aboriginal peoples.
Mahabharat Range - a prominent foothill range continuous across the country from east to west except for narrow transecting canyons, with elevations ascending up to 3,000m (10,000 ft). Steep southern slopes are a no-man's land between lowland and Pahari (hill) cultures and languages, which begin along the crest and gentler northern slopes. Given clear skies, there are panoramic views of high himalaya from almost anywhere on the crest. Underdeveloped as a tourist venue compared to India's 'Hill Stations', nevertheless Daman and Tansen are attractive destinations.
Middle Hills - Valleys north of the Mahabharat Range and hills up to about 2,000m (6,500 ft). are mainly inhabited by Hindus of the Bahun (priestly brahmin) and Chhetri (warriors and rulers) castes who speak Nepali as their first language. Higher where it becomes too cold to grow rice, populations are largely Magar, Gurung, Tamang, Rai or Limbu, the hill tribes from which the British recruited Gurkha soldiers while the soldiers' families grew crops suited to temperate climates. Men in these ethnic groups also work as porters or may be herders moving their flocks into the high mountains in summer and the lower valleys in winter. Trekking through the hills is unremittingly scenic with streams and terraced fields, picturesque villages, a variety of ethnic groups with distinctive costumes, and views of the high himalayas from high points.
Valleys - Kathmandu and to the west Pokhara occupy large valleys in the hills. The Kathmandu Valley was urbanized long before the first Europeans reached the scene and has historic neighbourhoods, temple complexes, pagodas, Buddhist stupas, palaces and bazaars. Its natives are predominantly Newar farmers, traders, craftsmen and civil servants. Newar culture is an interesting synthesis of Hindu and Buddhist elements. Unfortunately a range of hills north of this valley limit views of the Himalayas. Pokhara has fewer urban points of interest but outstanding views of the nearby Annapurna Himalaya. Pokhara's Newar population is confined to bazaars. Elsewhere upper caste Hindus dominate, whose ancestors probably were Khas peoples from far western Nepal. Both valleys offer excellent opportunities to experience Nepal without strenuous trekking. Narrower valleys along streams and rivers are important rice-growing centres in the hills. There is a limited amount of this land and most of it is owned by upper caste Hindus
Nepal has a Monsoonal climate with four main seasons - though traditionally a year was categorized into six distinct climate periods: Basanta (spring), Grishma (early summer), Barkha (summer monsoon), Sharad (early autumn), Hemanta (late autumn) and Shishir (winter).
Below is a general guide to conditions at different seasons:
Heavy monsoonal rains from June to September - the rains are generally lighter high in the Himalayas than in Kathmandu, though the mountain peaks are often not visible due to clouds. In the Kathmandu Valley & Pokhara - monsoon rains typically consist of an hour or two of rain every two or three days. The rains clean the air, streets, & cool the air. If you come, bring an umbrella, expect lower lodging prices & fewer tourists.
Clear and cool weather from October to December - after the monsoon, there is little dust in the air so this is the best season to visit the hilly and mountainous regions.
Cold from January to March, with the temperature in Kathmandu often dropping as low as 0°C (32°F) at night, with extreme cold at high elevations. It is possible to trek in places like the Everest region during the winter, but it is extremely cold and snow fall may prevent going above 4,000 - 4,500 metres (13,000 - 15,000 feet). The Jomosom trek is a reasonable alternative, staying below 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) with expected minimum temperatures about -10°C (14°F) (and much better chances of avoiding heavy snow.)
Dry and warm weather from April to June - there is an abundance of blooming flowers in the Himalayas at this time, with rhododendrons, in particular, adding a splash of colour to the landscape. Terai temperatures may reach or exceed 40°C (104°F) while Kathmandu temperatures are about 30°C (86°F). This is the best time to undertake mountain expeditions.
The recording of temperatures and rainfall of the major locations across Nepal was started in 1962 and their averages  provides a reference point for analyzing the climate trend.
Nepal is officially divided into 14 administrative zones and five development regions, but travellers might be more comfortable with the conceptual division below (based on the country's elevation). From north to south:
Regions of Nepal
The roof of the world, including Mount Everest, Annapurna, Langtang National Park and The Great Himalaya Trail with numerous sightseeing, trekking, and other adventure sport opportunities.
Home to Kathmandu, Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, Boudhanath, Patan and Bhaktapur, this is in the heart of Nepal and a crossroads of cultures with numerous sacred temples and monuments.
The Hill Region (Pahar in Nepali) is mostly between 700 and 4,000 metres altitude. This region is split from the Terai Range by the Mahabharat Lekh (Lesser Himalaya) and forms a geographic midlands between the Terai and the Himalayas. It includes the scenic Pokhara valley, a popular base for activities in the area.
The western side of the Terai mountain range with the Royal Chitwan National Park and Bardiya National Park.
Quite a populated area with Biratnagar, Nepal's second largest municipality.
Kathmandu — capital and cultural centre of Nepal, with the stupas at Boudhanath and Swayambhu
Bhaktapur — well-preserved historical city, centre of Nepali pottery making, no motorized vehicles allowed!
Biratnagar — this city is in eastern Nepal near Dharan and famous for political reasons
Birgunj — business gateway between India and Nepal in mid-southern Nepal
Boudhanath — (Boudha) home of the largest Buddhist Stupa in Nepal and a very important place of pilgrimage and meditation for Buddhists, local Nepalis, and tourists
Janakpur — a historical religious centre and home to the 500-year old Janaki Temple
Namche Bazaar — a Sherpa settlement located in the Solu Khumbu region - popular with trekkers
Nepalgunj — the main hub for the Mid- and Far-Western Development Region; Bardiya National Park is close-by
Patan — Beautiful, historic Patan Durbar Square was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979
Pokhara — picturesque lake-side town fast becoming the destination of choice for travellers due to the scenery, adventure sports, dining, hotels & live music scene
Gorkha — small town near Pokhara the inhabitants of which were known as Gorkhali and the origination of current Nepal
Locked between the snow peaks of the Himalayas and the seething Ganges plain, Nepal has long been home to wandering ascetics and tantric yogis. Consequently, the country has a wealth of sacred sites and natural wonders:
Annapurna — popular trekking region of Nepal with the world-famous Annapurna Circuit
Chitwan National Park — see tigers, rhinos and animals in the jungle
Daman — tiny village in the mountains offering panoramic views of the Himalayas; especially stunning at sunrise and sunset
Haleshi (Tibetan: Maratika) — the site of a mountain cave where Padmasambhava attained a state beyond life and death
Lumbini — the sacred site of the Buddha Shakyamuni's birth
Mount Everest — the tallest peak of the world in the Khumbu region
Nagarkot — a hill station one hour from Kathmandu offering excellent views of the Himalayan Range
Parping — the site of several sacred caves associated with Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism
Tangting— a beautiful and undiscovered traditional Gurung village with a stunning view of the Annapurna range
Tourist visas are available on arrival for citizens of all countries (except citizen of Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Ghana, Somalia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Palestinian territories, Cameroon, Liberia and Lesotho)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_policy_of_Nepal at the designated land borders (see below) for USD25, for 15 days, USD40 for 30 days and USD100 for 90 days . They can only be granted for a maximum of 150 days in each 12 month period.
As well as US dollars, other convertible currencies like the euro, Pound sterling and Australian dollars can also be used but some smaller entry points (like Birgunj) may not accept them.
All tourist visas are currently "multiple entry" type visa and permit multiple entries and exits during the period of validity.
Be aware that without permission voluntary services while on a tourist visa is strictly prohibited. It is a punishable offense.
There is detailed information on the official website of Nepal Immigration, where you can download the appropriate forms.
On arrival, beside the visa form, the disembarkation form and the payment, you have to produce a recent passport size photo to attach on the visa form. There is a kiosk at Kathmandu Airport before the visa issuing table where you can take photos for USD5.
To extend your tourist visa, visit the Nepal Immigration Office in Kathmandu with your passport and another photo, and pay US $2 for every day past your visa you want to stay, up to the maximum of 150 days per year.
Points of entry or exit
The points of entry and exit for tourists:
Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu
Kakarvitta, Jhapa (Eastern Nepal)
Birganj, Parsa (Central Nepal)
Kodari, Sindhupalchowk (Northern Border)
Belahia, Bhairahawa (Rupandehi, Western Nepal)
Jamunaha, Nepalgunj (Banke, Mid Western Nepal)
Mohana, Dhangadhi (Kailali, Far Western Nepal)
Gadda Chauki, Mahendranagar (Kanchanpur, Far Western Nepal)
Visas are free for all tourists who come from a SAARC country. Indian nationals do not need a visa.
Nationals of Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Cameroon, Somalia, Liberia, Ethiopia, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan are required to obtain Visa before arrival, as they are denied the right to "Visa on arrival" by Nepal.
Be aware that if coming from India, INR500 and INR1000 bank notes may not be imported since their circulation is prohibited in Nepal.
The ceasefire signed by the Maoists has seen the opening up of routes with new airlines in the country. There are direct flights from Kathmandu to Bangkok with Thai Airways and the flag carrier Nepal Airlines. Currently Nepal Airlines doesn't offer yet an online booking system. You can make reservations through agencies. One-way tickets from Kathmandu to Bangkok cost USD 220 (including all taxes), Singapore, Hong Kong with Dragon Air/Cathay Pacific. ArkeFly flies direct to Europe (Amsterdam, Netherlands). Many European destinations can be reached via Doha with Qatar Airways, Abu Dhabi with Etihad, Dubai with Emirates or the low cost carrier FlyDubai, Bahrain with Gulf Air. Flights are also available via Delhi on Jet Airways and UAE on Air Arabia. Turkish Airlines is beginning 4x/week service from Istanbul starting 1 September, 2013.
Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport is located just outside of the Ring Road in Kathmandu. The terminal is a one-room brick building with a large wooden table serving as both customs and immigration. Tourist visa of 15 days or more is available on arrival. Money can be changed to the local currency as well, but these services are only available directly after scheduled arrivals.
Outside the airport, all 'representatives' of the tourist industry are required to remain 10 metres (about 30 feet) from the front door. This does not prevent them from waving large signs and yelling in an attempt to encourage you to choose them as your guide/taxi/hotel/luggage carrier. Make your choice before crossing the line, or better yet, arrange your first night's accommodation before you arrive and ask the hotel to send someone to meet you. Many hotel and guest houses offer complimentary pick up and delivery from the airport. Fixed priceTaxis are also available before you exit the building but you may get a cheaper fare if you are willing to haggle. As always, negotiate the price beforehand with the driver. A taxi ride to Thamel or Boudha should be around 300 NRS. Otherwise, order a taxi at the pre-paid booth inside the airport, which costs 400+NRs (and rising). This is more than the normal taxi rate, but it saves the hassle of long negotiations. You can also walk a few hundred metres to the Ring Road and grab a city bus or taxi there.
By car or motorcycle
It is quite easy to rent a car with a driver in Nepal, however you would need to haggle to get a reasonable price. If you come in summer, better take a car with air-con. Car rental without a driver in Nepal is almost unheard of, as is renting a car in India and taking it across the border.
Many travellers drive from India on Royal Enfield motorcycles. Technically, foreigners have to pay customs at the borders but most don't bother. Selling the bike in Nepal is easy as other travelers are looking for bikes to ride back to India.
If you are coming from India you will find driving in Nepal a lot less chaotic! The roads are amazing and the new east-west highway currently under construction with support from the Japanese will open up new destinations for those interested in exploring Nepal by motor-bike.
Please check before hiring a motorbike on the current state of fuel. At time of writing (13DEC 09) there was large problems with fuel supply which can leave riders stranded. As of Dec 2014, bike rental generally start at 700NPR for a day, (counted as 8am to shop closing time, not 24hrs) for a basic 125cc Bajaj Pulsar or Hero Honda, Royal Enfield and Hartford off road bikes cost from upward of 1700NPR. Note the hire bikes have no insurance, and frequently they are poorly maintained with various reliability issues such as juddering brakes, loose gear lever, throttle linkage, cranking troubles etc.
Hirers are also notorious for trying to charge tourists large amounts of money on returning the bike for 'damage payment' that may not have been from you. Therefore make sure a thorough damage assessment with the hirer is carried out before departing and if the hirer tries to scam you on return go to local police.
The best route to explore Nepal by road on motorcycle, is to enter from the border crossing of Banbasa- Mahendra Nagar, just after the border crossing, the Mahendra Highway (made with collaboration from India) is amazing to ride on.
Crossing the border requires you to pay a daily toll of 120 rs (Nepali) and a transport permit of 50 rs Nepali(one time), the cops can ask you for these two pieces of document anytime during the ride.
There are five border crossings open to tourists. The Sunauli-Bhairawa border crossing is the closest to Varanasi, the Raxaul-Birganj crossing to Patna, Kolkata, and Siliguri-Kakarbhitta is to Darjeeling. The Banbassa-Mahendrenagar border crossing, in the extreme west of Nepal, is the closest to Delhi. The Bahraich-Nepalganj border is the one closest to Lucknow , the easiest destination by air or train from Delhi.
The crossing between Nepal and Tibet via Kodari is open to independent travelers entering Nepal, but only to organised groups entering Tibet.
Cargo and passanger trains operate between Sirsiya in southern Nepal, and the Indian town of Raxaul. However, except for Indians, foreigners are not allowed to cross border with it. Internal train network is limited to few kilometres of train network in Janakpur.
There are now many airlines, offering frequent flights to several destinations include companies with beautiful names like Yeti air, Buddha Air and Cosmic Air. Destinations to and from Kathmandu include places such as Pokhara, Biratnagar, Nepalganj, Lukla, Pokhara, Simikot, Jomsom, Janakpur and Bharatpur.
For bookings from outside Nepal, there are internet agents (like NepalAirFlight, NepalFlightCentre and air viva) who can make bookings, take payment (credit/debit cards/Paypal) and then send e-tickets. Other than these agents, tickets can only be bought on arrival in Nepal so if you are flying at short notice it is necessary to be flexible on flight times/dates as the planes often get fully booked in advance. Note that cancellations and delays due to severe weather conditions do occur. If you have time, just board the next plane.
Micro Bus - This kind of transportation has become very popular lately. They are 10-12 seaters with very fast service. It has almost replaced local bus service given its fast service. However, apart from previous few routes, Micro Bus has come up with many other alternate routes and now has got good coverage. The fare is more expensive than the local bus. Tourists should be aware though that microbuses are often driven with great speed and very little care and have unfortunately been the cause of a large percentage of the road accidents in Nepal! Use microbuses with caution!
Local Bus - Although the system can be confusing, they are cheap. They can be crowded at times both with people and domestic animals such as goats, ducks etc. Some buses will not depart until full to a certain quota.
Tourist Bus - Book a few days ahead at a Kathmandu or Pokhara travel agent (or your hotel will book for you). A few steps above local buses (no goats, everyone gets a seat) but not much safer. "Greenline" is the most reliable company and has trips between Kathmndu, Chitwan, Lumbini and Pokhara.
Rickshaw - Good for short jaunts if you don't have much luggage and don't mind being bounced around a bit. Bargain before you get in, and don't be afraid to walk away and try another.
Tempo - These come in two types. One is a three wheeled electric or propane powered micro-bus for 10-13 passengers. They run in different routes around the city and cost 5-12 NRs. The other type is a newer Toyota van running the same routes at a higher price and a bit faster and safer. Be prepared for a crowd
Taxis - There are two types of taxi: "private", which pretty much run from the airport to your (upscale) hotel, and "10-Rupee", which don't leave until they are full. When haggling for fare, remember that taxi drivers have been hit hard by the petrol crisis, sometimes queing up overnight to get 5 litres of petrol at twice the market price. So be sympathetic but don’t get ripped off! Offer to pay 'meter plus tip', 10% is more than enough.
Tram - The old-fashioned street cable-car that ran from Kathmandu (near the stadium) to Bhaktapur is currently closed due to 'non-existing maintenance' and the fact that none of the drivers paid for the power.
Custom or classic motorcycle - Run by a European couple, Hearts and Tears in Pokhara offer lessons, guided tours and rental of 350cc and 500cc Royal Enfield bikes. In Kathmandu, Himalayan Enfields (behind the Israeli Embassy on Lazimpat)sells/rents good bikes and does repairs. The official Enfield dealer in Nepal is in Balaju Industrial Estate off the Ring Road.
Local motorcycle - Another choice is to rent a small motorcycle. And it can be rented in the Thamel area. Again with the petrol crisis, motorcycle rental has become a costly choice, depending on availability 1 litre of petrol will cost you 120-250 NRs on top of the rental fee (300-800NRs).
On Foot - although motor roads are penetrating further into the hinterlands, many destinations can only be reached by foot (or helicopter). See the section on trekking, below.
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