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First Nepal Experiences – What to expect

Posted on August 3rd, 2017 | by Subrat
-->First Nepal Experiences – What to expect

Our ambassador Kristina has been enjoying her new experiences in Kathmandu. Here she shares her first impressions of Nepal:

As I had anxiously been waiting to finally reach Nepal, I could barely contain my joy after my arrival at the Kathmandu airport. After the quick and easy tourist visa application process at the airport, it seemed like an eternity before I finally got my suitcase. What was amusing was Nepalese people’s luggage consisting of mainly flat-screen TVs and massive plush blankets. My Nepali family welcomed me warmly and I’ve been getting used to my new home. As global citizen, I have lived and traveled to many countries, and every time I get to visit a new country I get really excited to learn about its culture.

People

What is fascinating about Nepal is the vast diversity of its native people with the majority being very welcoming, generous and kind-hearted. The different Nepali ethnic tribes melt together in the pot of the capital city, Kathmandu. Though, some of the Mongolian peoples may seem very similar in terms of looks and colorful dresses, what I have learned is that their ethnic jewelry and head accessories are often the distinguishing factor when telling them apart. Other than oriental people, there are many Nepalis who look more Indian, ranging from a brown to a very dark complexion. Then there are lots of people who seem to just be a mix of white, Asian, Indian, black, and even Arab. If you ask me, the Nepalese are among the most beautiful people in the world precisely because of their diverse looks.

Language

Namaste! (The most widely used greeting in Nepal)  Although I’ve been self-studying Nepali for quite some time now, what’s great about Nepal is that most people have fairly good English speaking skills. It’s been a big relief after spending 6 months using my hands and feet to communicate with Vietnamese people. Now one thing is to use English to ask for directions and another is to bargain for things. Most signs are in both Nepali and English as well so it’s super easy to get around even if you don’t speak any Nepali at all.

Shopping

In Nepal, as in many southern and southeast Asian countries, bargaining is the normal way to shop. What I have experienced on my travels though is that when you don’t speak the native language the locals don’t really fall for your poor bargaining attempts and that’s why I really think we should take advantage of tourist guides who are familiar with the local prices and will be able to save you some Nepali rupees. Most things can be bought at local markets and family-owned stores, which contribute to the local economy. You can buy lots of natural products, beautiful Nepali dresses (sarees, kurtha suruwals), hindu, buddhist and other spiritual items, paintings, handicrafts. Small vendors selling fruits, veggies and other foods as well as local and wanna-be western restaurants can be encountered frequently, tempting you with wonderfully smelling dishes.

Dress

Most women still wear traditional sarees and kurta suruwals, though the younger generation seems to be more fascinated by the latest western fashion. You will see many people wearing “normal” clothes. I find their colorful dresses and hats so vibrant and beautiful. What I definitely don’t recommend is wearing revealing clothing, as you will likely draw enough attention to yourself as it is. And although I’d much rather wear shorts and a halter top to soak in the warm sun, I think wearing a shirt and pants or a long skirt is the least I can do to show respect to their culture which is deeply rooted in devotional and spiritual practices and worship. Wearing “revealing” clothes would also prevent you from visiting temples and Buddhist stupas which are one of Nepal’s must-see things.

Food

As for the food, local food vendors are abundant. There are fruit stands where you can enjoy refreshing healthy beverages like sugarcane juice, coconut water, or smoothies of choice (Malda mangoes taste like honey) to hydrate yourself in preparation for a trek.

Food prices are very low compared to European or American standards even if you get a ‘foreigner surcharge’. Some restaurants in the more touristic areas like Thamel are obviously a bit more expensive but still very cheap for Westerners. A daily food for Nepalis, often eaten twice per day, is daal-bhat tarkari. It consists of rice with a lentil soup, a side of cooked vegetables and pickles. Dishes are often very spicy so prepare your mouth to be on fire. Common dishes are momos(veggie or meat dumplings), pani puri, samosas, potato-cauliflower or chickpea curry among others. I will write a separate article about food in the days to come.

Nepali culture revolves around food and they use the word healthy interchangeable with the word chubby. When you visit a Nepali household, they will offer you lots of food so I recommend coming with an empty stomach. Also, don’t be surprised when you see people eating rice and other dishes using their right hand. The left hand is thought to be useful in the bathroom so traditionally people don’t use that hand to put food in their mouth. You can find western foods here as well, however, they will most likely taste different than abroad.

Places to see

When it comes to sightseeing, there are tons of places to see. You definitely might want to get someone to show you around and explain more details about the thousands of historical sights of the three towns found in the Kathmandu valley: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. Although I prefer walking the streets of a new city I visit in order to really get it to know up close, it would take you a very long time to walk to all of these places. I therefore recommend buying a packaged tour that includes transportation so that you can get the most out of the 3 cities along side your out-of-valley trekking adventures.

One of many Buddhist Stupas in Kathmandu, Nepal

Buddhist stupa and prayer flags in Thamel

Obviously, the biggest magnet for tourist are the mountains in Nepal. The daily sight of picture-like cloud-covered hills and mountains that surround the valley are breath-taking and the sunsets make it a perfect vacation spot for lovers as well.

Climate

The common misconception about Nepal it that it’s very cold here. It can be cold in the mountains, especially if you go to the high-elevation areas, however, the capital city, Kathmandu is in the sub-tropical climate zone.

The weather is therefore very temperate. Summers are sunny but the rainy season starts in July and lasts til the end of September. There is one advantage in visiting this time around and that is not encountering many tourists. With that said, the best season weather-wise is October and November. It is around 25 degrees Celsius (77 F) and barely ever rains. December until February feels cooler, dropping to 3-5 C ( 37-41 F) at night but the days feel more like spring at about 15 degrees C (59F). March-May are also great seasons as there is lots of sunshine with occasional rains.

Southern parts of Nepal border to India so areas around Chitwan National park will be hotter year-round than Kathmandu. Tropical fruits are grown there throughout the year as well. Mountainous areas are obviously colder and not many crops are grown there so always bring extra clothes or purchase them there for trekking.

One thing I recommend is to bring some good shoes not only for trekking, as the sidewalks are often very uneven due to the 2015 earthquake and recent road reconstruction projects (so they say).

Overall, all my high expectations have been met and the rich culture and warm people of Nepal make me feel at home. This place definitely makes one feel that there is so much more to life than having a 9 to 5 job.

I’ll be hitting up excited places and so stay tuned for more blog posts!