It's almost shameful
that Nepal is so synonymous with trekking, since it keeps many people from
considering it as a travel destination. With no interest in hiking the
Annapurna Circuit or making the Everest Trek that follows the path of the
medieval trans-Himalayan trade route established by the Sherpas, they look
elsewhere for their travel adventures. Our friend Barbara Weibel, world
traveler at Hole In The Donut, recently went to Nepal for three weeks and found
so much to love about the country that she stayed for three months and will
soon return for another two. She shares her tips for navigating this
exquisitely beautiful, friendly, and inexpensive country.
1. There's more to
Nepal than trekking
Visit lovely Pokhara
for a week and climb Sarangkot (an easy walk) at dawn to watch the sun rise
over the snow-capped Annapurna Mountains. Visit one of the country's National
Parks, like Chitwan, where you can see wildlife from a traditional dugout canoe
and walk the jungle in search of rare black rhinos. Visit the birthplace of
Buddha in Lumbini. Attend a lama puja in a Tibetan monastery and experience a
special kind of chanting that Tibetans call throat singing. And if you feel you
simply can't leave Nepal without seeing Mount Everest, there's still no need to
trek; for $150 you can overfly it in a small plane!
Nepal is rife with
volunteer opportunities, many offered by firms that have combined adventure
activities with the chance to help out at an orphanage or school. Be advised
that in many, if not most of these cases, none of the pricey fees charged by
these firms makes it back to the children who need it. Rather than paying to
volunteer, why not consider coming to Nepal and creating your own volunteer
experience. Knock on the door of any orphanage or government school and chances
are you will be welcomed with open arms, especially if you arrive with a sack
of supplies. Your donation doesn't have to be fancy; the kids lack even basic
lined tablets, pencils, and erasers. If you have a specific talent you can
share, so much the better but just by being there you are providing them with a
valuable opportunity to practice English with a native speaker and you have the
added comfort of knowing your donated funds/supplies are reaching the kids.
3. Power outages
While Nepal has fairly
decent infrastructure, much of their power comes from hydroelectric generating
plants. Electricity is abundant in the spring and summer when the rivers are
high and flowing rapidly. However, in the fall levels drop as water begins to
freeze on the mountaintops and daily power outages are scheduled. Starting with
two hours each day, they can sometimes stretch to 16 hours per day in the heart
of the winter. Few hotels have heat, so come prepared with warm clothes and a
flashlight if you plan to visit between late October and mid-February.
While I always
encourage immersion into a culture, home stays in Nepal can be particularly
disconcerting. Anxious to please, family members will barge into your room at
all hours of the day night, usually with offers of food. So if privacy is
paramount, this may not be the best choice in Nepal.
5. Tourist buses vs.
Nepal offers both
tourist and local buses and the name can create considerable confusion, since
residents are not restricted from traveling on the tourist buses. When you buy
a bus ticket through any of the travel or tour operators, it will be for a
tourist bus but don't expect it to be luxurious in any way; they are just as
old and decrepit as the buses ridden by locals. The main difference is that
every passenger in a tourist bus is assigned a seat, while on a local bus every
square inch of available space will be crammed with passengers - including
sitting on the roof and hanging off the sides. And just when you think another
person couldn't possibly fit, another ten will scramble aboard. It's fun to
ride the local buses for short trips, but if you're on the road for a few hours
you'll be glad you chose the more comfortable tourist bus, especially when you
consider that a Kathmandu to Pokhara ticket is only about $6 USD.
Pokhara, while a
must-see on any Nepal itinerary, is the most expensive city in the country for
shopping. Do your shopping in Kathmandu instead and save Pokhara for
7. Religious festivals
To really get to know
Nepal, visit during one of its many religious festivals. Dashain, Tihar, Holi,
and a host of other celebrations provide a feast for the eyes and a way to
really connect on a cultural level.
8. Political stability
situation in Nepal is mostly peaceful at the moment, since the Maoist forces
have now become a legitimate part of the government, however there is currently
no constitution in place and the competing political parties have not reached
agreement on how the country should be run. There is always the possibility
that instability could recur, so stay apprised of conditions by reading the
English language newspapers that are abundant in Nepal, and never participate
in local demonstrations.
Ladies, take heed! Men
in Nepal will woo you and take drastic measures to make you believe they have
fallen in love. While this might be the case in rare instances, these
proclamations of undying love are based in a desire to marry a rich foreigner
and emigrate to the US, Europe, or Australia. Enjoy the attention and let it
boost your ego, but understand what it’s all about.
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About the Author
After years of working 70-80 hours per week at jobs that paid the bills
but brought no joy, a serious illness made Barbara Weibel realize she
felt like the proverbial "hole in the donut" - solid on the outside but
empty on the inside. After recovering her health, she walked away from
her successful but unfulfilling career, sold or gave away most of her
material possessions, donned a backpack and traveled around the world
for six months to pursue the only things that had ever made her happy:
travel, photography and writing. Four years later she is still on the
road, more convinced than ever that we are all more alike than we are
different and that travel is one of the most effective tools in the
quest for world peace. Read more on her blog Hole in the Donut World Travel.
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