Travel Essentials: Nepal (Part II)

Crime

Nepal is one of the world’s more crime-free countries, but it would be unwise not to take a few simple precautions.

The main concern is petty theft. Store valuables in your hotel safe, close windows or grilles at night in cities to deter “fishing”, and use a money belt or pouch around your neck. Some public bus routes have reputations for baggage theft. Pickpockets (often street children) operate in crowded urban areas, especially during festivals; be vigilant.

If you’re robbed, report it as soon as possible to the police headquarters of the district in which the robbery occurred. Policemen are apt to be friendly if not of much help. For insurance purposes, go to the Interpol Section of the police headquarters in Durbar Square, Kathmandu, to fill in a report; you’ll need a copy of it to claim from your insurer once back home. Bring a photocopy of your passport and your Nepali visa, together with two passport photos.

Violent crime is rare. An occasional concern is a certain amount of hooliganism or sexual aggression in the Kathmandu tourist bars, and late-night muggings do sometimes occur. In addition, there have been a couple of well-publicized armed robberies and sex murders in the national parks on the edge of the Kathmandu Valley. A few Western women have been raped, but most problems come about within relationships with Nepali men – trekking or rafting guides, for instance – not due to an attack by strangers. The countryside, generally, is very safe, though there is a small risk of attack by bandits on remote trekking trails. In the Terai region, there are a number of armed Madhesi groups, but tourists are not targets and you are unlikely to be affected much beyond the odd delayed bus, roadblock or bandh.

There are several ways to get on the wrong side of the law. Smuggling is the usual cause of serious trouble – if you get caught with commercial quantities of either drugs or gold you’ll be looking at a more or less automatic five to twenty years in prison.

In Nepal, where government servants are poorly paid, a little bakshish sometimes greases the wheels. Nepali police don’t bust tourists simply in order to get bribes, but if you’re accused of something it might not hurt to make an offer, in an extremely careful, euphemistic and undeniable way. This shouldn’t be necessary if you’re the victim of a crime, although you may feel like offering a “reward”.

The worst trouble you’re likely to run into is one of Nepal’s all-too-common civil disturbances. Political parties, student organizations and anyone else with a gripe may call a chakka jam (traffic halt) or bandh (general strike). In either case, most shops pull down their shutters as well, and vehicles stay off the roads to avoid having their windows smashed. Demonstrations sometimes involve rock-throwing, tear gas and laathis (Asian-style police batons), but you’d have to go out of your way to get mixed up in this.

Drugs

Drugs are illegal in Nepal, but it is impossible to walk through Thamel or any of the other tourist hotspots without being approached by a dealer offering hash. It would be incredibly stupid to go through customs with illegal drugs, but discreet possession inside the country carries relatively little risk. While the drug dealers are often shady characters, they are not generally informants.

Electricity

Power comes at 220 volts/50 cycles per second when you can get it: lengthy power cuts (“load shedding”) are a daily occurrence. Smarter hotels and restaurants have backup generators. Tourist guest houses usually offer sockets that accept almost any kind of pin, but the European standard two-pin is the most common.

Emergencies

Dial 100 for the police. Hospitals and other organizations have their own telephone numbers for an ambulance, but get a Nepali-speaker to do the talking. Registering with your embassy can speed things up in the event of an emergency.

Entry regulations

All foreign nationals except Indians need a visa to enter Nepal. These are free (for 30 days) for nationals of other South Asian Area Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries: Pakistan, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. All other nationals have to pay for them. Tourist visas are issued on arrival at Kathmandu airport and official overland entry points. At the former, queues can be long, so you may prefer to get one in advance from a Nepali embassy or consulate in your own country. Otherwise, have a passport-size photo at the ready. At the airport, you can pay the visa fee in US dollars, euros, pound sterling or other major foreign currencies. At overland entry points, officials tend to demand US dollars or Nepali rupees.

The fee structure at the time of writing was $25 for 15 days, $40 for 30 days and $100 for 90 days; all are multiple-entry visas. Fees may change without warning, however, so double-check at immi.gov.np before setting out. Tourist visas can be extended up to a maximum of 150 days in a calendar year: an extension of 15 days or less costs $30; for more than 15 days, it costs an extra $2 per day. Extensions are granted only at the Kathmandu or Pokhara Department of Immigration offices. Submit your passport and one passport-size photo with your application. A transit visa, valid for 24 hours and non-extendable, costs $5.

Don’t overstay more than a couple of days, and don’t tamper with your visa – tourists have been fined and even jailed for these seemingly minor infractions.

It is no longer necessary to have a trekking permit to visit the most popular trekking regions, but you will need the TIMS card, which amounts to much the same thing. You’ll have to pay national park entry fees for the Annapurna, Everest, and Langtang areas. A handful of remote regions are still restricted and require permits to enter.

It’s worth noting, too, that a few sites in the Kathmandu Valley, including the entire city of Bhaktapur, charge entry fees.

Customs officers are fairly lax on entry, but checks are more thorough on departure, and it is illegal to export objects over 100 years old (see Ethical shopping).

Travel Essentials: Nepal (Part I)

Traveling to Nepal can be a rewarding experience if you know the right things to do. Nepal is a traveler’s paradise, combining golden temples, majestic mountain views, luscious green forests, charming lakes, and rich wildlife.

Like we said, it can be quite a hassle if you do not know the basic travel essentials in Nepal. There are many things to consider: the underdeveloped roads in most parts of the country, relevant unhygienic situations, the food that you may or may not eat in Nepal.

So, let’s cover the most important factors when traveling to Nepal — taking care of your children, the climate, and the cost of staying in Nepal.

Children

Kids always help break the ice with strangers, and Nepal can be a magical place for a child to visit. Arranging childcare is easy, and Nepalis generally love kids. However, some children (especially those with fair skin and blond hair) may be uncomfortable with the endless attention.

Parents will, of course, have to take extra precautions in the light of Nepal’s poor sanitation, street dogs, large crowds, heavy traffic, pollution, bright sun, rooftops, and steep slopes.

It may be hard to keep hands clean and gross stuff out of mouths, and you’ll have to keep a firm grip on small children while out and about. If your child comes down with diarrhea, keep them hydrated and topped up on salts – have oral rehydration formula at hands.

Naturally, you’ll want to plan the modest itinerary and travel in greater comfort with children than you might on your own. In tourist areas, it should be no problem finding food that kids will love to eat. Although, in other places, it might be more challenging. Baby food and disposable nappies/diapers are available in Kathmandu and Pokhara but are hard to come by elsewhere, especially in rural areas. Some toys and books can be bought in Nepal, but it’s better if you bring a supply of your own. Carry toddlers in a backpack or papoose – a stroller or pushchair will be virtually useless in Nepal.

Trekking with children is generally a wonderful experience, though it can be logistically awkward if they’re too old to ride in a backpack and too young to hike on their own (though mules or horses can often be arranged).

Climate

Nepal’s climate varies significantly through the year, with seasons showing themselves up very differently at different altitudes. The pre-monsoon period, generally very hot and humid at lower elevations, lasts from mid-April to early June. The monsoon season itself dominates the period between mid-June and mid-September when travel is difficult but not impossible. Autumn sees pleasant temperatures and dry weather, while winter is generally cool and clear.

Costs

Your money goes a long way in Nepal. Off the tourist routes, it can actually be hard to spend $30–40 a day, including food, transport, and accommodation. On the other hand, Kathmandu and some of the other tourist traps can burn a hole in your pocket faster than you might expect. Even so, it’s still possible for a frugal traveler to keep to $20 a day in the capital, although the figure can effortlessly balloon to $50 or more simply by choosing slightly nicer hotels and restaurants. If you like to travel in greater luxury, you should reckon on spending $60–80 or more per day, mainly depending on the standard of accommodation.

You’ll inevitably pay over the odds for things at first, and it may even feel as if people are charging you as much as they think they can get away with, but that’s hardly a market principle exclusive to Nepal. Bargain where appropriate, but don’t begrudge a few rupees to someone who has worked hard for them.

Many hotels (and most tourist restaurants) quote their prices exclusive of the 13 percent “government” tax (essentially a value-added tax) and charge another 10 percent service charge.

No matter how tight your budget, it would be foolish not to splurge now and then on some of the things that make Nepal unique: organized treks, rafting, biking and wildlife trips are relatively expensive but well worth it.