The Kingdom of Nepal covers an area of 147,181 square kilometers, and stretches 145-241 kilometers north to south and 850 kilometers west to east. The country is located between India in the south and China in the north. At latitudes 26 and 30 degrees north and longitudes 80 and 88 degrees east, Nepal is topographically divided into three regions: the Himalaya to the north, the hills consisting of the Mahabharat range and the Churia Hills, and the Terai to the south. Elevations are varied in the kingdom. The highest point is Mt. Everest (8848 m) in the north and the lowest point (70 meters above sea level) is located at Kechana Kalan of Jhapa District. Altitude increases as you travel south to north To the north temperatures are below - 40 degrees Celsius and in the Terai, temperatures rise to 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. During June, July and August, the kingdom is influenced by monsoon clouds.
Official Name: Kingdom of Nepal
Date of Unification: 1769 (by Prithvi Narayan Shah)
Political System: Multiparty Democracy with constitutional Monarchy.
Area: 147,181 sq. km.
Population: 23.2 million approx.
Time Zone: + 5.45 GMT
Religion: Hinduism and Buddhism
Unit of Currency: Rupee
For centuries the Kingdom of Nepal was divided into many principalities. Kirats ruled in the east, the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley, while Gurungs and Magars occupied the mid-west. The Kirats ruled from 300 BC and during their reign, emperor Ashoka arrived from India to build a pillar at Lumbini in memory of Lord Buddha. The Kirats were followed by the Lichhavis whose descendants today are believed to be the Newars of the Kathmandu Valley. During this period, art thrived in Nepal and many of the beautiful woodcarvings and sculptures that are found in the country belong to this era. With the end of the Lichhavi dynasty, Malla kings came to power in 1200 AD and they also con tributed tremendously to Nepal's art and culture. However, after almost 600 years of rule, the kings were not united among themselves and during the late 11th century, Prithvi Narayan Shah, King of Gorkha, conquered Kathman du and united Nepal into one kingdom. Recognizing the threat of the British Raj in India, he dismissed European missionaries from the country and for more than a century, Nepal remained in isolation. During the mid-I 9th century Jung Bahadur Rana became Nepal's first prime minister to wield absolute power. He set up an oligarchy and the Shah Kings remained figureheads. The Ranas were overthrown in a democracy movement of the early 1950s. Today, Nepal enjoys a multi party democratic system with a constitutional Monarch.
The Himalayan range makes up the northern border of the country and represents 16% of the total land area of Nepal. Peaks like Mt. Everest (8.848 m), Kanchenjunga (8.598 m), and Dhaulagiri (8137 m) are found here and sparse vegetation is found up to 4.500 m. Some of Nepal's most beautiful animal and plant life are also found here. Although rare, the snow leopard and Danphe bird are much talked about sights among visitors. The people in this region produce and sell cheese besides working as porters and guides. Many also trade with Tibet and travel across the border to sell their goods.
This region covers 65% of the total land area of the country. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal is located here. Elevations range from 500 to 3.000 m above sea level. During summer the temperature reaches an average of 32 degrees Celsius. Winters are cold, temperature reaching - 1 degree Celsius sometimes. Areas in the eastern hills receive more rainfall because of the monsoon clouds, which come from the southeast. The rivers in the west, which do not receive much rainfall, are dependent upon the melted snow that flows down the Himalaya. Wild animals to be found here are the spotted leopard, barking deer, and Himalayan black bear. The hilly region is also popular for different kinds of birds. Over four hundred species of birds are found here. The people in this region have gained from the growth in the tourism industry. The people here work as trekking guides and porters and also sell garments and carpets to add to their income.
The Terai covers 17% of the total land area of Nepal. It provides excellent farming land and the average elevation of flatlands is 100 to 300 m above sea level. Sub-tropical forest areas, marshes, and wildlife, which include the Royal Bengal tiger, one-horned rhino, and the garial crocodile, are found here. After the eradication of malaria in the 1960s, many people migrated to the Terai in search of farming land. Today, about 48% of the country's population occupies this region. Flat farmlands and the region's flexible ography have given rise to many industries. The main industrial towns are Biratnagar, Butwal, Bhairawa, Birgunj, and Janakpur. Calcutta, a metropolitan city in India is the closest seaport. It lies 1,000 kilometers away from Birgunj.
People, Culture, and Languages
In Nepal, ethnical cultural groups are diverse and many of them have their own languages and customs. However, they can be geographically categorized according to their habitats. The Sherpas who are of Tibeto-Burman stock mainly occupy the higher hills of eastern and central Nepal. The SoIu Khumbu region, where the world's tallest peak Mt. Everest stands, is inhabited by Sherpas. Generally they are Buddhist but some follow the Bon, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, and other religions. The Sherpas are famed for their valor and mountaineering skills and are professionally involved in many mountain Peak Climbing. Today. Sherpas have joined other occupations as well, like business, administration and politics.
A wide variety of ethnic groups occupy the mid-hills. The Kirats or Limbus and Rais inhabit the east. During the 7th century BC, they established a dynasty in the Kathmandu Valley and ruled it for 1.000 years. They are not originally Hindus or Buddhists but are ancestor worshipers. However, today, many embrace Hinduism. In the former days, they were warriors and skilled hunters. The Kirats speak Tibeto-Burman languages. Many serve in the British Army today and have earned a reputation as the brave Gurkhas.
The population of the Kathmandu Valley consists mostly of Newars. They speak Nepalbbasa and practice Hinduism and Buddhism. Many families celebrate both Hindu and Buddhist festivals. Their culture also reflects tantrism and animism. Newars are accomplished in commerce and most enterprises in the heart of the Valley are run by them. Historically, they are well known for establishing the three artistically beautiful cities of Patan, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu.
The inhabitants of the hill flanks surrounding Kathmandu Valley are mostly Tamangs, who make up one of the largest Tibeto-Burman ethnic groups in the Kingdom. In the Tibetan language, Tamang means "horse soldier" which gives us an idea about their past occupation. Today, they farm and work as semi-skilled and unskilled laborers. Tamangs practice Tibetan Lamaism or the Bon religion and speak their own language.
The Magars live in the western and central hills of Nepal. They had their own kingdoms until the 18th century and were closely associated with the Hindu Indo-Aryans in the west. Much of their cultural practices have been influenced by Chhetris, and today it is difficult to make any difference in the housing, dressing and farming practices of the two. The Magars have been sought after by the British and Indian armies and a great number serve in the Gurkha regiments.
Another ethnic group closely resembling the Magars in many aspects are the Gurungs. They also live in the western and central hills of the country although further to the east. Of Tibeto-Burman stock, the Gurungs have their own distinct language and practice shamanism. Many find employment in the British and Indian armies.
The Khas are the Bahuns and Chhetris who formed their own kingdoms in the far-west. They are Hindus, and Nepali, which is the country's official language, was originally spoken by the Khas. Traditionally, the Bahuns were priests and are better educated than most ethnic groups. In fact, many occupy important government and educational posts in the kingdom today. The Chhetris have traditionally been known as warriors. Those living in the higher hills in the far western region lead hard lives because of lack of rain and farming is practiced in the river valleys and on the hill flanks.
The Tharus are one of the original ethnic groups to inhabit the Terai. The Majhi, Danuwar, Rajbansi, Darai, Satar, and Dhimal also occupy the flat lands. The Tharus have their own unique religion and practice animism. Their culture is especially suited for the hot plains and they are actually immune to malaria. They have Mongoloid features and speak their own language. There is much migration going on in the country now and the cultural definition of the people by area is difficult. Urban population is increasing by 7% each year and most cultures have intermingled.
Religious practices are an important part of the lives of the Nepalese people. Mythologies of various Hindu gods and goddesses abound in this country and cultural values are based on the philosophies of holy books like the Swasthani Gita, Ramayana etc.
Women and children visit neighborhood shrines at dawn to offer worship to the gods. Holding plates of rice, flowers, and vermilion powder, they perform puja by lighting incense, ringing the temple bell, and applying tika, a red paste, on their foreheads. Passers by s at temples and show their reverence to the gods by spending a few minutes praying. Occasionally, groups of men sit near temples playing music and singing hyms until late night.
In Nepal, Hinduism and Buddhism are the two main religions. The two have co-existed down the ages and many Hindu temples share the same complex as Buddhist shrines. Hindu and Buddhist worshipers may regard the same god with different names while performing religious rites.
Though Nepal is the only Hindu Kingdom in the world, many other religions like Islam, Christianity, and Bon are practiced here. Some of the earliest inhabitants like the Kirats practice their own kind of religion based on ancestor worship and the Tharus practice animism. Over the years, Hinduism and Buddhism have been influenced by these practices which have been modified to form a synthesis of newer beliefs.
As a result, visitors to this country may often find the religious practices in Nepal difficult to follow and understand. But this does not prevent one from enjoying the idifferent traditional ceremonies and rituals of Nepalese culture. It is indeed a totally new experience of religious fervor.
Thousands of gods and goddesses make up the Hindu pantheon. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are he three major Hindu gods who have heir own characteristics and incarnations. Each god has his own steed which is often seen kneeling faithfully outside that god's temple. Symbolic objects are carried by the multiple ands of each deity which empowers them to perform great feats.
Sakyamuni Buddha is the founder of Buddhism who lived and taught in this part of the world during the sixth century BC. The great stupas of Swayambhunath and Bouddhanath are among the oldest and most beautiful worship sites in the Kathmandu Valley.
The spinning of prayer wheels, prostrating pilgrims, collective chants and burning butter lamps are some Buddhist practices often encouithtered by tourists. A slip of paper bearing a mantra is kept inside the wheels so that prayers are sent to the gods when the wheel is spun. Scenes from the Buddha's life and Buddhist realms are depicted on thangka scroll paintings which are used during meditation and prayer ceremonies. Many Buddhist followers are seen performing these practices in Swayambhunath, Boudanath, and at other Buddhist sites around the Valley.
Nepal is a developing country with an agricultural economy. In recent years, the country's efforts to expand into manufacturing industries and other technological sectors have achieved much progress. Farming is the main ecomic activity followed by manufacturing, trade and tourism, The chief sources of foreign currency earnings are merchandise export, services, tourism and Gurkha remittances. The annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is about US$ 4.3 billion.
Eight out of 10 Nepalese are engaged in farming and it accounts for more than 40% of the GDP. Rolling fields and neat terraces can be seen all over the Terai flatlands and the hills of Nepal. Even in the highly urbanized Kathmandu Valley, large tracts of land outside the city areas are devoted to farming Rice is the staple diet in Nepal and around three millions are produced annually. Other major crops are maize, wheat, millet and barley. Besides food grains, cash crops like sugar cane, oil seeds, tobacco, jute and tea are also cultivated in large quantities.
Manufacturing is still at the developmental stage and it represents less than 10% of the GDP. Major industries are woolen carpets, garments, textiles, leather products, paper and cement. Other products made in Nepal are steel utensils, cigarettes, beverages and sugar. There are many modem large-scale factories but the majority are cottage or small-scale operations. Most of Nepal's industry is based in the Kathmandu Valley and a string of small towns in the southern Terai plains.
Commerce has been a major occupation in Nepal since early times. Being situated at the crossroads of the ancient trans-Himalayan trade route, trading is second nature to the Nepalese people. Foreign trade is characterized mainly by import of manufactured products and export of agricultural raw materials. Nepal imports manufactured goods and petroleum products worth about US$ 1 billion annually. The value of exports is about US$ 315 million. Woolen carpets are Nepal's largest export, earning the country over US$ 135 million per year. Garment exports account for more than US$ 74 million and handicraft goods bring in about US$ 1 million. Other important exports are pulses, hides and skins, jute and medicinal herbs.
Tourism. In 1996, a total of 390,000 tourists visited Nepal, making tourism one of the largest industries in the Kingdom. This sector has been expanding rapidly since its inception in the 1950s, thanks to Nepal's natural beauty, rich cultural heritage and the diversity of sight-seeing and adventure opportunities available. At one time, tourism used to be the biggest foreign currency earner for the country. Nepal earned over US$ 116 million from tourism in 1995.
Nepal has a bicameral legislature. The lower house, the House of Representatives, consists of 205 members. Members to the lower house are elected every five years. The upper house, the National Assembly, is made up of 60 members who have a six-year tenure in office. One-third of the members retire every two years. Fifteen members are elected by the local government, 35 members by proportional representation, and 10 members are nominated by the King.
Nepal is divided into five development regions, 14 zones, and 75 districts. Each zone consists of four to eight districts. Sixteen districts lie in the Himalayan region, 39 in the hills and 20 in the Terai. The lowest local level administrative unit is the Village Development Committee (VDC). There are 3,996 VDC's in the country.
Climate and when to go
It's hard to generalize about the climate of a country ranging in elevation from near sea level to Mount Everest. About the only thing that can be said is that all but a few parts of Nepal are governed by the same monsoonal pattern, with temperatures varying according to elevation (see chart). Five seasons prevail in Nepal, but these are not mere meteorological divisions: when-ever you choose to go, you'll have to weigh weather against other factors, both positive (mountain visibility, festivals, wildlife) and negative (crowds, disease).
Probably half of all tourists visit Nepal in the autumn (October to November), and for good reasons. The weather is clear and dry, and temperatures aren't too cold in the high country nor too hot in the Tarai. with the air washed clean by the monsoon rains, the mountains are at their most visible, making this the most popular time for trekking. Two major festivals also fall during this season. The downside, however, is that the tourist quarters are heaving and hustly, it's hard to find a decent room, you'll waltages for food and for trekking permits, and people are short on ready smiles and chat.
In winter (December and January), the snow line descends to 2.000 - 3000m and though it never snows in Kathmandu, the "mists of India" make the capital feel cold and clammy (especially in unheated budget lodgings). Most travelers head down into India, leaving the trekking routes and guest houses fairly quiet too quiet, sometimes, as many restaurants pare down their menus for the season.
Spring (February to mid-April) brings warmer temperatures, longer days, weddings and more festivals. The rhododendrons are in bloom in the hills towards the end of this period, and in the Tarai the thatch has been cut, making this the best time for viewing wildlife. All of which creates another tourist crush, albeit not quite as bad as in the autumn. The one factor that keeps people away is a disappointing haze that obscures the mountains from lower elevations, though it's usually possible to trek above it.
The pre-monsoon (mid-April to early June) is stifling at lower elevations, and dusty wind squalls are common. People get a little edgy with the heat; this is the time for popular unrest, but also for the Kathmandu Valley's great rain-making festival. Trek high, where the temperatures are more tolerable.
Nepal is welcome the monsoon (June to September), which breaks the enervating monotony of the previous months, and makes the fields come alive with rushing water and green shoots. The rains rinse and renew the land. This can be a fascinating time to visit, when Nepal is at its most Nepali, but there are many drawbacks: mountain views are rare, leeches come out in force along the mid-elevation trekking routes, roads wash out, flights get canceled, and disease runs rampant as the rising water table brings the entire contents of Kathmandu's sewers to the surface.
Tribhuwan International Airport Transport Workrs' Cooperative operates a fixed-rate taxi service from the airport to the city. The transport is available almost around the clock. Contact the TIA-TWC counter near the arrival lounge exit. The Kathamandu Airport Facilitation Service operates limousine service from the airport to the city.The Limousine Service counter is located inside the arrival lounge.There are also meter taxis and other transport Services.
Around the city
Meter taxis and meter tempos can be hailed off the street. Though they are a bit difficult to find after sundown. The charge for meter taxis is Rs.5 at initial flag down and then Rs.1.80 for every 200 meters. The taxi cabs of greenlines transportation are painted green and they operate from 7 am to 8 pm. (tel:231632).Kathmandu yellow cab (tel:42 09 87) operates from 6 am till 10 pm. . Nepal Blue Cab (tel: 23 16 32) operates from 6 am till 8:30 pm. In addition, there are many freelance taxis. A night taxi service is available from the taxi stand at Dharma Path from 8 pm till 12 midnight. These taxis can also be summoned by telephone for pick-up (tel: 22 34 74). Cars and drivers for sightseeing can be hired through hotels or travels agencies.
Rickshaws (two-seater tricycles) can be a fun way to see the city. The fare should be negotiated beforehand.
There are buses, mini-buses and three-wheeler tempos that ply on fixed routes at regular intervals. Last bus around 8 pm. City Buses as well as those going to Kirtipur, Banepa, Dhulikhel, and Thankot leave from Tripureswor near the stadium. Long-distance buses to different parts of Nepal leave from the Gongabu Bus park located on the Ring Road on the north side of town.
A comprehensive network of road & communication are under construction in the Kingdom. Pokhara Valley is linked with Kathmandu by a picturesque highway, Prithvi Rajmarga. Pokhara, 200 Kilometers west from Kathmandu, is also linked with the Indian border town of Sunauli by another highway named Siddhartha Rajmarga. One can drive from Kathmandu right to the far eastern border of Nepal connecting through Mahendra Rajmarga. One can drive from Kathmandu right to the far eastern border of Nepal connecting through Mahendra Rajmarga also known as East-West Highway. The interior parts of the country is also linked with a number of motorable roads. Buses for the different parts of the country are available at the Central Bus Terminal which is located at Gangbu. Cars, jeeps, mini-buses and other vehicles are also available on hire in Kathmandu.
Given Nepal's mountainous terrain, aircraft play a vital role in the country's transport network, especially in the west where planes are often used to carry in food during the winter. Of the forty towns and villages with airstrips, almost half are two or more days' walk from a road.. Most flights begin or end in Kathmandu, but two other airports in the Tarai - Nepalgung in the west, Biratnagar in the east - serve as secondary hubs. Popular destinations, such as Lukla in the Everest region, get up to six flights a day, while obscure airstrips may receive only one flight a week. Some operate only seasonally. In 1992, three new airlines - Nepal Airways, Everest Air and Necon Air - joined RNAC in providing services within Nepal.
Private vehicles give the maximum freedom to visit remote places at your own pace with a minimum of time and hassle. The main drawback is cost, aggravated by the high price of petrol. There are two rental car offices on Durbar Marg: Hertz, represented by Gorkha Travels and Avis, represented by AmEx representative Yeti Travels. Major hotels and travel agencies can also arrange car rentals.
Hiring a taxi for the day is much cheaper and seldom difficult to arrange. You'll need to discuss your itinerary and determine the price in advance. You can arrange for the driver to drop you off and pick you up several hours later at the end of a day hike. Hotel staff may be able to help you arrange a taxi, or just start asking taxis on the street. Private cars with drivers looking for work are usually waiting in the narrow streets but they tend to be more expensive than taxis.
A taxi can also be hired to take you to long-distance destinations like Pokhara, Jiri, Tansen, Lumbini, or Chitwan, though this may require a bit of a search for a willing driver. Sharing the cost with several others makes this kind of travel reasonable; trekkers might consider taking a taxi to the trailhead rather than spending an exhausting day (or night) on the bus. Renting a taxi is definitely cheaper than a rental car; bargain hard and ask Nepalis to help you calculate the price.
Motorcycles are available for rent at several shops who are located on Dharma Path south of New Road, near the Frensh House, and there are a few in Thamel. Motorbikes range from 100cc to 250 cc, the largest available. You'll need the extra power if you're planning trips uphill with a passenger. You're responsible for returning the bike in the same condition you received it, so check it out carefully before taking it. Some shops will ask for your passport as a security deposit. A Nepal or International Driver's License is required for motorcycle rental. If you have a valid foreign license you can get a Nepali license within a few days from the police station at Hanuman Dhoka. Motorcycles can be fun, but you need to be extra cautious in the hectic traffic of the city, and equally careful of ducks, chickens, dogs, and children in villages. Don't be overly optimistic in planning how much territory you can cover. Nepal's roads are rough, and long journeys are more tiring than you might expect. It's best to go slowly and s for lots of tea breaks.
Renting a cycle is the ideal way to get around if you're slightly adventurous and reasonably in shape. It's also a good way to train for a trek. Cycling's advantages are unequaled by any other means of transport: it takes you out in open air through the countryside, at a pace faster than walking but still slow enough to enjoy. A clunky old rented cycle may not be sleek, but it frees you from worrying about theft or damage when you lock it up to go exploiring on foot.
For a basic bike look for cycles lined up on the pavement in Thamel, around Freak Street, and in Bhotahiti. Rental fees are around Rs15 per day if the market is tight but during the off-season you can easily bargain it down. If you're renting for a full week you should get a substantial discount no deposit is necessary, just give your hotel name and room number.
These bikes are Indian or Chinese models, sturdy clunkers of the type you haven't ridden since you were a kid. Get a Chinese-made bike (Flying Pigeon and Phoenix brands) if you can; they're better made and more comfortable than Indian models, and worth the higher rate. In tourist season good bikes are hard to find, so you might want to rent one the preceding eveninig if you're planning a trip. Check them over carefully before renting, looking for bald or leaky tires, wobbly wheels, bad brakes, loose or uncomfortable seats, loose chains. Good brakes and a bell are essential; a light is nice if you'll be riding at night. Getting a reasonable machine will save the trouble of having repairs done out on the road.
If you do get a breakdown look for a streetside repair shop - sometimes no more than an orange crate, a strip of rubber, and a pump. Mechanics working on motorcycles may also take the time to help you out and fix your bike. Shops may have an air pump leaning against the doorway. You can pump your own tires for a minimal charge of one sukaa (25 paisa) per tire.
Cycles come equipped with built-in locks on the back wheel. Only for a mountain bike will you need more than this. At places like Swayarnbunath, children swarm around new arrivals in a sort of blackmail, fighting for the privilege of "watching" the bike. If you decline, you may find your tires mysteriously deflated upon your retum.
Home distillation is an ancient practice in Nepal, still managing to hold its own against modern distilleries. The Nepali brand-name hard liquors are best avoided. Often adulterated with chemicals they can give a quick headache. Imported brands are expensive. The Nepali beer market is booming, with at least four local brands and two local licensees on the market.
The finest alcohol is homemade stuff. Raksi is potent, exhilarating and smooth as velvet. To test for good raksi, toss a small amount on a fire and see if it burns. Women of a household pride themselves on their liquor, and will put the most effort and time into making raksi for a big celebration like a wedding. Different grains produce different flavors: rice raksi is rich and smooth, kodo (millet) is stronger and more fiery.
Less potent is home-brewed beer, land (Nepali) or chang (Tibetan), a whitish, thin drink made from rice or millet with a refreshing sweet-sour taste. A variation served in mountain regions is tongba, fermented mash which is placed in a wooden container and mixed with hot water. You drink from a bamboo straw, sipping the liquid and avoiding the bits of millet; the hot water is refilled several times, and nursing a flask of tongba is a nice sport for a cold evening.
Customs and airports
Passengers arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) without any dutiable goods can proceed through the Green Channel for quick clearance without a baggage check. If you are carrying dutiable articles, you have to pass through the Red Channel for detailed customs clearance.
Apart from used personal belongings, visitors are allowed to bring to Nepal free of duty cigarettes (200) or cigars (50), distilled liquor (one 1.15 liter bottle), and film (15 rolls). You can also bring in the following articles free of duty on condition that you take them out with you when you leave: binoculars, movie or video camera, still camera, lap computer, and portable music system.
It is illegal to export objects over 100 years old (sacred images, paintings, manuscripts) that are valued for culture and religious reasons. Visitors are advised not to purchase such items as they are Nepal's cultural heritage and belong here. The Department of Archaeology (tel: 21 37 01, 21 37 02) at Ramshah Path near Singha Durbar has to certify all metal statues, sacred paintings and similar objects before they are allowed to be sent or carried out of the country. Handicraft dealers and travel agents are able to assist you in this process. For more information on customs matters, contact the Chief Customs Administrator, TIA Customs Office; tel: 47 01 10, 47 22 66.
Passengers departing from the Tribhuvan International Airport are required to pay an airport tax of Rs. 600 if going to SAARC countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) and Rs. 700 to all other international destinations. Domestic airport tax is Rs. 50.
The Nepali rupiyaa or rupee is issued in notes of Rs1, Rs2, Rs5, Rs10, Rs20, Rs 50, Rs 100, Rs100 and Rs 1.000. Different colors make them easy to distinguish, and amounts are written in English on the back side. Small change or paisa, which come in 5, 10,25, and 50 paisa coins and larger one-roepee coins, is more confusing. The 25-paisa coin is called a sukaa;the 50 paisa coin is a mohar. Only Nepali numbers are written on them and many are so worn as to be indecipherable, so you need to learn them by size. If you get confused, you can always thrust a handful of change forward and have the shopkeeper pick out the change. Coins are worth very little, but they're handy for paying for the use of a bicycle pump, and as donations for beggars.
Nepalis have an aversion to old, worn bills. Shopkeepers are happy to give them as change but are loathe to accept them, though the note is still valid. You can smilingly insist, try slipping it in a large wad of bills, or turn it into the old-bill window on the ground floor of the Supermarket on New Road, a special bank branch set up just for this purpose.
Despite only 40-percent literacy, Nepal boasts an astonishing 460 newspapers - an outgrowth of two noble Brahmanic traditions, punditry and gossip. Of the handful printed in English, only the Rising Nepal is widely circulated, and outside Kathmandu it's always a day or more out of date. It's pretty much a government mouthpiece, but still manages in spite of itself to shed light on current events in Nepal. The weekly Independent (published Wednesdays, available only in the capital) covers issues with greater candour and depth, but it's aimed at political insiders. Foreign publications such as the International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Asian Wall Street Journal, Time and Newsweek are sold in Kathmandu and Pokhara, but nowhere else. For British newspapers, try the British Council in Kathmandu.
Radio & Television
The government-run Radio Nepal is by far the most influential of the nation's media, catering to the illiterate majority of Nepalis and reaching villages well beyond the reach of any newspaper. With a daily format of traditional and pop music, news bulletins, English language lessons, dramas and development messages, it has been a powerful force for cultural and linguistic unity, though demands by various ethnic groups for programming in their native tongues has recently become a hot political ic. The station carries English-language news bulletins daily at 8 am and 8 pm, and relays the BBC World Service in Kathmandu from 11pm to 12.15am. If you're traveling with a short-wave radio, you can pick up the World Service at 15.31, 11.75 and 9.74MHz.
Nepal-Tv, with transmitters in Kathmandu, Pokhara and Biratnagar, broadcasts Nepali and Indian shows mainly in the early morning and evening, with the news in English at 9.40pm -check the daily schedule in the Rising Nepal
STAR satellite TV, out of Hong Kong, beams MTV, BBC World Service TV and various American reruns.
Kathmandu has the country's best medical facilities, but for anything serious you'll want to fly to Bangkok or back home. Nepali hospitals are crowded and very basic. For most illnesses consult a Nepali doctor or visit a private clinic. CIWEC Clinic (tel. 410-983) in Baluwatar near the Russian Embassy is staffed by Western physicians and nurses and provides competent care, but a visit is expensive by Nepali standards, $25 plus lab fees. Nepal International Clinic (tel. 412-842) across from the Royal Palace is run by a Nepali doctor who studied in Canada. Both clinics have a doctor on-call after hours for emergencies. Kalimati Clinic near the Soaltee Oberoi Hotel (tel. 270-923) is open 1300-1430 Mon. and Fri., Wed. 10.00-11.30 and 13.30-14.30. It offers immunizations, including gamma globulin and post-exposure rabies vaccine, but doesn't generally diagnose illnesses.
For emergency treatment, hospitalization, and surgery the best facility is Patan Hospital in Lagankhel (tel. 522-2781522-295). Also known as Shanta Bhawan, it was founded and is still partially supported by the United Mission to Nepal. There's also an inexpensive dental clinic here. Next choice is the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Maharajganj (tel. 412-3031412-404). Avoid the government-run Bir Hospital near the Tundhikhel (tel. 221-9881221 -119); it has expensive high-tech equipment like a Catscan but a chronic shortage of drugs and basic supplies.
In Pokhara, ill travelers should visit the Western Regional Hospital (tel. 20066), which does stool tests and provides treatment Larger Terai towns and district centers may have a government hospital, but out trekking, medical care is basically up to you-a good reason to carry medical essentials and be familiar with them.
Plenty of pharmacies are scattered about town, the biggest on New Road and near hospitals. If your problem is uncomplicated you may want to get an inexpensive stool test at one of Kathmandu's local labs and doctor yourself. No prescriptions are necessary and you can get a wide range of inexpensive medication, most of it made in India.
Ayurvedic medicines based on the ancient Indian system of herbal remedies are frequently used. An Ayurvedic practitioner popular with Westerners is Dr. Mana Bajracharya, whose office is behind the Mahaboudha stupa in a warren of buildings behind Bir Hospital. Tibetan medicine with its thousands of herbal-based remedies is also popular; the largest concentration of Tibetan doctors is in Boudhanath.
For serious medical emergencies when a patient can't walk or be carried out, a helicopter rescue can be arranged through the Royal Nepalese Army or by a private company. The service is expensive and must be paid for by the rescue. Your embassy or trekking agency may vouch for you but they won't pick up the tab a good reason to arrange for comprehensive trip insurance beforehand.
The helicopter company's must receive assurance of payment before it dispatches a flight. This will be provided by your trekking agency if you're with a group; embassies usually provide this for their citizens, but they may need to contact the family in advance. Registering at your embassy be fore a trek greatly expedites this process. Once the helicopter takes off, you're liable for the costs even if it doesn't find you.
Books and Bookstores
Kathmandu is an international center for books on Himalayan regions, especially Nepal and Tibet There are probably 200 titles on Nepal and just as many on Tibet and Vajrayana Buddhism. other regional specialties include mountaineering the Himalaya, Tantrism, Hinduism, India and Asian travel accounts by Westerners, plus dozens of lavish photographic books on the Himalaya, surely one of the most photographed regions on earth.
Few travelers realize that Kathmandu's bookstores offer bargains on new as well as used books. Some are sold at Asian edition prices, 35-50% less than in the West Locally published books are remarkably cheap, and Indian editions are reasonable. You can find specialty books long out of print or unavailable in the West. Best of all are the many discounted books sold on remainder, often of popular titles which are being pushed off the market by new arrivals. You can get especially good bargains on expensive photographic books.
Kathmandu's oldest booksellers, Ratna Pushtak Bhandar in Bhotahiti, operates Ratna Book Distributors in Bagh Bazaar near the French Cultural Center. They publish Kallash and the Biblloteca Himalayica series of inexpensive reprints of rare classics on the Himalaya. Another place to check is Himalayan Booksellers in Bagh Bazaar (also with a Thamel outlet). Mandala Bookpoint on Kanti Path has an excellent selection of regional books. Pilgrim's Bookhouse in Thamel has a vast selection with an emphasis on New Age ics and Eastern religions. A smaller branch up the street stocks rare books on all sorts of Asian subjects. Educational Booksellers on the Tundikhel has a good range of Penguins, modern fiction, and children's books, plus shelves of textbooks and business books, including Asian editions of computer software manuals retailing for half the Western price.
Kathmandu's used book shops are famous for their eclectic selection provided by Western travelers. In essence they're like a perennially rotating library; you can sell books back for 50% of the original price and buy more. Shelves are stocked with a genuine cross-section of travelers reading. Generally quantity predominates over quality; thick historical novels are popular buys for long treks.
Being a country rich in culture and traditional art forms, Nepal has a very wide range of souvenirs to choose from. Most are skillfully made handicrafts with colorful designs; however, practical items such as Nepalese clothes or folk music cassettes and records are also popular among tourists. Some of Nepal's best known and most popular souvenir items are listed here along with a brief description of where to go and what to look for when buying these items.
As mentioned in the section of culture, thangkas are religious paintings usually depicting Hindu and Buddhist deities. There are many different types and qualities of thangka available in the Kathmandu Valley but probably the best value for money can be found in Bhaktapur where many professional ateliers devote their en tire time to producing hand painted masterpieces. Besides Bhaktapur, good thangkas can also be found in the Jhochhe, Thamel and Hanuman Dhoka areas of Kathmandu.
Batik and Oil Paintings
While on the subject of painting, miniature oil paintings and batik art have become very popular over the last few years. Batik paintings usually depict everyday village scenes such as a girl carrying a baby on her back, porters carrying their loads etc. Most souvenir shops have a number of different sizes and designs, mostly unframed; it is also possible to order one's own design if sufficient advance notice is given.
Oil paintings have a charm of their own and are especially successful in depicting landscapes and mountain sceneries. An interesting variation is found in oil paintings painted on the reverse side of the 'nanglos' - circular hand-woven trays used by Nepalese women to sort rice.
Yet another form of painting is found in greeting cards and consists of oil or water colors painted on leaves of pipal tree. The most common design shows Buddha in meditation; bird and flower designs are also available. Leaf greeting cards are attractively presented and usually contain a brief description of the making process.
After thangkas and paintings, carpets are probably Nepal's second most popular souvenir item. As making a good carpet requires a lot of work and materials, this can be better understood by taking a cursory glance at the making process.
It is woven entirely by hand on huge handlooms. Chemical dyes are also used instead of vegetable dyes. In places such as Jawalakhel and Boudhanath it is possible to see the entire making process.
The smallest size of carpet available is sixteen inches square, a size usually used for chair coverings. The price depends on whether a chemical or vegetable dye is used in the making process. A chemical dye is cheaper but has brighter colors, making the carpet seem slightly less authentic even though the quality remains the same in every other way.
The most popular size of carpet is three feet by six feet, although longer sizes are also available. Carpet designs vary from fire-breathing dragons to Buddhist deities and geometric patterns. Apart from the above mentioned areas, one can also buy carpets in the lndrachowk and Durbar Marg areas of Kathmandu and at Mangal Bazaar in Patan.
Besides carpets, a variety of other traditional and religious items such as wooden, ivory or bronze prayer wheels, magic amulets, prayer boxes and ritual bells, as well as practical items like the coats, belts and buckles are also made usually by hand. Souvenir shops are found in the shopping arcades of most of Kathmandu's larger hotels as well as in Boudhanath, Swayambhu and Jawalakhel.
Dolls and Puppets
Dolls and puppets are some other souvenir items that accurately reflect Nepalese culture and lifestyles. Beautifully colored and available in many different sizes, Nepalese dolls show traditional costumes of different ethnic groups, often carrying, in miniature, the tools of their trade, for example, a plough or sickle. String puppets usually represent the masked dancers, as one sees in the festivals like Indra Jatra or Gal Jatra. Although available in most souvenir shops, the best place to buy a doll or puppet is in Makhan Tote, the paved road leading from Hanuman Dhoka to Indrachowk.
Rice Paper Prints
Like carpets and thangkas, rice paper prints are another traditional art form that have survived the passing of centuries and again gained popularity, this time as souvenirs rather than religious manuscripts. Rice paper is made by hand from rice husks and is well suited for printing purpose due to its high absorbative properties. The actual prints, usually of deities or religious monuments, are made by wooden blocks rubbed with a thin layer of black ink. Nowadays colored prints are also made, though these are naturally more expensive. Rice paper prints can be purchased along with the wooden blocks if required, in the Basantpur area of Kathmandu, as well as at many souvenir shops in the Valley's three main cities.
Nepalese clothes, both traditional and modern, are common and easily available souvenirs. Beginning at the head, Nepalese caps or 'is' are available in the lndrachowk and Asan areas of Kathmandu, as well as in the market areas of most of Nepal's towns and cities. One can either buy a black i (popularly known as 'Bhadgaonle i' as it was first made in Bhadgaon) or a colorful printed cap, known here as 'dhaka i'.
Nepalese woolen jackets are also very popular, especially during the colder months, and can be purchased in most tourist shops at a reasonable price. There is a variety of different colors and designs and although size fittings are not given, most shopkeepers are hapy to let potential buyers try on a number of different jackets until they find a suitable one. As all jackets are made by hand, it is also possible to design one's own jacket at a tailoring shop.
Whereas jackets are suitable for both ladies and gentlemen, pashmina shawls are mainly a ladies' souvenir item. The name pashmina refers to the extremely soft and warm underhair of a variety of mountain goat found in the upper regions of Nepal.
Pashmina shawls come in different colors and designs, the natural color being a dark ash-gray. Scarves and mufflers of the same material are also available. For the warmer months, cotton garments such as the traditional daura (shirt) and suruwal (trousers) worn by the men, are available in most bazaar areas.
Shoes and slippers complete an outfit of the Nepalese clothes; velvet, flannel and cloth designs are commonly found, many of them also colorfully embroidered. Often, the soles are made of thick cord rather than the synthetic materials one usually sees. For ladies, cotton saris and other clothes are both cheap and attractive. Many souvenir shops, particularly in the shopping arcades of larger hotels, sell different varieties of silk shirts and T-shirts with the printed designs such as traditional dragons, temples and mountains.
Bags and Purses
Although not the traditional Nepalese items, handbags and purses are practical and attractive souvenirs. They are usually made of velvet, wool, cotton or leather and often include intricate embroidery work in their designs. Another variation on this subject is passport pouches made to hang around the neck inside one's shirt or jacket.
Idols and Images
Miniature replicas of Nepal's many Buddhist and Hindu deities have became one of Nepal's most famous souvenir items. Bronze or brass images are made by a wax modeling process known as the 'cire perdue' method. This process involves first making a clay mould, into which the molten metal is poured. The idol is then sanded and smoothed to remove rough edges. A large variety of metals, as well as wood carved idols are commonly available in most souvenir shops. Stone images are naturally more difficult to make and are thus rarer and more expensive. Although most of the stone and metal images available in the shopping centers, it is forbidden to take out of the country any artifact more than one hundred years old without specific written permission from the Archaeology Department. Artistically designed miniatures of Pashupati temple, Swayambhu stupa and Krishna temple are also available in both wood and metal. Miniature Nepalese houses are somewhat rarer but are of equal artistic value, being made of local materials such as wood, hay and clay.
Khukuris are long curved knives, made famous by Gurkha soldiers. Khukuris are also frequently used by the villagers as an all-purpose weapon. One can buy the khukuris in most Kathmandu souvenir shops or alternatively at open side stalls in Basantpur, near Hanuman Dhoka. Khukur! has different types and varieties. The older one contains inside its sheath, two miniature knives, one serving as a pen knife and the other as a flint for lightening fires. Some khukuris have elaborately carved handles and sheaths while others have plain designs. One can also buy miniature khukurjs and khukuri brooches.
Jewelry, Ornaments and Precious Stones
Both Nepalese and Tibetan in style and design, many different types of pendants, bracelets, rings, earrings and bangles can be bought in nearly all souvenir shops. These are often adorned with such precious stones as tourmaline, garnet, aquamarine and smoky quartz, all indigenous to Nepal. Among other indigenous stones to Nepal are coral and turquoise, used both in religious ceremonies and in ornaments. The best place to buy good quality jewelry and rings inlaid with precious stones is New Road in the central Kathmandu.
Folk Music Cassettes and Records
As mentioned briefly in the chapter on entertainment, Ratna Recording Corporation has, since the very beginning of its establishment about twenty years ago, compiled and recorded a large number and variety of instrumental and vocal folk music cassettes and records. Although all the recordings are in mono at present, quality and production are good. Ratna Recording Corporation has its retail shop in Gangapath, between Basantpur and New Road in the central Kathmandu.
Stamps and Coins
Popular as souvenirs all over the world, Nepalese stamps and coins can be purchased in most souvenir shops, probably the best areas of Kathmandu being New Road and Basantpur. Though Nepalese stamps date back to 1907, many interesting and colorful sets have since been issued, for example, mountain, temple, flower and coronation sets to mention just a few. Besides stamp sets, it is also possible to buy miscellaneous sets containing fifty or one hundred stamps per packet, either used or mint. In addition to Nepalese stamps, Mongolian, Tibetan, Chinese and Bhutanese stamp sets are also common; some of them are quite unique as they are made of silver foil or silk instead of paper.Various coins of historical interest are also available in the souvenir shops. High quality tea products of Nepal are becoming popular among the