Wikitravel Nepal - Wide-ranging guide covers a lot of information
The Library of Congress Country Study for Nepal - Equivalent to a university 101 course, but well indexed for easy access.
The Kathmandu Post - An daily English-language Newspaper published in Kathmandu
Everest News - This nice site collects information from all activity on Mount Everest
The Lonely Planet - The Lonely Planet publisher's Nepal page.
The Rough Guide to Nepal - Excellent guide and very useful web page.
Himal Magazine - South Asia's first investigative magazine features excellent writing.
US State Department Information sheet on Nepal
The CIWEC Travel Medicine Clinic - located in Kathmandu. Highly recommended site, authoritative information.
High Altitude Medicine Guide. Non-profit group with excellent information about high-altitude travel.
Sherpa Adventure Gear - The finest selection in quality outdoor and mountaineering gear.
Food and Water The water supplies in Nepal are all contaminated - there is no safe drinking water from taps or streams. The better hotels all have private water purification systems, but they occasionally fail. Bottled water, called mineral water here, is safe, as are soft drinks, beer, tea and coffee. Ice in the best hotels and restaurants in Kathmandu is probably safe, but be skeptical about ice elsewhere. On trek we will have boiled water for you, and you can purify water from local sources.
The water rule goes for all food items which have not been cooked and which may have been washed in contaminated water. You should avoid raw fruits and vegetables except those which you can peel. Oranges, for example, are perfectly safe, but grapes are not. You should be suspicious of salads and garnishes everywhere. All cooked food is safe, provided it is still hot.
Part of the fun of traveling is eating, and so don't let these warnings scare you too much. Be very careful about the water, and eat whatever looks interesting.
Visas to enter Nepal can be obtained at the Nepalese Embassy in Washington, DC, or at the Nepalese Consulate in New York City. Both places accept mail orders - your passport, application with photograph, SASE, and visa fee. Registered mail in both directions is recommended.
Visas are also issued to arriving passengers at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. The fees are the same (payable in US currency only), but the queue moves a bit more slowly than the "tourists with visas" queue. You can fill out your visa application while you are waiting in line. If you get your visa on entry, remember to bring a passport-sized photo.
Visas can be extended in Kathmandu easily. Just remember to take care of this, if necessary, before you go on trek. You'll need a passport-sized photo for a visa extension.
A Visa Application Form and Visa Instructions are available for you to download here (PDF file).
Trekking Permits The Nepalese government issues trekking permits for travel outside Kathmandu, Pokhara, and the Bardia and Chitwan National Parks. Police checkposts throughout the country check these permits periodically. When you travel with Friends in High Places, we get your Permits for you, and pre-pay National Park and conservation area permits and fees. All you need do is remember to bring two passport-sized photos with you.
Travel by taxicab is cheap and easy in Kathmandu city. If you are going out of town consider paying the cab driver to wait, as return taxis are less easy to find.
Taxicabs have black license plates. They all have meters, but at night or very busy times you may find the meter is "broken". Then you will have to bargain. In these situations the asking fare will be at least twice the meter rate, so do the best you can. If you have to bargain, you are better off setting the price before getting into the taxi. No tip is expected, but it's nice to round the fare up if the ride was good.
International Air Flight Reconfirmation
We'll take your homeward-bound tickets and reconfirm the flights while you are on trek. This is particularly important in Kathmandu, where outbound flights are heavily booked and many airlines require a reconfirmation stamp or sticker on the ticket itself at check-in time.
You should exchange currency at banks, your hotel, or legitimate currency changing shops only, and get an exchange receipt. You may be asked to show all your receipts in order to reconvert rupees into dollars when you leave the country.
You will get the best rate at banks, with most hotels also giving fair rates. Changing shops charge a hefty commission on top of a mediocre rate. You need your passport to change money.
When we have fixed a program with you and you are ready to confirm, we ask you to send us a booking form for each person and a personal check or PayPal payment as non-refundable deposit. The form asks for basic information and has a mildly worded liability disclaimer. The deposit varies depending on your program, but will be 10-20 percent of the total amount of your trip. The balance is due on arrival in Kathmandu in US dollars, Euros, or Pounds, cash or travelers checks.
When you confirm we put you in our schedule, assign a crew, and make all transportation and hotel reservations. Although we're experienced in making arrangements at the last minute, it's best to confirm your trip early. Airline seats are always heavily booked, and hotel reservations can be tight during peak season.
We believe that your money should benefit Nepalis, not some large travel company in the US or Europe. Friends in High Places is based in Kathmandu with US and UK booking agents. With low overhead expenses outside Nepal, most of your money goes to the Nepalese people - the Sherpas, cooks, inkeepers, and others who assist you, and the farmers who grow most of the food you eat.
And because we're a Nepali company, we naturally practice what has recently become popularized as ecotourism. This is our country, and on many trips you will pass near or through the home village of someone on your crew. We do everything possible to protect the environment and our heritage while showing you the best Nepal has to offer.
Money Karma: Our "dharma", the life-path we tread, requires us to act with honesty and compassion towards all beings. Our promise to you is a square deal and best value for your money, satisfaction guaranteed. We can do no less... Namaste!
Nepal is not the West - wonderfully and magically not! Many things here will delight and amaze you, and some things will shock or surprise you. That's part of the fun of travel.
We believe that the people who try to see the world through Nepali eyes while they are here have the richest experiences. If you want to do that, think about a few things:
There is a strong social hierarchy in Nepali society, based largely on age. Family is extremely important, and familial-type relationships extend outside the family. Nepalis refer to each other consistently with terms like "older brother" and "sister-in-law", even when they are not related. There are many degrees of politeness and formality in the Nepali language, and people vary their speech depending on the relative age and social standing of the person they are addressing. The best that travelers can do in this complex context is to be uniformly polite to all Nepalis. It is appropriate to be slightly deferential to those older than yourself, to someone who has rank or a title, and to someone to whom others are being especially polite.
Religion is a powerful part of everyday life (and indeed of Self) for most Nepalis. Nepal is unique in the world for the way Buddhism and Hinduism are fused, even though each individual is either Hindu or Buddhist. You will see shrines and temples in an amazing variety of forms and sizes, daubed with colored powder and offered fruits, flowers, rice, sweets, and money in worship.
You should get up very early one morning and walk through the old city to see people making their offerings. Watch the way that religion is interwoven with everything else, from the commuters touching a shrine hurriedly as they head to work to the people bathing and doing laundry at the temple spout and then hanging the clothes to dry on the temple itself.
Be sensitive to a subtlety of language. Nepalis are less direct than Americans when speaking in English, and most Nepalis will be deferential in their approach to you. What sounds like a question may really be a suggestion, and a suggestion actually something more. Some Nepalis will be uncomfortable saying "no" or otherwise disagreeing with you, so you might prefer to phrase yes or no questions as a choice - "Has this water been boiled or not?" That formulation of the question is closer to the way one would ask in the Nepali language, and is therefor also more likely to be understood correctly. When possible, answer questions without using a direct "no". "We would prefer to stay in the hotel this afternoon" is a very polite way to say no to "Would you like to go for more sightseeing now?"
Try to observe a few basic social norms which are different from those in the West, and be aware that when people in Nepal do things which seem odd to you, they are probably not odd here.
Food should be touched and eaten only with your right hand, unless it is impractical to do so. This is particularly important when taking something from a common plate or bowl.
The head is considered to be the "cleanest" part of the body, and the feet the most "impure." You should avoid touching people on the head or with your feet, and you should avoid pointing the soles of your feet directly at anyone.
In many religious sites and people's homes, shoes are not worn. When entering any building or room, look around. A pile of shoes is a sure sign you should take your shoes off too. As with most social norms, take your cues from what the Nepalis do.
Stepping over people sitting or laying on the ground is ill-omened and impolite. Avoid walking between people and a fire or stove if possible.
Dress modestly. In Kathmandu and highly traveled areas, people are used to western eccentricities such as shorts on men and pants on women, but in much of the country those are off-putting to people. Short skirts are definitely out. Men dressed in long pants and a shirt, and women in a long skirt or dress with their shoulders covered get the best reception from the local people while on trek.
Suspend your "Why?", or at least the ready verbalization of the question. It is very strange to Nepalis that when confronted with a fact or situation, foreigners often ask, "Why?" Nepalis do not do that. Usually we simply want to know; but even when we mean no criticism by the question, it's often taken that way. Accept and be patient. That's the Nepali (indeed, the eastern) way.
Consider that the person to whom you are speaking may not know "why" (he or she almost certainly didn't ask), and to admit they don't know would be a loss of face. If you need to know "why", consider forming the question like "It there a problem with X" (take a guess), "or something else?" Interpret a vague answer as "I don't know."
Remember that exact directions and times, precise dates on things, and consistent stories about gods and kings are fixations of our culture, not Nepal's. They don't particularly care how old a temple is, for example, just about the god within. And if you ask three people outside that same temple what god they are worshipping there, you might get three different answers, all correct.
That sometimes a place is known by different names, or that Buddhists and Hindus may worship each others' gods and saints, or that a festival can have multiple meanings to its celebrants is just part of the rich fabric of this society. If you're the type of person who likes to "get things straight," we will be happy to refer you to some excellent books which attempt to do just that.
Expect to bargain for purchases, and try to enjoy the process. Restaurants, bookstores, and a few shops have marked, fixed prices; but anytime you need to ask a price, bargaining is expected. It's a social interaction, not an adversarial thing. Relax, participate, and in the end pay what you think is a fair price or walk away from the deal.
Most of all, while you are a guest of the wonderful Nepali people, try to see and experience the world as they do. You will find the experience rewarding.
Nepal's Geography and Climate
Nepal has Mount Everest at more than 29,000 feet in its north, but elevations of a few hundred feet only are common at her southern border. This great diversity of terrain in a small space contributes to the country's fascination for travelers. The country is broadly divided in to three areas:
The southern, lowland plains called the Terai. This is where Chitwan National Park is located.
The central hills where altitudes range up to 7,000 to 8,000 feet. Kathmandu is located in this zone.
The high mountains, which rise steeply in the north.
Nepal has five seasons, three or four of which are suitable for tourism. It's location on the Indian subcontinent makes it subject to monsoon rains; and while trekking during monsoon has some advantages (like very few tourists), it's not what most people want.
In the mountains, of course, below-freezing temperatures are common; but the central hills are generally comfortable year-round, and the Terai is hot and tropical.
See useful charts of temperature and rainfall in Kathmandu here.
About The Mountains
EVEREST (29028 feet / 8848 meters) is named posthumously after Sir George Everest, Surveyor General of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. It is a great irony, since in his life Sir George was of the firm opinion that peaks should wear their original names. The peak's old names are Chomolungma (Tibetan, meaning Goddess Mother Mountain) and Sagarmatha (Nepali, meaning One Whose Forehead Touches the Sky). Now often climbed, but still never mastered.
MAKALU (27504 feel / 8463 meters) rises at the head of Makalu and Barun Glacier National Park, a high mountain wilderness of unsurpassed beauty. Makalu sits between Everest and Kanchenjunga (number three in height), on the Tibetan border. Of all the great peaks, Makalu is the one with the most otherworldly presence according to the Sherpa people who live in its shadow.
KANCHENJUNGA (27943 feet / 8598 meters) has five summits, it's name derived from the Tibetan words for "five treasures" or "five brothers". The original inhabitants of Sikkim, south of Kanchenjunga, the Lechpas, believed that it was from Kanchenjunga's ice that the first man and woman were carved, and they also worshipped it as the place where the dead go. Today a trek to the two Base Camps (Kanchenjunga - 18 to 29 Days) isn't life threatening, but it's still plenty exciting!
AMA DABLAM (22139 feet / 6812 meters) is a favorite at Friends in High Places. To western eyes the south face of the mountain looks like a priest or minister in robes holding up both hands in a blessing, but the same shape reminds easterners of a Dablam, or an amulet box used to hold a small image of a God. Ama means "mother", so Ama Dablam is "Mother's Reliquary". By either meaning it is a wonderful, poetic mountain.
CHO OYU (26653 feet / 8201 meters) has an almost table-top flatness at its summit. Some believe that in ancient times Padma Sambhava, Buddhism's only "saint", wrote texts with messages to save earth from a time when the world was in chaos, and buried these texts on Cho Oyu. The lamas call those texts Cho. Oyu means "turquoise", and whether Padma Sambhava's treasures are there, we know that turquoise in plenty comes out of the mountain.
DHAULAGIRI (26690 feet / 8137 meters) stands along one side of the valley of the Kali Gandaki river, deepest in the world. The three and one half mile chasm was formed by the river, as the mountains rose up around them over the millenia. From Dhaulagiri to Nilgiri and Annapurna 1 on the otherside, the valley is barely four miles wide, making an almost perfect V shape.