Backpacking in Nepal is an incredible adventure. From intensely chaotic cities, to medieval architecture, and Himalayan trekking, Nepal might be hard to get to, but you’ll probably find that it’s even harder to leave.
Nepal is well set up for independent travel, and has become a mecca among the backpacking scene. It is a culturally rich country that will absolutely enchant you, though it’s definitely a destination that requires prior planning to ensure your safety and comfort.
The following is a backpacking guide to Nepal, with all of the essential info you need to know when planning your trip.
Important Things to Know about Backpacking in Nepal
Know Where to Go in Nepal
Nepal has a wide range of travel destinations, each more diverse than the next. You can opt for high altitude treks in the Himalayas, go for lowland jungle safari, or focus on cultural tours in the Kathmandu valley, and other antique activities.
As such, it’s important to map out exactly what type of experience you want in Nepal, and be clear about the type of adventure you wish to enroll in. This will determine which parts of Nepal you visit.
Trekking is one of the most popular activities in Nepal, though even this should be narrowed down further to exactly which treks you want to take, through which regions.
Popular treks include the Everest Base Camp trek and Annapurna Circuit trek, though these are very different, and it’s good to know the difference between Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp, and what to expect from each of them.
If trekking is not your cup of tea, you can go for a cultural tour in Kathmandu valley where you can interact with the locals and know about the typical culture and history of Kathmandu. Or, you can visit the lake city Pokhara and explore its crisp beauty and continue to Chitwan/ Sauraha for wildlife tours.
So, in choosing which parts of the country you’ll take in, start with the types of things you want to do, and narrow down a location based on what suits your interests (and if you’re trekking, your skill levels).
Visa and Trekking Permits in Nepal
Every tourist visiting Nepal needs a visa (except for Indian nationals), and you can either apply online, or get it when you arrive at Tribhuvan International Airport. Once issued the visa is valid for entry for three to six months.
The cost of a single-entry visa depends on how long you want to stay. It’s $25 for 15 days, $40 for 30 days and $100 for 90 days. But if you get to Nepal and decide you need to stay longer, you can extend your visa while you’re in the country.
If you plan on trekking in Nepal, you’ll also need to organize trekking permits. The requirements and cost of this varies depending on the region, though one thing you’ll need for all treks is a TIMS (Trekkers’ Information Management Systems) card.
This is a system used to keep track of foreigners and allows them to respond in emergencies. The easiest place to get one is at the Nepal Tourism Board office in Kathmandu, and you can organize your other trekking permits here too for treks like Annapurna.
You’ll need to have the following on hand with you when you go to apply, and keep a note that they only accept cash (2,000 rupees if you’re trekking solo, or 1,000 rupees per person for a group).
What you need for a TIMS card
➤ Rough idea of your dates
➤ Trekking entry and exit points
➤ Your route
➤ Emergency contact info for someone in Nepal and for someone back at home
➤ Your travel insurance details
➤ Copy of your passport
➤ 2 passport-sized photos
Hire a Guide or Porter
As of August 2015, all foreign trekkers are required to trek with a Nepali guide or porter registered with the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) in Nepal’s national parks, conservation areas, and restricted areas.
But even if you’re not undertaking a trek or activity that requires a guide, it could still be a good idea for enriching your experience and being able to immerse yourself further into the local life and culture.
Be Prepared For Altitude Sickness
Nepal is a land of diversity with varying altitudes. If you are planning to go backpacking in the high altitude regions, it’s absolutely essential that you’re prepared for, and know how to recognize, avoid, and treat high altitude sickness.
As you travel to high altitudes, the amount of oxygen in the air you are breathing declines. Altitude sickness is our body’s response to the low air pressure and reduced oxygen; less oxygen reaches the muscles and the brain, and the heart and lungs must work harder to compensate.
Symptoms start 12 to 24 hours after arrival and begin to decrease in severity around the third day. You may develop a headache, lassitude, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. You basically feel like you have a bad hangover.
The best way to avoid getting sick is to ascend gradually, but if you have to ascend quickly, medicines like Diamox pills are available to prevent altitude sickness.
Anyone can suffer from altitude sickness – it does not discriminate between age, gender, level of fitness or training. For instance AMS is actually more likely to affect fit young men who attempt a rapid ascent by racing up the mountain like some indestructible super hero!
So don’t rush on ascents or push your body if it is willing you to take rest. Drink enough water i.e about 5 liters per day. And don’t forget to have acclimatization days. Read this post for more information.
Image credit: Masa Sakano (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr
Research the Weather in Nepal
Nepal’s varied topography brings diversity in the climate and temperatures throughout different parts of the country.
If you’re backpacking or hiking, you’re normally below 5,000 meters. But, if you are doing mountaineering, the altitude goes way up, and you’ll find yourself in a lot colder climates.
So, before you jump on your flight, it’s important to properly research the weather conditions in Nepal, not only for the month you’re visiting, but also for the region.
This information is absolutely essential for knowing exactly what you need to pack. Here’s a general weather breakdown by season:
Weather in Nepal by Season
➤ Autumn (October-November)
October and November is the best time for a backpacking trip to Nepal. This is the time when the weather is quite stable and crisp, plus the temperatures are moderate. You will feel either too cold nor too hot.
➤ Spring (March-May)
Spring is another really good season for visiting Nepal. The temperature is mildly warm and pleasant, and the views aren’t obstructed by a lot of cloud cover. This is also the season that flowers begin to bloom, and while exploring the country you’ll get to enjoy landscapes which are much more colorful and vibrant.
➤ Winter (December-February)
Winter makes for quite challenging travel in Nepal, especially if you want to include high altitude treks. However, the snow-covered landscape is the most stunning at this time of year. That said, the cold has less effect on you if are planning on trips to the lower altitudes and Terai region in Nepal, and this can be a good time to avoid most of the mass tourism.
➤ Summer (June-September)
Summer isn’t a great time to travel to Nepal as it’s right in the middle of the monsoon season and sees a lot of heavy rainfall. The temperature is quite hot and humid during this time, though everything is lush and green, and you’ll have the added benefit of escaping crowds and avoiding mass tourism.
Social Etiquette in Nepal
Nepal is a land of vivid culture and traditions. Every cultural group has its own uniqueness and values to be followed, so it’s important to read up on social etiquette before you travel.
Here are a couple of pointers on social etiquette:
Social etiquette in Nepal
➤ Don’t enter a place of worship wearing leather products, and make sure you take your shoes off.
➤ Be aware that some Hindu temples may not allow Non-Hindus. Make sure you always seek permission before entering a Hindu temple in Nepal.
➤ Try not to wear offensive clothes especially around the religious sites. It’s best to keep your clothing plain.
➤ Greet the locals with “Namaste”. This signifies your courtesy and politeness.
Backpacking in Nepal is an amazing experience. It is a cheap and easy way to get around with friendly locals. Plus, the promising scenic views and the diverse landscapes are sure to keep you engaged and inspired.
Like anywhere you would travel, it’s important to be careful to abide by the moral, cultural, and legal rules of the country. All this requires is research before you jump on the plane. And as always, make sure you’re careful to keep your money and belongings safe while traveling in Nepal.
So, when are you planning your next backpacking trip to Nepal?! Anything to add? Leave us a comment about your experiences in Nepal!
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