Backpacking In Nepal - The Definitive Traveller's Guide

Backpacking in Nepal, the abode of the mountains is a magical experience with the nation's rich culture, mouth-watering cuisine, friendly people ad not to mention the mighty Himalayas.  Nepal is one of the greatest adventures for a backpacker. So, gear up and explore this Himalayan nation while witnessing the charms of raw adventure, towering Himalayan peaks, rare wildlife and ancient culture.

Best Time For Backpacking in Nepal

The rough terrains of Nepal
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October - November:
Autumn season of the year with clear skies and warm days is the peak season, with thousands of tourists hitting trails in the Everest and Annapurna region.

March - April: Spring season is the second-best time to visit and trek in this region, offering warm weather along with spectacular rhododendron blooms.  

June - September: Enormous landslides due to the monsoon rains and clouds obstructing the mountain views. This is the time when tourist traffic is relatively meagre, and hefty discounts are offered on stay by the hotels. As the rain, mud and leeches deter most trekkers, this is the right time to visit valleys like Mustang and Dolpo.

Visa Details and Border Crossing

Nepal visa requirements
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Tourist visas (15 days, 30 days and 90 days) are available upon arrival at Kathmandu International Airport, making things easy for foreign travellers. Except for Indians, the visa is mandatory for all foreigners and the cost range from USD 25 to USD 100 depending on one's nationality and the duration of stay. Overstaying charges you USD 5 a day and you are detained until you pay.

Useful Tips:

  • US Dollar is the best currency to bring along when travelling to Nepal as it is easy to exchange and one needs USD to pay the visa fee anyway.  
  • To extend your visa length, pay a quick visit to the Nepalese Department of Immigration at Kalikasthan, Kathmandu. 

Backpacking in Nepal Budget

If you opt for accommodation in local guest houses or other budget stays, take the local bus instead of tourist coaches, try the local delicacies and occasionally go for an adventure, you can expect an expenditure of not more than USD 40 a day.
Approximate Costs

1. Basic Guestroom: USD 5 - USD 8
2. Meal: USD 5 - USD 20 for a day
3. Meal on the mountain: USD 10 - USD 25
4. Beer: USD 3 for local beer (this cost varies when buying beer while trekking)
5. Hiring a guide: USD 10 - USD 25
6. Long distance local bus service: USD 5
Useful Tip: Bargain wherever possible as it works everywhere except for a few remote regions.

Staying in Nepal

Everest Guesthouse is perfect for staying in Nepal on a budget
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A multitude of options is available for budget accommodation with adequate facilities which makes Nepal an ideal destination for backpackers. Offering a great chance to interact with locals, family-run guesthouses are popular amongst backpackers for a budget stay.

Budget Hotels in Kathmandu:
Thamel along with Paknajol and Freak Street are a go-to, to find cheap places to stay in Kathmandu.

Budget Hotels in Pokhara:
Budget accommodation in Pokhara has majorly moved north of the Lakeside to a region called 'Happy Village' and can also be found in the East of Lakeside or Damside.

Budget Hotels in Lumbini:
Lumbini's rapid development catering to Chinese and Indian tour groups have brought up a lot of large hotels with prices soaring high during Buddhist festivals. However, budget guesthouses can be found along the Lumbini Bazaar. Have a look at the room before negotiating the cost.

Budget Hotels in Chitwan:
Avoiding all Chitwan tour packages, arrive at the place and walk down the main strip for the cheapest accommodation. Budget resorts can be found along the road of National Trust Nature Conservation office and museum.  

You can also seek budget accommodation in Bandipur and Lukla.

Getting to Nepal

Travelling to Nepal by flight is always recommended. A few direct flights are available from cross-continental international destinations. However, many budgeted flight options are available within Asia from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi and Guangzhou. Most Airlines like AirAsia or Malaysian Airlines or even the Malindo Air are directly connected to the International Airport of Kathmandu in Nepal.

Major border crossing options available via land:
  • Birgunj-Raxaul Bazar: Most popular choice when entering Nepal from East India.
  • Sunauli-Bhairawa: Most convenient route when you intend to enter Nepal from Delhi or north-western states of India.

  • Siliguri-Kakarbhitta: The most convenient route from Darjeeling.

  • Kodari: If you intend to enter Nepal from Tibet.  
Sharing its borders with Tibet, India and Bhutan, travelling to Nepal overland is also an option with visas being available on arrival. Travelling overland from India is the most popular choice amongst travellers as it is increasingly difficult to enter Nepal overland from China or Bhutan unless you are on an organised tour.

Getting Around Nepal

Getting around Nepal is convenient by bus
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Travelling by tourist buses is very popular if you intend to visit different cities. However, you can also hire a motorcycle or a charter taxi to visit regions according to your own scheduled plans. Highways and roads are irregularly maintained, the reason why monsoon takes a toll making travelling in Nepal an adventure of its own. Mini Buses are ideal for the ones short on time.

Domestic flights are also a great way to explore this Himalayan nation but they are notoriously unreliable due to the dynamic weather conditions. However, there's no better option for ones really short on time to explore this nation. So, pick a window seat and revel in the spectacular views, especially while travelling to Lukla from Kathmandu.

Useful Tip: Though travelling by taxi has perks of its own, it is highly recommended to use a metered taxi and agree on a mutual price before getting in.

Communication in Nepal

Nepali is the official language, but one can witness the majority of the population speaking Tharu. Communication is rarely an issue here, the reason being locals having a great grasp of the English language. Being a complicated language to learn, especially for the native English speakers, picking up some basic phrases will take you no time to befriend a local. One can even use apps like 'uTalk Go' to get to grips with the language of Nepal.

Food in Nepal

Food in Nepal
Dal bhaat is a traditional cuisine of Nepal (Source)

Nepali cuisine is a reflection of how Nepal is perfectly sandwiched between India and Tibet, carrying influences from Indian, as well as Tibetian cuisine. There are numerous touristy restaurants that you can find while exploring the streets of Kathmandu.

Thamel in Kathmandu is indeed a paradise for foodies as the various restaurants and coffee shops offer an array of options while choosing from local dishes. There are Tibetan cafes providing delicacies like Tibetan bread and noodle soups, while the Asan Tole open-air market in Thamel offers the best spices, pickles, herbs and something you would regret missing - Nepali Tea. If you are curious about Newari food, head to cities like Kirtipur or Bhaktapur to satisfy your taste buds.

There are some delicacies you must not miss when visiting Nepal.
  • Daal Bhat: This is the most common and widely consumed dish by Nepalese and can be tried at various places ranging from high-end restaurants to street food stalls.

  • Momos: Resembling Chinese dumplings, it is one of the popular dishes available in a range of fillings. Traditionally stuffed with buffalo meat and vegetables, this is a snack you should not miss on.

  • Gorkhali Lamb: One of the many delicacies, this is a slow-cooked lamb curry served with rice and potatoes.

  • Sel Roti: A perfect fit of doughnut and bagel, Sel Roti is popular during religious festivals and as a breakfast treat. Street vendors are the best bet to get the authentic flavour of this dish.

Must-Visit Places in Nepal

When in Nepal, there's plenty to do and interesting places to see within a short bike ride.

1. Kathmandu

Kathmandu Valley
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Witness the perfect blend of history and culture in Kathmandu - the place where you are likely to begin your trip with when flying to Nepal. There are several beautiful towns in Kathmandu valley with beautiful temples and delicious food offered all day every day. Visiting Bhaktapur and Patan on outskirts of this valley is always recommended. Also, you can also pay a visit to Bandipur and Gorka.

Other places to Visit in Kathmandu: Durbar Square, Hanuman Dhoka and Kasthamandap (the oldest building in the valley).

2. Langtang 

Langtang Nepal
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If you are short of time but are willing to hike in the Majestic Himalayas, Langtang region offers you a rewarding trekking trail with minimal traffic and serene views. Plus, it only takes about a week's time.

3. Pokhara

Pokhara Nepal
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Known for attracting backpackers and hippies from all over the world, as well as trekkers coming back or getting ready for the Annapurna region, people usually spend 4-5 days here before starting with Annapurna Trek. Pokhara is surrounded by the mighty and the majestic Himalayas while also being loaded with luxuriant vegetation and dotted with shimmering lakes. Taking with itself the reputation of being the second home of tourists worldwide, the valley gives a clear view of Mount Machhapuchhare. Pokhara is one of the biggest adventure hubs in Nepal

5. Lumbini

Lumbini Nepal
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Once you are back from the trek, relax for a few days in Pokhara itself and catch a bus south to Lumbini. The place highlights Buddhist culture and has extreme significance for Buddhists as this place marks the birth of Lord Buddha.

6. Chitwan National Park

Chitwan Nepal
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Witness the varied biodiversity of this Himalayan nation with Nepal's best-known and oldest national park. At a sprawling 932 sq.km, Chitwan is an extensive area to cover with an abundance of leopards, sloth bears, rhino, hyenas, gharials, pythons and more than 500 species of birds. It has also marked its presence on UNESCO's World Heritage list. 

7. Thamel and Freak Street 

An ideal place for foodies and if looking for some cheap digs; one can find an array of guesthouses, bars, shops and restaurants.  

8. Lukla

Lukla Nepal
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Located 2680 meters above sea level, this place marks the starting of Nepal trekking adventure and is a gateway to the mighty Mount Everest and the majestic Himalayas.

Apart from those mentioned above, Hetauda, Birgunj, Biratnagar, Nuwakot, Sindhuli, Ilam, Jhapa Chitlang Tistung Daman palung are some other amazing places to visit when backpacking in Nepal.

Trekking in Nepal

Trekking in Nepal is something everyone should definitely experience at least once in a lifetime because, at the end, it's the majestic Himalayas and these trekking trails that keep calling backpackers to Nepal.

1. Annapurna Circuit Trek

Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal
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This trail is nothing less than heaven for adventure enthusiasts, as well as nature lovers. Considered as one of the best treks in the world, it begins from Besisahar, and the length of the trek varies on where one decides to end. The trail crisscrosses four regions or valleys taking its visitors through Nepal's stunning landscape of gurgling rivers, unique flora and fauna, impossibly perched villages, all against the backdrop of the majestic Himalayas. Of the four valleys, Lamjung and Myagdi are predominantly Hindu and are full of terraced fields in the summer while the upper Manang and Mustang Valleys follow the Tibetan Buddhist culture of the region.

Best Time: March-May and October-November

2. Rara Lake Trek 

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A perfect trek for an adventure enthusiast who is a fitness freak as the trail treats you with a lot of ups and downs while walking and hiking. Featuring panoramic and scenic geographical landscapes with no boundaries, Rara lake is the largest lake in Nepal. On the way, one is treated by the rhododendron forests and pine trees. The pristine freshwater lake and the snow-crowned mountains never fail to leave the trekkers spellbound.
Best Time: March-May and September-November

3. Ghorepani Poon Hill Trek 

Ghorepani Poonhill Trek
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Trekking here in spring season allows you to witness the charming beauty of panoramic mountains and the blooming rhododendron forests. Being one of the shortest and easiest treks in Nepal, Ghorepani Poonhill Trek is perfect for experienced, as well as for beginners, and the spectacular sunrise view from the hill over the Annapurna range is indeed something you cannot miss on. On its way, one gets to see beautiful terraced farmlands, Gurung villages and much more. 
Best time: March-May and October-November

Note: In addition to the mentioned above, Gokyo Ri Lake Trek, Langtang Trek and Mustang Trek are some other excellent trekking trails to explore while backpacking Nepal.

Useful Tip: Permits to various treks can easily be arranged a day before you decide to hike.

Useful Travel Tips

  • Exchanging cash currencies and accessing ATMs in regions like Kathmandu, Pokhara and other cities is relatively easy, but near to impossible in rural areas or on treks.

  • Power cuts are frequent in Nepal. Carrying a headlamp or a head torch while travelling is always recommended. This is especially important while trekking on the trails.

  • Before Heading to Nepal adventure, it is necessary to get travel insurance even if you are going for a short trip. You can't predict know when you might need a doctor.

  • There are some useful apps to download when travelling:
    XE Currency: Saves you a lot of time when struggling with Exchange Currency Rate.
    Google Translate: Provides you with ease while communicating with locals.
    Maps.Me: Maps can be used offline once downloaded while you backpack and Trek Nepal.

Safety Measures

  • While trekking in Nepal, be aware of the symptoms and consequences of altitude sickness, the reason why people die every year despite of being physically fit.
    Precaution: Make sure to acclimatize on the trail, and try to descend whenever you see any symptoms.

  • Avoid hiking during monsoon season i.e. June to August as chances of avalanches and snow storms heavily increases during this season.

  • Always keep an eye on the valuables, especially in Kathmandu and while travelling in regional buses.
Explore the stunning natural features, serene landscapes, charismatic mountains, mesmerising lakes and a lot more this Himalayan nation has in the bag for you. Discover yourself as you discover Nepal. Happy Backpacking!

This post was published by Neha Nagpal

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