Backpacking in Nepal – A Guide

Backpacking in Nepal – A Guide

Nepal is a geological marvel with highest rugged mountain peaks to the north and the broad plains in the south. Many river, brooks, and waterfalls run like veins taking glacial water through hills and valley towards the seas. The hills are covered in luscious green forests harboring many different species of birds and animals. The mystic adventures of the hills and mountains will help you explore yourself. Nepal is still a developing country, and many places are still remote hilly regions with roads less traveled. This remoteness coupled with overwhelming natural beauty makes it a destination for backpackers from around the world. You can test yourself to your limits from the valleys and small hills to the highest peaks.

Backpacking in Nepal is a popular attraction among national and international tourists. The prices are low and affordable, and there is much to see.  Travel agencies may charge you up to 5 times more than what it would cost to do it yourself and with the same convenience. If you know English and a little Nepali, you can do just fine by yourself. Fixed schedules from your travel guides won’t bind you. You can’t be everywhere at the right time for a magnificent view or perfect weather. You may need to stay in a city, village or camp for the weather to clear or roads to open. If you are able and in search for an adventure, you will save a lot of money traveling with a friend or a group.

Here’s what we think are the best tips to go self-backpacking around Nepal.

Money

Most major cities and small towns will have ATMs spread across them. Some crowded or touristic areas will have ATM lounge with multiple ATMs from different banks. Almost every bank in the city area will have a ATMs attached to it. Carrying a debit card will help you take less cash in the city areas but do not trust every ATM to be on perfect condition. Many touristic places like Thamel and Pokhara will also have shops and stores that accept debit and credit cards. Outside of the touristic area, you will have to carry paper money.

Nepali Money

In remote areas, paper money is a must, and you have to have plenty of it. Do not place it all in a single wallet and make sure not to show the amount you have on your wallet or purse openly.

Costs

The costs of food and accessories start rising as you go to remote areas and higher up in the North. Lodging might not be expensive as there will not be many conveniences except a place to stay. Due to lack of transport, manual labor is needed to carry the food and accessories to the villages, which causes the prices to go up.

Supermarkets are not the place for original prices in Nepal, they are mostly for convenience so you can find the same items on local stores for less. The only problem is finding them.

Nepali Porters carrying essentials in remote areas

Many often try to charge slightly higher rates for tourists, but you can bargain to bring the costs down. Sending a Nepali friend to bargain is a good way to get things cheaper.

Transportation

Local Transportation buses in Nepal
Local Transportation buses in Nepal

Short distance

Bus fares tend to be the same for the tourist and locals. There’s a minimum cost of 15 NRs (depends on the region you’re in) no matter how short you ride on the bus, so make sure you absolutely do not want to walk to the destination or the destination is further than a kilometer.

If you are going to take a taxi, make sure to agree on a price beforehand because no matter what the law says, the cost the driver asks is going to be the price you pay. Some rules make you pay only what the meter shows but often taxi drivers will make up reasons to charge extra. And if it’s late in the night, expect it to get more expensive.

Long Distance

For long distance traveling, say Kathmandu to Pokhara or other destinations, you should buy local bus tickets right at the bus station. Purchasing a ticket with a receipt means that you won’t be fooled into paying more. It is always the same for the locals and the international tourists. If you want to travel on a tourist bus which is more comfortable, you will have to contact the nearest travel agency.

Food and Lodging

The rise in home-stay communities which provide authentic Nepali meal with great hospitality may be available for meager prices compared to hotels and lodges. So you can check the availability of homestays in the area. Depending on the location and altitude you are planning to go to, you may need to take a sleeping bag with you. There may be times where you might not get enough heat insulation for your sleep, or it may not be possible to get extra blankets. So you have to be prepared.

Homestay in Ghalegaun
Homestay facility in Ghalegaun

Lodging in Hotels generally ranges from fair to expensive in most areas and rises with the conveniences it provides. They also are influenced by tourist seasons where the hotels can charge higher rates for the same room than on offseason. Some hotels may also have low prices on lodging but high prices for extra conveniences like hot water, internet, and meals.

Make sure to communicate accurately about the costs of food and lodging before you plan to stay because, or there’s a chance they are going to exaggerate the prices when you decide to leave. We were charged 300 NRs for breakfast with just an omelet and three slices of bread. It was the same price for a dal, bhat with chicken tarkari in a different place.

Meals (Vegetarian or Non-Vegetarian)

You can find many places to eat along the city and few in rural areas but make sure they serve the kind of diet you want. Meat is called “masu,” and the vegetarian meal is called “sakahari.” Confirming it will mean you won’t have to deal with misunderstanding.

Homestay breakfast with tea
Homestay breakfast with tea

Generally, hotels and home-stay will ask your permission to cook something before making a meal. But restaurants and local stores may not be clear about the content of their meals and products. You can google the items on the menu or ask people or waiters about the content of the meal before ordering them.

Carry Light Snacks

As you go higher up through the hills, you will rarely find settlements for shopping. There may be some tea shops, and they will only have a limited number of items you can buy. There are often places which are overly expensive and will not bargain. For these places, you will need some snacks stored until you can find a cheaper alternative.

Snacks on an easy to access bags

If you are trekking or hiking, you might not get to a shop or hotel for a long duration, so carry some healthy snacks to give you the energy to get you through the day.

Extras

Besides these, if you are traveling for a long duration, I would recommend hand sanitizer, a small blow-dryer as well. It might take a little more space, but if you need to wash some clothes and reuse them, you might not always get enough sun to dry your clothes. You may not even find places to hang them to dry and staying at the same place longer when you don’t plant to increases your expenses. You would either not to wash them, get to a city for a laundry service or carry the wet clothes around with you till they dry. So it wouldn’t be a bad decision to take one.

Water

Water tap along trails on the way to Bhujung

Water is going to be tricky as you can find many taps along the roads but they might not be healthy to drink. You can buy water bottles in stores, but the number of empty plastic bottles you leave behind is going to be enormous. So carry a water treatment utility (UV rays or others) or water purification tablets which kill harmful bacteria and viruses. Then you can use a single bottle for every water source without leaving a trail of water bottles wherever you go.

Utilities that use UV-rays are the preferred way of purification because some purification tablet can create a pungent smell and make water even more difficult to drink. Make sure to try them beforehand, so you don’t have to be caught up in an emergency.

If you have a metal bottle, when you leave a hotel or wherever you are staying, ask for hot water to fill your container. It will be healthy and will get colder as you are on your way to the next destination. And you will not have to worry about buying water.

Electricity

Electricity is not going to be hard to find in the city and most rural areas. There will be at least one working wall socket for you to use at any hotels or homestay you decide to stay. However, It may cost extra on your way to high altitude base camps.

Extensions

It will be very convenient to carry power cord extension with multiple outlets to charge various power banks, camera batteries or any other utility you have. Carry a socket converter with you so your power extension can fit in everywhere.

Power cord extension with multiplugs
power cord extension

The number of outlets on the power cord extension depends on the number of people and the devices they are carrying. You can also include USB extensions which make it easy to charge your phone from a distance using the power bank or the wall socket.

Battery backup

Your devices will be much safer if you carry a reliable battery backup for your smartphone and accessories. Electricity in Nepal can be unpredictable at times, and the wiring may not always be perfect everywhere you go. With a power bank, you can only opt to charge it through wall sockets, and you will not have to worry about lousy wiring, fluctuating voltages or short circuit to mess up your phone or devices.

Charge your phone to full before you go to sleep or before you go out using the power bank and leave the power bank to charge overnight.

Solar chargers

Sun shines throughout the year except for extreme weather conditions like rain and cold winter days. Solar chargers might come in handy in seasons when there’s clear weather and sun stays out longer. But there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to be perfectly aligned with the sun and charge your batteries enough. It should only be considered as a complimentary accessory if you can fit in one. It wouldn’t be wrong to carry one if you are traveling in a group.

Internet

Internet and Wi-Fi are often essential to stay in contact with your friends and family and share your experience on the spot. Most hotels in the hilly region and below will have a free Wi-Fi connection. You will have to ask for a password when you check in. And if you have a VPN subscription, it’s recommended that you use it.

Making sure there’s an operational Wi-Fi connection before you make a reservation may also be necessary. Some cheaper hotels might advertise as such but will not have it working at the time of your stay.

Mobile Data

Mobile data is not very expensive, but you’ll likely use it more for essential messages and notifications. You can easily get pre-paid SIM cards for using internet from Nepal Telecom and NCell at any city center. Nepal Telecom will have coverage on more rural areas than NCell. However, NCell coverage seems to be better at high altitude base-camps.

As soon as you get a SIM card, you are ready to use the data packages. For Nepal Telecom, if you don’t subscribe to any data packages, it will start using your balance for the Internet. Not utilizing the available offers will cost you more because you can buy better data offers with the same balance.

Nepal Telecom usually has a few offers regularly going for data packages so you can use your prepaid balance to buy them. Once you subscribe for an offer, it will use the required balance. You will now have the rest to call and SMS. You can even utilize all of your balance to get an offer, but you will not be able to call anyone without small balance on your account. You will first need to recharge your balance on your SIM, then check the offer page, and choose the data package to fit in your balance. Once activated you can also monitor the data usage through the same site.

I am not familiar with NCell, so I do not have an idea of their package.

Mobile Data (3G/4G) Wi-Fi Modem Router

3G to WiFi router supplied by Nepal Telecom
3G to WiFi router supplied by Nepal Telecom

If you travel in groups, it will be economical to buy mobile data to WiFi modem device. This modem broadcasts a Wi-FI network that 3-5 people can use conveniently. It uses a SIM card and uses it data package you subscribed. Use it with offers from Nepal Telecom, and you’ll have a happy group in rural areas which has mobile network coverage but no Wi-Fi. Place It near windows for better signal, and then the whole group can enjoy the Internet on their beds.

Apps

Offline Maps

Offline maps is also a must if you plan to travel to Nepal. Remote and rural areas will have people who do not understand you or might speak a different language than Nepali or English. So, for directions, you will need something to get to your destination.

Offline maps download area selection on Google Maps
Offline maps download through Google Maps

Google Maps has an option to download an area of the location you are traveling onto your phone, so you can use it to navigate it yourself.  Maps.me is also an alternative which use offline OpenStreetMap data for geolocation and navigation. You can download offline maps for Nepal with 4 different geographical location. Having a smartphone with a magnetic compass sensor will help you find your heading and geographic direction.

But be warned that the distance shown on the map and the difficulty to get there are very different. Even at a short distance, if you are climbing a hill, it will take much more effort than walking on the plain. It’s even more difficult with your bags and equipment. So make sure you consider the road conditions and altitude you will be walking.

Peak Finder

If you are going to trek near the mountains, you’ll have a better understanding of which mountains you are looking at with the use of Peak Finder app. This app will use your GPS location and magnetic sensor to display a informative graphical view of the mountains you see. This is great to keep track of the mountains you see along the way.

Names of the mountains with Peakfinder
Finding the names of the mountains with Peakfinder

Clear Ouside

This app can predict the visibility of the location with your GPS. This will help you check how the weather might affect the visibility of an area. Use this with the weather forecasting to make your plans better and more rewarding.

AllTrails

AllTrails only had the most popular trek trails and missed many others. So it depends on which trail you are going to take. If you are going to take a trail, it is nice to record your speed, time, and pace which you can review later. You can also recommend Alltrails to add a new trail to their listing.

Permits

As a tourist, you will need to get an permit to enter restricted areas and conservation sanctuaries. Trekkers need to get a TIMS (Trekkers Information Management System) permit for trekking in Nepal. The permit for Annapurna Conservation area is around 3500 for tourists and the permit is checked in multiple checkpoints to record your entry and exit points. Once you exit the conservation area, you are not permitted to get in again without a new permit.

Nepali people have to pay a minuscule fee, if any, to go to these areas. Some of the requirements for  Nepali permit into conservation area are new and are not strictly implemented. But you should check if the permissions are absolutely required.

Safety

Your safety is of utmost importance. Be cautious on invitation from strangers for taxi or hotel rooms. Do your research to find a hotel beforehand. Keep away from travelling in slums in the darkness. Stray dogs are more aggressive during the night, and they may be dangerous. Do not try to pet animals you have not seen being friendly with others.

Make sure to carry first aid kid and medicine for common ailments because you may be far from any clinics in remote areas. Depending on your condition, do not take risks that you body cannot endure. Trekking and Hiking at high altitude can be dangerous and legal. Do not try trekking long trails alone. Making friends and going with them will be more convenient for everyone.

Weather in Nepal can be unpredictable and can cause you precious time. There are very few weather stations in Nepal which makes it hard to make accurate weather prediction in remote areas, even more in high altitude places. International weather services use satellite cloud imagery coupled with wind and pressure to predict weather but they will still not be perfect every where you go. Make sure to follow the weather but with caution.

Know the emergency numbers when you’re in need:

Emergency Number
Police 100
Fire 101
Traffic Police 103
Child Missing 104

All of these tips are compile from experience travelling with friends and families without any guide or agency to schedule for us. Asking for directions is as easy as saying the name of the destination you want to go and most people are more than helpful to show you the way. There are some people who will try to talk to you to tell their stories so they can sell you some stuff for higher prices. You can’t be sure if they are lying or not but you can avoid them by saying you don’t have money and leave.

If you have any additional tips and suggestions, please don’t hesitate to add them in the comments and we’ll consider them to add to the article. And we hope you enjoy your backpacking journey in Nepal.

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