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5 Unique Things to Do in Nepal

Posted Sep 17th, 2018 under Travel Guide,

It’s quite understandable that Nepal always conjures up the world of towering mountains, distant valleys, misty grooves and highland cultures in everyone’s mind. And there comes the instant urge to ramble on the rugged trail and hug the mountains. However, Nepal is not just about meeting mountains only. There are many unique things to do in Nepal, definitely not as bizarre as going for yeti hunting, but are still much cooler than many other trendy activities.

  1. Skydiving
Everest Skydive 2017

Everest Skydive 2017

You probably don’t know but Nepal is also the host of world’s highest skydiving adventure in the world. Yes, you have heard it right and this tiny Himalayan country is increasingly being a popular hub for extreme adventure seekers. The skydivers take leap from an AS350 B3 Helicopter at the height of 29500ft next to Everest and land at Syangboche Airport (12340ft) and Ama Dablam Base Camp (15,000ft). It gives the adventure aficionados the opportunity to get their names into the international record books and make history. The event takes place every year in October/November. After its continuous success, Everest Skydive company has also launched its Pokhara edition since 2103.

  1. Honey Hunting
Honey Hunter at Work (pic credit: The Guardian)

Honey Hunter at Work (pic credit: The Guardian)

Treacherous cliff, swarm of angry bees and just a dangling slender rope ladder to hold your life – can anyone think of any other act as extreme as this? This daring act is performed, every Spring and Autumn, by Gurung and Magar tribesmen of Annapurna region in a bid to harvest hallucinogenic honey of the giant Himalayan wild bees from their nests overhanging on the vertical rock faces. This practice is also found among other communities in lesser known areas like Dhading, Jharlang across Ganesh Himal and Arun Valley of Makalu Barun area. As this practice is carried out in an insanely extreme working condition by just using some primitive tools, it can be rightly called as a testament of the perseverance and fortitude that equals any death defying endurance feat. Honey hunting tour is all about witnessing this insanely unbelievable act which people are following for centuries.

  1. Shamanism Tour

Nepali Shamans (pic credit: presstv.com)

Nepal’s rich cultural heritage also includes Shamanic practices. This ancient healing practice is attracting many western scholars and practitioners nowadays. You can see the shamans in their séances, in their frenzies communicating with the other worlds and curing villagers. Such tours allow you to experience a different world of belief. You will not just see the miraculous performance of the shamans but also witness the unshakable belief of the villagers and their stories. Not something to be missed if you are interested in people and old age tradition.

  1. Volunteering

A group of volunteers from England with local students after a football match

Nepali is full of welcoming people. They are always open for intercultural interactions. Volunteering offers one of the best platforms to mingle with this ever welcoming people. It’s a two way learning process – you give your knowledge and take their insight. You can work in the areas like school education, health, community development, forest conservation, agriculture, culture preservation, fund raising and maintenance of the public/communal buildings. Volunteering is one of the best ways to travel responsibly where you are no more a guest but a community member!

  1. Visiting off-beat places
Beauty of Langtang Region

Beauty of Langtang Region

It is truly said about Nepal that “once is not enough”. It is a land of endless beauty. Be it the Game of thrones like landscape of Himalayan desert or rolling hills of tea gardens, there is much to offer than just the beauty of Everest and Annapurna. Places like Kanchanjungha, Makalu Barun, Rolwaling Valley, Dhaulagiri Region, Khaptad, Dhorpatan, Dolpo, Ilam, Langtang, Panch Pokhari, Rara, Nar Phu, Tsum Valley  etc are just few to name. These places are not less in beauty but offer more authentic experience of travelling as you can have the nature all by yourself without brushing your shoulders with others.

 

 

 

Everything You Want to Know before Everest Base Camp Trek

Posted Sep 2nd, 2018 under Photo Essay, Travel Guide, Trekking & Hiking,

Everyone knows Everest Base Camp trek is an ambitious adventure but with proper planning it’s not that intimidating. Trust us! After all, we are speaking with more than 20 years of experience.

Everest Base Camp Trek is normally a two-week trek with 10/11 of pure trekking days which starts and ends at Lukla. However, this can be extended with a side trip to Gokyo Lake. This way you can have the complete experience of “Trekking in Nepal” as the classic Everest Base Camp trek is all about going straight to the Base Camp and retracing back the same way, whereas the extended trip allows you a circuit and adds the adventure of Cho La Pass (5420m), a High Mountain Pass and Gokyo Lake (4750m), one of the highest freshwater lakes. In both cases, you get to see the kaleidoscopic beauty of magnificent mountains, amazing highland settlements and unique flora and fauna of Everest region. For more details on the itineraries and daily activities, you can go through https://www.explorehimalaya.com/packages/everest-base-camp-trek/ and https://www.explorehimalaya.com/packages/gokyo-kala-pattar-everest-base-camp-trek/.

Namche Bazaar (3450m), the trekkers’ hub of Everest Region

Trek to Everest Base Camp is well known for being one of the most adventurous treks, and some people even make it sound treacherous. However, the pleasure of comfort is not that unattainable if you are aware of certain things beforehand. Feed yourself with a bit of information, plan well and you are all set for this incredible journey! Below is a list of few things you need to know to make the most of this wonderful adventure.

Trek Type

Depending on your budget and interest, there are three ways of trekking in Nepal – GAP, TH and Fully organized camping trek. The most popular are GAP and TH. GAP includes Guide, Accommodation and Porter; whereas TH (teahouse) includes Guide, Accommodation, Porter and all meals. Fully organized camping trek is popular in remote areas only where there is no adequate accommodation facility, which naturally makes this type outdated in Everest region. So you can choose between GAP and TH. You can also be an independent traveler but it’s not recommended considering the geographical extremities and remoteness of the region.    

Trip Grade

Everest Base Camp Trek is rated as “Moderate to Fairly Challenging” trek. Physically quite tiring, it involves approx 6-8 hours trekking along rocky ridges of high Himalayan peaks. No previous experience is required. However, you should be moderately fit, used to some regular exercises and enjoy walking in the high altitude conditions.

Gokyo Lake

Climate and Weather Condition

Climate, as expected, is extreme in Everest region. So, travelling during winter (from December to February) is not recommended at all due to piling of snow in trails. During monsoon also (from mid May to mid-September), the weather is cloudy resulting in very poor visibility. The best seasons to trek to Everest region is Autumn (from mid-September till November end), and Spring (from the beginning of March until mid-May). Temperatures will drop considerably as you trek higher every day. The nights are cold (between -10 C to 5C) but the days are sunny and hot (between 10C to 20C). The mornings are usually clear, with clouds building up during the afternoon, disappearing at night.

 People 

Everest region, also known as Khumbu region is the home of Sherpas, the able bodied, hardy and fearless world-class mountaineers and high altitude guides. They emigrated from Tibet about 600 years ago. In the past they were traders and porters, carrying butter, meat, rice, sugar, and dye from India, and, wool, jewelry, salt Chinese silk and porcelain from Tibet and beyond. Now, most of them are involved in mountaineering expeditions and trekking. They are the ardent followers of Buddhism.

Altitude Sickness

The highest point of Everest Base Camp trek is Kala Patthar (5545m) and the trek starting point (Lukla) is 2800m. So Altitude sickness is a concern as it has the potential to affect all travelers from 2500m. It is caused by going up high too fast and can be fatal if the entire warning signals are ignored. Normally Everest Base Camp itinerary has gradual climb and the duration itself is short; hence, chances of AMS are not high. However, one needs to be careful and take all the necessary precautions.

Everest range as seen from Kala Patthar (5545m)

 Visa and Immigration

All visitors except the Indian nationals must hold passport and valid visa. Visa can be obtained at the Nepalese diplomatic missions and consulates abroad. Visa is also issued at the entry points. It can be extended at the Department of Immigration, Bhrikutimandap, Kathmandu. Children under 10 years need not pay any visa fee. People willing to get entry Visa at the air port or any of the land entry points are required to fill a visa form with passport photograph. For more information, please go to  http://www.nepalimmigration.gov.np/page/tourist-visa

Permit

Permit is mandatory while trekking in Nepal. For Everest Base Camp trek or any other trekking in Everest region, you need to get Sagarmatha National Park entry permit and a local permit card. Sagarmatha National Park entry permit (NPR 3000 per person) can be obtained at the park entrance gate at Monjo. However, it is better to get from Nepal Tourism Board in Kathmandu just in case the Monjo point goes through some technical problems. You also need to get a local entry permit at Lukla (NPR 2000 per person). Previously you had to take TIMS card, which is replaced by the local entry permit. Have the copies of your passport ready for both.     

Health

Consult your doctor at least 2 months prior to your trip. Let your doctor know about the area you are travelling to. It is especially important if you have ever suffered from altitude sickness, or have a heart or breathing complaint. If you are travelling with a travel agency, normally your team carries a medical kit with standard prescribed medicines along with a users’ manual which you can use upon your own risk. It’s better to carry your own personal first aid kit.

A female Himalayan Tahr

Insurance

A travel insurance which covers cancellation, medical expenses, helicopter evacuation and emergency repatriation is a MUST if you are trekking in Nepal.

 Luggage

During trek your main luggage will be carried by porters or pack animals (usually yaks or cross breeds). You simply carry a day pack with water bottle, camera, sun-screen, spare jacket, etc. – a small load that allows full enjoyment of the trek. A trek bag is ideal for your main luggage, plus a small lockable bag for anything that you do not need during your trek which you can leave at hotel’s locker room/safe deposit box in Kathmandu.

Trekking Gears

You don’t have to spend a fortune on this. Just be rational on your choice. Please visit https://www.explorehimalaya.com/2018/07/23/trekking-gear-list-for-everest-base-camp-trek/ for a complete list.

Clothing

As geographical variation is very wide, you should go with layering style. While trekking in Everest region during the day at lower altitudes, lightweight trekking trousers and T-shirts are recommended. It’s always a good idea to carry a waterproof jacket and some warmer clothing with you as mountain weather is notoriously unpredictable. For the cold nights, thermal underwear, a warm fleece jacket and even a down jacket will help to keep you warm. Good shoes are of great importance. For more info on clothing, please go to https://www.explorehimalaya.com/2018/07/23/trekking-gear-list-for-everest-base-camp-trek/

Weight allowance

In Nepal’s domestic airlines the weight allowance is 15 Kgs. Excess weight is chargeable about USD 1.5 or more per Kilo depending on sectors.

A Chorten at Phortse

Accommodation

Trekking in Everest region doesn’t need tremendous logistics in terms of accommodation as you will find plenty of clean and friendly lodges along the trail. You stay in single rooms where possible, but often you will have to share. Rooms are basic, normally just a bed with a pillow and blankets. So a sense of adventure is required. In Kathmandu, you can find a wide range of star rated hotels.  

 Food and Water

You can find a considerable variety of Nepali and Western food as well as drinks (coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks, and beer) along the Everest Base Camp trail. You can also buy bottled water in local lodges and shops. However, it’s a sensible thing to bring water purification pills.

Transport

The starting point of Everest Base Camp trek is in Lukla which is connected by a 30 min flight from Kathmandu. For ground transfers, travel companies use private vehicles like car, van, hiace and coaster bus depending on the size of the group. You can also find public transports like bus, taxi and micro van in Kathmandu. However, they are often crowded, slow and uncomfortable (but very cheap).

 Personal Expenses

You can expect to spend around 2500-3000 Rupees a day for your basic food and snacks (excluding accommodation and transportation as they vary widely depending on the level of service). Tips are appreciated by your support team after the trip. The amount depends on your budget and appreciation of their work. You can allocate 5- 10 % of the total tour cost as tips.

A local hotel

Communication

There are a plenty of telephone facilities in the Everest region. Cell phones work throughout the trek in Everest Region. However, keep in mind that it can’t be as smooth as in lowlands. If it is crucial for you to keep in contact with your family or others, you can get a rental satellite phone if necessary.

 Money Exchange

Money exchange is not a problem in Kathmandu. You can find many local certified moneychangers. But same can’t be expected during trek. The facility is available only in major stopovers like Lukla, Namche etc. Card payment (Visa, MasterCard, JCB and American Express) is also widely accepted in tourist- class hotels, restaurants and shops in Kathmandu. During trek, be prepared to pay in cash as it is accepted in major stopovers only.   

Responsible Travel

Travelling is not just about what you get, it is also about what you leave. Try to leave positive impact behind. Respect the mountains, its fragile environment and the local culture. Choose the responsible service providers only. Go through “Dos and Donts in Nepal” thoroughly before travelling to Nepal.

 

 

 

 

Gai Jatra, a Unique Festival to Commemorate the Deceased!

Posted Aug 27th, 2018 under Culture & Festivals,

Gai Jatra, a unique festival of Nepal, does not normally make it to the list of unusual festivals round the world. But it has every reason to be one of them! In a simple way we can describe it as a festival to commemorate the dead family members- something not that unusual. But can you think of a funny parade in weird clothes and having all sorts of merry making to memorize the deceased ones? Definitely not! That’s why Gai Jatra is said to be one of its kind!

an effigy of a deceased one

Life and deaths are the only absolute truths of life. People celebrate life, but same cannot be said about Death. The very idea of death fills everyone with fear and grief. In case of beloved ones, it’s beyond imagination. However, the people of Kathmandu Valley are not only master at accepting death, but also expert at celebrating it in the liveliest way. After all, death is as true as life itself!

Gai Jatra is one of such festivals which is celebrated to commemorate death. Gai Jatra which literally means “Cow Festival”, is celebrated by Newar community of Kathmandu Valley in the month of Bhadra according to Nepal Sambat calendar. This year it falls on 27th of August. Normally, it’s a parade festival in which the family whose member has died during that year takes out the procession in the street. They either decorate a cow or dress themselves as cow and make round in the neighboring vicinity. People also line up and distribute food and drink to the participants of the procession. However, the procession is just one of the main rituals of the whole event. The procession is both preceded and followed by other ritualistic activities.

Family members of the deceased taking part in the parade (pic credit: istock.com)

Before the procession, the participant family observes solemn ritual which strictly needs to be scared. Every item used needs to be clean and participant needs to go through ablution and other sacred rituals prior to the day. The participants are normally pre-pubescent boys or girls who have not gone through Bratabandha and Bel Bibaha rituals. When the procession time gets close, they become ready. They put on red or yellow brocade/silk gown and have a head gear made of a picture of cow and a horn-like paper decoration. The colorful and attractive dressing is complimented by marigold garlands, Elaeocarpus beads or other types of accessories.  Some get dressed as different Gods.  When the procession time is ready which is an auspicious time fixed by the priest, every participating family gathers in a chowk, from where the procession starts. The procession also includes other people in funny dresses with comedy acts similar to cosplaying in carnivals. The participants are offered different kinds of foods during their walk. After they make round of the town, they conclude at a riverside where they dispose their decorations and return back to their respective homes. Then after, the participant families have a big feast.

Two Lakhes, the mythical demons, performing in the street of Kathmandu Durbar Square

This is a just a brief outline of the festival. Different communities have some additions of their own. Like Gai Jatra in Bhaktapur has a chariot parade as well. Youths are also involved in stick dancing hitting each other’s sticks. This street show lasts for a week till Krishna Astami. In Kirtipur, all interested people of the city engage in street dancing wearing weird costumes. Outside the Valley, Newari people celebrate it with their own local uniqueness. Though they have some differences in ways, the overarching theme is to commemorate the dead ones, pray for their peace and honor “Yama”, the God of Death. Another interesting side of Gai Jatra is, it is not just limited to religious celebrations only. It is also considered as the social observation for joke, laughter and public satire. On this particular day, people are free to make outrageous public satire to the authorities and artists, especially comedians have their big day with different kinds of entertaining programs that run for more than a week. The idea of fun and comedy is so deeply connected with the festival that the word “Gai jatra” is also used in local parlance while referring to any chaotic funny situation. The most recent addition to this festival is the pompous parade of LGBTI community with all the fanfare. They take this festival as an opportunity to freely express themselves.   

Young girls and boys performing stick dance in Kathmandu Durbar Square

How these two extremely conflicting ideas of commemorating death and making fun come together has an interesting story which also gave birth to this festival. Pratap Malla, a medieval King of Kathmandu had a misfortune once. His son had an untimely death because of which his queen became grief-stricken. Despite the King’s several attempts to comfort her, her grief was not lessened. So, to make her realize the absolute truth of life, he announced a carnival in which the families whose members had died that year should participate. He also declared reward for those who could make the Queen laugh. Naturally, a huge number of people participated as death is a normal thing in any family. This made the queen realize the fact that she was not the only one who had the misfortune. In addition, all the humorous acts and caricatures made her laugh. As the idea worked perfectly, the King established it as an annual festival which is continued as a tradition till date. By now, this festival has passed more than four hundred years. However, with the growing complexities and miseries in people’s life, it is increasingly being  more and more relevant year by year.

Naga Panchami, the Festival of Snakes

Posted Aug 16th, 2018 under Culture & Festivals, Photo Essay,

Any snake lover here? Never mind, you can simply be a curious kind and still get insights and enjoy “Naga Panchami”, one of the interesting festivals of Nepal.

A vendor selling the posters of “Nagas”

Nepali calendar is full of religiosity and festivities. If you are in Nepal, especially in Kathmandu; and stumble into one of the religious celebrations, that’s quite normal. That’s how things work in the Valley especially from August onwards. Out of this myriad festivals in Nepal, Naga Panchami, a unique festival dedicated to the Nagas, is one of them. Naga Panchami, a Hindu festival, falls on the fifth day of bright half of lunar month (Sukla Pakshya) of Shrawan (July/August). This year, it falls on 16th of August. Naga means Snake and Panchami means the fifth day tithi on which the festival falls. Every Nepali household that celebrates the festival pastes a picture of the Nagas at their main door using dubo (scientific name Cynodon dactylon) and cow dung to ward off evil spirits. People also visit Naga temples near to their place. During the puja, they offer milk or a white liquid made from rice paste, barley, black sesame, flowers, vermilion powder, incense etc. and ask blessings from the Nagas for their protection and prosperity.

Naga Panchami Celebration at Naga Pokhari, Kathmandu

Like any of the oldest religions of the world, Hinduism also has Snakes as one of the most recurring motifs. According to the Hindu myth, Snakes are the sons of Kasyap (Son of Brahma, the Creator) and Kadroo, one of his thirteen wives, making the Nagas sibling of Gods and Asuras, the demon race. They live in Patal Lok, the underworld, one of the seven worlds; protecting gems, gold and other treasures which Patal Lok is full of. Not only in Patal, they also live in water bodies like river, lake, spring etc. Lord Vishnu often reclines on serpent coils while resting in Cosmic Ocean, and Shiva wears Vashuki, the King of Nagas, around his neck. In a way, Hindu myths and iconography are  incomplete without the reference of Nagas either in abstract or concrete form.  

A local selling posters of “Nagas” at Ason

So, they have a special honorary order in Hindu pantheon, and are especially remembered as the giver of rain, wealth and protection from illnesses, which is why there is a special festival in their honor. There are many myths on the origin of this festival however. One of the popular tales relates the story from Mahabharat, one of the important epics of the Hindus. Once Janamejaya, the valiant Kuru king (the great grandson of Arjun, the epic warrior hero of Mahabharat), performed Sarpa Satra  Yagya to wipe out all snakes as a revenge of his father Parikshit’s death caused by the bite of Takshaha, the King of Nagas. However, the Yagya was stopped in middle due to the intervention and convincing of Astik, a young Brahmin, whose mother was a Naga. After that, Janamageya had a peaceful accord with them and all the snakes were let free. It was the same day, the fifth day of Sukla Pakshya, which is marked as the day for worshipping the Nagas. Another story from Mahabharat says that the festival has been started after Lord Krishna defeated Kalia Naag, who was terrorizing people.

Poster of “Naga” pasted at the main door

There are some local stories popular in the Valley as well. As per a myth, Kathmandu Valley was once a big lake and the abode of many Nagas. After the water was drained out for human habitation by Manjushree, one of the Boddhisatwas, the Nagas became angry because of their displacement. Then, humans offered them certain areas and started to worship to appease them, which continued as a tradition till date. There are many stories behind the celebration of this unique festival. Whatever the beliefs are, one truth is singular that Nagas are revered as a respectable companion and guardian in Hinduism, which actually makes a complete sense if we are talking about the harmony of our beautiful Earth with every species.   

Offerings for Puja: Milk, Incense sticks, Nag Poster, Barley, Black Sesame Seeds, Vermilion Powder, Kesari etc

   

 

 

Human Capacity Building Program organized by PATA and Nepal Tourism Board  

Posted Aug 15th, 2018 under Tourism News,

 

PATA Human Capacity Building Programme themed “Explore the Art of Storytelling” was jointly organized by Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) and Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) on 13th and 14th August 2018 at Hotel Himalaya, Lalitpur. The 2-day program, which was one of the initiatives of PATA to enhance the skills of tourism industry professionals, was delivered by key speakers Dr. Mario Hardy, CEO – PATA; Stu Lloyd, an award winning professional story teller, writer and Chief Hothead – Hotheads Innovation; Choy Teh, PR Manager – Bannikins; and David Fiedler, Partner and Creative Director – Singular Foundry. Altogether 65 participants from travel and tourism sector of Nepal including the professionals, government officials and media attended the program.

Stu Lloyd – Chief Hothead, Hotheads Innovation, Hong Kong SAR

David Fiedler – Partner and Creative Director, Singular Foundry, Canada

Choy Teh – PR Manager, Bannikins

The programme that was focused on the basics, tools and importance of storytelling had a series of intensive interaction and practical activities. On the first day, the programme started with an opening addressing by Dr. Hardy highlighting the need of storytelling in the exponential growth of tourism. The speech was, then, followed by Workshop Session conducted by the travel industry experts Mr. Lloyd and Ms. Teh. The second day had two sessions by Mr. Fiedler on “Building Empathy into Great Storytelling” and “Singular Purpose”. He presented a new case for empathy in Marketing Communications and conducted group activities on how to uncover and develop an authentic purpose statement of a company. The second half of the day had a concluding session where Mr. Lloyd wrapped the two day activities and Dr. Hardy provided some insights to Startups and Entrepreneurs for bringing about remarkable innovations in tourism sector.  The programme concluded with a certificate distribution session in which Mr. Deepak Prasad Joshi, CEO – Nepal Tourism Board and Dr. Mario Hardy, CEO – PATA jointly handed over the certificates to all the participants. In his closing remark, Mr. Joshi extended gratitude to all the facilitators and PATA members for their immense support. The programme was hailed as successful by the participants. “The programme has exceeded my expectations as I have learned the magic of storytelling. I hope the skills I have got is sure to enhance my professionalism in days to come,” said Santosh Basnyat, one of the participants from Smartly Yours.

Dr. Mario Hardy – CEO, PATA

Participants from Explore Himalaya Group (from left to right: Santosh Basnyat, Rokesh Sharma, Arun Karki and Menuka Gurung)

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