Nepal should top any outdoor traveler’s list of places to visit: its whitewater is unparalleled, there are hundreds of miles of singletrack, it’s home to the most famous mountains in the world, and the people are super friendly. If Kathmandu is the next place on your itinerary, check out these tips for making your trip go smoothly.
It’s unavoidable: you will get sick in Nepal. Everyone gets sick (even locals), but this shouldn’t deter you from visiting. An easy preventative measure is taking activated charcoal, which absorbs poison. I took two tablets a day, per the instructions on the bottle, and it seemed to work. I also used a lot of hand sanitizer, which is a great thing to carry in your pocket, especially because some bathrooms don’t have soap. When you do get sick, it’s nice to have antibiotics on hand, so ask your doctor to write a prescription before you leave the States.
Water is one of the most common vectors for illness in Nepal, but there are a number of ways to make sure your water is clean. Bottled water seems like the best option, but discarded bottles add to the country’s growing problem with pollution. Instead, carry a SteriPen or purification drops, like diluted bleach solution.
In Nepal, not all hands are created equal: your left is for use in the bathroom and your right is for everything else. This is especially important when you’re handling money, whether you’re paying or receiving change. If you want to be extra-polite, touch your left hand to your right elbow.
Most people in Nepal eat with their right hand, rather than using a fork. When you eat at a restaurant, you’ll usually be offered a fork, but it speaks volumes if you use your hand instead. In addition to being more efficient, eating with your hand shows that you’re respectful of the tradition. I won’t lie, the first time I ate with my hand was a challenge, mostly because it’s so taboo in America. But once I got used to it, I never asked for a fork again.
This goes against the advice that most people will give because the easiest way to keep from getting sick is to eat at clean restaurants. But I think you miss out on a lot if you avoid local places. Nepal has a bustling tourist district (Thamel) where you can eat food from any country in the world, or where you can eat overpriced dal bhat (the local dish of rice and lentils). I usually ate lunch with my co-worker, who brought me to more than a few questionable-looking restaurants. But the food was always delicious and I never got food poisoning from our ventures. If you’re unsure where to go, ask where your guides like to eat out and give those places a try.
Kathmandu, and Thamel in particular, has a lot of children who beg for money on the street. It’s hard to walk past and ignore their begging, but it’s the best thing to do. Frequently, the kids are collecting money for an adult, which means they rarely see any of the money you give them. Instead, your gift makes the problem worse. If you want to make a difference, donate to a reputable INGO, such as Just One.
This is good advice regardless where you’re traveling, but is especially useful to remember while in Nepal, where the weather reigns and things take longer than expected. I met a man who spent eight consecutive days in the airport, waiting for a flight to Lukla that just kept getting cancelled. Things never go as planned in Nepal, but that’s what makes it an adventure.