Nepal is a country 900km long by 250km wide sandwiched between India and China. It is famous for the world's highest mountains, its tough mountain people and its equally tough soldiers, the gurkhas who fought with the British army. But it is also one of the poorest countries in the world and has also been through turbulent times with civil war that ended in 2006 and the death of the entire royal family in 2001. The new republic of Nepal is trying to rebuild itself - road building and hydro electric schemes are very visible and tourists are flooding back into the country to trek and enjoy the fabulous mountain scenery. However the people are still dependent on large numbers of Nepalis working in the Gulf states and Malaysia and sending money home each month.
We travelled to Nepal at the beginning of May which is the beginning of summer and before the monsoons arrive in June/July. The temperature in Kathmandu was around 18-20C - hotter in the sunshine and a bit cooler at night. We did have quite a bit of rain too - with some heavy storms at night. September-November is the most popular time to visit when it is cooling down and the skies are clear. There are also several festivals at this time. Feb-Mar is also popular in the Spring. We were not bothered by the altitude as Kathmandu is at about 1350m and Tumlingtar in the valley bottom at around 550m - although some of the villages around in the mountains were at 2200m.
There are many options for flying to Nepal. We took a 4hr flight from Qatar - a frequent route due to all the migrant workers. Domestic flights can be more interesting with the weather frequently resulting in cancelled flights. When we got to the domestic terminal for our flight all of the earlier flights to the mountains were cancelled and the one to Tumlingtar is often cancelled as well as the pilots need clear weather to fly in through the mountains to land. The large numbers of trekkers travelling to Pokhara seemed to be getting away pretty easily. Note that the local flights are not the world's safest but ours got us there in one piece.
Getting around in town was pretty easy by the plentiful taxis. These are often small, battered Maruti Suzukis from India - there is a huge import duty on vehicles so most of the cars come from India. We never saw a cab use its meter and generally agreed the fare - from NR250 to NR500 before we got in. In the country it is impossible to travel without a 4x4 as the roads are super challenging - river crossings and near verticle mud banks!
As we are on a working trip we do not seek out fancy hotels. Our hotel in Kathmandu was "Mums Home" at the southern end of Thamel. Down a narrow alley it turned out to be friendly and clean. Our room on our first visit was tired but the second was spacious and newly decorated. At USD34 per night including breakfast it was also very affordable. The wifi worked well and the power stayed on!
Out in the countryside things are a bit different. I am sure that there are plenty of good hotels in Pokhara but the towns and villages in the Eastern hills are pretty basic. The Makalu resort hotel was the best available in Tumlingtar. The food was good and there was a pretty garden but our room was challenging - the bed was a board with a thin mattress and the bathroom was dirty and dingy with a scary gas powered shower hanging on the wall. It did have a generator to handle the frequent power cuts and the wifi worked albeit slowly.
The most common meal in Nepal is Daal Bhaat - a mix of lentils, vegetables and rice. We ate this quite a few times with a bit of chicken mixed in and a spicy vegetable curry on the side. We also had some tasty Nepali thali (see below left) and deep fried chicken pieces with a spicy dip. For lunch we ate a lot of momos - tibetan dumplings, chicken or vegetable, with a spicy sauce (below right). Very good and always made fresh. We had fresh fruit (tasty mangos were in season) and omelettes for breakfast. Bottled water is easy to get - the tea was also fine although we struggled to get it without sugar on occasions. Local beer is good (Everest, Gorka and Tuborg) although not cheap out in the countryside at around USD9 per bottle. USD3-4 in town!
We took US dollars with us and you can use them in Kathmandu. There are plenty of ATMs which we used to get Nepali rupees - you are charged a USD4 or 5 commission on a USD100 withdrawal. There are just over 100 rupees to the US Dollar. Out in the countryside you can only use rupees. A challenge like in similar countries is getting small notes - a 1000 or 500 rupee note from the ATM is not welcomed if you are paying NR30 for a cup of tea!
We found multi-format electrical fittings everywhere we stayed. These take US, European and Indian plugs. We even found one that took a UK square pin. Mobile phones also worked fine although at rest of world rates, roaming is not cheap. There was 4G in Kathmandu and 3G or slower in the countryside.
The map above gives a general impression of where we went. For some reason Tumlingtar is not shown but it is a bit south of Khandbari near the centre. The inset shows where this is relative to Nepal as a whole.
Lastly we had hoped to get a view of Everest but this was challenging due to the clouds. On a few evenings we had seen huge peaks behind the nearer hills to the North and North East - one of these may have been Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest peak which is in the North East corner of the country. To the North West of us was Makalu, another 8000m+ peak. Flying back to Kathmandu we broke above the clouds and saw a huge peak also reaching above the clouds (below). Everest perhaps?