What makes Nepal a unique country to travel to?
Nepal is a developing country with extensive tourist facilities, which vary widely in quality and price. The capital is Kathmandu. Nepal ended a ten-year Maoist insurgency in November 2006 and established an interim government in January 2007. Since that time, the major political parties have been unable to come to an agreement on a new constitution. This stalemate has created an environment of political uncertainty. However a caretaker government is in place and the major political parties continue to negotiate to resolve this constitutional crisis.
Although still relatively low, crime in Kathmandu and throughout the country has risen in some categories and declined in others. In a number of recent cases, criminals were found to have used sophisticated scams to commit crimes, particularly in Kathmandu. In addition, there continue to be reports of robberies, burglaries, and sexual assaults involving foreigners, including in the popular tourist districts of Thamel and Bouddha in Kathmandu. Police also report that foreigners have from time to time had sedative drugs placed in their food or drink by individuals who seek to rob or otherwise take advantage of them. Visitors should avoid walking alone after dark, especially in areas experiencing power cuts, and should avoid carrying large sums of cash or wearing expensive jewelry.
In addition, visitors should consider exchanging money only at banks and hotels. There have been several reported incidents in which tourists have had their belongings stolen from their hotel rooms while they were asleep or away from their room. Valuables should be stored in the hotel safety deposit box and should never be left unattended in hotel rooms. Travelers should be especially alert at or near major tourist sites, including the Thamel district of Kathmandu, where pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are most common. It is recommended that passports and cash be carried in a protected neck pouch or money belt, not in a backpack or handbag.
Visitors to Nepal should also be vigilant against various scams. One of the most prevalent involves a request to carry jewelry to a business contact in another country. This scam often results in the unsuspecting tourist being forced to withdraw large sums of cash from his or her bank account and creates the risk of further penalties at the border. Please also see the section on Special Circumstances below regarding scams suffered by individuals coming to Nepal to volunteer at orphanages or other organizations. Nepali police forces have limited resources and lack sufficient manpower to effectively enforce law and order, as well as to pursue claims of fraud or petty crime. Their services are not up to Western standards. Many cases reported to the police remain unresolved.
Criminal activity in the Terai, the southern plains region of Nepal bordering India, remain at levels higher than the country as a whole. In the Terai, criminal groups sometimes extort funds and kidnap people, although this activity generally is not directed at U.S. citizens. Extortion tactics used by armed groups in the region include assault, vandalism, and low-level IED attacks.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Purchase of bootlegged goods is illegal in the United States, and may be illegal as well under local law. Do not agree to carry or store any packages from a stranger. There have been instances in which the packages concealed contraband material or drugs, and the foreigner who accepted the package was arrested by police for possessing the illegal substance.
While you are traveling in Nepal, you are subject to its laws. Foreign laws and legal systems are vastly different from our own. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you do not have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. These criminal penalties will vary from country to country. There are also some things that might be legal in Nepal, but still illegal in the United States. Keep in mind that you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods in Nepal and bring them back to the United States. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country are crimes prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Nepal, your U.S. passport will not help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It is very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Under the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, bilateral agreements with certain countries, and customary international law, if you are arrested in Nepal, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu and to have communications from you forwarded to the Embassy.
As many as twenty major languages are spoken with many different dialects. The Nepali language is related to Hindi, which is the official language.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
Medical care in Nepal is extremely limited and is generally not up to Western standards. Typical travel medical complaints can be addressed by the clinics in Kathmandu and some surgeries can be performed in the capital. However, serious illnesses often require evacuation to the nearest adequate medical facility (New Delhi, Singapore, or Bangkok). Illnesses and injuries suffered while hiking in remote areas often require evacuation by helicopter to Kathmandu. Those trekking in remote areas of Nepal should factor the high cost of a potential helicopter rescue into their financial considerations. Travelers are recommended to purchase medical evacuation insurance as medical evacuations can cost thousands of dollars and payment will be expected in cash before the medevac can take place if there is no insurance coverage. There is minimal mental health care available in Nepal. U.S. citizens with mental health problems are generally stabilized and transported to the United States or to another regional center for care. The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu maintains a list of local medical facilities.
Stray dogs are common on the streets of Kathmandu. Visitors should be aware that stray dogs and monkeys may be infected with rabies. Any animal bites should be carefully handled and immediately brought to a medical practitioner’s attention.
Medical facilities are often overwhelmed due to insufficient resources. Emergency medical services are of poor quality compared to that available in the United States. Food hygiene and sanitary food handling practices are uncommon in Nepal and precautions should be taken to prevent water and food-borne illnesses.
Safety and Security
Fueled by an unstable political environment, there are periodic small-scale improvised explosive device (IED) incidents throughout the country and youth wings of political parties continue to engage in violent extortion efforts.
Bandhs (General Strikes):"Bandhs" (forced closure of businesses and schools and halting of vehicular traffic) occur in Nepal frequently and are commonly used as a form of political agitation. Bandhs tend to be unpredictable, may include violent incidents, and may take place without any prior notice. In past years, bandhs have lasted for periods as short as a few hours to as long as several days or even weeks, causing acute shortages of daily food supplies and bringing vehicular traffic to a complete halt. Individuals who do not comply with a bandh may be harassed by bandh organizers. In the past year, bandhs have been most frequent in the Terai, with fewer significant bandhs in the Kathmandu Valley. Bandhs in the principal trekking areas are infrequent but do occur from time to time. Although bandh activity generally is not directed at foreign travelers, tourists attempting to defy bandhs may be subject to intimidation and/or violence.
During bandhs, U.S. citizens are urged to avoid all unnecessary travel. If travel is necessary, you can check with the U.S. Embassy, with local police by dialing “100,” or with traffic control by dialing “103.” The police can advise which routes and forms of transportations are advisable to use. If you are planning air travel to or from Nepal during scheduled bandhs, be aware that transportation to and from airports throughout Nepal could be affected, although bandh organizers often allow passage of specially marked buses operated by the Nepal Tourism Board to circulate between the airport and major tourist hotels. Consult the U.S. Embassy website for security-related messages for U.S. citizens, as well as the Nepal Ministry of Tourism for the latest security information.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Nepal is provided for general reference only and may not apply in every situation.
In Nepal, vehicles are driven on the left-hand side of the road. Travel via road in areas outside the Kathmandu Valley remains dangerous. In general, roads in Nepal are in poor condition and lack basic safety features, resulting in significant numbers of accidents and fatalities. Deaths from motorcycle accidents have risen dramatically in recent years and U.S. citizens should consider avoiding riding motorcycles in Nepal, particularly on highways. It is dangerous to travel on the roof of buses as live electrical and other communications wires hang low in many places. Traffic police also impose fines and detain individuals for riding on the roof of buses. Long-distance buses often drive recklessly and bus accidents involving multiple fatalities are not uncommon.
Visitors throughout Nepal, including in Kathmandu, are encouraged to use metered taxis and avoid public buses and microbuses. Many taxi drivers will refuse to use the meter, insisting on negotiating the price instead. In addition, there have been instances of taxi drivers tampering with the meters in an attempt to charge higher than normal fares. If you believe that you are being overcharged, you may wish to file a complaint with the traffic police on the street or at the nearest local police station.
In the Kathmandu Valley, traffic jams are common on major streets, particularly between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. as most offices in Kathmandu are open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Traffic is poorly regulated, and the volume of vehicles on the roads continues to increase faster than improvements in infrastructure. Many drivers are neither properly licensed nor trained, vehicles are poorly maintained, and public vehicles are often overloaded. Sidewalks are nonexistent in many areas and many drivers do not yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in marked crosswalks. A road expansion project, begun in earnest in 2012, has left considerable debris along many roads in Kathmandu. Pedestrians are forced either to walk over the debris, or walk into the roadway to avoid it. Pedestrians account for a considerable portion of all traffic fatalities in Nepal.