I Can Feel Nepal Calling Me Back


SITTING CROSS-LEGGED on the carpet beside a smiling senior monk, I take photos of him and others as they chant deeply during their early morning puja ceremony, high in the Himalayas of Nepal.

Each time I take a photo of the monk, he leans over to see his image on the screen and grins cheekily, all the while continuing his chant, never breaking the spell.

Right up close to the Tibetan border in the Tsum Valley, after sharing breakfast and conversation with the five old yet energised guardian monks of Mu Gompa, I feel surprisingly at home. These are experiences I will treasure for a long time to come.

Nepal has captured my heart, and now that I’ve moved away, it continues to call me back. The landscapes, the culture and the smiling faces are just a few reasons to love this country. Let me show you some of the others.

Four of the old guardian monks of Mu Gompa – Tsum Valley.

When I arrived in Nepal in mid 2015 I bought an old motorbike and began to explore. Evidence of the earthquakes that devastated the country three months earlier was everywhere. One of the places I visited, Mu Gompa, a Tibetan buddhist monastery high in the Himalayas, had sent all of it’s novice monks to Kathmandu to study until the monastery was properly repaired. Remaining behind to look after the monastery were five wise, yet lively old monks – including the monk who laughed at his photos during the morning puja, seen here on the left.

A young girl laughs as she carries her rooster up the trail – Gorkha Region.

I think the thing that visitors remember the most about Nepal, is the people. At least that’s how it is for me. The smiles, the jokes, the Namastes! Here, a nine-year-old girl carries her family’s rooster and a pink umbrella as she walks with her father and younger brother along a riverside trail in the Gorkha region. Slightly nervous of the camera she exchanges laughter with her father as he carries an impressive load up the trail below.

A young boy poses with bow and arrow – Samagaon Village.

Some of the people I met could appear a little fierce at first, but once we exchanged greetings and shared a laugh, their kind hearts would quickly be revealed. The strap on this young boy’s mask broke not long after this shot was taken, resulting in some frustrated tears. A hasty repair, a smile reinstated, and we were invited into his family’s house for tea – a salty hot tea made with yak butter and tea leaves.

The old Lo Palace in Tsarang – Upper Mustang.

The Upper Mustang region, or Kingdom of Lo, was only opened for trekking in 1992 and the landscape there takes the breath away. A high mountain desert, the valley sits in a cleft between some of the highest peaks in the world, yet receives almost no rain and snow. Here, the old Lo palace in Tsarang stands in the evening sun, blending into the landscape beyond. The golden morning and evening light of such a high altitude, culturally rich environment makes for a photographer’s paradise.

Clouds drift across snowy cliffs below the Larke Pass – Manaslu Circuit.

Epic mountain views are one of the highlights of trekking in Nepal and while the best photos are usually had on clear sunny days, sometimes snow clouds can add a little extra grandeur to the already awe-inspiring peaks. This shot was taken just after dawn below the Larke Pass (5,106m/16,752 ft) on the Manaslu Circuit. After we crossed the pass we met the expedition manager of the Dutch Marines attempt to summit Manaslu (the 8th highest mountain in the world), who told us that if we’d loved what we’d just done, we should definitely look to cross from the Upper Mustang to the Nar Phu Valley north of the Annapurna circuit, via the 6000m+ Saribung Pass.

Mother, daughters and their three-legged dog head to the Yarsagumba harvest – Tsum Valley.

A mother and her two daughters, accompanied by their energetic three-legged dog, head to the Yarsagumba harvest, doko (baskets) packed high with all the supplies they need for two months at high elevation. During May and June, many mountain-dwelling Nepalis head to higher elevations, often between 4000-5000m (13000-16000ft) to search for Yarsagumba, a bizarre combination of worm and fungus that can fetch up to $25,000 USD/kilo on the Chinese market. The fungus germinates inside the living worm, killing it, and then a stalk-like fruiting body emerges from the corpse. Revered in Chinese medicine for its ability to cure many ills and apparently increase libido, the resulting plant/fungus is highly valuable. During this May/June harvest period, most able-bodied people will head high into the mountains as part of the gold rush, leaving schools closed and only the very young and very old to look after the villages and livestock.

An old woman poses quietly for her photo – Fishling.

I met this beautiful old woman at a roadside stop between Kathmandu and Pokhara. She took her job of being photographed very seriously but was all smiles and laughter while talking with us before and after. She wears a nose ring, a traditional adornment to indicate marriage for women of her region. I didn’t ask how old she was but I’m certain she’s seen some dramatic change in Nepal over the course of her life. Her warm presence and the lines of her story etched on her face will stick in my mind for a long time to come.

Winnie the pooh sits amongst earthquake devastation – Langtang Valley.

It’s impossible to talk about my time in Nepal without mentioning the earthquake at least a few times. The destruction was truly devastating to see but watching the Nepali people pick themselves back up and begin the rebuilding, despite the government’s gross ineffectiveness, was an amazing thing to witness. As we trekked into remote regions it was very common to see a teahouse or school being rebuilt, often with the help of an aid organisation and almost always after materials had been carried in for many days by local porters. This shot was taken at a small hamlet just above Langtang Village, which was tragically and entirely destroyed by a landslide.

A local woman unloads supplies from a helicopter – Kyanjin Gompa.

For the most remote of communities, aid organisations and local people would often find it easier and more efficient to fly in supplies by helicopter. Here a woman from Kyanjin Gompa village carries a sack of supplies from an early morning helicopter arrival. We witnessed the arrival of helicopters in several different locations and it always caused excitement in the village, people would hear the rotor noise, quickly grab a doko or carry strap and run to the landing site to help unload. It was also much more common than I expected to see trekkers with altitude sickness being taken back to Kathmandu on the return flight.

Boudhanath Stupa following late afternoon rain – Boudhanath, Kathmandu.

Boudhanath is my favourite part of Kathmandu, home to a large community of Tibetan refugees and Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, with the central point being a very large and beautiful stupa. It can be a great place to escape the madness of the Kathmandu streets – horns honking, sellers hawking, and rickshaw bells ringing, from dawn to dusk. The stupa was unfortunately badly damaged by the earthquake, but repairs are well under way and it will hopefully be back to its former glory before too long. This photo was taken as local people do their ‘kora’, a clockwise circumambulation of the stupa said to help accrue merit in this life and those to come. Circle Street cafe, tucked up inside one of the buildings beside the stupa was one of my favourite places to drink coffee and work away on my laptop for the morning.

A young boy peers curiously at the camera – Samagaon Village.

This curious little guy was very interested in my camera as I took his photo. Children in Nepal, as everywhere, love to see their photos on the camera’s screen and often try to swipe left or right to see what’s next, just as they would on their parent’s smartphones. The clothing he wears is called a Chuba, a traditional yak wool cloak, designed to help deal with the fiercely cold winters experienced at that altitude. The village where he lives, Samagaon, sits at 3390m (11122ft) above sea level and can easily drop below -20°C/-4°F during winter.

Young women rest before work in the early morning – Samagaon Village.

Nepalis will often travel far from home to find work, and stay away from home for long periods before returning with their hard earned rupees. These four young women walked at a similar rate to us for three days of the Manaslu Circuit, searching for labouring work repairing earthquake-damaged houses higher in the valley. Our porters were fascinated by them, but it wasn’t at all clear that the feeling was reciprocated. Here, they look out into the early morning light from their night’s accommodation in the village of Samagaon.

White horses rest after a hard days climb – Tsum Valley.

Horses, donkey, yaks, and human porters ply the tracks and pathways of the roadless areas of Nepal, helping to transport impressively large loads of supplies and equipment from one village to the next. It’s common to make way for a train of donkeys and horses, or even more impressive – large, lumbering yaks, as you trek high into the Himalaya. These beautiful white horses were resting outside a monastery in Tsum Valley, clearly hoping the monks inside had something sweet to offer.

Children stop for a photo while carrying firewood down the trail – Gorkha Region.

Child labour is a real issue in Nepal and children will often be enlisted to help with the family from a young age. These children carry firewood back to their village in the Gorkha region. They seem happy with the work, but it also means they are rarely in school. “Namaste chocolate” was a common expression to hear on the trekking trail, with young kids popping their heads up over stone walls in the hopes of scoring some melted chocolate from the trekkers passing through. Laughing and playing with children on the trail and teaching them to use my camera made for endless highlights.

A monkey walks through the sunset at Swayambhunath – Kathmandu.

The monkey temple or Swayambhunath is one of the most iconic sites in Kathmandu. Perched on a small hill to the west of the city it holds a commanding view over the Kathmandu valley. In the evenings it is often awash with golden light, especially after the rain, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset. Monkeys are of course everywhere, young and old, although most are quite relaxed and much less aggressive than their counterparts at other temples. The call to return to Nepal is strong, I’m sure I’ll be back for another of these sunsets very soon.


Do I Need Vaccines for Nepal?

See the bullets below to learn more about some of these key immunizations:

    Hepatitis A
    Food & Water
    Recommended for most travelers

Hepatitis B
Blood & Body Fluids
Accelerated schedule available

Typhoid
Food & Water
Shot lasts 2 years. Oral vaccine lasts 5 years, must be able to swallow pills. Oral doses must be kept in refrigerator.

Cholera
Food & Water
Although rare in Nepal, cholera is present. Vaccination is recommended for those traveling to areas with active transmission.

Yellow Fever
Mosquito
Required if traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.

Japanese Encephalitis
Mosquito
Recommended depending on itinerary and activities. May be given to short- and extended-stay travelers, recurrent travelers and travel to rural areas. Found in southern lowlands, is also in Kathmandu valley. Most common June to October.

Rabies
Saliva of Infected Animals
High risk country. Vaccine recommended for long-term travelers and those who may come in contact with animals.

Polio
Food & Water
Proof of polio vaccination is required. Considered a routine vaccination for most travel itineraries. Single adult booster recommended.

Measles Mumps Rubella (MMR)
Various Vectors
Given to anyone unvaccinated and/or born after 1957. One time adult booster recommended.

TDAP (Tetanus, Diphtheria & Pertussis)
Wounds & Airborne
Only one adult booster of pertussis required.

Chickenpox
Direct Contact & Airborne
Given to those unvaccinated that did not have chickenpox.

Shingles
Direct Contact
Vaccine can still be given if you have had shingles.

Pneumonia
Airborne
Two vaccines given seperately. All 65+ or immunocompromised should receive both.

Influenza
Airborne
Vaccine components change annually.

Meningitis
Airborne & Direct Contact
Given to anyone unvaccinated or at an increased risk, especially students.

Polio
Food & Water
Proof of polio vaccination is required. Considered a routine vaccination for most travel itineraries. Single adult booster recommended.


Your questions answered: How Covid-19 has affected travel

What are your rights if you’ve had trips cancelled? How do you cope if you’re stuck in a country in lockdown? And just what does the future hold for all our travels?

Global tourism has increased exponentially over the past 60 years. As travelling has become more accessible, it has never been easier to learn about the world and connect with people of different cultures. But with restrictions put in place in an attempt to contain the global coronavirus pandemic, destinations that are usually swarming with visitors look very different now.

Governments have warned against non-essential travel and the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and other countries have stopped foreign arrivals altogether. With an increasing number of places in lockdown, many tourists had to cancel their holidays, while others have been left stranded abroad.

What can you do if you find yourself in those situations? Here are some answers from The Travel Show’s Simon Calder.

There are lots of people who are stuck somewhere and many think they’ve lost lots of money. What’s your advice?

It is such an unusual situation that, at this stage, it’s really a question of “fly first, ask questions later”. There are all kinds of experiences where the passenger-rights laws should take effect. The airlines are simply ignoring those. They have very little choice, they say. The situation is completely out of control. Travel insurance, too. Of course, many people are assuming that their problems will be covered by that, but unfortunately, it won’t for possibly weeks or months. When the dust has settled, people will actually find out what they can claim back. But it’s going to leave many people out of pocket and, of course, sadly, many great travel professionals out of work.

Your advice is “get that flight, get home”?

Very much so. If you know that the government of the country you are in is banning international flights in two days’ time, just get online and find a flight. In extremes, go to the airport and just see what you can find. Most people, I hope, will be able to get out.

What are some of the most common problems hitting your inbox at the moment?

Absolutely the most pressing is “I’m in country X, I’m trying to get home. Help, what do I do?” And all I can say is: assume you won’t get any help from your airline, from your insurance company, even from your embassy. You have to make the decisions now. There is no time to lose. Spend what you need to, get family and friends to pay for your ticket, but just get yourself out. And then, ask questions later.

Some people can’t get through to their own embassy. Is that common?

The normal workload at a consular department, at an embassy, is a handful of people every week. Maybe lost passports, getting into trouble with the law, sickness cases. They are simply not cut out for the situation of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of nationals all being in the same position of having to leave the country at top speed. I’m not really surprised that this is happening. The systems we have in place were simply never designed for the worst emergency that has ever happened in travel.

A lot of people are saying they’re having trouble getting through to their airlines. One person says they were on hold on the phone for three hours. Many airlines are just simply overwhelmed. What would your advice be if you can’t get in touch with your carrier?

They certainly are. If you have given it your best shot and you could not get an answer in a reasonable time, then I’m afraid you have to make your best decisions. Spend whatever you need to, keep receipts, and make a reasonable claim afterwards. And, by the way, if you get and try to sort things out online, in many cases, airlines are saying “Oh, just accept a voucher for future travel”. If your flight actually gets cancelled, which is happening an awful lot, you’re entitled to a cash refund. A voucher might not do you any good. So hold out for real money.

How would you say the insurance companies are responding to the situation?

Travel insurers, like everybody else, are in uncharted territory. They are understaffed, their finances are under tremendous pressures. In some cases, you can go to the Financial Ombudsman Service in the UK who, if they think there is a valid claim, will make the insurer pay it. Of course, around the world there will be local laws which may or may not offer some help. All I can say is that the insurance industry is not going to be in a hurry to pay people out because this is going to cost it billions.

Nick Smith tweeted from the UK “After Six Nations match was cancelled in Paris”, he says, “I got a full refund for my hotel but the train company is charging me £70 to change my return ticket and offering no refund.” What would your advice to Nick be?

We heard from so many sports fans who have been planning trips based on a particular event, which is then being cancelled and they’re saying, “What do we do?” I’m afraid, in Nick’s case, and many others, the train company is perfectly able to take him to Paris and back. The fact that he doesn’t want to go, they would say “It isn’t our problem.” And they are applying their terms and conditions as they’re entitled to do. So the only thing I would say to Nick is, well, at least be glad you got a refund on the hotel.

The future of travel

Airlines are already struggling with cancelled flights and some carriers have requested financial aid from the government. The airline industry faces its biggest crisis since the 9/11 attacks and many companies have grounded up to 90% of their fleets. The hospitality industry was also impacted with places across the world shutting down. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates up to 50 million jobs could be lost because of the global coronavirus outbreak. The WTTC also suggests the travel industry could shrink by up to 25% in 2020.

But according to aviation analyst Paul Charles: "We will get through this. We have an inherent desire to travel. It's in our DNA. The virus is not going to kill that off. We will want to travel again and the industry will recover."

BBC's Travel Show brings you the latest insider travel news, a wealth of destinations, amazing experiences and features and practical hints, tips and advice for your holidays.


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New 'Money' section added, which includes information on bringing cash into Nepal ('Money' page)

  • the whole of Nepal based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks.

Travel to Nepal is subject to entry restrictions

  • Entry is currently subject to a negative COVID-19 test report no more than 72 hours prior to departure.

See Entry requirements for more information before you plan to travel.

Preparing for your return journey to the UK

If you’re returning to the UK from overseas, you will need to:

If your return journey to the UK transits another country, you should check whether it is subject to a travel ban or any other additional requirements. If so, contact your travel provider.

If you’re planning travel to Nepal, find out what you need to know about coronavirus there in the Coronavirus section.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to get travel insurance and check it provides sufficient cover. See the FCDO ’s guidance on foreign travel insurance.

For information about COVID-19 vaccines, see the Coronavirus page.

Over 50,000 British nationals visited Nepal in 2019. Most visits are trouble-free.

At certain times of year, there can be outbreaks of dengue fever in certain parts of Nepal. If you’re travelling in these areas, take extra precautions to avoid mosquito bites. For up to date information see guidance on the TravelHealthPro website.

The monsoon season normally runs from June to September. Flooding and landslides often occur during this time. Road travel anywhere can be hazardous, particularly in rural areas. See Monsoon season

Nepal is in a major earthquake zone and remains at risk from further earthquakes and aftershocks. You should familiarise yourself with safety procedures in the event of an earthquake. See Earthquakes

Small scale politically motivated protests, demonstrations or strikes are fairly common in Nepal. They can occur at short notice and clashes between protesters and law enforcement agencies may occur. You should exercise caution and avoid any demonstrations.

You’ll need a visa to enter Nepal. See Visas

On 26 May 2019 a series of bomb blasts took place in Kathmandu, causing 4 fatalities. Two improvised explosive devices detonated in Kathmandu in February and March 2019, causing injuries and one fatality. There are reports that a local group has made efforts to extort businesses, NGOs and local and international schools. You should remain vigilant and report any incidents to the local police.

Never trek alone. Use a reputable agency, remain on established routes and walk with at least one other person. Take note of weather conditions and forecasts, and come prepared. Permissions for mountaineering expeditions for Spring 2020 (including existing permissions) have been suspended. Altitude sickness is a risk in all trekking regions. See Trekking in Nepal

All air carriers from Nepal have been refused permission to operate air services to the EU due to safety concerns. See Air travel

Car and motorbike accidents are one of the biggest causes of injury and death overseas. If possible, avoid travelling at night. Always travel in a well-maintained vehicle with seatbelts. If you travel by motorbike, wear a helmet and proper footwear. See Road travel

High levels of air pollution can occur in Nepal. Children, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions may be especially affected by poor air quality. You can check the pollution index levels for real-time information, and the WHO factsheet on air quality.

Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Nepal. See Terrorism

If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

If you need to contact the emergency services, call 100 (police) and 101 (fire). There is no central public ambulance service, though some private providers operate in the main cities. In an emergency, you should call the local hospital.

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.


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