Overall we were in Nepal for 22 days. We had been in “underdeveloped” countries before, but this was a totally new experience. Nepal was already a developing country, but on top of that it has suffered tremendously of late. The earthquake in April of 2015 in and around Kathmandu devastated the struggling infrastructure and toppled historical structures. It leveled villages and displaced hundreds of thousands. Everyone we talked to was affected. The earthquake also dealt another non-physical blow by halting the flow of tourists that are the true GDP boosters in this small country. On top of this natural disaster, political complications have further hampered the country.
In September 2015, Nepal passed a new Constitution, which many disagreed with. In particular, it is alleged that India responded with an officially unofficial blockade. As a landlocked, Himalaya-bordered country, almost all of Nepal’s imports come from India – including fuel. Wikipedia states that the fuel truck volume shrunk from 300 trucks per day crossing border down to 10. The result is a massive crippling of everything from cooking your food (now with wood, not gas), to driving your car (days-long queues for a few liters each), to receipt of supplies (cargo trucks need the fuel, too). They are seriously struggling. We knew this and went ahead, partly to see the natural beauty of the country, and partly to help where we could with our cash. We had inquired about how to help and the main thing we heard was to please come visit. Not to stay away with our needed tourism dollars.
What we found in Nepal was what we had looked forward to all along – some of the nicest people on earth. The are all struggling, but somehow they were always smiling. We were intoxicated by how kind everyone was. How can you be so happy when your road is in ruins? Why are you smiling as you warm up around a burning pile of garbage? I am not sure I have the makeup to be Nepalese. They truly find the light in everything.
That said, there is one more thing I want to point out before I get to costs. As they are smiling on the outside, they do understand deep down that their country is horribly underdeveloped. Rolling blackouts, poor roads, poor sanitation, dirty water, deep-seeded government corruption and deeper poverty are facts of life. They know that there are more opportunities outside of Nepal. In order, we consistently heard that the best 3 jobs for a Nepali are in the British Army, the Indian Army, and then the Nepalese Army. These revered positions are able then to send money home to their families and villages. We heard over and over, though, about how many bribes it takes to even be considered for these golden opportunities. Oh yeah, and the next time you have a first-world problem try to remember this: They do have a lottery in Nepal. Every year people register and hope against hope for their name to be drawn. Often, they have to grease the palms of the lottery officials to increase their “luck”. What is the prize? $1,000,000? $10,000,000? Nope. It is a visa… a work visa… for chance to build a new life… in the United States of America.
I overspent in Nepal. How do you overspend in a third-world country? I don’t know. I had a budget and I guess I underestimated because it is so cheap. We did get a reasonable rate on the trek. All of its prepaid costs are listed in attractions (2 porters, 1 guide, all lodges, RT on the bus – everything except food and gear). The [good] hotels in the cities were around $25/night. The food (that was locally grown or got past the blockade) was tasty and cheap. I guess it was the gear and the flight costs. We spent just under $400 on Gore-Tex pants, merino wool socks, gaiters, hats, gloves, turtle-necks, poles, bottles, and rented sleeping bags. So $100 each to upgrade from Cambodia/Thailand sweating gear to Nepalese freezing gear. We also spent $285 each to go from Bangkok to Delhi (8-hours in a holding area without food, drinks, or the ability to change currency makes it now officially the world’s worst airport for international transfers) to Kathmandu. Although, I am probably spoiled for thinking that $285 per person for 2300 miles and 2 countries is over budget. Here are the details. – ALaff