Accommodation, Food & Drink

Accommodation, Food & Drink

ACCOMMODATION

Comfortable accommodation in the regional cities of Neapal, such as Nepalganj and Biratnagar, is limited. However, both Kathmandu and Pokhara (the main town in central Nepal) offer innumerable hostels, guesthouses and hotels offering rooms from the most basic cells to deluxe air-conditioned suites with panoramic mountain views, 24hr room service and satellite television. You can pay anything from NRs 500 to US$200+ a night.

In Kathmandu, budget accommodation for foreigners is concentrated in the Thamel area of town, but this has become a veritable tourist ghetto, far removed in character, atmosphere and price from the rest of the city. Anyone who has been to Nepal can recommend favourite lodgings in Kathmandu or Pokhara, and it is an unfortunate fact that any place recommended in the more popular traveller’s guidebooks will be packed during peak season. If the mayhem of Thamel is too mcu, seek out more peaceful, cheaper accommodation at Bodnath or in Patan or Bhaktapur.

FOOD AND DRINK

The variety of food on offer in the restaurants of Kathmandu and Pokhara is as diverse as the accommodation available in hotels. You can find anything from basic dalbat in a roadside hotel for NRs15 to international haute cuisine costing US$30 or more.

Restaurants in Kathmandu’s Thamel vie with each other t5o provide the most comprehensive and imaginative menus, though often the food and service are mediocre. European and continental fare almost always disappoints, and by far the best way of finding good service and food is to seek out the places where Nepalis eat. Traditional Newari cuisine and Indian food are good bets. Getting a table at any of the more popular and well established restaurants in town during peak season requires prior booking.

Countrywide, the staple diet is dalbat (dal = lentils cooked as a watery soup, bat = boiled rice), typically eaten twice a day. Nepalis don’t eat breakfast as such, but take their first dalbat late in the morning. They then eat again after sunset, when the work of the day is done.

In poor rural houses the dalbat may be unaccompanied, but usually it is supplemented with some sort of takaari (Vegetables), dahi (yoghurt or curds) and achaar (spicy pickles) in more affluent settings it may become an elaborate spread, with several different vegetable dishes, egg or fish and perhaps even some different types of meat. It is thus similar to the thalis served in India, and, in the same way, the price of a dalbat in a Nepali restaurant will include as many top-ups as you can eat.

DRINK

Nepal may be a Hindu and Buddhist country (beliefs which eschew intoxication liquor), but the consumption of alcohol is as central to Nepali traditions of socialising and celebration as it is in any heathen western nation. Typically, Nepalis cannot ‘take their drink’ though, and your smiling, peace loving companions may quickly become knife-wielding homicidal maniacs given a supply of raksi.

The three home-brewed liquors you are most likely to be offered in Nepal are chang, raksi, and in the east- thungba. Chang is best compared with beer, and is typically fermented from rice, barley or corn. The chosen grain is boiled and then sealed into a container (using animal dung) for several months before being consumed. Depending on the skill or tastes of those preparing it, the resultant brew can vary from somethin akin to runny alcoholic porridge to a coarse wine. When sampling it, remember that the water used in its production will certainly not have been purified.

Raksi is distilled from the fermented mush of whatever grain or fruit happens to be in abundance at the time of manufacture. Rice, barley, apples or bananas are favourites. Its high concentration of alcohol makes it less likely to leave you with dysentery, but don’t count on being able to see straight or walk for a week!

From the Arun valley eastwards you are less likely to be offered chang than the local variant, thungba. Millet grains are pounded and fermented in large vats, after which the resultant alcoholic pulp is scooped into a cylindrical wooden vessel, often elaborately decorated with brass bands, and boiling water is poured in. A tight fitting lid is then placed on the top and a dab of butter placed on the rim as a blessing. The warm liquid inside is drunk through a thin bamboo straw called a pising. The potency of this comforting drink only becomes apparent when you attempt to stand.

Water

In cities all water other than bottled mineral water should be regarded as contaminated. This includes the water used to make ice-cubes. You should never, especially in Kathmandu, and doubly so in the rainy season, even brush your teeth with tap water.

Once on trek, either boil (just bringing water to the boil, at any altitude, is now accepted to be sufficient to sterilise it) or treat all drinking water with tincture of iodine (2-4 drops per liter, left for 15-20 minutes, depending on the level of contamination and temperature). If you’re using juice powder or any other flavoring, add this after treatment. About 50mg of vitamin C added to each liter of iodine treated water will effectively neutralize the bad taste. Iodine tincture is widely available in Kathmandu. Chlorine-based purification agents are less effective, and filters are heavy and unreliable in Kathmandu. Chlorine-based purification agents are less effective, and filters are heavy and unreliable. Do not use mineral water on trek! It is ridiculously expensive, and discarded plastic water bottles have far surpassed toilet paper as the biggest polluter of popular trekking routes.

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