While traveling throughout Nepal I heard a few blatant lies, some little white lies, a nose stretcher or two, and more than a few stories that I’d assume to be tall tales. Once I returned to India – and semi-normal wifi access – I did some further research and discovered that many of the tall tales were actually true. Here are the results of my little fact finding mission (masquerading as an excuse to post a few more photos).
THE CLAIM: Nepal’s flag is the only flag in the world that is not square or rectangular.
TRUE: The two triangles symbolize the Himalaya Mountains and the two major religions, Hinduism and Buddhism. Although the flag was officially adopted in 1962, these symbols have been used in Nepal for over 2000 years.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is a poor nation with no major exports.
TRUE & FALSE. Nepal is not a rich country but it is the world’s #1 producer and exporter of mustard seed!
THE CLAIM: All Sherpas are from Nepal.
BASICALLY TRUE. While “sherpa” is common slang for a guide or porter, it’s actually the name of an ethic group from eastern Nepal. Because of genetics and their all-around level of physical fitness, sherpas do not suffer the effects of altitude like many people (including me). I followed this guy for 10 minutes as he carried a leather sofa through the crowded streets of Kathmandu.
THE CLAIM: They have a few mountains in Nepal.
THE CLAIM: The Nepalese like to hit the sauce.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is a “young” country.
THE CLAIM: Gorkha beer is quite nice.
THE CLAIM: Everest beer is quite nice, too.
THE CLAIM: Nepal has two official languages.
TRUE. Nepali and English are the two official languages of Nepal. However, only about 44% of the population speaks Nepali. The rest speak English or one of hundreds of obscure regional languages, including Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Gurung. Kiranti, Limbu, Magar, Maithili, Nepal Bhasa, Rai, Sherpa, Tamang, and Tharu.
THE CLAIM: The locals know Mt. Everest as Sagarmatha which means “Noah’s ark is up there somewhere.”
FALSE. I found several online references to hockey being the national sport of Nepal but this is false. According to Wikipedia “Dandi Biyo is a game usually played in rural Nepal and is the national game. Dandi Biyo is played with a stick (Dandi) about two feet long and a wooden pin (Biyo) about six inches long.”
THE CLAIM: Traffic rules are strictly enforced in Nepal.
FALSE. The rules of the road dictate that vehicles drive on the left but in reality the Nepalese drive wherever they damn well feel like driving. A wet, narrow, twisting mountain road with no guardrail and a steep drop on one side is seen as an invitation to pass by most Nepalese truckers and bus drivers. Few roads have any lane markings and drivers of vehicles of all descriptions just sort things out by themselves. (PS: It’s not a good sign when badly damaged vehicles litter the road and many have tarps or blankets placed over the driver’s seat.)
THE CLAIM: The Nepalese love their dogs.
NOT CLEAR. There are many dogs in the cities but most of them are strays. I saw hundreds if not thousands of stray dogs in Kathmandu but only one dog fight! (A merchant poured a bucket of water on them and it was over in seconds.) I also saw just three cats and they kept to themselves, high up on balconies and rooflines.
THE CLAIM: Potato farming is a huge industry in Nepal.
THE CLAIM: Political demonstrations are strictly forbidden in Nepal.
FALSE. While I was in Kathmandu I saw several well organized and quite orderly protests of Government corruption. Police stood by and watched. The main political parties in Nepal are the Communists, Social Democrats and Hindu Nationalists.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is known as the Amazon of Asia.
THE CLAIM: It’s hard to find a decent cup of coffee in Nepal.
FALSE. It’s not hard to find cafes selling excellent Himalayan coffee and steaming hot masala chai but equally popular throughout Nepal are Herbal Tea Lounges. Some even offer miscellaneous herbal products that you can consume on the premises.
THE CLAIM: Nepal has the world’s densest concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
THE CLAIM: Namaste, the most common greeting in Nepal translates to “I salute the God in you.”
TRUE. A close second on the streets surrounding the hotels and guesthouses in Kathmandu would be: “Smoke some hashish, marijuana, massage?”
THE CLAIM: The only way to cross many of Nepal’s rivers is by suspension bridge.
TRUE. Thankfully many of the older bridges that were made of ropes and vines have been replaced in recent years. The new bridges won’t give you that “Indiana Jones” feeling but they are much more appealing to those who value their life.
THE CLAIM: Buddha was born in Nepal.
THE CLAIM: Nepal has always welcomed travelers with open arms.
FALSE. Until 1950 only foreigners who were on official business could enter the country. Now anyone with a massive carryon bag can get off a plane and apply for a 30 day Tourist Visa at the Kathmandu airport.
FALSE. The public infrastructure in Kathmandu is abysmal. Wires hang from poles in spaghetti-like tangles, water-mains are constantly breaking, sewage treatment plants are a rarity, internet access is dodgy and electrical power is rationed daily.
THE CLAIM: Antique stores in Kathmandu are full of bargains.
FALSE. I only came across two real antique stores and there were no bargains. Most of the “antiques” that are sold to tourists in Nepal are clever fakes. I’d go so far as to say that 99% are fakes. A rule of thumb is that if a store has one or two obvious fakes, then the entire stock is probably fake. Likewise, if a junk store has almost nothing of value, any antique-looking items you do find are probably old. I bought these two merchant’s measuring cups (complete with the King’s seal) from an antique store in Kathamandu. Even after 30 minutes of haggling neither the owner or her son would budge on the price. “We just can’t find this stuff anymore,” she said. I don’t know if I believe that but it worked as I paid full retail for something I must now drag around for four more months.
THE CLAIM: A Nepalese man is the shortest man in the world.
TRUE. According to Guinness, Chandra Bahadur Dang is the world’s shortest man at 54.6 cm from head to toe.
THE CLAIM: The Swastika is widely used in Nepal.
THE CLAIM: A dollar goes a long way in Nepal
SAD BUT TRUE: Nepal was recently ranked 157th out of 186 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index. The average per-capita income is US$470 but more than HALF the population lives on less than $1 a day.
THE CLAIM: Nepal has its own time zone.
TRUE: Nepal Standard Time is the Coordinated Universal Time plus five hours and 45 minutes (just to be different).
THE CLAIM: The Bengal Tiger is the national animal of Nepal.
FALSE. The cow is the national animal of Nepal. Once a cow stops producing milk, it is released into the community and will wander the streets for the rest of its natural life. As in India, the cow is considered sacred in Nepal.
THE CLAIM: Train travel is cheap and popular in Nepal.
FALSE. The Nepalese railway system consists of 59km of track and is used mainly to transport freight.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is about one-third the size of Canada.
FALSE: Nepal covers 54,363 square miles (140,800 square kilometers) or approximately 1/8th the size of Ontario and 1/100th the size of Canada. Although land-locked and relatively small, it is surprisingly diverse with some of the world’s tallest mountains in the north and lush jungles in the south.
THE CLAIM: Nepal was the first country to usher in the year 2017.
TRUE: Nepal turned the calendar page from 2016 to 2017 exactly 55 years ago! According to the Nepali calendar it is now 2072 and New Year’s Eve falls on April 13.
THE CLAIM: Online dating sites are popular in Nepal.
FALSE. Most marriages in Nepal are arranged by the parents and the bride and groom will usually not meet each other before the wedding day. I met one 25 year old guy who knows who his bride will be. She is now 12 and they will marry when she is 15 or 16. In the meantime they can have absolutely no contact and she doesn’t recognize him when they occasionally pass on the street.
THE CLAIM: The term “load shedding” refers to the springtime ritual of shearing the yak.
FALSE: There’s no shortage of rushing water in Nepal, but poor infrastructure means that power is spotty at best. The government run program to ration power is known as “load shedding.” The Nepalese people seem to accept this daily inconvenience and rarely grumble.
THE CLAIM: Nepal has adopted some of Asia’s most progressive LGBT rights.
TRUE: In 2007 the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled that the government must create laws to protect LGBT rights. Sexual orientation is now defined by one’s self-identification and a natural process rather than a result of “mental, emotional or psychological disorder.” In 2015 a Nepalese citizen Bhumika Shrestha became the world’s first transgender woman to travel aboard with a passport that identified her gender as a “other.”
THE CLAIM: Sidewalks in Nepal are pristine and those who chew gum in public could go to jail.
FALSE. That’s Singapore. In Nepal the national pastime is spitting. (It’s not as bad as it could be since there are very few sidewalks and the spit tends to blend in with the dirt, dust, and dog, goat, cow and monkey shit, etc.)
THE CLAIM: McDonalds and Starbucks are opening locations in Nepal at a rate of one a week.
FALSE. There are no (real) McDonalds or Starbucks in Nepal. The only western fast food outlets that I saw were a single KFC, one Hungry Jack’s (Burger King in Australia) and several Baskin Robbins locations.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is a Hindu monarchy.
THE CLAIM: Stray dogs in Nepal have been trained to pee in designated “pee parks.”
THE CLAIM: Dal Bhat is a popular dish in Nepal.
TRUE. Many poorer Nepalese eat rice and dal bhat (bland lentil soup) at every meal, every day. (The dish pictured above included an egg and was a bit more substantial than traditional dal bhat.)
THE CLAIM: Nepalese men are cold and stand-offish.
FALSE. Straight men and boys generally walk arm-in-arm and often hold hands while waiting in restaurants, standing in line at the bank, bus stop, construction site, etc. When two men share a motorcycle, the passenger often holds onto the driver by the waist and his hands rest, ah, rather low. It’s definitely not an indication of sexual orientation – it’s just the way they are (if that makes any sense).
THE CLAIM: Only the finest Egyptian cotton napkins are used in Nepalese restaurants.
FALSE. They’re basically wax paper and good for nothing.
CLAIM: Sleeper buses are a great option if you want to get from A to B and save the price of a hotel.
DEPENDS: If you choose to ride a sleeper bus in Nepal you’ll probably spend the night in a very small berth situated above the passengers who are traveling in “chair class.” During the day you will be able to open a window in the roof and stick your head out the top of the bus. If you don’t mind ducking power lines, you can even sit up there for hours at a time.
THE CLAIM: It’s difficult to arrange a tour or trek out of Kathamandu.
FALSE. Every third shop in the Kathmandu’s Thamel neighbourhood could arrange such adventures. The other two shops will sell fake North Face jackets, backpacks, or embroidered T-shirts.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is a colony of Britain.
FALSE. Nepal is one of the few Asian countries which was never colonized. With the signing of the Treaty of Sugauli in 1816, Nepal became an ally of the British Empire but it was never colonized.
THE CLAIM: The Nepalese royal family didn’t have a very good year in 2001.
TRUE. In June 2001, the heir to the Nepalese throne murdered nine members of his own family, including the king and queen. He later shot himself, although he survived for a few days during which time he was declared king!
THE CLAIM: The police in Kathmandu are currently running a campaign with the slogan Police My Friend.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is strictly a mountainous country where it snows year round.
FALSE. While the high mountain regions may get snow in the summer, there are palm trees and crocodiles in the south. We came across dozens of these mothers while paddling a very tippy dugout canoe in Chitwin National Park.
THE CLAIM: Hotels and restaurants are hard to find in Nepal.
THE CLAIM: Rhinos are an endangered species.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is a country of great geographical extremes.
TRUE. The altitude in Nepal ranges from 59m to 8848m which is the largest variation on earth! The Arun Valley is the world’s highest valley and at 1200 meters, Kaligandaki is the world’s deepest gorge.
THE CLAIM: Hot water bubbles out of the ground in Kathamandu.
FALSE. Hot water is rare in all of Nepal. Even tourist class hotels use solar water heaters and rooftop storage tanks and since there isn’t a lot of sunshine during the night, early morning showers can be, ah, invigorating.
THE CLAIM: The average life expectancy in Nepal is 89.7 years.
FALSE. It’s 59 years.
THE CLAIM. This peace-loving nation has produced its fair share of disciplined soldiers.
TRUE. As recently as 2014 there were 3400 Nepali Gurkhas still serving in the British Army.
THE CLAIM: Cash is King in Nepal.
TRUE. Not many small hotels or restaurants accept credit cards. Thankfully ATMs are plentiful and most actually work with western bank cards.
THE CLAIM: Bob Seger dreamed of moving to Kathamandu.
TRUE. Seger wrote a song called Katmandu in 1975. At the time he was disillusioned with the recording industry and just wanted to disappear to a place like Kathmandu (where he would have learned the correct spelling).
THE CLAIM: Campbell’s Soup is popular in Nepal.
THE CLAIM: Shoes are hard to find in Nepal.
FALSE. Some shops sell both new and refurbished shoes!
THE CLAIM: Take-out chai shops sell drinks in “grande” and “venti” sizes.
THE CLAIM: Street vendors in Kathmandu sell very tasty roasted peanuts.
FALSE. These “roasted” peanuts were warm, wet and mushy. I was not impressed. However, the vendor was very nice and happily posed with his measuring cups which were similar to a pair that I later bought.
THE CLAIM: Officially licensed Disney apparel is in great demand.
THE CLAIM: The Nepalese have a deep affection for America.
THE CLAIM: Mike Hamilton made history in Nepal.
TRUE. I will go down in history as the 575,500th person to take the Everest Mountain flight. At least that’s the number printed on my “certificate of completion” and its probably accurate as my sister and brother-in-law took the same flight 30-years ago.
THE CLAIM: Nepal is landlocked.
TRUE. Nepal borders China to the north and India to the south, east, and west. Although geographically close to Bhutan and Bangladesh, it doesn’t share a border with these counties due to narrow corridors of Indian territory.
THE CLAIM. Skin lightening creams are popular in Nepal.
TRUE. At least they are heavily advertised and available at every pharmacy in Nepal. I find this rather sad. Personally, I’d rather have the skin tone of your average Nepalese person than my current version of pasty white!
THE CLAIM: Butchers sell a wide range of meats.
PARTIALLY TRUE. They may indeed offer a wide range of meats – just not on the same day. This shop was selling chicken on Tuesday. I can confidently predict that Wednesday morning there will be a special on goat heads (limit 2), legs (limit 8), and some hacked up goat carcass in roughly 1kg and 2kg portions.
THE CLAIM: Radio stations in Kathmandu play only traditional Nepalese folk music.
FALSE. I spent an hour sitting under a speaker in one Kathmandu cafe and every second or third song was either Bieber or Drake. Go Canada!
THE CLAIM: English books are popular in Nepal.
POSSIBLY. But the Nepalese publishing industry seems to be doing okay, too. There are no Apple Stores in Nepal yet Nepali versions of Steve Jobs’ biography were available on the street, as were hundreds of local titles.
THE CLAIM. All tourists who visit Nepal are perfect ambassadors for their home countries.
FALSE. Tourists will be tourists. These Europeans insisted that the server at Markham Bistro prepare separate bills. They argued over this for 10 minutes! When it came time to pay, each had consumed a coffee and a pastry and paid 500 Rupees. None took their paper receipts when they left. Would one bill for 2000 Rs have been so difficult to figure out? Sheesh!
THE CLAIM: Nepalese Mountain Dogs can dance.
POSSIBLY. While hiking in the Annapurna region, I asked my fellow Dragoman passengers to form a chorus line in front of this amazing backdrop. The Nepalese Mountain Dog that had been following us joined right in!
THE CLAIM. Eating what amounts to soup with your fingers is fun.
TRUE. At least these friendly locals enjoyed watching me mix the liquid with rice, form it into a clump with three fingers, then shovel it into my mouth using my thumb as a plow. I did not find it that much fun but at least it was tasty and I appreciated their warm hospitality.
THE CLAIM: Everyone in Nepal knows where Canada is and what it stands for.
FALSE. Many city-dwellers seemed to have a good impression of Canada but this guy didn’t seem to realize that Canada was a country and I couldn’t make him understand that it’s my home. We met on a remote trail in the Anapurna region.
THE CLAIM: License plates in Nepal are hand-painted.
THE CLAIM: Many Nepalese weddings feature a live band and an afternoon or evening parade.
TRUE. I asked these guys if I could take their photo while they waited for the bride and groom outside a house. They agreed then struck up the band and insisted that I try the French Horn. Let’s just say that all band jobs are safe.
THE CLAIM: The Abominable Snowman lives in the high valleys of Nepal.
THE CLAIM: The Nepalese are a rather prudish lot.
FALSE. At least the workers at this restaurant / bar weren’t too shy. When it looked like my group was about to leave without noticing the carving on the bar, they called us over and proudly pointed out the naughty bits.
THE CLAIM: All dogs in Nepal are extremely friendly.
MAYBE. At least all the dogs that I met were friendly! This guy was dragging a chain and appeared to be lost. I called out “Marmaduke” and he crossed the street and walked right up to me, sat down and seemed to be waiting for a command. Stray dogs often run up to you with tails wagging and are very happy for a scratch behind the ears.
THE CLAIM: Nepal has strong heritage protection laws.
FALSE. Many beautiful old buildings were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake (unavoidable) but many more were abandoned long before the earthquake and are either being left to rot or being demolished and recycled.
THE CLAIM: Recycling is popular in Nepal
THE CLAIM: Hotels in rural Nepal don’t offer very good views.
THE CLAIM: Tourism is the largest industry in Nepal.
THE CLAIM: Street food is either very spicy or unsafe to eat.
FALSE. Oh, so false. This noodle dish garnished with fresh coriander was pretty good. Actually all the local Nepalese food I tried was good but surprisingly I also had the best clubhouse sandwich, Eggs Benedict and flat crust mushroom pizza I have EVER had, anywhere!
Sources: National Geographic, Wikipedia, EcoTreks.com, AdventureWoman.com, WorkTheWorld.co.uk, and others.