Security and Communication
Since the Maoist ‘People’s War’ there has been a breakdown in law and order in some areas of Nepal; combined with an increase in the availability of weapons, this has led to a general increase in crime across the country. However, serious crimes very rarely involve tourists, who are much more likely to suffer from opportunistic theft. It is also more likely that the thief will be a fellow tourist rather than a local.
Most Nepalese are still very respectful of other people’s possessions and are often protective of your belongings. Some ethnic groups, most notably nomadic Tibetans, have been known to take items which they think have been discarded. So when you leave a solar charger or some laundry in a sunny spot make sure it is watched. Any bags left unattended, including those on bus roofs and checked onto domestic flights, should be locked. Keep spare money on your person in a money belt or buried deep inside your pack, your kit bag is not as safe as the bag you always carry with you.
The role of women in Nepali society is changing in good and bad ways; strip bars and pornography accompany greater emancipation. The Nepali government is trying to cope with an underground sex industry that now flourishes throughout the country. It is unfortunate but perhaps no surprise therefore that women sometimes suffer from sexual harassment from young males, especially in urban centres or if a woman’s attire seems suggestive, for more information see Trekking as a Single Female.
Never carry something around town or on the trail that you can’t afford to lose.
Nepal’s phone system has expanded rapidly, and the cheap cost of calls is hugely enabling for local and visitor alike. The downside is almost perpetually overloaded networks. It can take multiple tries to get through between different service providers and line interference is common. International calls are still comparatively expensive and it may take many re-dials to finally make a connection. The unreliability of the landline system means mobile phones are now very popular throughout the country. Inexpensive and good-quality internet phone services are also cropping up and a subsidised satellite network is spreading throughout mountain areas. If you want to set your phone to roaming it is wise to first check call charges, and that your provider offers roaming in Nepal. You may find it easier to buy a SIM card in Nepal (available at the airport on arrival through Ncell or Nepal Telecom); you will require photo ID and they generally cost about US$12 (with US$8 worth of calls).
Recharge scratch cards are widely available and come in many denominations, the largest being NRs1000 for which there is a NRs10 charge. You will find that calls home are pretty reasonable, and calling local numbers and even other mobiles in Nepal is inexpensive, but the service can sometimes be erratic. There is no voicemail in Nepal. Texting is popular as is ‘give me a missed call’ when arranging to meet people. When you try to call and can’t get through you will receive one of a variety of messages – they range from the phone is unavailable the caller is busy to the number called doesn’t exist. Persist, as the other person may just be on the phone. Expect to be cut off at some point in most calls.
Thuraya satellite phones can receive SMS directly from the Thuraya website (sms.thuraya.com) for no charge and there is a local operator who sells phones and accessories, see www.constellation.com.np. There is also a new phone on the market in Nepal from Isat PhonePro; it is available for US$700. More information is at www.inmarsat.com.
When a Nepali answers a call they do not say their name, which can cause a great deal of confusion. Likewise, they do not normally say ‘goodbye’, they just hang up. Years of bad phone connections mean that most locals talk very loudly or even shout down the line and expect the line to cut out at the most inopportune moment.
Internet access is readily available in nearly all urban centres, and during the climbing season there is even a satellite internet café at Everest Base Camp! Wi-fi is often available along the most popular trekking routes and in almost every hotel and guesthouse in Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Snail mail operates from the GPO (Sun-Fri 10am-4pm), a 25-minute walk south of Thamel on the corner of Kanti Path and Prithvi Path. When sending a letter or small package don’t put it in a post-box but ask them to frank it or the stamps may be removed and resold. Sending mail is easily done through the various bookshops in Thamel, which are usually more reliable than the hotels.
For parcels, in addition to the GPO you have the choice of international couriers with reliability at a price, and cargo agents who specialise in bigger consignments. The cargo companies will often accept much smaller airfreight shipments for the same price per kilo, usually around US$5, for common North American and European destinations.
The best time to call is in the early morning when the mobile network is less congested.
Most Nepali computer owners don’t use anti-virus protection, so avoid using local pen drives and make sure your anti-virus is up to date before you leave home.