Coming to Nepal during the Dashain festival? Here’s how to handle it
It’s now Dashain in Nepal – commonly referred to as Nepal’s greatest festival. However, to a tourist, you may not feel the same way. In fact, Dashain can be a serious annoyance to you on your holiday.
That said, as with everything in Nepal, it’s better to join in and enjoy the upheaval than push against the grain. But for those on holiday here’s how to get through it with a minimal of fuss.
What is Dashain?
To put it simply it’s the annual time of year when Nepalese people return home (birthplace /village) to be with their families.
They meet with family members they’ve not seen all year, eat, get a tika (blessing), eat, sleep and eat some more.
Without reaming off a long historical tomb, it’s based on when Durga defeated evil and made the world a better place.
Dashain dates change a little every year depending on the moon. But usually it’s in late September or early to mid October. See my list of festivals in Nepal for more.
Sounds nice, what’s the problem?
- Dashain goes on for one week. Well actually it’s more like ten days. One needs to account for travel days after all
- Dashain usually happens in the middle of peak tourist season
- Virtually all government offices close (get any visa extensions/trekking permits done before Dashain)
- Hotels, restaurants and the tourism industry start to operate on a skeleton staff basis
Get the picture?!
Yes, as a tourist it can all mean things are harder to do, find or get to.
How to survive Dashain as a tourist
Firstly, don’t worry. It’s ten days out of the year.
Nepal’s private tourism industry remains open as do trekking trails and heritage sites. Likewise public transport.
Book flights in advance: Public transport can get booked out quickly at the start of Dashain. Domestic flights quickly fill up.
Pokhara and Chitwan buses too. So, book in advance! Simple as that.
For tourist buses to popular destinations you can book in advance. There’s usually not too much of an issue here. However for local long-distance areas you should really try to book in advance at least a day or two before leaving. You might need the help of a Nepalese speaking person to do this.
Other ways to cope would be to contact a domestic travel agent a week or two before arriving in Nepal. Or your hotel / agent if you are already in Nepal. This is especially true of domestic plane tickets.
Eat with patience: Not every restaurant will be open nor will they have full staff. So expect some slowness at this time of year too. Just be patient. You’ll get your meal but maybe it will take an extra ten minutes or so.
Not everything will be on the menu either so exercise some patience with the waiter and go through the list of items on the menu with them just to make sure.
Stick with a big city for a few days: If you happen to be arriving or in Nepal for Dashain and traveling independently then my advice is to plan ahead a little.
Plan to stay in a popular city or destination for the start of Dashain to avoid booked out travel. This really is as simple as choosing to stay in the Kathmandu Valley for the start of Dashain or to stay in Pokhara.
If you are in Kathmandu city then you should most definitely go on a heritage walk in Kathmandu city which will be nearly devoid of traffic.
Go trekking: There’s stopping the trekking trails! Dashian or not they are all open and you won’t notice anything different!
Join in: Lastly if you’ve gotten to know some Nepalese people you might be invited to their home for Dashain. It’s an honor! Just beware of the travel times needed to visit someone’s home and that they might well be spending a week there!
Nepal’s fuel shortage
There’s nearly always a fuel shortage in Nepal which makesDashain that bit harder to get through. I won’t go into details as to why other than to say it’s a Nepalese political situation. Nepal gets it’s fuel from India and there are problems at the border. While some Nepalese blame India, it’s a situation that can only be rectified in Nepal.
Needless to say the fuel shortage is causing transport issues and cooking gas issues. Here’s how to cope as a tourist quite easily.
- Everything is open. Trekking routes, airports, restaurants and so forth
- Blackmarket fuel has entered Nepal at about double to triple the normal price (e.g. there is fuel)
- Taxis are currently charging about USD $20 from the airport to Thamel
- Private car rentals (with driver) are about $25-35 for a full day around the KTM valley
- Private car rentals (with driver) for a half day are about $15-20
- Taxis are charging indiscriminately so do be careful of overcharging beyond the norm. See taxi prices to destinations in my guidebooks to Nepal and double or triple the price – don’t pay more
- Local intercity buses are all operating! Just get their early. For 25-50 rupees you can go from Ratna Bus Park to Bhaktapur. But again, get their early, as in 7am, to get a seat. Or wait for the next available empty bus to pull up and grab a seat on that. Otherwise they will be crowded. The same goes for your return journey – wait for an empty bus to become available and get onboard to wait 30 mins or so before it leaves
- Long-distance tourist buses to Pokhara/Chitwan are operating as per normal. My advice is to take Greenline ($20). Or if you are on a budget show up at 6.15am along Kantipath and find out which bus is leaving that morning rather than booking through a hotel the night before. Tourist bus prices remain the same at $6-7
- Don’t expect every restaurant to have a full menu. Simply say this when entering “Do you have gas?”. If they do, the menu should be okay. If they don’t ask them what they have on their menu
- If you’ve booked a package tour it should still be operating. I’ve not heard of any cancellations nor delays. Agents and guides are going out of their way to ensure that people booking with them will be well taken care of
- If you are going trekking independently now is a good time to consider hiring a guide. They can be invaluable in helping you get local transport to the trailheads. You can still do it alone, but you’ll need patience and a good understanding of the Nepalese way. Knowing basic Nepalese will help in understanding when the next bus is going etc.
The good thing about Dashain for tourists!
The biggest plus about being in Nepal for Dashain for tourists is that the city roads, Kathmandu city in particular, are virtually empty. It’s one of the best times of the year to explore the cities old heritage sites without the usual motorbikes and little cars tearing through them.
Likewise the usual hustle and bustle of Kathmandu vanishes. The touts, hawkers and street sellers have all gone home. You can wander around Kathmandu Durbar Square, the old city and the ghats in relative peace.
Your photographs will be devoid of crowds and you’ll meet the real inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley (Newari) who don’t have to go home because this is where they live!
For many tourists Dashain is a non-event. It means a couple of days of clogged roads and booked out buses/planes. It’s nothing to worry about.
Take advantage of Kathmandu city at this time of year rather than trying to get out. You’ll see the city in a way few people ever do.
Nepal is not a super organised country. That’s the beauty of it. Don’t come expecting neat and proper travels like you might in Portugal or even Thailand.
Nepal is unique. Dashain is one of the things that makes it such a special place to visit!
Get my Kathmandu Valley Guidebook to explore it better than anyone else!
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