Nepal Strikes Guide: How to cope with a strike (banda) in Nepal as a tourist

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ May 14th, 2012. Updated on June 11th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » How to guides ... » Nepal.
Nepal policeman stopping traffic

A strike in Nepal mean traffic stops for the day

Nepal strikes are known as bandas & every tourist should know about them

Banda means “closed” in Nepali and it’s the term used most often to describe a strike. Strikes happen on a very frequent basis in Nepal. Some are quite small and isolated while others grind the entire country to a halt.

Over the past few weeks Nepal’s bandas have been increasing with several resulting in outbreaks of violence.

Most, but not all, of the recent strikes stem from upcoming constitutional reform. The same reforms which have been going on for the past 4 years.

If you arrive as a tourist during a busy political time of year there’s a strong chance you might not be able to travel the country as much as you would normally.

This article is not meant to discourage you from coming to Nepal due to bandas. It’s also not meant to go into depth as to why there are so many strikes in Nepal. This article is just meant to give you an awareness about strikes in Nepal, what to expect and how best to cope so it won’t destroy your visit as a tourist here.

Students clash with riot police in Kathmandu Nepal

Students clash with riot police in Kathmandu Nepal during a strike

Understanding the word Banda

It’s pronounced “Banda”.  During a strike there’s no public or private transport allowed to move. Shops, cafés, restaurants and hotels are forced to close.

At worst  riot police will be seen marching around, streets of rioting people may form, car tires set alight on the roads and no one can travel. I’ve witnessed several holidays being uninterrupted, postponed, or even cancelled due to not knowing about Nepal strikes.

My advice in coming to Nepal is know what a Banda means, listen out for it and ask about it a few days before you travel anywhere in the country. And don’t let it put you off visiting the country. So many tourists visiting Nepal are often taken back by them. Though for those going trekking they might not even come across one as these regions largely go unaffected.

Why are there so many strikes in Nepal?

Because the political system in Nepal is in a mess and has been for quite some time. I’m not going into the details of this as it’s not the place. Some of reasons these days are that following on from becoming a democratic country Nepal still hasn’t formed a constitution. Though nearly every year there’s a countdown to it’s finalization. There’s one going on right now.

Add-on rising fuel import costs, food price increases, student fees, plus twenty something political “parties”, indigenous groups, local business groups and the odd influential person; a strike protesting something and anything can be called at any time. Usually at the last-minute. As such it can spell disaster for anyone trying to plan their holiday or travel around Nepal using public transport.

To work out how to avoid tourist travel problems when in Nepal you need to have a rough idea of the types of Banda or strike that occur here.

A brief understanding of the common types of strike or banda that occur in Nepal

  • National strikes
  • Regional strikes
  • City strikes
  • Fuel strikes
  • Student strikes

The list goes on nearly indefinitely

The main strikes that affect tourists visiting Nepal are national, regional and fuel strikes. This is due to the closure of everything from roads to eating establishments.

The length and severity of a Nepal strike changes depending on the motive behind the strike. A certain political party might call for a road strike or a local business strike or an all out general strike. I’ll cover the latter so you know what to expect in a worse case scenario.

Generally speaking strikes are only for one day. But might occur a few times during a week. Two day strikes can also occur regularly. Longer week-long strikes are called less frequently and usually don’t last a full week.

Ratna Bus park in Kathmandu during a normal day

Ratna bus park in Kathmandu during a normal day

Ratna bus park in Kathmandu during a strike

Ratna bus park in Kathmandu during a strike or banda

A national strike means all government offices are closed, public transport does not run and non-emergency vehicles are not allowed to travel on the roads. Shops, stores, restaurants are all meant to shut down as well.

Quite often there will be demonstrations in public areas ranging from speeches to protests and sometimes they fall apart into full on riots.

Regional strikes and city strikes are very important for the tourist to understand. They only affect certain areas or cities. Meaning that if Kathmandu is having a regional strike then popular tourist destinations like Pokhara or Suriha will not be affected.

The problem for the tourist is that if you are planning to travel from Pokhara to Kathmandu and there is a strike in Kathmandu you can certainly leave Pokhara but may not be able to get into Kathmandu. Thereby leaving you stranded. Vice verse is also true.

So as you can see a tourist needs to be aware of regional strikes if travelling between places.

Fuel strikes occur when there’s either a shortage of fuel coming into the country, a price hike or quite often a conflict at the border. Usually in the Terai region of Nepal. These types of strikes again mean no road transport.

For those wondering how often these bandas occur here’s a calendar website dedicated to when bandas occur in Nepal

Do keep in mind that many of the bandas listed are regional or local. But it should give you an idea at how real the situation is.

Top things a tourist should be aware of about strikes in Nepal

Empty road in Kathmandu during a strike

Cycle Rickshaws can still operate during a Nepal strike while all other traffic is not allowed

A banda or strike can be called at the last-minute. Usually the night before. These are usually only one days strikes.

Longer duration strikes are announced a few days or weeks before hand. But normally there’s not 100% confirmation until the night before.

There are generally more strikes in Nepal before an upcoming political event. Thankfully most political event take place in the off-peak tourist seasons in Nepal.

You are still free to walk around outside, it’s only public and private transport that are not allow to operate.

Do realize that strikes in Nepal are not just effecting you but also many everyday Nepalese people and their livelihoods.

What a tourist should do to minimize the effect of Nepal strikes on their visit to the country

When you arrive in Nepal ask your hotel reception about any current banda issues. If they are sensible they will either say no problems at the moment, or they will tell you something might be happening.

Do ask if there are any large political events coming up.

If there have been recent bandas then the night before you are planning to travel anywhere in Nepal ask the hotel reception if there are any bandas planned the next day. Generally speaking people know by seven pm. During load shedding (electricity rationing) this can be delayed as it takes longer for the details to become known.

If there is a banda and you have already purchased a bus ticket ask your hotel to call the bus office to confirm if they will be operational or not. You can usually get a refund or have your ticket moved to the following day.

What to do if you have a flight during a strike in Nepal?

International and domestic flights are rarely affected by strikes in Nepal. If you are flying somewhere from Nepal you have several choices.

Tourist bus going to the Airport in Nepal

Tourist bus going to the Airport in Nepal during a strike

In Kathmandu there is a regular tourist bus leaving from outside Thamel by the Moroccan embassy to Kathmandu airport several times a day. Depending on the strike it’s usually free. Though at other times around 200 rupees. You will need to walk with your baggage to the bus. Though quite often cycle rickshaws are permitted to run during a banda. If you have a lot of luggage, get a cycle rickshaw.

Another choice of getting to any airport in Nepal during a Banda is during the hours of darkness. Generally speaking strikes end at 5pm and start at around 7am. If you have a flight leaving at 2pm and you want to take a taxi then you’ll need to leave before dawn. Ask your hotel to help you with this, or pre arrange with a taxi man. Such early bird taxis run at a premium cost though. Usually 2-4 times the normal cost of an airport run. Generally speaking the more affluent the hotel you are staying, the more the taxi will cost.

How to prepare for a Nepalese strike the night before if you’re not going anywhere

If you hear there’s going to be a strike the next day there are a few things you might do to make things better.

  • Firstly ask how long the Banda will be for
  • Go out to the local store and stock up on some things you might need. Bottled water, snacks, a book to pass the time, and whatever else you will requite. Keep in mind stores will be closed for the most part all day.
  • Many hotels have their own restaurants check to be sure they have enough food for the day.
  • If you are in Nepal during the off-peak season remember that load shedding might mean a day of no electricity. Have a book or two to read!

Things to do and not do during a Nepalese strike

Read this article before going on holiday to Nepal. I’ve seen countless shocked and angry tourists due to having parts of their holidays ruined by a sudden Banda.

  • Do not get angry with hotel staff when they tell you there’s a strike and you can’t take your bus to Pokhara, Chitwan or wherever. It’s not their fault. They can however help you with alternative things to do and give you information on the duration of the strike.

Hotel staff will be your key source of information during a strike, they have been dealing with them for years.

Red cross workers going through tear gas in Kathmandu

Red cross workers going through tear gas in Kathmandu

  • You can still visit places by foot and quite often via cycle rickshaws. Though the latter will probably now cost more than a taxi when there is no strike.
  • During a banda there is no road traffic. Take advantage of this and visit wonderful old empty streets without being bombarded by traffic. Visit side streets, talk to locals and enjoy a traffic-less city!
  • If you see a shop or café with a metal shutter half up there’s a good chance it’s actually still open. They have it half-shut just in case trouble comes their way in the form of gangs of youths enforcing a strike.
  • Do not get involved in a strike, political meeting, riot or any form of gathering during a banda.

While a few years ago tourists were literally protected from violence, things have changed and during some bandas guesthouses with open doors or restaurants serving in outdoor areas that can be seen from the streets have been targeted with bottles and bricks. Don’t push your luck. Ask your hotel reception if it’s safe to go out before doing so. Do note that these particular incidents have only been caused by political youth groups. I’ve never had nor seen a problem from general protesters.

  • Keep in mind that if a banda is political your travel insurance may not cover you in the event of an accident.
  • If you are spending some time in Nepal and know there’s a big banda coming up and don’t want to be stuck in your guesthouse for it then go for a trek. The mountains are generally banda free and you’ll see a lot more than just hanging around your guesthouse.
  • Before leaving the mountain call ahead to the city and see if the banda has ended or not.
  • There are no entrance fees to many places like Pashupatinath, Durbar square, Bhaktapur, Patan  etc it’s a bit of walk to get to these places but several are doable from Kathmandu etc.
Banda's generally end at around 5pm when the streets start and people return to normal

Banda's generally end at around 5pm when the streets start and people return to normal

Finally do remember that bandas generally fizzle out after 5pm after which shops, restaurants and cafes open up for the evening as per normal.

Summary on how a tourist can be prepared for Nepal strikes

  • Ask at your hotel if there are any “Bandas” coming up when you arrive.
  • If there are read the local newspapers in the morning for any hint of a banda or upcoming political event. If there is one try to get to a place you’ll be staying for a while before the strike starts.
  • Always plan ahead when visiting Nepal. Don’t leave things like coming from Pokhara to Kathmandu a day before your flight home. Allow for getting into Kathmandu two days before you leave.
  • Don’t get involved in any strike personally. Some Nepal strikes can have violent altercations resulting in arrests, tear gas and accidents.
  • Do stock up the night before a Banda on things you might need.
  • If you really have to travel during a Banda you can hire a private car (not a taxi) preferably from a tour agency (they’ll need ID) and they will have to stick a big sign on it saying (tourist vehicle). It might be expensive, but it is usually works.
  • If you can’t handle not having electricity during a long strike and have nowhere to go then consider staying in a hotel that has a generator. Many guesthouses have battery inverters to run lights, but it’s not enough to power TV’s or electrical sockets.

If you’re in Nepal during a time of year when there are electricity shortages don’t forget batteries, candles and a good book or two!

Do not let strikes in Nepal put you off visiting as a tourist!

This article is to make you aware of strikes in Nepal and how to handle them should they occur when you are visiting.

It is not meant to make you fear or think the whole country is impossible to travel around. It’s very possible to travel Nepal and many tourists often visit the country and never see a strike. Indeed during peak tourist and trekking seasons there are generally fewer bandas.

For everyone else this article might be worth reading just to be prepared!

 This is an additional feature article about strikes in Nepal (bandas)

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