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Living in Nepal - What it's like after 1.5 years

This information is provided for foreigners (Expatriates, Expat's) who are interesting in staying in Nepal or have already made Nepal their home.

Here are a few answers to questions from a friend living in the USA.

Another question (OK many questions), what is daily life like in Nepal?

Well, the first thing to say about life in Nepal is how I ended up here. Like many expat?s that I've met, things just kind of fell into place.
Originally, the idea was to trek. One of those unexpected Nepal-based miracle things happened, when my traveling companion and I met an astrologer on the side of the lake in Pokhara after our trek. I had a 'reading' and the next day she had a 'reading'. Along with 10 out of 12 other coincidences predicted by this astrologer that have come true, we were married.

I've found stories similar to this all over Kathmandu. The country has a little over 22 million people and over 1 million live in this capital city. I'm told the expert community is around 3,000 - that seems small to me? Many of these experts are working for the giant organizations drawn to the country by the greatest contributor of Nepal's economy - foreign aid. This is a long story, but many of these people seem to be highly educated (an MBA seems to be one of the requirements for work). Imagine the world's 3rd poorest nation with some of the world's most educated people. You'd be surprised at who's educating who. But, then there's another side to the expert community. Yes, the old hippies from bygone days and the spiritual seekers - definitely some overlap with these two groups. Did you know the Peace Corp was set up to harbor the USA intelligent community from the Vietnam War? OK, maybe not exactly, but these folks are old-timers to Nepal and they have some great stories.

Do you get up in the morning and have coffee or what?

Life is still based on the agricultural standard - it starts with the sunrise. Just 10 minutes outside the city, by bicycle, you can still experience life-styles from the Stone Age, Iron Age and everything in-between. Some groups will not use animals to plow the field and more remote villages still use wooden implements.

We're up after the traffic starts outside our door (8 to 9 AM - this is REALLY late for Nepal). We drink Nepali and Indian tea (china), organic-Nepali tea, herbal Nepali tea that's growing in the export markets and coffee (sometimes) grown somewhere in the Himalayas. If you come to visit for 2 weeks, I promise we (or our Didi/Sister/maid) will never serve you the same tea twice.

What do you eat? What do the natives eat?

These were the killer questions for us (especially me) for the first year. Assimilation into Nepali life means lots of intestinal problems and everyone has their story. The locals eat rice with lentils, vegetables and relishes/pickle, called Dal Bhat, Tarkari. A poor nation means poor food. There are many people here who even don't have money to have nutritious foods. Only 2 days ago we had a party with a BIG group of our Nepali friends and last night I spent it in the bathroom. This was the first time to eat outside our home in a long time and I paid the price. We've got 10 to 30 restaurants that cater to experts' need for hygiene - this is a long training process.

We did also find a complete collection of western food products that are imported. I'm doing wonders with Campbell's Soap dishes in the kitchen. One part of the foreign assimilation into Nepal that's already taken place, was to bring in food processing that's up to Western standards. An expert can live for $200 a month here if they want to budget. For $500 per person (especially if you're two), you can live a VERY high life style, even by Western standards. We spend $500 only on food, so we're living it up.

I think about my grandmother and her garden-style cooking in East-Texas everyday. I'm cooking just like she did. Something to be said for having time to cook, huh? And, yes, we have a garden and gardener. Lots of fresh food in Nepal, but I hear that 95% of all food products come from India. In the hills, the life style is totally based on subsistence living.

Who are the natives? What is the prevalent religion and form of worship? I assume the native people worship somebody.

You ask 2 questions, but really the answer needs to be put together. The basic Nepali lifestyle is synonymous with worship. This is a country of religious tolerance, but they put people in jail, or kick them out of the country, if they start 'preaching'. The Hindu (Nepal is the only Hindu country in the world) and Buddha followers share the same gods with different names. The country is covered with temples. I can walk 5 to 15 minutes in any direction from home and I'll be at a temple (and, we're in the middle of one of the high-end residential areas.)

I looked into the festivals of Nepal for our website and found 100's during all times of the year. 5 different New Years celebrations take place here from different cultures. I almost forgot Thanks Giving this year because we had just finished almost 1.5 months of solid celebrations. Now, we just finished the marriage season for one group, but another group starts next month. Marriages are GIANT affairs with everyone from the family, their friends and the entire surrounded community are invited. On the invitations, that are usually hand delivered (their are no addresses or street names in Kathmandu), there is a time to show up for each group. Because so many people are invited, they have to feed them in rotation.

Nepal has over 30 ethnic groups here and at least that many languages. Nepali, Hindi (Indian), and Newari (large ethnic group in Kathmandu) are dominant. I've met more people that speak 3 to 6 languages than anywhere else. All usually understand tourist-based English.

This is a big topic, but an interesting thing because Nepal has 8 of the world's tallest mountains. I saw one drawing depicting where different ethnic groups come from based on elevations - really interesting!

The average, yearly per capital income is $120. The city is much higher than this. A horseperson used to cook and clean makes less than $50 per month. A guard and/or gardener makes about $25 per month. A government employee with 10 years experience makes $75 per month. A computer programmer with 2 years experience can make $120 to $250 a month. The high-end computer person makes $450.

Experts working for the local American school make $2,000 monthly with a $500 housing allowance. How about that for USA, underpaid teachers. The ones that travel to other countries (this is an interesting demographic group), become the fat-cats of developing nations. Can you imagine what these people live like that work for foreign aid projects at $5,000 or more per month when a comfortable living may be had for $1,000?

Where do you live? Do you rent it?

We live in a house in Kathmandu about 10 minutes from the Royal Palace that's at the center of the city. Kathmandu is really made of 3 old cities. The house we rent from a Nepali man that is truly amazing. He has photo's in his house back to his great-great grandfather. His home is like a museum. In the garden, are 150-year-old Chinese vases that were brought over the Himalayas on the backs of porters umpteen years ago? Our rent is high by Nepali standards ($250 - 15,000 Nepal Rupees), but we have a great location for Diana's work and mine and we have a great compound. We have a badminton net up in the front yard. We get sun from sun-up to sun-down. It's a 2 bedroom place with a sun-room, dining room, living room, big kitchen, garage, storage house, chokidar (guard) house, and our roof has a great sitting area. We have a field nearby to expand the garden, if we need.

We have one telephone line (it's an 8 year wait for another one - or you can pay $500 to jump to the front of the queue). We pump water from a large collection well (there's water shortages all over the city when the Monsoon's not on) to the roof for pressure. We have electricity that is expensive by Nepali standards. We use an expensive, imported propane heater to warm the place, and only one week out of the year would we need A/C - the fan does the trick.

There is no sewage treatment anywhere in Nepal. 23 million people contribute to the waterways that usually dump into the Ganges of India. The one facility that was built for millions of foreign aid dollars was never turned on because the neighbors where convinced it would stink. People use the toilet and bath in public here, but with a lot of modesty.

Do you speak the native language?

I worked with my Nepali gardener today for practice. Over the last 2 to 3 months, after getting our Business Visa's that let us live in the country, I took a tutor for 1 hour - 2 times a week. Now, I have a big vocabulary, but need practice to work on creating sentences. I'm amazed when I meet people that have been here 5 years that don't know the language. I don't want to be like that. We spend more time with Nepali's than experts anyway. And, of course, I'm learning music, how to cook and how to break the American materialistic paradigm. We have 75% of our time free here; only 25% or less is used for work.

People do not say 'No' in Nepal. Maybe, they are like the Asians that don't want to lose face or take responsibility for a decision. They have this way of nodding their heads making a bobbing, figure 8 motion. It's great when your partner's nagging you about something or you're approached on the street from a hawker trying to sell you something. This makes for interesting business and politics. Since, it's part of the culture, you have to learn how to read people. That's what I have found living in Nepal to be all about.

When you shut your brain, you are only left with feeling and intuition. That's why I believe the popular phrase - Don't try to change Nepal, let Nepal change you. And... How true it has become for me.

To contribute information or become a sponsor, please contact us at:

Mr. Madhav Prasad Pandey
San Diego Foundation of Nepal (SADFUN)
Gpo. Box No: 14221, Kathmandu Nepal
Tel No: 00977-1-4389151
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