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Sunday, May 15, 2011
Introduction Surrounded by the greatest heights of the Himalaya, the kingdom of Nepal is a land of eternal attraction, a place where one visit is hardly ever enough. It's a land of colorful cultures, ancient history and people, superb scenery and some of the best walking on earth.
Nepal's history is closely related to its geographical location, separating the fertile plains of India from the desert-like plateau of Tibet. Its position between Indian and China meant the country was able at times to play the role of intermediary - a canny trader between two great powers - while at other times it faced the threat of invasion. Internally, its history was just as dynamic, with city-states in the hills vying with each other for power until one powerful king, Prithivi Narayan Shah, overran them all. That history is very visible today with the three great towns of the Kathmandu valley - Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur - still bearing witness to their days as fiercely competitive mediaeval mini-kingdoms. Indeed, in Nepal it's often possible to suspend belief and mentally roll the clock right back to the mediaeval era.
Behind the old temples and places of the Kathmandu Valley, above and beyond the hills that surrounding the valley, another kingdom' rises skyward. The abode of snows' which is what Himalaya means in Sanskrit, is a natural kingdom' and a magnet to mountaineers from all above the world. You don't have to be Sherpa or Hillary in order for you to get in amongst these great mountains. With a touch of enterprises and a modicum of fitness most travelers can walk the trails that lead into the road less heights of the Himalaya. In Nepal one trek is rarely enough, and many visitors soon find themselves planning to return. Fascinating old town, magnificent temples and great walking are not all Nepal has to offer. Many visitors come to Nepal expecting to find these things but also discover how outstanding friendly the Nepalese are.
Trekking is not the only activity which draws visitors, it also has some superb white-water rafting opportunities, mountain biking, which is become more and more popular, and down in the jungle, safaris on elephant-back into the Royal Chitwan National Park are another not-to-be-missed part of the Nepal experience.
Geography In two of the three dimensions, length and breadth, Nepal is just another small country. In the third, height, it's number one in the world. Nepal starches from north-west to south-east about 800 km and varies in width from around 90 km to 230 km. This gives it a total area of just 147,181 sq. km according to the official figures.
Within that small area, however, is the greatest range of altitude to be seen on this earth - starting with the Terai, only 100m or so above sea level, and finishing at the top of Mt. Everest (8848m), the highest point on earth.
Often a visitor's overriding goal is to see the mountains, especially Everest and Annapurna. However, to exclude the people, flowers, birds and wildlife from the experience is to miss the essence of the country regions, or natural zones: the plains in the south, four mountain ranges, and the valley lying between them. The lowlands with their fertile soils, and the southern slopes of the mountains with sunny exposures, allow for cultivation and are the main inhabited regions.
Climate Nepal has four distinct seasons. Spring from March to May, is warm with rain showers. Summer, from June to August, is the monsoon season when the hills turn lush and green. Autumn, from September to November, is cool with clear skies and is the most popular season for trekking. In winter, from December to February, it is cold at night, with fog in the early morning.
Because Nepal is quite far south in Latitude (same as Miami), the weather is warmer and winter is much milder at lower elevations. The monsoon is determined by the Bay of Bengal. It is hot during the monsoon with rain almost everyday. During this season, trekking in most of Nepal is difficult and uncomfortable, the trails being muddy and infested with leeches. It usually does not rain for more that one or two days during the entire autumn and the winter season. In the winter, the mountains are covered with snow including some high hills. Mt. Everest itself is a huge black rock during the trekking season, which becomes snow-covered only during the winter.
Population Nepal's population currently stands at around 23 million (1998 estimate). Every year population increases by nearly 600,000. The largest city is Kathmandu, the capital, with more than 700,000 people. In the mountains the rate of increase is lower than in Terai, but this is because many people are migrating in search of land and work. Despite extremely high rates of infant morality, the life expectancy is only a horrifying 54 years, the overall annual rate of population increase is a rapid 2.6%. Family planning is primary importance, but most people continue to regard children as a blessing. A child is seen as a vital and fulfilling part of the parents' life, an extra worker and someone to care for them in old age, not just an extra stomach. Women have an average of more than four children each.
People Like the geography, the population of Nepal extremely diverse and highly complex. Simplistically, Nepal is the meeting point for the Indo-Aryan people of Indian with the Tibeto-Burman of the Himalaya, but this gives little hint of the dynamic ethnic mosaic that has developed and continues to change to this day. In a south-north direction, as you move from the plains to the mountains, the ethnic map can be roughly divided into layers: the Terai, the midlands or Pahad zone, and the Himalaya. Each zone is dominated by characteristic ethnic groups whose agriculture and lifestyles are adapted to suit the physical constraints of their environment. In the Himalayan zone, the people are Monologian of Tibetan descent. They are know as bhote in Nepali. In the east of the midlands zone, one find Kirati people known as Rai, Limbu groups. They speak Tibeto-Burman Language. In the Terai zone, after the eradication of malaria in the 1950s the only people to live in the valley were Tharus of Hindu overtones.
Anthropologists divide the people of Nepal into about 50 ethnic groups or castes with their own culture and traditions. Everyone is proud of their heritage. Many people use the name of their ethnic group, caste or clan as their surname. The caste system has many occupational castes such as Brahmins (Hindu Priests), Chhetris (farmers in the hills and soldiers), Newars (the original inhabitants of Kathmandu Valley), Thakalis, Gurungs, Rais, Limbus, Tamangs, Magars, Potters, butchers, blacksmiths, cobblers, goldsmiths, clothes washers, etc.
Brahmin The Brahmins (Bahuns in Nepali) are the traditional Hindu priest castes and speak Nepali as their first language. They are conscious of the concept of jutho, or ritual pollution at their home and food. Always ask permission before entering a Brahmin's house and never enter a their kitchen. Brahmins traditionally do not drink alcohol.
Chhetri The other major Hindu Caste is Chhetri. In villages they are farmers, but they are also known for being outstanding soldiers. This clan includes the ruling family of Nepal, the Shahs, Ranas and Thakuris. Thakuris are descendants of the Rajputs in India.
Newar The original inhabitants of the Kathmandu Valley are the Newars. To this day also they remain concentrated in the valley in Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur and Kirtipur. Newars have a rich cultural heritage with skilled artisans and most of the traditional arts of Nepal have been crafted by Newars. There are both Buddhist and Hindu Newars.
Tamang Tamang literally means "horse soldier' and Tamang legend says that they migrated to Nepal at the time of Genghis Khan as cavalry troops. Tamangs are one of the most popular in the Hills. They speak a Tibeto-Burmese language and practice a form of Tibetan Buddhism as their religion. Most Tamangs are farmers. They also work as porters and the chances are the 'Sherpa' on your trek is more likely to be a Tamang than a Sherpa.
Rai Like the Tamangs and Sherpas, Rais speak a Tibeto-Burmese language of their own. They practice an indigenous religion that is neither Buddhist nor Hindu, though it has more of an influence of Hinduism. Rais, along with Limbus, Magars and Gurungs are one of the ethnic groups which supply a large proportion of the recruits for the well known Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies.
Limbu Most Limbu people live in the eastern side of Nepal. Their religion is a mixture of Buddhism and Shamanism.
Gurung Gurungs often serve in the Nepalese army and the police as well as the Gurkha regiments of both the British and Indian armies. They are Mongoloid in feature and their dance performance are particularly exotic.
Magar Traditionally, Magars are farmers and stonemasons but they also serve as soldiers in Gurkha regiments and in the Nepalese army. Magars can either be Hindu or Buddhist.
Thakali The Thakalis are originally from Kali Gandaki (Thak Khola) region but they have migrated wherever business opportunities have led. They are excellent in business and running hotels. They have a mixed religion of Buddhism, Hinduism and ancient shamanistic and animistic cult.
Sherpa One of Nepal's most famous ethnic groups are the Sherpas, even though they form only a tiny part of the total population. Sherpas first came into prominence when the 1921 Mt. Everest reconnaissance team hired them. Though the most famous Sherpa settlement are near Everest region, they are found throughout the eastern part of Nepal.
Manangi Manangi's reside in the northern part of Annapurna called Manang. They are closely related to Tibetans. They had been given special trading privileges by the government and thus Manangi's are mostly found to be doing business these days, importing goods from Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore.
Tharu The largest and most probably the oldest group in the Terai region are the Tharus. They are mostly farmers. They have their own tribal religion based on Hinduism.
Culture, Conduct & Consideration Nepal has always been a dividing line between cultures and civilizations, and a cross-roads for the commerce and culture. Here the plains of the subcontinent climb up to the high plateau of Tibet, the languages and people of India give way to those of China and the Hindu religion blends in to Buddhism. Nepal is often a complex blend of the two influences and this variation is further complicated by the diversity of ethnic groups within the country.
The challenge for you as a visitor to Nepal is the respect the rights and beliefs of the local people, and to minimize your impact - culturally and environmentally. Remember Nepali is not an adventure park or museum established for your convenience, but home to a vital, changing culture. Life for many is extremely hard, but despite the scarcity of material possessions, there are many qualities that shame the so-called developed world. Your very presence in Nepal will have an effect - an increasing number of people say a negative one. In a totally different culture it is also inevitable that the visitor will make some gaffe at some point. Most Nepalis make allowances, but they do appreciate it when a genuine effort is made to observe local customs. Following is a miscellaneous collection of simple suggestions that will help avoid offense.
Always remove your shoes before entering a Nepali home. Dress appropriately - shorts or revealing clothing are never suitable for women. Shorts are acceptable for men only when trekking; going without a shirt anywhere is not. Nudity is not acceptable anywhere
Behavior Public display of affection are frowned upon. Nepali men often walk around hand-in-hand, but this does not have the same implications as it does in San Francisco! Raising your voice or shouting shows extreme bad manners and will not solve your problem, what ever it might be. Always try to remain cool, calm and collect. Bodily contact is rarely made, even for shaking hands, although amongst young Nepali men with western connections it is becoming more accepted. Never touch anything or point at anything with your feet, the lowest part of the body. In contrast the head is spiritually the highest part of the body, so don't pat children on the head. Never inquire about a person's caste. The Nepalese do not like to give negative answers or no answer at all: if you are given a wrong direction or told a place is much nearer than it turns out to be, it may be through fear of disappointing you! Don't encourage begging children. If you want to help there are lots of excellent aid organizations which will make good use of your contribution and local schools will be only too happy with a gift of ball-point pens.
Visiting a Temple Always walk clockwise around Buddhist stupas, chortens or mani walls. Always remove your shoes before entering a Buddhist or Hindu temple or sanctuary. You may also have to remove any items made from leather, such as belts and bags. Many Hindu temples do not permit westerners to enter.
It's the custom to give a white scarf or Khata to a Buddhist abbot when you are introduced. The honorific title Rimpoche is usually bestowed on abbots. The scarves can easily be found at Tibetan shops.
Visiting a Nepali Home In a Nepali home the kitchen is off limits to guests. Avoid polluting food by inadvertently touching it or bringing it into contact with a used plate or utensil. Using you own fork or spoon to serve out more food will do this. Putting your used plate on a buffet table risks making the food still on the table jutho or polluted. Notice how Nepalese drink from cup or water vessel without letting it touch their lips.
Photography Do not intrude with a camera, unless it is clearly OK with the people you are photographing. Ask before a temple compound whether it is permissible to enter and take photographs. Do not exchange addresses or offer copies of photos unless you definitely intend to follow it up later.
Language It's quite easy to get by with English in Nepal; most of the visitors will have to deal with in the Kathmandu valley and in Pokhara will speak good English. Along the main trekking trails, particularly the Annapurna Circuit, English is widely understood. However, it's interesting to learn at least a little Nepali and it's quite an easy language to pick up. Nepali is closely related to Hindi and, like Hindi, is a member of the Indo-European group of languages. Although Nepali is the national language of Nepal and is the linking language between all the country's ethnic groups there are many other languages spoken. The Newars of the Kathmandu Valley, for example, speak Newari and there are other languages spoken by the Tamangs, Sherpas, Rais, Limbus, Magars, Gurungs and other groups. In the Terai, bordering India, Hindi and Maithali, another Indian language of their region, are often spoken. Even if you can learn no other Nepali, there is one word every visitor soon picks up - Namaste. Strictly translated it means I salute the god in you, but it is used as an everyday greeting encompassing everything from Hello to How are you? and even 'see you again soon'. Properly used it should be accompanied with the hands held in a prayer like position, the Nepali gesture which is the equivalent of westerners shaking hands.
Word Phrases (Basic)
Yes, (I have)
No (I don't have)
kata or kahan
Please give me ...
malai ... dinuhos
Give me water
I want to sleep
malai sutna man lagyo
I feel cold
malai jado lagya
The food is cold
khaana cheeso chha
What is it made of?
ke le baneko?
Where is the market
bazar kata parcha
I have a fever
I don't feel well
malai sancho chhaina
How are you?
tapai lai kasto chha?
I am fine
malai sancho chha
What is your name
tapai ko naam ke ho?
My name is --
mero naam -- ho
What time is it?
aahile kati bajyo?
It's two o'clock
aahile dui bajyo
I speak a little Nepali
ma ali nepali bolchhu
I don't understand
Please say it again
Please speak slowly
tapai bistari bolnuhos
I don't need it
I don't have it
ma sanga chhaina
Wait a minute
ek chhin parkhanos
Where is a hotel?
hotel kahaa cha?
Can I get a place to stay?
yahan baas pauncha?
May I look at the room?
ma kotha herna sakchhu?
Does it include breakfast
bihanako khaana samet ho?
How can I get -- ?
-- kaha bata jane ho?
Is it far from there?
yahaabata ke taadhaa chha?
Where does this bus go?
yo bus kahaa jaanchha?
How much does it cost to go to --
-- jana kati parchha?
I want one-way/return ticket.
aaune/jaane-aaune tikat dinuhos.
Facts for the Visitor (Planning when to go) Climate factors are very important in deciding on a visit to Nepal. October-November, the start of the dry season, is in many ways the best time of the year in Nepal. With the monsoon only recently finished the country-side is green and lush and Nepal is at its most beautiful. Rice is harvested and there are some more important and colorful festivals to enjoy. At this time of the year the air is sparkling clean, visibility is unexcelled and the Himalayan views are as near perfect as you can ask. Further more the weather is still balmy, neither too hot nor too cold. For obvious reasons, this is also the peak tourist season.
In December-January the climate and visibility are still good, though it can get very cold. Trekkers need to be well prepared, as snow can be encountered on high-altitude treks. Heading for the Everest Base Camp at this time of the year can be a real feat of endurance and the Annapurna Circuit trek is often closed by snow on the Thorang La pass. Down in Kathmandu the cheaper hotels, where heating is non-existent, are often chilly and gloomy in the evenings. There's sometimes a brief winter monsoon, lasting just a day or two in January.
February-March-April, the tail end of the dry season, is good second-best time. The weather gets warmer so high-altitude treks are no longer as arduous, although by the end of the dry season, before the monsoon breaks, it starts to get too hot for comfort. Visibility is not good as earlier in the dry season since the country is now very dry, and dust in the air reduces that crystal Himalayan clarity. In compensation, Nepal's wonderful rhododendrons and many other flowers are in bloom so there's plenty of color to be seen along the trekking trails.
May and the early part of June are not the best months as it is extremely hot and dusty and the coming monsoon hangs over you like a threat. Mid-June to September, when the monsoon finally arrives, is the least popular time to visit Nepal. The rains wash the dust out the air, but the clouds obscure the mountains so you're unlikely to enjoy more than a rare glimpse of Himalaya. Although it doesn't rain all day it usually does rain everyday and the trails will be muddy and plagued by leeches. Despite this, it is possible to trek during the monsoon, although high rivers may further complicate matters and it's certainly not as pleasant as other times of the year. Landslides sometimes block roads during the monsoon but many visitors still come to Nepal form India as the weather is even less pleasant down on the plains. The latter part of the monsoon, the months of August-September, are a time of festivals which will certainly enliven a visit to Kathmandu.
How Long to Visit If you plan to visit during the monsoon, and your stay is restricted to the Kathmandu Valley, a week is probably quite enough. During the dry season you really need more like a month to enjoy the country: a week or two for Kathmandu and the surrounding area, a week for a short trek, and a week for Pokhara and a visit to Royal Chitwan National Park. If you wan to walk some of the longer trekking routes then you need to extend your visa - it takes three weeks to walk the Annapurna Circuit.
What to Bring Nepal's climate variations due to altitude mean that at certain times of year you'll have to come prepared for almost anything. If you're in Nepal during the winter you'll find it's T-shirt weather if you're tracking wildlife in the Terai, but up at the Everest Base Camp you'll want the best thermal gear money can buy! In the Kathmandu Valley, the daytime weather is pleasant year round, but in winter the temperature drops as soon as the sun sets, or even goes behind a cloud. It never reaches freezing in the valley, however, so it's sweater or warm-jacket weather, nothing worse. Climb higher to the valley edge at Nagarkot and you can find it much colder. If you plan to ride a bike, or have a respiratory problem, we suggest you to wear a mask. You will need an umbrella or raincoat during the monsoon season, specially in Pokhara where rainfall is heavier than in Kathmandu. A month after the monsoon it can be pleasantly warm. Sunglasses and skin creams are necessary for those who have skin problem. Clothing is easily and cheaply available in the market. If you need one, You can get one here. If you are visiting Wildlife Park or other Terai areas, do not forget to bring insect repellent and a torch.
Visa In order to enter Nepal, holders of European, American, Asian and other passports need a visa for holiday or business purposes. All the passports must be valid at least six months beyond the intended length of stay. Visitors arriving without Nepalese visa can receive a 15 day visa at the Airport immigration Counter. Single entry tourist visas are available for 15 days ($15) or 30 days ($25), or you can also get multiple entry 60 days for ($60). You also need passport size photos. One you get your visa, you must use it within three months of the date it is issued.
Visa Extension Tourist visa can be extended for 150 days plus 30 more days can be granted on reasonable ground. Beyond 30 days of 180 days, you'll have to pay $ 1 per day for 150 days. One passport size photo is required.
Customs When you depart from Kathmandu, you may be searched very thoroughly. In addition to drugs, customs is concerned with the illegal export of antiques. Visitors are allowed to bring only few items from the duty free shop for their personal use only.
Credit Cards Major credit cards are widely accepted in Kathmandu and Pokhara hotels, restaurants and shops. Visitors can withdraw money through Visa /Master Card from Nepal Grindlays Bank and AMEX Card through American Express office in Jamal. There is a standard 1% commission.
Money Transfer You need to follow the right steps to transfer money from overseas. You have to select the bank which is the branch of International Bank and make sure that you transfer by fax as mail can take forever. Before you transfer your money, make sure that they have you name, bank name & address exactly right. Do not forget to inform the bank in Kathmandu about your transfer in advance.
Post The postal service to and from Nepal is sometime slow otherwise it take only a week. Make sure that you write down the name in bold and underline it and also do not forget to write the post box number of the hotel that you are staying . E-mail & fax services are available in most of the hotels and communication boots. There are few communication booths in Pokhara for e-mail as well.
Airport Security All luggage is X-rayed at Kathmandu airport on the way in and the way out of the country. Films are supposed to be safe in X-ray machines but, if you are really concern about your exposed films, please get them inspected manually.
Security Nepal is generally very safe with one of the lowest crime rates of all countries. Travel with children in Nepal, yet with a bit of planning it is remarkably hassle free. There is no fear of special threats, but it is always wise to keep an eye on one's luggage in busy areas. Pick-pockets are a world phenomenon.
Electricity Electricity: 220 Volts, 50 Hz.
Shopping Despite Nepal's lack of raw materials, shopping here is quite advanced. Curio arts, Garment and Carpets are head the export list. Nepal's carpet industries are world renowned. Apart from infinity variety of carpets, other hand made jewelry, thankas, block prints, embroidery, Tibetan carpet, pottery, masks & puppets, metal work, tea and other decorating items are among the best souvenirs you can buy here.
Currency We have a special regulation on exchanging foreign currency. Foreign currency can be exchanged only with the hotel cashier, banks and licensed establishments. Upon departure 15% of the amount exchanged can be converted on production of en-cash receipt.
International Calls International calls can be made from any hotel telephone booth. The access code is "00" followed by country code and so on (e.g. 00-81 for Japan). Most of the public shops also have telephones, but international calls are usually not accessible. However, there are plenty of private telephone booths around the streets of Kathmandu.
To dial into Nepal, dial your international access code followed by 977 (Nepal's country code) and then the city code (1 for Kathmandu) and the phone number.
Food Nepal also has it's own "Nepali cuisine". However, other cuisine like Indian, Chinese, Italian, French, Japanese and Thai are available in most of the hotels and restaurants. Among all, Nepali and Newari cuisine are very popular. Nepali favorite dish 'MOMO' is world renowned.
Dal, Bhat, Kukhura ko Masu, Tarkari & Achar: A typical Nepali set meal consists of Rice, Lentil, Chicken, Vegetables and Pickle.
Something to drink Nepali Raksi is one of our traditional common drink. It is made out of rice, beaten rice. People drink it in almost every special festivals in Kathmandu. However, we recommend you not to try more than a peg because it is a very strong and burning drink. Nepal has also produced different variety of world renowned beer (Tuborg, Carlsberg, San Miguel etc.). We strictly recommend all our visitor not to drink water straight from the tap. A bottle of mineral water is easily available in every shops.
Tipping In our Nepali custom, tipping is not a big issue. People do not expect anything as a tip from you in Nepal. Even in big hotels, they do not levy service charge. However, if you feel like tipping, it's all up to you. Generally Rs. 50 - Rs. 100 is quite sufficient. Taxi drivers don't expect to be tipped.
Getting in and getting out of Nepal Several airlines have direct and non-stop flights from Europe and Asia to Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), Kathmandu, the only international airport in Nepal. The national carrier, Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation, RNAC, has flights to eight international cities in seven different countries. One can enter Nepal by land from India. The most common entry points are Kakarbhitta (eastern Nepal), Birgunj and Bhairahawa (South Central Nepal).
Getting Around Larger towns like Kathmandu and Pokhara have taxis which is good to explore Kathmandu Valley in a group. Metered taxis are easily available with black license plates. You can also hire a private car for half-day and one day sight seeing. For getting around in Thamel , Indrachowk and Durbar Marg, Rikshaw (three wheeled man paddled cycle) is the best source of transportation. You can also get one with the motorcycle engine. For organized tours, please see our Travel Agency chapter.
Road Regulations Driver must keep to the left side of the road, and can pass on the left and right according to the traffic signs. There are no speed limit zones. An average driving speed inside Kathmandu valley is 40-50 Km/h (25-32 M/h). For your safety, seat belts must be worn in front seats.
Drivers' Licenses International Drivers' License is required. The minimum driving age is 18 years. Car rental companies reserves the right to set their own limits. However we recommend getting the services of a driver.
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Nepal Bank Ltd.
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Visitor's Guide to Sacred Sites
Entry to most temples, stupas and shrines is not restricted. However, some sensitive religious enclosures and sites may prohibit entry. Signboards are displayed.
If you wish to enter a shrine, where allowed, you may go around in a clockwise direction. We believe in putting our Gods to our right when circling the shrine.
The front side of the shrines are usually marked by a lotus carved stone on the pavement or a slightly recessed square pit. The image of the carrier of the deity or symbol may be seen on the pedestal in front. These define the territoriality of the shrine. Reference to these elements will put you in a proper perspective.
Photography is generally not prohibited. However there are some facades or images where photography is restricted. Watch for these or ask the guards. If you wish to be more considerate, do not use flashlights inside when someone is worshipping.
Do not take any photograph of someone performing his ritual without a prior permission.
Nepal's attitude towards religion is very tolerant one, and many different religions flourish and mingle here.
Leather products, such as belts, jackets, shoes and bags are prohibited in most religious places. Please leave them outside. Your friend or the watchman will take care of these while you are inside.
We advice you not to touch offerings or person when they are on the way to shrines or are in the process of worshipping. Keep a respectful distance.
Apart from worshipping of the image, many sensitive rituals are also practiced by the believers around the shrines. These may be related to festive occasions situations. By carefully watching the behavior of local onlookers, you can self behave sensitively.
If you have meat in you lunch pack, we advise you to eat at some distance from the shrine precincts. Some of our Gods do not permit animal sacrifices.
Do not encourage beggars or roaming artifacts vendors around the shrines by giving money or bargaining as you walk.
Please do not accept any gifts or buy objects of art, manuscripts, images etc. which have antique value. These need to stay here not only for ourselves but for future visitors like yourself who would like to share the experience. Whether something is antique or not can be established by the Department of Archaeology.