Nepal, much more than the Himalayas… I admit, when I first travelled to Nepal, I hardly knew anything about the country. I vaguely remembered that Nepal has many mountains, including the highest in the world, the gigantic Mount Everest. But that was it! Who would have thought that on my first trip to Nepal, I would have been so impressed by the diversity of this country and all the little treasures it has to offer.
Of course, the Himalayas dominate the country and are an important part of it. But there are so many more small towns and villages, ancient heritage sites and an abundance of natural beauty worth discovering! You can see the beautiful snowy peaks of the Himayala from the plane (usually when you sit on the left) when it is still light.
The feeling you get is overwhelming. How amazing!
Kathmandu, the heart of Nepal
After landing in the airport you are immediately in the heart of the country, Kathmandu. A few days here to get used to the Nepalese rhythm is no luxury. You can explore the city by yourself or let yourself be guided by a guide. A car with a private driver can take you from one location to another.
In Kathmandu itself there are 4 highlights not to be missed. Stroll under the watchful eye of a colony of monkeys up the stairs to the Buddhist temple complex of Swayambunath, visit the museum and talk to the monks walking around. Also take a look at the Amidevi Buddha Garden at the foot of the hill. Here are 3 large statues of reincarnations of Buddha gilded in gold. Afterwards head towards Boudhanath, the Tibetan Buddhist heart of the city with the giant white stupa. Here you can have lunch with a view on the stupa. Also the ritual cremations on the banks of the Bagmati River in Pashupatinath are worth a visit. If you are not Hindu, you are not allowed to enter the temple, but the domain is large and there is a lot to see. Not only the future is foretold here by Hindu priests, but also the holy Saddhus, worshippers of the God Shiva, live in the small barracks on the domain. Finally, it is also highly recommended to stroll through the many streets in the old part of Kathmandu: around every corner you will find an altar, temple or stupa. And as icing on the cake, the gigantic pagodas of the Durbar Square suddenly rise up in front of you. Here you see also the house of Kumari, the only living Goddess!
If you have a few days to spend in Kathmandu, you can certainly include the lesser-known places in your trip. For example, is the Baber Mahal complex worth a visit, the neoclassical garden of the Garden of Dreams or the old monastery in Thamel? Or go out with a local guide and discover the most delicious eateries, where the locals can’t be ignored. If you like to cook and eat, then a cooking workshop at a local women’s NGO is highly recommended! There is also plenty to do for creative people: a lot of artisans or local Nepalese like to teach you in a workshop how to make something beautiful! Kathmandu is situated in the Kathmandu valley, where there is also a lot to see and do.
On discovery in the Kathmandu valley
After a few days in busy Kathmandu, you are eager to explore the rest of the country. But don’t go to the other side of the country right away, there is so much to see and do in the Kathmandu valley!
If you are a culture lover, be sure to visit the medieval town of Bhaktapur where you can see the potters at work in the open air. Be sure to taste the delicious yoghurt, which is known all over Nepal! Patan is also a gem. Just like Bhaktapur and Kathmandu, this city has a beautiful Royale Palace with the Golden Temple as a highlight. The streets around the square are also pleasant to stroll through: here and there you can see metalworkers at work.
Less known, but no less worthwhile is Kirtipur. This town has a rich Newari culture and is built against a hill. Besides some cultural gems, you can also enjoy a beautiful view over the valley! Also the small Newari villages, Khokana and Bungamati where you can see the Nepalese at work with their daily activities are worth a visit. And why don’t you go and have a look in Changu Narayan? Here you will find Nepal’s oldest temple: around the main building there are smaller buildings for the pilgrims.
By now you have caught a few glimpses of the Himalayas and will undoubtedly want to get to know this gigantic mountain range a little better. In the Kathmandu valley there are several hill stations, these are villages situated on the hills surrounding the Kathmandu valley from where you have a beautiful view of the Himalayas! The best known is Nagarkot, but also from Dhulikhel, Kakani, Chandragiri and other locations you can see the Himalayas very well. It pays to spend the night in these locations.
If you want more walks and less car rides, it is also nice to trek from one location to another. You can include nice villages like Panauti, Balthali or Namobuddha, with its large Buddhist monastery. I did this trekking myself on my first trip through Nepal and thought it was great to get to know the country for the first time. You enjoy nature, are active and meet many locals in the villages along the way. There are many more places to discover in the Kathmandu valley!
On the way to Pokhara
After you have explored the Kathmandu valley, you will start a journey through the country. The easiest way is to leave in the direction of Pokhara. This is a long drive of 6 hours, but along the way there are nice places where you can stop for a while, a small restaurant next to the river or in the village of Malekhu, where you can taste the local fish.
About halfway between Kathmandu and Pokhara is the Manakama temple. This is situated on a 1300 meter high hill above the Trisuli river. With a cable car you go up here and at the top you have a beautiful view! You can spend the night nearby, but you can also choose to skip this temple.
An alternative to spend the night is the picturesque Bandipur. This town is one of my personal favourites: you immediately imagine yourself a few decades back in time. Beautiful traditional houses in the main street and it is traffic free! There is also a lot to see and do in the neighborhood. On our last visit we were lucky and had a beautiful and clear view of the snowy peaks of the Himalayas! From Bandipur you can also easily make a day hike to the village of Ramkot, known for its traditional round houses.
From Bandipur it is still about 2,5 hours drive to Pokhara. When the weather is clear you have an impressive view of the mountains. I can guarantee you, you won’t get enough of this view.
Special atmosphere in Pokhara and surroundings
Pokhara itself is right next to Lake Phewa and most hotels are on the Lakeside. If you want to stay a bit more secluded, there are also possibilities in e.g. Sarangkot.
From Pokhara you can do many different activities. For the more adventurous there is plenty to choose from: a mountain bike tour, a day tour or two-day rafting, zip flyer, canyoning down waterfalls, a bungee jump over a river or why not go paragliding over Lake Phewa, with a view of the Himalayas? One by one an unforgettable experience! If you want it a bit less adventurous, you can also take a kayak up the Phewa Lake and paddle a bit.
Also for culture and nature lovers there is a lot to see and do: you can take a boat on the lake and visit the island with the Tal Barahi temple. Or drop off at the other side and walk up to the World Peace Pagoda. From here you have a magnificent view of Pokhara, Lake Phewa and the mountains! Pay a visit to one of the caves and watch Davis Falls as the water thunderously disappears into the abyss. Around Pokhara there are several Tibetan settlements, where you can learn about the history of Tibetan refugees, but you can also follow a momo cooking workshop. There are also a number of museums that are worth visiting. Oh and be sure to follow the Aarti ceremony at sunset on the shores of the lake! The atmosphere around Pokhara ensures that you can spend a few days here.
For learning more about meditation, reiki or follow a yoga course, there are several possibilities. Also near Kathmandu there are options for this! If you would like to have a bit more tranquillity, you could also choose to stay at the Begnas or Rupa lake. These locations are perfect if you just want to walk in nature and enjoy the beauty of nature. Nepal has no sea or beach, but a stay in a resort near one of the lakes is a nice alternative.
On the way to the South
After Pokhara you can descend to the South, go straight on to Chitwan or make a stopover in the village of Tansen. Here you will get a nice impression of the Nepalese lifestyle and you can also see the weavers of the typical Nepalese Dhaka fabric at work. From here you can also make nice daytrips to Rani Ghat, where you can admire the remains of an old palace above the Kali Gandaki river.
The South of Nepal
In the south of Nepal the climate is subtropical and the landscape consists of plains instead of hills. This part of Nepal is mainly inhabited by the Tharu people, who live in mud huts. You can take a nice walk through the Tharu villages, or opt to sleep one night at a Tharu community. You can also rent bikes here and make a nice trip through the fields!
Also Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, is nearby. On this gigantic domain you will find more than 30 Buddhist temples built by Buddhist communities from all over the world. Prayer flags fly in the wind, monks pray under the big pipal tree and pilgrims visit the Maha Devi temple. On this domain you can easily wander around for a day.
The most visited park in the South is the Chitwan National Park. In several villages around the park there are lodges and hotels where you can spend the night. In some of the lodges they have their own elephants, which roam chain free on the domain. Furthermore, you can enter the park by foot, canoe or jeep. Of course always with a guide and a park ranger, because you would rather not suddenly come face to face with a Bengal tiger or a big rhino! Some community forests around the park are also worth a visit. You can also take a multi-day hike from Chitwan.
A beautiful and unspoilt alternative to Chitwan is Bardia National Park. This park is also the largest natural park of Nepal! There are less hotels and lodges, but the activities in the park are all the more adventurous! You can sail down the quiet river in a rubber boat, take a jeep into the park or just go on a jungle safari on foot! By the way, did you know that this is quite unique in the world, on foot among the wild animals! In Bardia you can also spend the night in a tent in the park or in a tree house in an adjacent forest. Wild animals do not respect the boundaries of a national park!
There are also other parks you can visit, such as Sukla Phanta National Park or Koshi Tappu Wildlife Reserve. Both parks are not touristy, and therefore less accessible. But if that is what you are looking for and you like to take the simple accommodation, then this is definitely recommended!
In the Eastern South of the country you also have a number of other non-touristic gems. The city of Janakpur is not only known for its beautiful and colorful temple, but also for its special Mithila paintings! Further eastwards you reach the tea fields of Ilam. Here you can take a multi-day walk in the area of the Red Panda or stay with a tea farmer and learn everything about growing tea.
On the way to the Kathmandu valley
After visiting some places in the South, you slowly return to the Kathmandu valley. There are still some places that are worth visiting on this side as well. There is Pharping and the small village Dollu just next to it. Here you can walk in nature or visit the village of Pharping. Buddhists from all over the world visit the Asura or Guru Rinpoche cave, the Vajra Yogini temple and stay there in one of the Buddhist monasteries.
Another unknown gem is Chitlang, this small village has a rich history and lies on the old road from the South to Kathmandu.
And last but not least … the impressive Himalayas!
And of course there are the Himalayas. The nice thing about these mountains is that they are so big, that even for beginners there are several trails possible! Depending on the region you want to migrate to, you can either depart from Kathmandu in the direction of Pokhara or directly in the direction of Langtang National Park. For further areas take a domestic flight.
The most famous trekking trails are undoubtedly Everest Base Camp, Annapurna Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit. Yet there are dozens of other treks that are definitely worthwhile. So consider doing an alternative trekking: because there are fewer tourists, everything is more authentic and you bring income to other communities! After all, it is much more fun to walk ‘alone’ on the trails instead of in a row, isn’t it?
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