Located between the majestic Himalaya Mountains and the fascinating dense jungles, Nepal is a land yaks, yetis, mountain peaks and hidden monasteries appear to be seemingly common. Ever since the country opened its borders to foreigners, it emerged as an enchanting destination for hikers and trekkers of all types, many venturing to the famous Everest Base Camp. Its rugged trails proved unparalleled trekking opportunities while the appeal of climbing Mount Everest was more than enough to attract mountain climbers from all over the planet.
Over the years, Nepal has also managed to invent itself into a popular travel destination. Its rich natural beauty, historic attractions and vast cultural heritage has proven to be the perfect mix between the ancient and the modern, slow paced lifestyles and frantic city life. Its capital Kathmandu is a bustling metropolis with deep ties to history, culture and ancient religion. Its religions – Hinduism and Buddhism – melt together and lure Western travelers. With unparalleled terrain and adventure, Nepal never fails to deliver an unforgettable experience. No wonder Nepal is featured high on the list of travel trends for 2016 and beyond.
Just for the anxious ones, Nepal’s earthquake did not destroy the country, although it was almost portrayed that way in the various medias. Old monuments were laid down and many local villages suffered, however, many monuments, buildings etc remains 100% intact and almost all trekking routes have already opened up again.
While there are too many great things to do in Nepal to list, we’ve narrowed down seven activities that Nepal is best known for, and some that are newly emerging.
1. GO TREKKING IN THE HIMALAYA
Whether you are a novice or an experienced trekker, Nepal is the land of trekking (and climbing), offering some of the best trekking routes in the world. Trekking is a way of life in this vertical land. While you are lumbering in your state-of-the-art hiking boots, villagers and Sherpas will waltz by in flip flops, with kids running on their way to school. Porters haul large loads in dokos (baskets) strapped to their foreheads with a namglo (rope belt). Take note: When the guide tells you today’s path is Nepali flat, he usually still means lots of ups and downs, just not as steep as usual. But it’s often worth the climb: the trails open up into panoramic vistas, fluttering Buddhist flags, and beautiful local villages scattered across the countryside.
Nepal has two main trekking regions – Annapurna and Everest – and a number of other popular treks that are just as beautiful but receive significantly less traffic, such as the Manaslu Circuit and Upper Mustang. Most treks in the Annapurna region begins from Pokhara, a 25-minute flight or 7-hour drive from Kathmandu.
The 4 days Poonhill trek is one of the better short treks in Nepal; the Everest Base Camp trek is a great trek if having 12 days available; while the Everest Base Camp – 3 Passes trek are some of the best adventure treks in Nepal, taking you on unparalleled trekking routes amidst pristine nature.
For the Everest region, you can either walk in from Salleri or Jiri, or skip the first four days by flying directly into Lukla, a spectacular mountain airport. For a those seeking adventure with a taste for luxury, stay overnight in one of Yeti Mountain Home’s luxury lodges throughout the Solu Khumbu, often perched at a great vantage point over the valley. The most famous view of Mt. Everest is from Kala Patthar, where you can see spectacular, close-up views of Everest, Nuptse, Pumori, and the Khumbu icefall and glacier below.
For the more adventurous, venture further afield to the more remote areas of Nepal, such as the Dolpo, Makalu, and Kanchenjunga regions, where you can disappear on a month-long trek amid yak caravans and remote valleys that have seen few western tourists.
2. EXPERIENCE THE ANCIENT CULTURE OF NEPAL
Beautiful Taumadhi square in the historic city of Bhaktapur
At dawn or on a full moon, Pashupatinath is intensely spiritual. This extensive collection of Hindu temples is located at the top of a wide set of steps that lead down to the sacred Bagmati River. This UNESCO World Heritage Site draws hundreds of thousands of devout Hindu pilgrims, the red tikka marks on their foreheads a symbol of their piety.
Not far from Pashupatinath lies the Great Stupa of Boudhanath, built in the 5th century and surrounded on all sides by a vibrant community of Sherpa and Tibetans, restaurants and monasteries. Come here at dawn or at dusk when the places comes to life with thousands of devotees praying and lighting butter lamps. The all-seeing eyes of the Buddha look down on your from all four directions as you circle clockwise to the chanting of “Om Mani Padme Hum” in the air. Literally, “Hail to the jewel in the lotus.” (Note: The Stupa was damaged in the 2015 earthquake and is currently being repaired.)
Situated near the edge of the valley is Swayambhunath, commonly referred to as Monkey Temple. After climbing the steep staircase, lined with small Buddhist shrines, you’ll reach a smaller stupa that’s just as impressive as Boudha, yet more intimate and mixed with an air of Hinduism, as well. This is the stupa you can see looking out over the valley from most parts of Kathmandu.
Outside of Kathmandu, Lumbini is one of Nepal’s best-known pilgrimage sites, being the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Not far from the Indian Border, many people come here for an overnight on their way to India or Chitwan, and to pay their respects to this famous birthplace.
3. GET A GLIMPSE OF MOUNT EVEREST – BY AIR
Heading toward Everest on a mountain flight out of Kathmandu
For once-in-a-lifetime views, hop aboard an early morning scenic flight to Mount Everest. This one-hour flight takes off from Kathmandu’s domestic airport provided the weather is clear. Both Tara air and Buddha Air operate mountain flights from Kathmandu’s domestic airport when the weather is clear. (Expert tip: Be sure to get a seat at the front or rear of the plane so your view is not obstructed by the wing.)
Alternatively, the more expensive option is to take a Mount Everest helicopter tour from Kathmandu. This tour lets you get up close and personal with some of the most traditional Himalayan cultures and admire majestic peaks such as Mt. Cho Oyu, Mt. Ama Dablam and Mt. Pumori at the same time.
Insider Tip – The base camp of Kala Patthar is famous for its 360-degree panoramic views of fascinating mountains from ground level.
4. GO RAFTING, PARAGLIDING OR BUNGEE JUMPING
A great option for adventure lovers is to go on an overnight river rafting trip, with an outfit like GRG Adventure Kayaking. Start from a popular beach along the Madi River near Pokhara. Birds—kingfishers, eagles and kites—are everywhere (so are monkeys). Class III rapids offer a thrill, along with soaked clothes. At nightfall, a remote beach serves as the campsite. The sound of the water is so relaxing, sleep comes easily. The next day it is back to the rapids until the pullout.
Few people know that Nepal is also a world-class paragliding destination. Head to Pokhara, situated on Phewa Lake with Machhapuchhre as its backdrop, to catch the steady thermals up over the lake with amazing views of the entire Annapurna range. Rest assured, you’ll be safely attached to your pilot.
Finally, if you’re looking for that last bit of adrenaline, there are some great bungee-jumps to be had given the steep terrain in Nepal. To quote the Last Resort, “Imagine a bridge over a 160-meter high tropical gorge, with one of Nepal’s wildest rivers raging below… Now jump!”
5. VISIT TO CHITWAN NATIONAL PARK
Chitwan National Park, the first national park in Nepal, is considered to be another must-see destination in Nepal. More than 500 species of migratory birds call the park their home, as do one-horned rhinos, Bengal tigers and Asian elephants. It covers almost 332 sq. miles and is supposed to be your best chance of seeing animals such as bears, tigers, crocodiles, elephants and rhinos while in Nepal. The most common bird sightings include kingfishers, paradise flycatchers, egrets and ducks.
Insider Tip – The ideal way to explore the Chitwan National Park is to go for a three-day trip and stay for 2 nights at one of the hotels in Chitwan. This also gives you a chance to explore a typical Tharu village while in Nepal.
6. EXPLORING POKHARA
Pokhara – essentially a lakeside town – attracts explorers, nature lovers and adrenaline junkies with its spectacular natural beauty, an array of fishing opportunities, mountain biking, exciting treks such as Poonhill, Annapurna Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit, visiting the peace pagoda, paragliding and sunbathing. It is one of those destinations that you certainly wish to visit for the second time in your life. Boating and strolling down the lakeside in Pokhara is definitely two of the top things to do in Pokhara.
7. HIT THE TRAILS RUNNING OR BIKING
Reach new heights by not leaving the ground on one of Nepal’s great mountain biking excursions. Due to the steep climbs and precipitous descents, some routes are best left to the most experienced while others are great for all skill levels. Biking is gaining popularity as a great way to see Nepal’s spectacular scenery. For an idea of what kinds of bike trips are available, check out Unique Trails.
Nepal’s also a great trail running destination, with a growing number of internationally-recognized races and a local superstar in Mira Rai. The best thing about trail running in Nepal is that you have established trails around the famous mountains, breathtaking views to distract your from the fatigue, and local accommodation and food awaiting you each night in the teahouses. It’s hard not to think of Nepal as one of the best trail running destinations in the world.
8. BARDIA NATIONAL PARK
Bardia National Park is the largest wilderness area in Terai. It boasts of beautiful wildlife and is considered to be what the Chitwan was about 30 years ago, before it became commercialized due to tourism. The park covers about 968 sq. kms. of grasslands and Sal forests and is famous as one of the biggest stretches of tiger habitats in Asia. Apart from tigers, you can also check out 30 different species of mammals such as one-horned rhinos and elephants, Gangetic dolphins, crocodiles and more than 250 species of birds such as sarus cranes and the Bengal floricans.
9. YOGA & MEDITATION
If you’re looking for peace of mind, look no further. Nepal has a variety of centres and monasteries where you can retreat from the craziness of Kathmandu and find calm in a local monastery or retreat. For example, check out one of the retreats held by Pranayama Yoga.
You can also get away on a yoga trek, which combines the best of both worlds – world-class trekking and daily yoga classes, led by your very own yoga instructor. Both Kathmandu and Pokhara have multiple yoga studios, as well, if you’re just interested in day classes.