Nepal is synonymous with trekking the Himalayas, including Mt. Everest, often with the help of Gurkhas and Sherpas. It also brings to mind temples and monasteries and languid backpackers relaxing in the old traveller quarters of Kathmandu or Pokhara.
Here you can literally climb to one of the nine highest points on earth, or, for a less strenuous alternative, the 15-20 day Annapurna Circuit. Equally exciting, you can try your hand at spotting Bengal tigers and single-horned Asiatic Rhinos in Chitwan National Park. Or you can take a step back in time and explore the many hidden squares and alleyways of Kathmandu, Patan or Bhaktapur, where temples or stupas adorn nearly every corner and the Gods of yore keep watchful eye over their earthly abodes. Listen to the clinking of hammer on steel as a blacksmith tempers his white-hot iron in a trade hardly changed in a thousand years. Get seduced by touristy trinkets or holy men offering you a blessing or photo opportunity in exchange for some coin. You can end of the day with a yak burger or the ubiquitous dal bhat.
Hinduism meets Buddhism here, making Nepal a hodgepodge of Hindu deities and Tibetan Buddhist saints. Monks and sadhus alike walk the streets, and the devout now offer up a prayer to Vishnu now to Shakyamuni also known as Siddhārtha Gautama or Buddha.
The backpacker trail is well-worn in Nepal, with Kathmandu being a favourite as far back as the sixties. So if you don’t stray too far from it you will find everything you need, from trekking agencies to restaurants serving banana pancake, and of course no traveller hotspot is complete without a few German bakeries.
If you are an adventurous soul away from the usual, just strike west or east -- you will lose the crowds in less than the blink of an eye!
Highlights from Nepal
- Probably Nepal’s most famous trek is the Annapurna Circuit, also known as the apple pie trail. Want good views and the prevalent, tasty apple pie, than this is your kind of hike.
- Second only to the Annapurna Circuit is the Everest Base Camp trek, and if you have the training, stamina and money, you might want to attempt scaling the beast.
- Explore the winding alleys of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, with its many temples, monasteries, sadhus, monks, blacksmiths and pottery makers and much more.
- Have a yak steak in Pokhara or Kathmandu in one of the many traveller-oriented restaurants
- Take an elephant ride in Chitwan National Park and spot single-horned Asiatic Rhinos or the dwindling Bengal tigers
- Visit Lumbini the birthplace of Buddha and soak up some of his wisdom
- Strike out west or east for unexplored villages, mountains and parks – Bardia National Park (aka Bardiya National Park), in the far west, for instance, is an alternative to Chitwan
- Relax in the small village of Bandipur, a place where time seems to have stopped
- If you have little time and want to do a trek, try Langtang National Park, near Kathmandu, it is close and easily accessible
Hints and Tips for Nepal
- Beware of touts and scams, they can be quite subtle about it. It’s a fine balance between being paranoid about it or being taken for a fool.
- Acclimatize! Nepal is all about trekking – high altitude trekking -- for the most part. Mountain sickness is a real danger, so take it easy on the first few days!
- Waste is becoming a serious problem on many of the more popular trails. Clean up your rubbish. Whatever you bring along for the trek, take it back and don’t toss it down a slope or in some bush along the way.
- Respect the culture, don’t walk into a temple in inappropriate attire like a tank-top, shorts, etc.
- For the best experience, don’t limit yourself to the backpacker trail and try to venture off it at least once.
- Nepal is easy enough to get around, it has a mature tourist industry which can arrange everything for you, if you so wish. With the amount of tourists around, most people will speak and understand some English.
- On the whole, the Nepalese are a friendly bunch with a smile ready for every occasion, so go out and enjoy!