Nepal Travel Guide


Nepal Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration

PureTravel Says: "For many years Nepal was known as the forbidden kingdom. Westerners were banned from entering the kingdom under punishment of death and it was only in the 1950s that these laws were relaxed. These days, Nepal is a popular and fascinating holiday destination, especially to those who enjoy hiking and walking. With six of the eight tallest mountains in the world there is a wealth of choice. The treks vary from simple day walks in the lowlands to trekking peaks - mountains that can be climbed by people with limited mountaineering experience. Nepal is also home to the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha at Lumbini."

Highlights

Trekking
Nepal is home to the best treks in the world, including Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Circuit. Most visitors who want to do some walking visit the Annapurna region of central Nepal. Starting from the Lakeside town of Pokhara you can walk through the terraced fields and thick rhododendron forests of the foothills or walk deeper into the high mountains, visiting Hindu shines at Muktinath and Buddhist stupas at Braga.

Many visitors are also attracted by the lure of Everest Base Camp or the sacred lakes at Gokyo which are ideal to explore via trekking. This trip takes you into the very heartland of the Sherpa people, famous for their mountaineering exploits. A visit to Base camp shows you mountain scenery on a scale you can hardly comprehend, and the thrill of walking on a creaking glacier for the last day. Other popular areas are Langtang, because of its accessibility from Kathmandu and Kanchanjunga in the far east, because of its undisturbed in accessibility!

Culture
The three Cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur are a cultural highlight now to be missed. Traditionally, Kathmandu was the home of the warriors (probably the reason that it became the capitol), Patan to the craftsmen and Bhaktapur to the arts and religion. These can all be visited on sightseeing tours and most trips into the mountains allow time in the Kathmandu valley (which is also a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site) to take in the cultural and historical sights.

There is plenty to see throughout the Kingdom: temples and shrines punctuate the countryside and the lives of the peoples have hardly changed for centuries. The markets, such as the weekly market at Namche Bazaar in the Khumbu, are a fascinating insight into the daily lives of the local people. In the mountains there are remote monasteries to visit. Thangboche Monastery is one example, famous for its beautiful position and Pangboche, smaller but the proud home to a Yeti scalp!

The most sacred cultural sight is undoubtedly the revered site of the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha at Lumpini, which is a World Heritage Site. It was here that Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Lord Buddha, was born in 623 BC. The iconic gardens of Lumbini quickly became a place of pilgrimage for Buddhist devotees. Amongst the pilgrims was Ashoka, the Indian Emperor who commissioned the decorative pillars that still stand there to this day. Today Lumbini is a designated Buddhist pilgrimage centre, whilst the on-site museum displays the local archaeological remains that offer valuable insight into the birth of Lord Buddha.

Rafting
With hundreds of miles of rivers carrying melt water down from the Himalayas, Nepal offers every grade of white water adventures. For the beginner or family wanting some gentle excitement to the experienced adrenaline junkie, there is a short or long option to keep everybody happy. Some of the start points are so remote that it can take several days to drive and walk in, but you are rewarded with landscapes and water visited and seen by few people.

Wildlife
The Terai, or jungle, is home to Tigers, Leopards and over 400 different types of birds, seemingly spanning every conceivable colour and species. It has 2 types of crocodile and is home to many domesticated elephants. In the mountains there are bears, red pandas, plenty of deer including the endangered Musk deer, snow leopards and most elusive of all, the world-famous Yeti!

Mountain Biking
Over the last decade Nepal has become a very popular destination with mountain bikers, drawn to the lush terrain and rugged off-roading opportunities. Although there is only a fairly basic network of roads and tracks, these can be combines with the thousands and thousands of kilometres of footpaths and trading routes to let you really get off the beaten track and experience the country. As you would expect from the country with 8 of the 14 tallest mountains in the world, there are some truly fabulous descents (we'll not dwell on the ascents for too long!)

When To Go

Trekking season is generallt between March and May and from late September to November. June to August is very hot and humid, which results in a lot of cloud cover, bringing rains and limited views. It is possible to trek but you should be aware that there are leeches at lower levels. November to March is the winter, it gets very cold, especially at higher altitudes and many of the passes are blocked by snow.

Top Tips

- Never trek alone; if you detour away from the trails you may never be found!
- Make sure you acclimatize as you go higher. These are big mountains and they must be treated with respect.
- Use a respected tour operator who follows the correct guidelines on the use of porters.

Holidays In Focus

Walking and Trekking
The country of Nepal is a walkers dream, whether you wish to try some easy-grade day-long walks from the comfort of your hotel, or climb the largest peaks on earth, this country has something to offer everybody.

There is an excellent choice of travel styles within the Nepalese mountains to suit all abilities, fitness levels and budgets. You may stay in excellent hotels near the foothills and do day-walks. You can stay in small and basic lodges or tea-houses which are available throughout the foothills and valleys. Or you may camp, either with your own equipment or on a fully-services trek, where all your baggage is carried for you and your meals prepared.

Around Pokhara there are excellent hotels, including the Fishtail Lodge on the Lake shore, from where you can enjoy majestic views of the mighty Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Himals on your trek. A 'Himal' is a mountain, although each can refer to several peaks lumped together. Annapurna Himal for example contains Annapurna I, II, III and IV, Machupuchure and several lesser peaks. The stronger walker can do a trek in the foothills of the main Himalayan chain, walking through the verdant green terraces and through thick forest, frequently dropping down to cross icy rivers. The experienced or strong trekker can opt to do the Annapurna circuit of the whole range, a fascinating trip through both Buddhist and Hindu valleys and taking in many different landscapes such as the stone desert of the Upper Kali Gandaki River and crossing the Thorong-la pass. Another popular high-altitude trek is the Annapurna sanctuary which climbs up a narrow trail into the heart of the range and visits the Annapurna base camp used in mountaineering trips.

The other main trekking area is the Khumbu, home to the Sherpa peoples and of Mount Everest. To reach here is either a full-days coach ride followed by 5 days walking or a 1 hour flight into a small airstrip at Lukla, itself quite an adventure. From here you climb to Namche Bazaar, a thriving town and local market. Here you choose your route; to the North West lies Thame and the Tibet border. To the North, the route to Everest and Gokyo lakes. These are hard, high altitude treks, with the requirement for rest days to acclimatise to the altitude. It's worth it however, with stunning scenery and a famous view of Everest and its flanking peak of Lhotze from a small mound called Kala Pattar.

For the keen mountaineer there is a wealth of choice so that you can truthfully say that you have climbed a Himalayan peak. The Nepalese Government has a list of what it calls “Trekking Peaks.” These are lower mountains (these still exceed 20,000 feet (6,500 meters) that you can get permits to climb. Most are possible by those with experience in the use of ice-axe and crampons (e.g. Mera peak in the Khumbu, Chulu Far East to the north of Annapurna). Some are more technical, and require the use of ropes (Island peak and Chulu East). For the real adventure buff, how about a climb to the top of Everest. There are several specialist tour operators who run escorted climbs and the trained Sherpas will do all they can to get you close to the peak.

Culture
The capital of Nepal is Kathmandu, a modern city ringed by the Himalaya. Shrines are scattered throughout the city, both Hindu and Buddhist, which co-exist happily with the modern hubbub of traffic swerving to avoid the sacred cows that roam the streets. Large temples like Swavambhunath and Stupas such as the Bodnath all make for fascinating exploration. You can enter many of the places and experience the sights and smells at first hand. You can even visit Pashupati, the Hindu cremation ghats and watch the rituals as they happen.. Throw in a sighting of the living goddess and a visit to the newly opened Royal Palace there is plenty enough to keep you busy in Kathmandu alone.

This can still be seen today, especially in Bhaktapur which has been spared the rapid development of the others and retains a beauty and air that captured what those cities must once have been like. It is a UNESCO-protected site and the architecture of the palaces and temples is wonderful.

With Hinduism as its main religion but with a strong Buddhist presence, the whole of the Kathmandu valley and indeed country is littered with small shrines and temples that still make these religions a part of everyday life.
In the hills and mountains you can watch a lifestyle being lived that has hardly changed for centuries, relying on the small terraces that have been cut out of the mountains for food.

Rafting
For the beginner there is the Trisuli river, gently winding its way through the lower foothills and offering the chance to get splashed with little prospect of the boat flipping. Indeed some of the gentler rapids can be swim.

For the experienced rafter there is a host of options, from the Sun Kosi to the Kali Gandaki to remote and little visited rivers in the far west of Nepal. The exact river can be chosen based on your experience and how much time you have.

Wildlife
The Royal Chitwan National Park is where most wildlife safaris take place and its importance is highlighted via its enviable UNESCO listing. This reserve, once the hunting grounds of the King of Nepal, is now home to many of the remaining Tigers in the country. There are many lodges and camps to choose from, many clustered around the edge of the Park. There is only one actually in the reserve which is known at Tiger Tops. This used to be the hunting lodge of the Royal family and is now an expensive and exclusive hotel. Wherever you stay, there is a variety of activities available to you.

The most enjoyable way of looking for the animals is on elephants. From your high vantage point you have an excellent view over the vegetation (although you do have to be alert to duck the occasional tree branch!). This is useful as there is plenty of high elephant grass which you would otherwise be unable to go through. The other advantage is that the wild animals are not afraid of the elephants who they do not see as a threat so it is possible to get much nearer to the Rhino and Tigers.

It's also possible to undertake walking safaris of varying lengths, which is a rewarding way to enjoy the stunning bird-life of the Terai and learn more about the endemic plant life. Boat trips are a popular excursion, especially at dusk when the animals come down to the river to drink. It's also possible to spot the two different types of local crocodile - Muggers and Garial – which live on the banks.

The Sagarmatha National Park is located within the Solu-Khumbu District and is the second natural site to appear on Nepal's natural UNESCO sites. This is a truly exceptional area characterised by vast dramatic mountains, glistening glaciers and deep valleys. The park is of course dominated by the mighty Mount Everest, whose presence is also felt, rising as it does to 8,848 meters. Sagarmatha is home to several rare species of wildlife, including the elusive snow leopard and the little-known lesser panda. The park is also home to traditional Sherpas, who bring their own unique culture to this region.

As well as Chitwan and Sagarmatha, there are several other reserves in the Nepalese terai that are home to Tigers and Leopard. In western Nepal there is the Royal Bardia Reserve, once known as Karnali after the local river. With open grasslands this makes an excellent and much less visited wildlife destination, with over 350 species of bird to look at.

Classic Itineraries

- Classic Everest Base Camp Trek
- The Annapurna Circuit Trek
- Mountains and Jungle - Trekking and Wildlife
- Spot wildlife in the Sagarmatha National Park
- Gokyo Lakes trek

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

- Kathmandu Valley
- Sagarmatha National Park
- Chitwan National Park
- Lumbini, the Birthplace of the Lord Buddha

Public Holidays

14 January - Maghe Sankranti
29 January - Shahid Diwas
11 February - Sonam Losar
18 February - Prajatantra Diwas
10 March - Maha Shivaratri
12 March - Gyalpo Lhosar
26 March - Fagu Purnima
14 April - Navabarsha
19 Apr- Ram Nawami
24 Apr- Loktantra Diwas
1 May - Majdur Diwas
25 May - Buddha Jayanti
29 May - Ganatantra Diwas
May - Bhoto Jatra
21 August - Janai Purnima and Raksha Bandhan
22 August - Gaijatra
28 August - Krishna Janmashtami
8 September - Teej
10 September - Rishi Panchami
14 September - Bal Diwash
18 September - Indra Jatra
5 October - Ghatasthapana
11 October - Fulpati
12 October- Maha Asthami
13October - Maha Navami
14 October - Bijaya Dashami
15 October - Ekadashi
16 October - Duwadashi
18 October - Kojagrat Purnima
2 November - Kukur Tihar
3 November - Laxmi Puja
4 November - Mha Puja
5 November - Bhaitika
9 November - Chhath Parwa
17 November - Guru Nanak Jayanti
17 December - Yomari Punhi
25 December - Christmas
30 December - Tamu Lhosar

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By Julie Bowman

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