My absolute favorite travel destination, mainly because I have grown so close to several Nepali families. You won’t find a friendlier, more hospitable people anywhere in the world, nor will you find a more geographically diverse country. Still a stranger to McDonald’s and Starbucks, for now Nepal remains one of those few truly unique places that has not (yet) been completely steamrolled by western influences, although it is happening now, to be sure.
Must-see areas in Kathmandu are Pashupatinath (Monkey) Temple, Swoyambunath Temple, Durbar Square (especially by night), Thamel (tourist district), and any of the local markets in their long, twisting alleyways. King’s Road is a great place to go for coffee and hanging out when you feel like a more “Western” atmosphere. The most fun, however, is riding through the crowded, crazy streets on the back of a motorcycle or scooter. Don’t forget your helmet! Kathmandu is at it’s best during the fall festival of Tihar, though. The buildings are covered with lights (think christmas lights) and marrigolds, and dancing and merry-making go on every day of the week.
Worth seeing at least once, this little “kingdom” is closed off to vehicles and so maintains much of it’s medieval feel (and less air pollution), plus there are huge, old temples at every turn.
Pokhara is a popular get-away spot for Nepalis, but mostly it’s just a tourist town on a lake. True, the high mountains can look very pretty against the water, but I live on a lake, and rowing around in a boat isn’t that big of a deal for me. Not somewhere I’m likely to go back to.
This is another “touristy” area, but one worth seeing (unlike Pokhara). The southern area of Nepal borders India, and has a protected wildlife reserve and park where you can ride elephants, go on nature walks, canoe rides, and visit traditional villages… these villages are staged, for the most part, but I’m sure they are a very good imitation of what the villages there looked like even 50 years ago. You can still see elderly women with their tribal facial tattoos. The guides along the river and in the jungle are very good at pointing out wildlife and full of knowledge about the native tribes and flora and fauna. You can also visit the baby elephants at the training grounds, where elephants are raised to work as park patrols. I had a run-in with a wild male elephant once. He was creeping around the training grounds, trying to mate with the tame female elephants. The Nepali trainers threw rocks and banged sheet metal to scare him away. He didn’t run away though… he charged at them! Talk about an adventure.
It’s very hot in the Chitwan area, but most package deals of this area provide nicer accommodation (no A/C, but at least fans and nice showers). The tours will include canoe rides, elephant jungle and village tours, nature walks, elephant bathing, training grounds, etc and are really a very good deal.
Just south of Mt. Everest lie the foothills of Solukhumbu, inhabited by ethnic Sherpas, and largely inaccessible by anything but foot. From Kathmandu I took a small aircraft to the mountain village of Phaplu, and from Phaplu my fellow nurses and I then trekked through the “hills” for three days to reach our medical clinic in an area called Patale. We then trekked three days back to the town of Shivalaya, where a bus took us back to Kathmandu. Until reaching Shivalaya, we did not see another westerner, and our trails were so narrow we had to walk single file. The paths were so steep we climbed hand over hand at some points, passing through thick forests and cloud-covered mountain-tops. We were often sweaty, muddy, and sometimes accosted by leeches, but our guides, cooks, and hosts were so wonderfully friendly and informative that it quickly became one of the best times we’d ever had.
I highly recommend trekking off the beaten path in Nepal, if possible, with a reputable tour group who can provide you with friendly, local guides. They love to show you their culture and get to know yours. The equipment they use is always top-notch, and they are very experienced with the difficulties that westerners face in their culture. The Sherpa people of Patale put on amazing traditional song and dance for us in their village, and we danced our last night in the clinic away to their clapping and singing under the stars.
A Swiss company came along at some point and installed cable cars that take you up over the foothills and land at a small village that boasts a very famous temple. The temple is visited by Nepali people as well as tourists, and was said to be the temple where the first King to unite all of Nepal was granted his kingship by the gods. The cable car ride is fun, and the town is lovely and gives you quite a nice view. I’d recommend a visit for a day trip.
This small village one of the main stops along the road north from Kathmandu to Tibet. It’s has been there for thousands of years, a crossroads between the Indian subcontinent and the Tibetan plateau. It is also home to many Nepali Muslims who have been living there as merchants for hundreds of years. I had a very pleasant stay in a friend’s home here, eating fresh produce purchased at every meal from the bazaar, and splashing in the large river.
Places I still need to visit in Nepal:
Everest Base Camp
Namche Bazaar or other comparable northern villages
The far reaches of both East and West
Mukhtinath Temple by pony