Our neighbour in the north is a surreal destination at once familiar and mesmerising
Pokhara is not the capital of Nepal, but as the most densely populated city in the country as well as the largest, it might well have been. The urban appeal of cities, no matter how developed it might be, pales in comparison to Pokhara’s location. Three of the world’s tallest peaks—Manaslu, Annapurna 1, Dhaulagiri—tower over Pokhara. The valley is full of stunning crystal clear lakes like the Phewa freshwater lake, which on clear days, inverts the Annapurna range in a perfect reflection. Pokhara is also a popular paragliding destination, where visitors like jumping off Machapuchare peak at Sarangkot. Check out the list of Pokhara hotels here and then choose where you would like to plan your stay.
Proximity to the Himalayas mean that the range’s awe-inspiring and scary attraction influences parts of Nepal too. Case in point Bhote Koshi. The river is a ferocious and snarling tributary of the river Sun Kosi. Its source lies in Tibet and it enters Nepal on extremely steep ridges with gradients of 15 m/km. This, of course, invites every daredevil river rafter to its banks. The rapids rate between Classes III and V, and the calmer bits are when you can even contemplate kayaking. If you want to stay dry but still have your heart leaping into your throat, try bungee jumping from a metal bridge over the raging river.
National parks are a no-brainer – they make for spectacular holidays, especially when you’re guaranteed sightings of some rare animals like rhinos and promised a tour of elephant-breeding grounds. When they throw in an elephant-back safari, it’s practically impossible to say no. Chitwan National Park is located in the heart of Nepal, is home to all this and more. Like the Royal Bengal Tiger. Wildlife lodges are located on the edge of the forest, but the park is so safe that they even conduct wildlife walks. We still recommend the elephant back safari, if only for the vantage point – that’s a great view and chances of being a meal for the tiger are significantly less.
The temple of Manakamma Devi is on a 1,300-metre high hill, which usually takes five hours to climb. However, the 21st century has thoughtfully provided a cable car to cut short your trials to the top. The temple itself is a small structure dedicated to the goddess Bhagwati, an incarnation of Parvati. It has earned a reputation as a shrine where wishes are fulfilled. The pagoda-shaped temple and the views of Annapurna and Manaslu peaks with steep ridges and deep valleys definitely imbibe it with a spiritual reverence, inviting you to think anything is possible here.
Don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by an unexplained sense of calm when you enter Lumbini. This tiny town is a revered pilgrimage site for Buddhists: Gautam Buddha is said to have been born here. The site itself is considered holy and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is a monastic zone, so you won’t find too many hotels and restaurants here. It’s a visually stunning place too with Ashoka pillars and stupas and a huge Bodhi tree. The Maya Devi temple was originally built by a Japanese architect and is an organic structure, which has lakes and monasteries constantly added to it by various Buddhist communities from around the world. The best way to pick your stay is to surf through Lumbini hotels list and book your stay in the best hotel available.
First, remember this is not for the faint-hearted. Second, yes there are plenty of options for vegetarians too. The Nepalese enjoy buffalo meat – and those not used to this might find some of the dishes a little more pungent than they’re normally used to. The favourites here are buffalo momos, or baph mah mah, available at almost all street corners. Skewers are a street food staple and along with spiced mincemeat buffalo meat is available in all these avatars and in a special chargrilled version called choila. Veggie delights are quite like Indian staples – rice, dal and vegetables. Rinse it all down with the local liquor, raksi, a rice brew that tastes like sake.
Why would you want to see a crumbling ruin of a palace in the heart of a small town in Nepal? The name Gorkha should give you a clue. The Gorkhas are known for their valour and bravery, and are a decidedly formidable race of people. Their king led and established modern Nepal from this very lot of ruins on the top of one solid rock. The town lies in its shadow and the palace itself is a brilliant example of the art and architecture of Nepal. This is also the starting point for much of Nepal’s more challenging treks towards the Manaslu peak.
How would you like to scale the 10th highest peak in the world? The Annapurna Sanctuary Trek is famous purely because it allows even a beginner to dream this big. The range allows for treks with a wide range of difficulty, and Nepal has a number of tour organisers who can accommodate and customise a trek best suited to your needs and limitations. The aim is usually to reach the Annapurna Base Camp. Depending on where you’d like to go, this can vary from a few days to up to two weeks. Expect breathtaking views, walks through World Heritage Sites and blue skies with endless stretches of icy peaks. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Yes, there are a number of religious sites in Nepal, but interestingly, they attract pilgrims of all religions. The Swayambhunath temple or the Monkey Temple is one such place that has an equal number of Buddhist and Hindu visitors, despite it being one of the oldest, most revered Buddhist religious sites. The stupa and spire with its painted eyes are an iconic image that you will immediately associate with Nepal, as the iconography translates itself into souvenirs and curios. Legend has it that the hill arose from the lake that was once Kathamandu Valley and therefore the name ‘swayambhu’ or ‘self-incarnated’ came about. Kathmandu is a mystifying place worth a visit. Know more about Kathmandu hotels to plan a stay.
The intense mix of haphazard urban development and Nepal’s traditional heritage coexists harmoniously in its capital city Kathmandu. The city at first glance appears no different from a chaotic Indian one, but you need to lose yourself in its lanes to stumble into its gems. The Durbar Square gives you an inkling of Nepal’s royalty and their way of life, as do the Garden of Dreams, a calm green space in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Don’t miss the many unique Hindu temples (Maju Deval dedicated to Shiva, Ashok Binayak to Ganesh for example). For a brush-up on Nepal’s more recent history visit the Narayanhiti Palace Museum while the Hanuman Dhoka Palace has an inner complex that was laid in the 17th century.
One of the most innovative ways to explore Nepal is on an Enfield bike. Many tour companies organise such rides that start off and end in New Delhi. The route travels through Nepal’s mountains and valleys, national parks and cities (Bardia National Park, Tansen, Pokhara, Kathmandu and Chitwan). It usually lasts 15 days.