There are few destinations in the world that conjure up images of exotic adventure quite like Nepal.
This land-locked country, sandwiched between India and Tibet, is endlessly fascinating to travellers. And while for many, ‘Nepal’ automatically translates to ‘mountain trekking’, there are plenty of other amazing ways to spend your time here.
From exploring the ancient streets and squares of mystical capital Kathmandu, to soaking up traditional village life or exploring the intricacies of Tibetan Buddhism, here are ten of the best things to do in Nepal on a first visit.
Your Nepalese experience will likely begin in Kathmandu, and the Thamel neighbourhood has much to offer visitors. Follow any one of the streets that converge on the ceremonial marketplace, meander amongst the abundance of stalls, admire the colourful fabrics piled high on temple steps, and get amongst the hustle and bustle of the constant bartering. Remember to look up from time to time to discover ancient architecture and small shuttered windows. As people poke their heads out to survey the scene below or hang out their washing, a little wave is often permission enough to take a photo.
Just five kilometres east of Thammel, Pashupatinath Temple sits by the holy Bagmati river and has long been a Hindu place of cremation. It’s possible to sit and observe this ritual; just remember to maintain a polite distance and show respect for a tradition that goes back many centuries.
Often seen in images of Nepal, Kathmandu’s Boudhanath stupa is a sight to behold. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, and throughout the day you’ll see Buddhists walking in a clockwise direction (circumambulating) around this remarkable religious monument. A visit to the stupa is a great place to get more of a sense of the intricacies of Buddhist culture — a reflection of the influx of Tibetan refugees who have made Nepal their home.
Situated roughly 15 kilometres from Kathmandu, a visit to Bhaktapur Durbar Square — part of the palace of the old Bhaktapur Kingdom — will give you a feel for ancient city life in Nepal. Carvings of gods and deities can be spotted as you stroll around. The detail in the frames of the wooden doors and windows makes them works of art in themselves.
It may only be 200 kilometres from Kathmandu to the city of Pokhara, but the trip by road can take anywhere from five to eight hours! Pokhara is well known as the gateway to the Annapurna Himalayas, but the city itself has plenty to recommend it. Start by enjoying an afternoon stroll by the Fewa Lake. Look up to see the mountains and the white World Peace Pagoda (stupa) in the distance. Enjoy an early evening drink and Nepalese snacks at a lakeside bar as the sun sets and the light fades.
Leave some time for a session of retail therapy in Pokhara’s Lakeside neighbourhood. Enjoy browsing in the many small shops selling everything from prayer flags to trekking boots. Don’t forget to barter!
For a closer look at the stunning World Peace Pagoda, take a boat across the lake and hike up to the stupa’s lofty location. It will take you about one-and-a-half hours. It’s also possible to go by taxi from town, but there’s still a bit of a walk involved. This incredible monument is well worth visiting in its own right, but also offers panoramic views of the Annapurna mountains.
The village of Ghachok lies about 1.5 hours’ drive north of Pokhara by jeep. It’s close enough to do as a day trip and offers an opportunity to experience traditional rural Nepalese life. Many villagers own cows and sell their excess milk. Make sure you enjoy a local dhal bhat (dhal and rice), which always tastes better in a village. If you have the time, you can even stay overnight in a homestay or local guest house.
For another unique village experience, head for nearby Astam — home to the Annapurna Eco Village. With comfortable accommodation and amazing views, you can relax here for days on end. This village promotes sustainable tourism practices and grows much of its own food (food is like medicine here). Enjoy traditional music around the campfire at night.
Nothing beats the Annapurna Range for teahouse trekking (travelling with a minimum of gear and staying in a lodge each night). From easy walks to challenging climbs, there’s an option to suit every level of fitness. Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) and Poon Hill are two of the most popular trekking destinations.
The key to a great trekking experience is to allow yourself time and flexibility. Don’t think you have to walk for days on end to get incredible views. You can even relax in a hot spring half-way through your trek. Having a Nepalese guide and porter will enhance your experience and provide much needed income for local families. Some may be career porters or even university students trying to support their studies.
Focus Tours is a boutique tour company that specialises in slow paced small group itineraries. The company is run by Australian couple Anna and Jim, who accompany all Nepal tours. You’ll travel with like-minded people, and have plenty of time to take part in activities that are of specific interest to you.
Focus Tours can tailor a Nepalese trek to suit your requirements. Their porters carry around half the legal maximum weight, are fully insured, and provided with nourishing meals. Focus Tours also offer ‘soft’ trekking itineraries for those who want a trekking experience, but with minimum physical impact. Non trekking tours of Nepal are also available.
This post was provided by Focus Tours and edited by The Big Bus tour and travel guide.
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