Landlocked between the towering heights of the Himalayas and the hot, subtropical jungles of India, Nepal is a land of temples and monasteries, peaks and Sherpas, and of course adventure. Ever since the country opened its borders to outsiders in the 1950s, this tiny nation has become irresistible to travelers who wish to explore some of the world’s highest peaks and best treks. Others come to Nepal for the vast range of adrenaline sports on offer, and others for the serenity of tiny temples and villages almost from another world.
The chances are many will begin their Nepalese adventure in the capital of Kathmandu, which offers a glimpse into the culture, tradition, and thin air of the country. From here, treks to the Royal Chitwan National Park, Sagarmatha National Park, Langtang National Park, and Annapurna Circuit offer an experience no other place can match – views of eight of the ten highest peaks in the world, including the mesmerising and astonishing Mount Everest.
Of course, other travelers come not for the weeks-long treks but for the atmosphere, culture, and tradition. There is nothing quite like sipping a refreshing drink while peering at the mountains from a viewpoint such as that at Nagarkot or wandering through temple lined medieval city squares such as Bhaktapur or Patan. Perhaps, adventure sports is the reason for a visit, with some of the best paragliding and white-water rafting available in places such as Pokhara.
Regardless of how you spend your time in Nepal, you are certain to wish there was more of it as you leave this extraordinary country.
The capital city of Nepal, Kathmandu is likely to be the first port of call for any visitor to the country and can be a heady, sensory overload experience. The sights, sounds, and smells of this wonderful city are as intoxicating and incredible as they are exhausting, with medieval temples, traffic jammed alleyways, and backpacker trekking routes waiting for excited visitors outside the only international airport in Nepal. Be prepared to take some time to acclimatize to the thin air with the city’s elevation standing at 1,400 meters above sea level.
The second largest city in Nepal, Pokhara ticks all the boxes one would expect from a Nepalese trip – stunning scenery, delicious cuisine, and thrilling adventure activities. A starting point for those who are planning treks in the Annapurna area and the perfect place to recharge the batteries for those on the way back, Pokhara s snow-capped mountains and tranquil lake offer the perfect surroundings. However, there’s much more to Pokhara than its laid back charm and the city also boasts one of the best paragliding venues in the world.
Just 12 kilometers east of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur is the third of the medieval city-states in the Valley and also the best preserved. An ancient city renowned for its elegant art, colorful festivals, indigenous lifestyle, traditional dances, and fabulous culture, Bhaktapur is known variously as an Open Museum, a City of Devotees, a Living Heritage, Nepal’s Cultural Gem, and the City of Culture. This is the perfect place to wander around aimlessly along the cobbled street, squares, and courtyards, and simply soak up the atmosphere.
One of the largest cities in Nepal and a once fiercely independent state, Patan (also known as Lalitpur) is now almost a suburb of Kathmandu, separated only by the Bagmati River. A traditional center of handicrafts, Patan is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir or two from the collection of jewellery, Buddha statues, and masks on display. The city is also home to one of the finest collections of temples and palaces in the whole country – Durbar Square (not to be confused with Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square).
Located approximately 32 kilometers northeast of Kathmandu, Nagarkot sits on the fringe of the Kathmandu Valley and is famed for its Himalayan views – probably the best in the country. The village is packed with hotels, all of which are stacked on a ridge offering the broadest views of the Himalayas. The best time to visit is between October and March when a view of the mountains is almost guaranteed, however, a visit at any other time of year presents the risk of the mountains disappearing behind cloudy skies for extended periods of time.
06. Royal Chitwan National Park
The first national park in Nepal, Royal Chitwan National Park was established as such in 1973 and granted the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site only eleven years later in 1984. The park covers an area of 932 square kilometers in the subtropical Inner Terai lowlands of central Nepal and features forests, marshlands, rippling grasslands, and a sizeable wildlife population. Meaning ‘Heart of the Jungle’, the park is known as one of the best wildlife viewing national parks in Asia.
One of the most important Buddhist sites in the world, Lumbini is the location where Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, around the 7th or 6th Century BCE. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed pilgrimage site is home to a number of temples, monuments, monasteries, and a museum, and attracts hundreds of thousands of Buddhist pilgrims from around the world. Lumbini is one of four Buddhist pilgrimage sites based on the major events in the life of Buddha, the other three being located in India – Bodh Gaya (enlightenment), Sarnath (first discourse), and Kushinagar (death).
08. Sagarmatha National Park
A protected area in the Himalayas of eastern Nepal, Sagarmatha National Park encompasses an area of 1,148 square kilometers and is dominated by Mount Everest. The park ranges in elevation from 2,845 meters above sea level to 8,848 meters above sea level at the summit of Everest, and shares an international border with the Qomolangma National Nature Reserve in Tibet. The protected area not only encompasses the world’s loftiest and most famous peak, but has also been identified as an important bird area by Bird-Life International.
09. Annapurna Circuit
Considered one of the best treks in the world, the Annapurna Circuit covers a length of between 160 and 230 kilometers depending on whether motor transport is used for part of the route and where the trek is ended. The trek covers two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna massif, rising to an altitude of 5,400 meters above sea level on the Thorung La pass. The trek is most commonly hiked clockwise, due to the less gradual rise in altitude and the easier and safer route across the high Thorung La pass.
10. Langtang National Park
The fourth national park in Nepal, Langtang National Park was established in 1976 as the first Himalayan National Park. The area of the park consists of an area of 1,710 square kilometers and exceeds an altitude range of 6,450 meters above sea level. The northern and eastern borders of the national park coincide with the international border to Tibet, while the high altitude sacred lake of Gosainkunda falls within the park’s boundaries. While the main reason for protecting the area is to preserve wildlife and the natural environment, an equally important goal is to allow local people to follow traditional land use practices that are compatible with resource protection.