Nepal: A Nation on Top of the World

Wedged between the high wall of the Himalaya and the steamy jungles of the Indian plains, Nepal is a land of snowy peaks and Sherpas, yaks and yetis, monasteries and mantras.

For many travellers, Nepal is paradise on earth, or at the very least Shangri-la. Wedged between the mountain wall of the Himalaya and the steamy jungles of the Indian plains, this is a land of yaks and yetis, monasteries and mantras, snow peaks and Sherpas, temples and tigers, magic and mystery. Ever since Nepal first opened its borders to outsiders in the 1950s, this tiny mountain nation has had an almost mystical allure for travellers. Explorers and mountaineers came to conquer the highest peaks, trekkers came to test themselves against some of the most challenging trails on earth and hippies came to wander in a stoned daze through the temple-filled towns and the end of the overland trail.

You’ll still see a few of the original ‘freaks’ meandering through the backstreets of Kathmandu, but they have been joined by legions of trekkers, clad in the latest technical gear and drawn by the rugged trails that climb to such famous destinations as Everest Base Camp and the Annapurna Sanctuary. Other travellers are drawn here by the rush of rafting down a roaring Nepali river or bungee jumping into a bottomless Himalayan gorge. Adventure addicts can get their adrenaline flowing canyoning, climbing, kayaking, paragliding and mountain-biking through some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes.

Other travellers prefer to see Nepal at a more gentle pace, gazing towards the peaks from Himalayan viewpoints, strolling through the temple-lined medieval city squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, and joining Buddhist pilgrims on a parikrama (ceremonial circuit) around the giant stupas scattered around the Kathmandu Valley. In Nepal’s wild and wonderful national parks, nature buffs scan the treetops for exotic bird species and comb the jungles for rhinos and tigers from the backs of lumbering Indian elephants.

The biggest problem faced by visitors to Nepal is how to fit everything in. Many people have spent a lifetime exploring the mountain trails of the Himalaya and atmospheric temple towns of the Kathmandu Valley and the Middle Hills, and they still keep coming back for more. Our advice is to pick a handful of essential experiences and save the rest for trip two, and three, and four, and…

Top Reasons to Visit Nepal

ULTIMATE TREKKING

In Nepal you can trek for days or even weeks through the incredible mountain scenery, safe in the knowledge that you’ll find a hot dinner and a place to stay at the end of each day.

The Nepal Himalayas is the ultimate goal for most mountain lovers. Ever since Nepal first opened its borders to outsiders in the 1950s, this tiny mountain nation has had an irresistible mystical allure for travellers. Today, legions of trekkers are drawn to the Himalaya’s most iconic and accessible hiking, some of the world’s best, with rugged trails to Everest, the Annapurnas and beyond, and most trekking areas escaped with only minor damage in the 2015 earthquake.

The top trekking destinations are:

  • Everest Base Camp
  • Annapurna Circuit
  • Annapurna Sanctuary
  • Langtang Valley
  • Around Pokhara

OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES

Adventure addicts can get their adrenaline flowing rafting a roaring Nepali river or bungee jumping into a bottomless Himalayan gorge. Canyoning, climbing, kayaking, paragliding and mountain biking all offer a rush against the backdrop of some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes.

Despite what Kiwis will tell you, Nepal is probably the world’s greatest outdoors destination. The towering mountains offer some of Himalaya’s most awe-inspiring walking but there’s also some spectacular mountain biking, and its mighty mountain rivers fuel some of the best white-water rafting you’ll find anywhere. An added bonus is that all this fun comes in at less than half the price of places like the US or New Zealand. For an added thrill try bungee jumping 160m into a Himalayan gorge or abseiling into a thundering 45m waterfall. Oh, and did we mention that Pokhara is one of the best paragliding spots in the world? Pack a spare pair of underpants – you’re going to need them.

Outdoor experiences you can’t afford to miss:

  • Throwing yourself off Asia’s highest bungee jump in Bhote Kosi
  • Rafting the wild white waters of the Sun Kosi
  • Abseiling down waterfalls on a canyoning trip near the Tibetan border

MEDIEVAL CITIES & SACRED SITES

See Nepal at a gentler pace, strolling through the temple-lined medieval city squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, and joining Buddhist pilgrims on a spiritual stroll around centuries-old stupas and monasteries.

Nepal’s Hindu and Buddhist temples are masterworks in oiled brick, stone and carved wood. Colossal statuary, intricately ornate toranas (lintels) and erotic carvings still inspire the desired amount of wonder. Even after the 2015 earthquake, Nepal remains the cultural powerhouse of the Himalaya: the Kathmandu Valley offers an unrivalled collection of world-class palaces, hidden backstreet shrines and sublime temple art.

Must-visit cities & temples:

  • Kathmandu’s Old Town
  • Bhaktapur
  • Golden Temple, Patan
  • Changu Narayan Temple
  • Swayambhunath

WILDLIFE WATCHING

Nepal’s subtropical plains host an array of wildlife worthy of The Jungle Book. Tiger enthusiasts should visit between March and June and bring their own binoculars.

In the south lie Nepal’s wild and woolly national parks, where nature buffs scan the treetops for exotic bird species and comb the jungles for rhinos and tigers from the backs of lumbering Indian elephants. Choose from a luxury safari lodge in central Chitwan or go exploring on a wilder trip to remote Bardia or Koshi Tappu. Whether you cross the country by mountain bike, motorbike, raft or tourist bus, Nepal offers an astonishingly diverse array of attractions and landscapes.

Best national parks to spot wildlife:

  • Chitwan National Park
  • Bardia National Park
  • Koshi Tappu National Park
  • Langtang National Park
  • Shey-Phoksundo National Park

CULTURAL EXPERIENCES

The best way to experience true Nepali life is to take a day hike to one of the villages in the countryside. Or immerse yourself in Nepali culture by attending one of the country’s thrilling festivals. The Nepali people are warm, friendly and hospitable.

Nepal’s mountains and valleys are laced with a network of footpaths travelled for centuries by traders and pilgrims. Out in the countryside lies a quite different Nepal, where traditional mountain life continues at a slower pace, and a million potential adventures glimmer on the mountain horizons. Pack your day-pack for a brief encounter of rural Nepali life on the following hikes.

Nepal also has many fantastic festivals that any visit is almost certain to coincide with at least one. Celebrations range from masked dances designed to exorcise bad demons to epic bouts of tug-of-war between rival sides of a town. For a full-on medieval experience, time your travel with one of the slightly mad chariot processions, such as Rato Machhendranath, when hundreds of enthusiastic devotees drag tottering 20m-tall chariots through the crowded city streets of Kathmandu and Patan.

Best cultural experiences:

  • Follow ancient trade routes and visit a potter’s village, Tansen
  • Visit fabulous Himalayan villages like Kagbeni and Marpha, Jomsom
  • Explore a Tharu village and experience a stick dance, Chitwan & Bardia National Parks
  • Losar New Year Festival, all Tibetan areas (February)
  • Bisket Jatra Chariot Festival, Bhaktapur (mid-April)
  • Rato Machhendranath Festival, Patan (April/May)
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Best Time to Visit Nepal

The climate of Nepal can be broadly divided into two seasons. The dry season runs from October to May and the wet (monsoon) season rungs from June to September. Autumn (September to November) and spring (March to May) offer warm daytime temperatures, clear skies for mountain views and perfect weather for trekking, rafting or just roaming around the Kathmandu Valley.

The peak season for tourism runs from October to November: the landscape is green and lush from the recent monsoon rains, the air is crisp and clean, and the views of the Himalaya are crystal clear. However, competition for seats on international and domestic flights can be fierce, and lodges and hotels fill up quickly – very frustrating if you have left your bag at a particular hotel while trekking. Always book ahead at this time of the year. You should also consider the disruption caused by the annual Dasain festival in October.

Where is Nepal located?

The tiny mountain nation of Nepal lies in South Asia. It is located in the Himalayas and bordered to the north by China and to the south, east, and west by India. Nepal is separated from Bangladesh by the narrow Indian Siliguri Corridor and from Bhutan by the Indian state of Sikkim. Kathmandu is the nation’s capital city and largest metropolis.

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