Thinking of travelling to Asia?
If so, then this blog is for you! Growing up in an Army family, I’ve done my fair share of travelling. When I was 9, my dad was posted to Nepal and we lived there for a year, in which I attended The British School Kathmandu. When I was 17, we returned for another 3 years. If Asia is on your bucket list, I would recommend that you give Nepal some serious consideration. Having lived all over the world and travelled extensively in any free time I have, I can safely say that Nepal is the most amazing country I have been to, hands down!
Allow me to persuade you. If I had to describe Nepal using only one word, I’d have to go with “unique”, not least because it has the only non-quadrilateral flag in the world . A common misunderstanding is that Nepal is a smaller India, offering much the same culture, scenery and food. Whilst their geographical proximity and similar climate likens them in some respects, they differ hugely in so many others and here’s why Nepal takes the winning spot in my opinion.
“Unique” best encapsulates Nepal for me in that the vast majority of people who visit come from cultures that are so vastly different, that every day holds extraordinary surprises and shocks to your cultural comfort zones. Driving along the manic roads in Nepal and glancing out of my window, I wasn’t expecting to see someone’s goat vaguely tied with some rope to the top of their minivan as they drove alongside me, for example. Nor was I expecting that I would be able to witness Nepal’s living goddess, the Kumari, smilingly accept my sister’s gift of a giant toblerone despite it being forbidden for her to openly express emotion according to their religious tenets. In no other country could you rent Kathmandu Zoo’s only elephant for a birthday party for the equivalent of £50! Expect absolute culture shock in the best way possible! Nepal is the real life Wonderland, except its inhabitants are extremely welcoming and amongst the happiest people I have ever encountered, despite often living in absolute poverty.
Within Kathmandu, the ancient temples are dotted around the city and are often located amongst markets, restaurants and occasionally next to nightclubs. The city’s ancient heritage is not isolated from its modern day character, and the mix of the two creates a magical experience you won’t forget. Thamel is Kathmandu’s “tourist central”. Go there for anything you need (be it food supplies, an urge to party, souvenirs, fake designer brands for peanuts, or to book a trip to Pokhara or a number of other destinations which I shall expand upon shortly).
Things are incredibly cheap in Nepal. If you don’t look like a Nepalese local, then everywhere other than proper restaurants will charge you double if not triple what they would charge locals. The price can be haggled and I would recommend trying your luck to an extent, in the same way as the street vendors will be trying theirs. These kind of interactions tend to be, in my experience, amicable interactions with no hard feelings and often some laughter along the way as you try to come to a compromise. Luckily, most people speak English so you’ll rarely find yourself struggling over a language barrier.
The most iconic and impressive temples within Kathmandu are Swayambhunath, Boudhanath and Pashupatinath. Durbar Square and Patan are also home to an array of Newari architecture and temples, and the former is where you can see the Kumari appear from her window at certain times of day. The first temple I mention, Swayambhunath, is also known as monkey temple for the obvious reason that its many many steps to the top are littered with them (beware if carrying food, they WILL fight you for it and they WILL win). Boudhanath is the other main Buddhist temple in Kathmandu. Pashupatinath is home to another stunning series of temples as well as being the place in which all the religious cremations take place beside the Bagmati river.
From Kathmandu, you can either fly or take a bus to Pokhara. Pokhara is where you will head if you plan on trekking in the Himalayas, which you should be planning to do if you head to Nepal! Flying will cost you around £90 but is safer and takes 45 minutes. The bus takes about 8 hours and features the “world’s most dangerous roads”. Having said that, it’ll cost around £15–20 if you get the tourist green line bus from Thamel, which drives far more safely than the local buses, so don’t worry too much! In Pokhara, you can rent a boat out independently for pennies and spend the day relaxing on the lakes. Lakeside Pokhara has a host of great restaurants too. I would also highly recommend paragliding whilst in Pokhara. The world’s largest vultures call Pokhara home and keep you company in the thousands whilst paragliding. In fact, the paragliding instructors use the vultures to spot the air currents. Needless to say, an unforgettable experience!
In Pokhara, I recommend purchasing a package trek from the high street which will provide you with the permit you need to trek in the Himalayas as well as a Sherpa who will be able to assist you in countless ways — from helping to carry things, showing you the best routes and tea houses as well as showing you the places that are safe to eat for tourists’ not-so-well-accustomed stomachs. Whilst on the subject, “Kathmandudu” should be avoided at all costs — much like “Delhi Belly”, it is a holiday ruiner. Only drink bottled water whilst in Nepal and double check the cap hasn’t been previously opened. Be very careful where you eat too and bring hand sanitizer with you. White faces in restaurants is a good sign as often local hotspots serve food only fit for Nepalese stomachs.
The Annapurna circuit is probably the best option for trekking as it provides some of the best, if not the best, scenery you’ll see in Nepal. You can choose between treks from a few days to a few weeks. If you feel like setting foot on Everest, it takes roughly 12–14 days to trek to Everest base camp and again, Pokhara is the place to go for this. The green line buses all go to a place called Riverside and from here the buses will either go to Pokhara, or to Chitwan or “The Last Resort”, amongst other places. Chitwan and “The Last Resort” are the other two must-dos in Nepal. Chitwan Safari Park is in the Terai region of Nepal and is an unforgettable experience, involving everything you’d hope for from a safari park, and more. From elephant safaris and cruising past gharials on canoes, to renting quadbikes and enjoying spectacular cultural shows — you won’t be bored! Adrenaline junkies, head to “The Last Resort”, where you will find one of the world’s highest bungee jumps and canyon swings, as well as white water rafting, great hiking by the Tibetan border and relaxing spas! Langtang National Park is also extraordinary if you have the time.
To best experience Nepal, I’d recommend a month minimum. This should provide you with enough time to fit in everything I have recommended and perhaps more. However, there are too many places worth seeing to mention and inform you of within this blog so be an explorer and discover as much as possible yourselves!
Best of luck!
Written by Seb Harris
Travel Simply Editor
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