Pull up your armchairs and sit back comfortably. We now find ourselves in Nepal a landlocked country in South Asia that is officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal. The official language is Nepali and we’ll be taking a tour of the nation’s capital and largest city Kathmandu. Unfortunately a major earthquake struck Nepal in 2015 and caused severe damage in Kathmandu. So if you should decide to travel there you should check ahead with the various travel sites to see which buildings have survived and which have been destroyed.
Kathmandu is still very much worth a visit as you will see from all the wonderful historic temples. Several hundred years ago it was one of three rival royal cities, along with Bhaktapur and Patan. They are in close proximity one to the other and today they almost run together. The highlight of the Kathmandu has always been Durbar Square, the largest of the palace squares in the three royal cities and today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not all of the temples and buildings surrounding this square have survived the earthquake.
Bhaktapur, the third of the “Royal Cities” can be found on the old trade route to Tibet, just outside of Kathmandu. The population here is primarily Hindu. The best way to begin a tour of this city is to start from Durbar Square. Many of the buildings here were damaged during the 2015 earthquake. The entire area in a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Durbar Square in Kathmandu was the place where the kings of the city were once crowned and legitimized and from where they ruled. “Durbar” means palace. The square is and remains the heart of the old town and here you can see traditional architecture. There is much to admire like the terraced platforms of the towering Maju Deval. The square dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries but some of the surviving older buildings are a lot older. There was great rebuilding done after an earthquake in 1934 and this became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
Durbar Square is actually consists of three loosely linked squares. To the south is the open Basantapur Square area that was a former royal elephant stables and now is home to souvenir stall. Along the northeast is a second part of Durbar Square, containing the entrance to the Hanuman Dhoka and various temples. The open area Makhan Tole that at one time was the main road into Kathmandu is still the most interesting street walk down, continuing toward the northeast.
The best place to start exploring this square was with the oldest building in the valley Kasthamandap. It had survived many earthquakes but unfortunately came down in the last one. It was one of the largest and most noted pagodas of Nepal and enshrined a statue of Gorakhnath. You can see what it used to look like.
The Bodhanath Stupa, just outside of Kathmandu, is one of the largest stupas of its kind in the world. It dates back to sometime around the 6th century but could be even older. It also lies on the old trade route to Tibet and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It suffered minor damage in the earthquake. It is a symbol of enlightenment and each different shape represents one of the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and sphere. These are also the attributes of the five Buddhas. All brought together in the form of the stupa.
Pokhara sits at the base of the foothils, 200 km west of Kathmandu and is surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the world such as Dhaulagiri, Manaslu and Annapurna I. For those who enjoy trekking, Pokhara is the gateway to the Himalayas. This is the starting point for treks to Jomson and the Annapurna region. Even if you’re not going trekking Pokhara offers lovely scenery.
It is the second largest city after Kathmandu and the Kathmandu valley offers cleaner air and pleasant climate. At Lake Phewa there are many lakeside hotels to choose from, restaurants and shops just for relaxation and one-day excursions.
One of the most popular trekking regions is the Annapurna Region. Here you’ll find three main routes with intersect and combine in places. It takes around 21 days to complete the Annapurna Circuit around Annapurna Mountain. Annapurna is a Sanskrit name, meaning “Goddess of the Harvest”. This route is sometimes referred to as the “Apple Pie Circuit” because most of the tea houses along the way serve their own version of fried apple pie.
The Annapurna Sanctuary lies between the peaks of Annapurna and takes five days to reach. On the way you’ll find Muktinath. The Muktinath Route runs in the Kali Gandaki Valley on the east flank of Annapurna and takes seven days.
To the north is Mustang, a small region that opened up to tourists in 1992. The Annapurna Region is a great walking area. You can see a great contrast between the people and cultures when it comes to houses, lifestyle, customs and religion. This region was declared a protected area in 1986. It has good infrastructure to aid trekkers and the paths are well-maintained and food and lodging are available.
If you want to experience a different side of Nepal then head for the Chitwan National Park. Here you’ll find yourself in an area that is great for wildlife viewing and offers a safari-kind of atmosphere. This area has a tropical monsoon climate and visitors mostly come here to see wildlife. The lodges offer visitors tours into the park on foot or on elephants so they can get a closer look at the animals.
This national park is home to rhinos, Bengal tigers, leopards, sloth bears, gaur (buffalo) deer and other animals.
In the rivers and streams are freshwater dolphins and crocodiles but they’re not seen as often. Over 500 species of birds make their home here so it is a great place to do some bird watching.
Chitwan National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and the best time to visit is from October to February.
The Langtang Region is home to Langtang National Park. Here you can do some great hiking as it offers high passes, extensive views, old monasteries and lovely mountain scenery with rhododendron forests that bloom during the spring hiking season. You can find villages with guesthouses and place to get food all along the route. This area can be easily reached from Kathmandu by jeep in seven to eight hours.
On a clear day you and see the peak of Langtang Lirung at 7,245 meters, dominating the surrounding area and can be seen from Kathmandu. The trekking routes vary and some can be trekked in a few days while others take a couple of weeks.
Swayambhunath sits atop of a hill to the west of Kathmandu and is the second most important shrine in the Kathmandu Valley after Boudhanath. Monkeys have taken up residence here so the temple is also known as the Monkey Temple.
Swayambhu Stupa has been painted with the eyes of the omnipresent god and forms the centerpiece of the temple complex. It dates back to the 5th century. Swayambhu plays a major role in the lives of the Vajrayana Buddhists of Northern Nepal and Tibet, but especially of the Newari Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley.
Mount Everest is the highest mountain on earth its summit reaching 8,848 meters or 29,028 feet into the sky. The challenge of trekking here became popular with the first legendary ascent to the peak in 1953 taken by Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and the Sherpa Tensing Norgay.
There are also those who trek the route to Everest Base Camp just to get an awesome view of the peak towering above. Of course the earthquake in 2015 and previous avalanches have left their mark on Everest trekking and climbing. The main trekking seasons are in the spring and fall, from March to May and from September to December.
Those who still want to get great views of Mount Everest can see it on clear days from the hill town of Nagarkot near Kathmandu. The service is great since hotel staff knock on guests’ doors to let them know on clear mornings that Everest is visible.
Lumbini is famous for being the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, the historic Buddha, known as Buddha Shakyamuni. The place is off the main tourist track and some 250 km from Kathmandu. It is well worthwhile to take the detour on route from Pokhara to the Chitwan National Park. Lumbini is a pilgrimage town and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Many of the visitors here are Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world as they retrace Buddha’s footsteps through the stations of his life.
The Maja Devi Temple, dedicated to Buddha’s mother, is believed to be the place where Buddha was born. It contains an ancient stone relief dating from the 2nd century AD depicting Buddha’s birth.
A popular trekking area is the Helambu Region. Here trekking companies offer guided hikes. It is popular due to its closeness to Kathmandu and it doesn’t have extremely high elevations but does offer fantastic mountain scenery. The region is inhabited by the Sherpas and is located in the upper part of the Malechmi Khola Valley. The Helambu Trek can be started in Kathmandu and completed in five to eight days. The typical seven-day itinerary is circular. Accommodation is available in lodges and village guest houses.