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India & Nepal: The Taj Mahal, Mt. Everest and a Ganges River Cruise16 days from $9,295 (USD)
Explore the timeless Taj Mahal, before embarking on a seven-night Ganges River cruise into the heartland of rural India. Experience fabled Kathmand...
One of the hidden gems of South Asia is Nepal. Adventure comes alive here, winking from the impossibly high mountain tops and peeking around temple pillars. A rich mix of Buddhist and Hindu customs and traditions color Nepali culture. There are several sites of religious significance, including the world’s largest temple to Shiva. At the same time, great diversity spices Nepal—represented among the population of 27 million are no fewer than 101 ethnic groups speaking almost as many languages! The country is a melting pot, but the results are lovely, warm, and welcoming.
The mountains of Nepal are the stuff of legend. Eight of the ten highest peaks in the world are within Nepali borders, including the mighty Everest. Trekkers and mountain climbers make the pilgrimage here all summer long to face off against these giants! Nepal’s second-greatest claim to fame is Lumbini, the place where Buddha was born. Spirituality sparks the thin air here, permeating the atmosphere and coloring the culture.
Top Attractions in Nepal
Eight of the world’s ten “eight thousanders” are in Nepal, and by far the most important of those is Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. Climbing Everest is, obviously, a big deal. It requires the help of the Sherpa, the indigenous people who live on the mountain, as well as a great deal of physical fitness. Interestingly, some of the most exhilarating and active diversions related to Everest have nothing to do with climbing. Skydiving is big with thrill-seeking visitors—can you even imagine the rush of watching the towering heights of the mountain sailing by in reverse as you float towards the earth? If you’d prefer to scope out the summit in comfort, consider booking a small plane tour to take you over the top! You’ll enjoy the birds-eye view of the tip-top without the weeks of preparation and arduous physicality. For those who fancy a bit of climbing, but not the entire mountain’s worth, the Rongbuk monastery is a “mere” 48 miles up and offers stunning views of the range spread out around it.
The Nepali capital is also the country’s largest city. Two thousand years of history have sunk deep roots into Kathmandu, lending the city an impermeable air of antiquity, and mystery. Little wonder, then, that visitors can’t stay away! Kathmandu Valley, which encompasses the smaller cities of Lalitpur Patan and Bhaktapur, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You’ll want to visit the enormous Buddhist stupa of Swayambhu, which is one of the holiest sites in Nepal. Stop in the small market alongside for Tibetan and Buddhist-related baubles, or simply take in the sight of pilgrims with their prayer wheels approaching the holy ground. Durbar Square is packed with temples and palaces, and is over a thousand years old. Hiking treks and plane flights over the Himalayas make for memorable excursions! In March, don’t miss the messy, exhilarating celebration of Holi.
A temple and tranquil fountain in Lumbini mark the spot that was supposedly the birthplace of Buddha. Today, it is a site of reverence and pilgrimage, as well as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ashokan Pillar is over two thousand years old, and was erected by the Emperor Ashoka to commemorate the sacred birth. Puskarni Pond is to the south of the pillar, and considered sacred for having been the site of Buddha’s first bath as an infant. Countless temples and stupas adorn Lumbini, and a general atmosphere of peace reigns supreme. Many tourists find the mellow vibe greatly conducive to reflection and meditation, and report a feeling of having “recharged” after a few days in the quiet, languid town.
The end point of the Annapurna trek circuit, Pokhara is a perennial favorite with visitors. Trekkers go crazy for the many trails leading to and from the city. The International Mountain Museum and World Peace Pagoda are two of the best-known attractions within city limits. Row across the mirror-calm of Phewa Lake for one of the best views in Nepal, especially at sunrise. The adventurous can brave hiking the steep slope of Sarangkot—perhaps as a warmup for trekking, or even climbing Everest? Paragliding, biking, and rafting are also in great supply here for those who thrill to the active lifestyle. On a more mellow note, farmstays are available (fresh food, lodging, and an unmatched encounter with the simple life—lovely!), traditional Nepali jewelry is available for purchase in the market, and canoeing or kayaking the lake are both popular.
Exquisite Bhaktapur is known for embracing the past. No vehicles are allowed on the streets of this historic city. As part of the greater Kathmandu Valley, the whole of Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, therefore, subject to protection and conservation. The city was damaged by a severe earthquake in the 1930s, and daily/weekly entrance tickets help support ongoing rebuilding. Festivals and handicrafts have boosted the city’s profile, among them the Nepali New Year, Bisket Jatra (considered one of the world’s best celebrations). Two of the most prominent temples within the complex are Nyataponla Temple, the tallest pagoda in Nepal, and Dattatreya Temple, which is said to have been built from the trunk of a single tree in times of ancient Nepali royalty.
Traditional carvings of wood and stone distinguish Patan, another notable seat of Nepali culture. It is also known as Lalitpur, with both monikers deriving from the same Sanskrit. Must-see sights include the Palace of the Malla Kings and Patan Durbar Square, named to distinguish it from the larger Durbar Square across the river in Kathmandu. Numerous temples dot Patan, many decorated with exquisite stonework or statues dating back hundreds of years! A ceremonial bell in the square is rung only once annually. There is a Tibetan refugee camp in town known for the gorgeous rugs its residents craft for sale.
|Primary Airports: Tribhuvan International Airport (KTM)|
|Currency: Nepalese rupee (NPR)|
|Population: 27,470,000 (2012 est.)|
|Electricity: 230V/50Hz (Indian or European plugs)|
|Time Zone: UTC +5:45|
Nepal Travel Reviews
Beauty All Around
As an avid traveler since I was a kid, one of the most intriguing places in the world to me has always been the continent of Asia. Although I have not been able to travel too extensively in this region yet, I have been able to make one special stop in a country called Nepal.
To begin my trip, I was just astonished by the natural beauty that surrounds this country and the city of Kathmandu. The people here were some of the most nicest and sincerest people that I have ever met. While I was staying there, I met a local woman about the same age as me. This special woman I would eventually call my friend and til this day we keep in contact. I had no tour guides set up nor any specific schedule but this kind and gentle woman showed me all around Kathmandu, the local sites like "The Garden of Dreams" and the "Swayambhunath Temple".
Venturing out of the city one day, my new friend took me to an ancient city called Bhaktapur. This small city makes you feel like you have just taken a step back into time. There were so many temples and buildings that are over 500 years old! Such a beautiful place with such a rich history!
Even though it was just a few days, it became an experience that would never be forgotten and continues to shape my life to this day.
A year in Nepal
I spent a year living and working in Nepal. This is an amazingly diverse country given its size. I spent most of my time in the Kathmandu Valley and the southeastern part of the country. Visitors to Kathmandu should be sure to visit the ancient Buddhist complex Swayambhunath. It is also known as the monkey temple due to the sacred monkeys living there, but be sure you don't make eye contact with them as they view this as an act of aggression. I also recommend Pashupatinath, the major Hindu temple and a world heritage site. While there is plenty of Western food in offer in Kathmandu, visitors should really take the time to try the national dish, dal bhaat. Bhojan Griha is a terrific place to get a taste of traditional Nepalese food and culture.
With the exception of Chitwan National Park, tourists to the country usually focus on trekking and visiting the mountainous parts of Nepal, but the southern part, known as the Terai, is just as fascinating. The Tharu people, who live in many of the villages around Chitwan and along the southern border of India, have their own culture distinct from Nepal or India, and I lived in a Tharu village for a time. One interesting aspect of Tharu culture is their painted houses. Many Tharu will paint colorful and elaborate designs on the outsides of their homes, so be sure to look out for these when you are in the area.
A Tiger in the Wild
The first 5 days were spent trekking in Nepal to Poon Hill. The scenery was spectacular, the guides were too attentive, and the accommodations and food were 2-3 star. Then 3 days were spent in Bardia National Park seeing wildlife, including a tiger and Asian rhinos. The accommodations and food were 3 star. Overall, the tour company did a good job of organizing the whole tour and the price was very reasonable.