1. Old Kathmandu
Even after the 2015 earthquake, the historic centre of old Kathmandu remains an open-air architectural museum of magnificent medieval temples, pagodas, pavilions and shrines. Once occupied by Nepal’s cloistered royal family and still home to the Kumari, Kathmandu’s very own living goddess, Durbar Square is the gateway to a maze of medieval streets that burst even more vividly to life during spectacular festivals. For an introduction to old Kathmandu, follow our walking tour through the hidden backstreet courtyards and temples of the surrounding warren- like old town.
2. Everest Base Camp Trek
Topping many people’s travel bucket list is this two-week-long trek (p292) to the base of the world’s highest, and most hyped, mountain. Despite some earthquake damage, and only limited views of Mount Everest itself, the surrounding Himalayan peaks are truly awe- some, and the half-hour you spend watch- ing the alpenglow ascend beautiful Pumori or Ama Dablam is worth all the altitude headaches you will doubtless su er. The crowds can be thick in October but the welcome at the Sherpa lodges is as warm as the fresh apple pie that is served.
3. Annapurna Circuit Trek
This trek around the 8091m Annapurna massif is Nepal’s most popular trek, and it’s easy to see why. The lodges are comfortable, there is little earthquake damage, the crossing of the 5416m Thorung La provides a physical challenge and the sense of journey from lowland Nepal to Trans- Himalayan plateau is immensely satisfying. Our best tip is to take your time and explore the spectacular side trips, particularly around Manang. Road construction has eaten away at the western sections but alternative foot- paths continue to avoid the road.
Of the three former city-states all Unesco sites that jostled for power over the Kathmandu Valley, medieval Bhaktapur is the most atmospheric. Despite severe damage in the 2015 quake, its back- streets still burst with temples and pagodas. Winding lanes lead onto squares used by locals for drying corn and making pottery you’ll have to pick your way around earth- quake damage to explore but the streets are still fabulously evocative. For the full experience, stay overnight in a guesthouse or attend one of the city’s fantastic festivals.
5. Boudhanath Stupa
The village of Boudhanath is the centre of Nepal’s Tibetan community and home to Asia’s largest stupa, a spectacular white dome and spire that draws Buddhist pilgrims from hundreds of kilometres away. Equally fascinating are the surrounding streets, bustling with monks with shaved heads and maroon robes, and lined with Tibetan monasteries and shops selling prayer wheels and incense. Come at dusk and join the Tibetan pilgrims as they light butter lamps and walk around the stupa on their daily kora (ritual circumambulation).
6. Elephant Safari, Chitwan national Park
In the ‘other Nepal’, down in the humid plains, Chitwan is one of Asia’s best wildlife-viewing spots and the place to don your safari togs, clamber atop a lumbering elephant and head into the dawn mist in search of rhinos and tigers. There’s plenty to keep you busy here, from joining the elephants at bath time to visit- ing local Tharu villages, and the brave can even take a guided walk through the jungle, surrounded by the hoots and roars of the forest.
7. Views from Pokhara
Nepal’s second-biggest tourist town may lack the historical depth of Kathmandu, but it more than makes up for this with a seductively laid-back vibe and one of the country’s most spectacular locations. The dawn views of Machhapuchhare and Annapurna, mirrored in the calm waters of Phewa Tal, or seen from the town’s hilltop viewpoints, are simply unforgettable. Take them in on a trek, from the saddle of a mountain bike or, best of all, dangling from a paraglider high above the valley floor.
8. Lumbini Birthplace of he Buddha
A pilgrimage to the Maya Devi Temple, the birthplace of the Buddha, ranks as one of the subcontinent’s great spiritual journeys. You can visit the exact spot where Siddhartha Gautama was born 2500 years ago, rediscovered only a century or so ago, and then tour a multi-national collection of temples. But perhaps the most powerful thing to do is simply and a quiet spot and meditate on the nature of existence. Travel experiences don’t get much more profound than that.
9. Roaming the Valley Fringes.
There’s more to the Kathmandu valley than Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. The rolling hills and steep slopes surrounding Kathmandu are studded with ancient temples, Himalayan viewpoints, biking trails and medieval temple towns such as Panauti and Kirtipur where you can step back through the centuries all within easy striking distance of the capital. Roam around by local bus, or rent a bicycle or motorcycle, and get under the skin of Nepal’s heartland.
10. White Water Rafting
11. Nepal’s Fantastic Festivals
Nepal has so many spectacular 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.
The iconic whitewashed stupa of Swayambhunath is both a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of Nepal’s most sacred Buddhist shrines. The great stupa painted with iconic, all-seeing Buddha eyes – survived the 2015 quake with only minor damage and it remains a focal point for Buddhist devotion. Pilgrims wander the shrines, spinning prayer wheels and murmuring mantras, while nearby astrologers read palms, and shopkeepers sell magic amulets and sacred beads. Come at dusk for spectacular views over the city lights of Kathmandu.
These little meat- or vegetable filled dumplings are Nepal’s unofficial national dish. Enjoy them in a grandiose traditional restaurant like Bhojan Griha, at a shared table with monks in a backstreet Tibetan kitchen or in a trekking lodge overlooking the Annapurnas – they are the quintessential taste of the Himalayas. Join a cooking class to learn how to make these deceptively simple morsels that are savoured from China to Central Asia. Kathmandu’s restaurants also fill them with apple and cinnamon. Yum!
Kathmandu’s sister city doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This is a city of interconnected Buddhist courtyards and hidden temples, and its greatest treasures escaped the 2015 earthquake. Wander the fascinating backstreets, the magnificent central Durbar Sq and the Patan Museum. Throw in ancient stupas and the valley’s best collection of international restaurants and it’s clear you need a couple of trips to take it all in. Best of all, spend the night here and you’ll have the backstreets all to yourself.
15. Nepal’s Peoples
It is often said that while you first come to Nepal for the mountains, you return for the people . From quietly protective Sherpa guides to welcoming Tibetan hotel owners and Newari shopkeepers, all Nepalis receive guests with respect and a namaste greeting. They’re quick to smile in the most trying circumstances, and you’ll rarely hear a raised voice or an angry word anywhere you go. It’s one of the great joys of travelling here.