Nepal in 12 Days
Often when you think of visiting Nepal some of the first things that come to mind are mountains and momos. The famous trekking that is on many a travellers bucket list including both Everest and the Annapurna region, leaves some adventurers nervous about travelling to the region because of the fear of altitude. I was fortunate to visit Nepal last year as part of a cultural small group trip, opted not to participate in any trekking and was pleasantly surprised to find that for the majority of the country there really is no issue at all with altitude.
I have been sending many clients to Nepal over the years, often specifically for trekking trips and after the earthquakes in 2015 that received so much attention in the media, I wanted to go and see for myself how the country and its people are recovering. I didn’t feel ready to tackle a trekking trip, so was very happy to find an option that still had some active days of walking, but was more a cultural trip and not purely focused on trekking. (many of the other travellers on my trip did add on some trekking either before or afterwards, a great way to experience it all!).
The small group trip I participated in was a National Geographic Journey by G Adventures which had a number of unique experiences and fantastic inclusions. It is a really well paced experience, giving you a couple of nights at most of the overnight stops. We stayed in some unique places (we spent a night in a Buddhist monastery guesthouse), and had some great cultural interactions along the way.
Some highlights for me were:
The capital city is at an altitude of 1400 meters (similar to Banff) in a bowl shaped valley in central Nepal. The city itself seems to sprawl forever as it meets other cities and towns in the valley. I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that even though it is such a huge city, as a female travelling on my own, with an extra day to explore, I felt safe, never felt overwhelmed with the traffic, or harassed as you often can in so many large cities. I enjoyed wandering both the local markets as well as the tourist area of Thamel where there are lots of souvenir shops and great restaurants.
As part of our unique experiences with the trip, while in Kathmandu we stopped at the Sisterhood of Survivors Project, learned how to make momo’s (which Nepal is famous for, and they even have dessert ones!) – but more importantly we supported and learned about this organization that is helping rescue and re-educate women who have been sold into the sex trade. It was a truly moving experience, and one that touched me on so many levels being able to hear their stories and see how they have overcome so much.
Wandering the streets of this unique old town and seeing how the city has survived through so much. The ancient hindu temples, pagodas and palaces along with many open markets was eye opening. Staying in a traditional Tibetan Buddhist monastery overnight was another fabulous experience. We were able to observe them as they went about their daily devotions and chanting, both at sunset and sunrise
I enjoyed being able to do some walking and not just looking out the window of a vehicle while exploring Nepal, but didn’t feel ready to do a multi-day trekking trip. This itinerary had a couple of days, in two different locations that included walking for a few hours in local villages. One was quite hilly, using the traditional paths that the villagers use to get around in the forests around Kurintar while the other was on the flats, in the villages neighbouring Chitwan National Park. (therefore much more accessible to everyone). Just being out in the outdoors, and interacting with people is always such an important part of experiencing a country and often as travellers we are only able to stop in larger cities, so the combination of the small villages and walking was definitely a highlight!
Chitwan National Park:
This UNESCO World Heritage site is the oldest national park in Nepal and is also the home to 43 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, and 45 species of amphibians and reptiles, including sambars, chitals, rhesus monkeys, tigers and langurs. We enjoyed two nights in an amazing eco lodge on the edge of the park with excursions in to track the elusive annimals. I am going to be honest and say if you are going here, excited about wildlife viewing, you need to manage your expections. This will NOT be anything like the wildlife viewing that you can see in Africa. The park is 932 sq km and the animals are well camouflaged. While there, two vehicles travelling within the forest saw very different animals; one saw many monkeys, birds and a rhino in the distance while the other safari vehicle had a rhino walk across the road in front of it and also spotted a sloth bear. Really it is luck and really good timing, but an enjoyable experience. The bonus was that the the eco lodge was a really great place to relax and enjoy the views and sounds of the park across the river!
This beautiful lake filled and mountain surrounded city is a must see on any trip to Nepal. It was evident that it has long been a backpacker hangout with the number of accommodations and restaurants for tourists, but, the views of the mountains at sunrise and the lakes in the afternoon really do make this a must see destination while in Nepal. I could have spent a few extra days just hanging out and enjoying the city itself.
I highly recommend a trip to Nepal, and just might have to go back!! I’m thinking that some trekking/walking just might be on my bucket list as I look to find alternative ways to travel and experience this great world that we live in! We saw so much more than this – many temples and stuppas, but to me, more importantly the beauty and welcoming friendliness of the Nepalese people was a highlight. I would highly recommend Nepal as an incredible place to visit, and one that combines the outdoors and beauty of nature without the worry of altitude that is so often associated with mountainous areas. If you have more time, you can easily fill it with an extension of extra days trekking either to Everest basecamp, or around the Annapurna ranges, or even with more time in Kathmandu or Pokhara! The country is still rebuilding and restoring, but it is most definitely ready for visitors to come and experience the beauty of the country and its people.
January 21, 2020