When Neil and Laura told me back at the beginning of November that they wanted me to return to Nepal this year I couldn’t quite believe it. However after two weeks of travel I realised that my highlights on this particular trip consisted of just as many ‘non-trekking’ moments and trekking ones. It turned out that Nepal is rammed full of amazing sights and sounds apart from the obvious trekking ones and it was so nice to have some time to investigate these other options and see what else is out there. Here is a round-up of a few moments where I just couldn’t help myself from feeling completely overwhelmed at amazing Nepal.
1. Exploring Kathmandu
Nepal’s bustling, congested and polluted capital can sometimes feel somewhat overwhelming and disorientating. However, I have long found Kathmandu to be one of the most engrossing cities to visit. No less than 7 UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located within the entire valley, my personal favourites being Kathmandu city’s Durbar Square and Boudhanath – one of the largest Buddhist Stupas in the world.
Take a walk around, preferably as the sun is going down, and witness pilgrims circling these sites, chanting prayers and counting mala beads. Find a seat in the any one of the many restaurants overlooking these sites, or simply climb to the top of the temple of your choice, and watch, as the peaceful, co-existent religions of Nepal unfold in front of you.
2. Relaxing in Pokhara
Nepal’s second city, Pokhara, lies on the bank of Lake Phewa, surrounded by the peaks of the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. After Kathmandu, many find Pokhara a welcome break – my favourite moment here was finding a secluded tree next to the lake, taking my camera with me, and sitting for an hour or so, just taking in the beauty of my surroundings. If you are feeling a bit more active than this there is plenty to do - hire one of the wooden canoe boats at the lakeside and explore to your heart’s content, or walk up to the World of Peace Pagoda (the trail takes about an hour) for incredible views of the city, lake and mountains.
3. Time travelling in Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park is located in the southern lowlands, and is undoubtedly the best area for wildlife spotting in Nepal. The park covers 932 sq. km of jungle and grasslands and is home to 68 species of mammals, 500+ species of birds along with a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Undoubtedly the main draw is a sighting of the elusive Bengal Tiger, of which as many as 120 are currently resident in the park. A few years ago (see picture!) I was lucky enough to catch a sighting of one of these magnificent creatures, and, although no tiger sightings were to be had this time around, in just one afternoon of safari I caught sight of no less than 23 species of bird (included woodpeckers and kingfishers), 2 species of crocodile, 2 species of deer and several one horned rhinos. Most memorable however was just a small moment; walking down a track, surrounded by trees that felt older than time, with the evening sun lighting up the jungle around me. I felt as though I had travelled back to a different era – nothing could be more beautiful.
Also look out for: Lumbini (the birthplace of the Buddha) and Bandipur (a preserved traditional Newari village) – both promise a fascinating insight into Nepali culture, and are well worth a visit!