• Nepal
    © iStockphoto.com / Bartosz Hadyniak
  • Nepal
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Nepal

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
In Nepal the sky is the limit. Nestled between the immensities of China and India, it is home to vast extents of the Himalayan mountain range - not to mention the great Mount Everest itself. At day break, its peaks are tinted with the rising sun and, only a little lower down, its numerous temples and stupas reflect the Hindu and Buddhist spirituality which envelops the country.

Travel guide

Nepalese trekking

Thanks to its mountain range, Nepal is the ideal destination for trekking and what's more, the country provides a vast range of options. So if you don't fancy the intensity of a hike to Everest base camp, treks as short as a day or a few hours can be organised in the lower regions. Whether your passion runs to stunning panoramas, pilgrimage routes or easy hikes, there's always more than one trek to fit the bill.

Himalayas

Nepal, with a third of the Himalayan mountain range within its borders, is home to 10 out of the 14 highest summits in the world. The slopes of the imposing outlines of Everest or Annapurna, and the plains which surround them, are not just a haven for trekkers but also for those looking to learn a little about the inhabitants of the region. you'll find plenty of occasions to meet the famously courageous Sherpas, or to discover isolated monasteries tucked away in mountain passes.

Adrenaline activities

Nevertheless, it's not all about the trekking in this country. Those seeking an adrenaline rush should look into activities such as canyoning, climbing, kayaking, paragliding and mountain biking, most of which also take place in Nepal's mountain regions. Alternatively, soak up the views over the ranges from the lakeside in the enchanting city of Pokhara or stroll through the myriad of streets and temples in the capital of Kathmandu.

Natural habitats

Once you've had your fill of the highlands, head south to Chitwan National Park and experience an entirely contrasting landscape within the subtropical lowlands. Come face to face with nature as you ride through the jungle on the back of an elephant or drift along the Narayani, Rapti and Reu rivers in a dugout canoe among the crocodiles and exotic birds.

The Terai

To the south of Nepal, you'll find the sprawling marshlands and swamps of the Terai and its multiple national parks. The green-covered plains of the region are the perfect spot for observing the nation's fauna, including elephants, horned rhinos, endangered Bengal tigers and rare spotted leopards. The incredible ethnic diversity of the country is also evident here, as you pass through neighbouring Tharu and Maithali villages.

Fascinating traditions

When it comes to hospitality, you could say the Nepalese are in a category of their own. You will be enchanted by their numerous traditions, sparkling folklore and remarkable friendliness. Religion also occupies an important place in the lives of the Nepalese people. Hinduism and Buddhism, the two main religions, coexist in perfect harmony - you might even find monks from different religions praying together. Lumbini, birthplace of Buddha, is an important pilgrimage spot for believers from all over the world, whilst the city of Janakpur is visited by thousands of Hindus every year.

Our Editorial team's advice

If you are planning on going trekking individually, it is in your best interest to call on the services of a local agency for the logistics. They will take care of hiring your guide (necessary!) and your porter, and will ensure legal assistance in case of problem. Before leaving, you have to take out an insurance covering repatriation. Do require a contract including a clause for repatriation by helicopter to Kathmandu, even if you must pay extra.

The best time of year to go to Nepal is autumn. The months of November and October, right at the beginning of the dry season, are the most suitable in terms of weather. The temperatures are mild and the countryside is decked out in green. It's also known for being the most touristic season and prices increase enormously during this time. February and April, at the end of the dry season, are also worth considering for slightly lower rates. The rest of the year, temperatures can soar, especially between June and September, though chances are higher for finding discounted rates on hotels.

Make sure not to drink water from the tap, unless it has been purified before, and try to avoid ice altogether. Bottled water can be found extremely easily and is very cheap.

You will need a visa to travel to Nepal. It is possible to obtain one on arrival at the airport in Kathmandu or at one of the border crossings. It will cost you between 25 and 100 USD, depending on the duration of your stay. The colourful festival of Holi happens either in February and March, to mark the start of the monsoon season. The festivities usually last a week and the last day is reserved for paint or coloured powder throwing - well worth a detour if you have time.

pros

  • +Nepalese hospitality is legendary.
  • +Nature and culture to discover over short distances.

cons

  • -Kathmandu is densely populated and polluted.
  • -Vandalism of heritage sites is common in some parts.

Traditions

Two rules you should follow when in society: take your shoes off before walking into a religious building or a house and walk around temples and stupas clockwise. When meeting someone out in the countryside, it is customary to greet them by joining your hands and saying "Namaste". As for shopping, do not hesitate to negotiate the price before buying, it is also part of the traditions.

Food

One of the country's most popular dishes is dal bhat - white rice seasoned with a lentil sauce, vegetables and condiments, whilst gurr - a potato pancake - is a Sherpa's daily meal. In the regions neighbouring Tibet, mountain dwellers eat tsampa - gruel made with flour of crushed barley seeds, served raw. Tibetan cuisine is actually on many Kathmandu restaurant menus: thupka (meat soup), momos and kothays (boiled or fried meat-stuffed ravioli), tenthuk (a sort of tomato and spinach lasagna), sha bhalep (meatloaf)... Tibetan style tea is drank with salt and mixed with yak butter. Try also tchyang - beer made by fermenting barley seeds or rice.

Souvenirs

The famous khukuris (knives) of the gurkha soldiers, carried at the belt by the Nepalese, the little saranghis (violas) of travelling musicians, the bronze "singing bowls", Nepalese writing paper decorated with traditional patterns, prayer wheels... In Thimi (near Bhaktapur), you can find beautiful pottery in the shape of animals and great quantities of papier-maché masks representing deities. Tibetan handicraft is mostly made of objects of worship, traditionally woven rugs (allow USD 80 for a 3.5 feet x 7 feet pure wool rug), tea or tsampa bowls, made of wood and chiselled silver, jewels and ancient masks... The unavoidable souvenir: the thangkas - framed painted brocade banners, representing religious scenes or mandalas - geometrical compositions symbolising the universe.
An interesting place for shopping: Baber Mahal, Kathmandu's old Rana palace which houses a wide range of shops and restaurants. Shops open early in the morning (around 7 AM) and shut at night fall, sometimes with a break in the early afternoon. They are shut on Saturdays and on official holidays.