Nepal 1From the majesty of the Himalayas, to raging river rapids, elephants roaming in tall grass, to the exotic cuisine, Nepal can offer visitors a diverse and culturally rich experience. Emma Lovell shares her insights.

Kathmandu is the capital of Nepal and most international flights into the country will arrive into this heavily populated city that rests in a valley amongst the Himalayas. It must be noted that the earthquake in April 2015 has created large-scale damage around this city and other villages within the region. Tourism is an important income for Nepal so local guides and tour companies will endeavour to show off the best of their culture, but be mindful that some important historic sites have been damaged.

Although being a largely Buddhist culture, Hinduism is also a strong faith in Nepal. It always fascinates and inspires me to see many sects of faith and religion living harmoniously in Kathmandu. My first stops when visiting Nepal are three important religious sites Pashupatinath, Bouddhanath and Swayumbhunath. Pashupatinath is reserved for Hindus, a sacred place for funeral rites, burning of the bodies on ghats by the river, a fascinating ritual to observe. Bouddhnath is the largest Buddha stupa in the world. A magnificent dome of white, shrouded with brightly coloured prayer flags and a gold spire atop with the eyes of Buddha watching all around. Another Buddhist site, Swayumbhunath, is not to be missed, sitting atop an impossible hill with incredible 360-degree views of surrounding mountains. There are a lot of steps to get to the top, and make sure to watch out for our monkey friends who call the stupas home.

It’s a tourist hot spot, but you can’t go to Nepal without visiting Thamel. Bars, restaurants and handicraft stores galore. Make sure to pop in to a Nepalese kitchen for some momos, Nepalese dumplings served with a spicy tomato, chilli and garlic chutney. This area is a bustling shopping spot in the day, and an eclectic nightspot for the partygoers.

Everest Base Camp for many is the ultimate in trekking and mountaineering, and a key reason for visiting Nepal. If you’re not prepared to take on the 12-day trek, you can enjoy moderate trekking in this region, Namche Bazaar is an amazing destination for you. Three days of trekking to teahouses with hospitable hosts. Friendly and knowledgeable Sherpas providing guidance and education about their mountain home. Spend a few days in Namche Bazaar taking day trips, sampling from the famous bakeries and admiring the incredible structure of a town built into the side of a mountain.

Not everyone will have the time to climb the epic mountains of Nepal. You can still experience the majesty of these incredible peaks on the mountain flight. On my first visit to Kathmandu, I attempted the mountain flight two days in a row but due to bad weather it didn’t go and I missed out altogether. To ensure you get to experience a bird’s eye view of the world’s tallest mountain, book the flight early in your trip.

For the wildlife lovers, Chitwan National Park in the south-central part of Nepal is a must. You can drive from Kathmandu in approximately seven hours, a wonderful opportunity to see more of the country. Experience the famous cliff hanging roads, which locals navigate with precision. I loved the calm plateau of land surrounded by tall trees with a lazy river running throughout. Awake in your accommodation by the river and help the local elephants take a bath. If you’re more of an observer, take a safari through the national park riding on an elephant in a howdah or take a Jeep tour to see elephants, rhinos and possibly some big cats, tigers!

Pokhara is a natural wonder and different pace from Kathmandu, it’s just seven hours drive or 1.5 hour flight from the capital. Experience a gateway to the Himalayas and a town of adventure. Trek the Annapurna ranges and choose from a number of trails traversing around the pristine mountains. The town rests by peaceful Lake Phewa, take a boat ride on the calm waters to the Hindu temple resting in the centre of the lake. If it’s heights you’re after, try paragliding with the vultures, a unique offering in this part of the world. Spend a few days here and enjoy the incredible array of restaurants from around the world and a lively nightlife, all on the lake shore.

Most importantly, when you’re in Nepal, take the time to meet the people. They are what make this country great. Speak to the man who is selling the tea at the corner, or the woman stitching a sari or your trekking guide. Nepalese people have a passion for their country that is unrivalled. They’ll share their homes, their families and their history with you, if you let them.

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