Despite the devastating effects of the 2015 earthquake, Kathmandu is once again open for business with timeless backstreets, striking temples and medieval town houses remaining intact and holding the mystical appeal that continues to attract travelers. The city is equal parts charming and chaotic as the streets are filled with rickshaws serving around pedestrians while magnificent temples stand proudly along the roads. Everywhere you look is something beautiful, making the simple act of wandering an activity in itself. The main feature of Kathmandu is, of course, its Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage listed area brimming with temples, pagodas and the royal palace. Away from the main city center, there are dozens of hiking and trekking routes that take travelers through some of the most staggering landscapes on earth. Once you’ve worn yourself out, head back to the city and try your hand at haggling as you pick up some gorgeous handicrafts from one of the numerous markets and bazaars.
The UNESCO-listed Chitwan National Park, whose name translates as ‘Heart of the Jungle’, is one of the finest wildlife destinations in Asia. The park encompasses sublime landscapes of jungle and marshland and is home to deer, monkeys, sloth bears and a staggering number of bird species. For many, the highlight of the Chitwan National Park will be spotting a one-horned rhino, elephant or Bengal tiger. With luxury lodges lining the edges of the park it's worth spending at least two full days here to increase your chances of spotting the resident wildlife and enjoy the outdoor activities on offer. In addition to the wonders found outside, there is a visitor center in Sauraha, which provides valuable information about the park’s wildlife and conservation efforts, and an elephant breeding center. It goes without saying that no trip to Nepal is complete without paying a visit to this stunning animal sanctuary.
Practically undisturbed by the earthquake that shook the country back in April 2015, Pokhara remains one of Nepal's most attractive spots. Bordering the freshwater Phewa Lake in the south and backed by the snow-capped mountain range of the Annapurna, it's the perfect place to unwind and soak up the scenery and serves as an ideal base for day treks into the surrounding mountains. A popular day trip from Pokhara is to the Devis Fall, a stunning waterfall with a mysterious past. However, Pokhara is more than just natural beauty, it is also the adventure sports capital of the country and offers visitors the chance to bungee jump, paraglide and mountain bike among other options. Some of the most adventurous activities on offer are the zipflyer, a lightning fast zipline that covers a distance of 1.8km, and flying in an ultra-light, open air aircraft.
Despite the terrible damaged that was inflicted on Bhaktapur by the 2015 earthquake, there is still a lot to see and do in this stunning medieval city. Of the numerous sites worth visiting throughout the city, the Golden Gate is certainly one of the most aesthetically spectacular. Covered with intricate gold carvings and sculptures, this opulent structure is set into a red gatehouse and opens up on to the inner courtyards of the Royal Palace. The palace of 55 windows is also a sight to behold with its exquisitely carved wooden window frames. In addition to these monuments, the Nyatapola, Nepal’s tallest temple, still stands proudly in the middle of the city, a testament to ancient beauty surviving natural disasters. The best way to truly experience everything this city has to offer is simply to take to the streets and stroll through the winding paths, lined with red-brick houses.
The 128-mile horseshoe-shaped Annapurna Circuit is the stuff of trekking dreams and isn’t likely to lose its crown any time soon. It might not have the lavish guesthouses or instantly gratifying scenery that can be found elsewhere in the world but there is certainly a reason why tens of thousands of mountaineers flock to its rocky paths every year. One of its main selling points is the incredibly varied landscapes it encompasses. Starting with tropical jungle, hikers move through canyons, pine forests and eventually to moon-like mountain deserts. As you trek along the ever-changing route, you will pass other trekkers all looking for the same postcard view as you. This common goal unites all who venture along the circuit, turning strangers into companions with whom you will create lifelong memories. Are you up for the challenge?
Our pick #6
The world's tallest mountain needs little introduction. Standing at a towering height of 8,848 meters above sea level and acting as a natural border between Tibet and Nepal, Mount Everest has long attracted intrepid mountaineers, since the first successful ascent by sherpa Tenzing and New Zealander Edmund Hillary back in 1953. Today hundreds of people visit Nepal solely to conquer the dizzying heights of Mt. Everest themselves while basking in the glorious Himalayan vistas. However, for those who aren’t ready to take on the challenge of reaching Everest’s summit, there are alternatives. Trekking to the Everest Base Camp is the perfect way to experience the sheer grandeur of the mountain without potentially risking life and limb. Or those that prefer not to trek can enjoy breathtaking views of Mt Everest and the Himalayas on an hour-long scenic flight from Kathmandu.
Our pick #7
The first thing most people notice when they arrive in Nagarkot is just how breathtaking the views are. The snowy peaks of the Himalayas rise up along the horizon to unfathomable heights, creating one of the most astounding landscapes most people are ever likely to encounter. Well aware of its assets, the village has designed itself to cater for those who come in search of these vistas. Many hotels are perfectly positioned facing the mountains and have balconies where guests can sit with a cup of yak butter tea as they soak up the sight of the world’s most impressive mountain range. Aside from the dreamy scenery, there are plenty of activities to do in Nagarkot, including mountain biking, horse riding and hiking. If you are looking to get away from the crowds and chaos of the cities and relax for a while then look no further.
Our pick #8
As the birth place of Buddha, Lumbini is Nepal's most significant historical site home to a number of important archaeological finds including the timber remains of Buddhist shrines that date back to the third century BC. Unsurprisingly, Lumbini attracts Buddhist pilgrims from across the globe and its UNESCO World Heritage status, sacred gardens and colorful stupas draw curious travelers as well. Whilst in Lumbini make sure you take the time to explore the various monasteries scattered through the city. The most important of all of these sites of worship is the Maya Devi Temple where visitors will find a sandstone carving depicting the birth of Buddha under a sacred tree. There is also a marker that indicates the exact spot where Buddha was born, which is surrounded by bulletproof glass, and a sacred pond where it is said that Maya Devi bathed before giving birth to Buddha.
Often referred to by its original Sanskrit name, Lalitpur, which translates as ‘City of Beauty’, Patan is a delightful, traditional city located just 5km south of Kathmandu. Although Patan was hit hard by the 2015 earthquake that ravaged much of the country, its spectacular Durbar Square is still frequented by tourists and has recovered incredibly well from the disaster, with many of its monuments still intact. The entire square is filled with magnificent buildings, including various temples and palaces. Outside of this square in the north of the city is the famous Golden Temple, which contains a number of brass animal statues and an assortment of shrines. Patan is also home to an array of fair trade shops where travelers can pick up quality handcrafted gifts for reasonable prices, knowing that the proceeds from which will go towards helping Nepal’s needy.
Our pick #10
There are two things that draw people to the lofty village of Dhulikel. The first of these is the fantastic views of the Himalayas that it commands. Snapping a shot of the sun rise or set with the world’s most dramatic landscape as a backdrop is every photographer’s dream. This magical scenery is often responsible for keeping travelers rooted in Dhulikel far longer than they had originally intended. The second reason Dhulikel is a hit among explorers is because it has a collection of incredibly beautiful temples. Although some of the temples are a bit of a challenge to get to, those who take on the hike or seemingly never-ending steps will reap the rewards once they are confronted with these magnificent structures. The Old Town is also worth visiting, if only to marvel at the traditional houses that line the streets, relics of the expert craftsmanship of bygone eras.
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