Think Nepal and you’ll no doubt first think of the amazing trekking opportunities yet there’s so much more to this charming country than just mountains. There’s medieval cities to explore, sacred temples to visit and traditional craft centres to enjoy. In case you need further persuasion on why to visit, Jana Elia shares her top highlights of Nepal.
Swayambhunath Temple – Kathmandu
The Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath in Kathmandu is one of the most sacred sites in all Nepal. It is a place where local Buddhists come to perform ceremonies and to pray. It’s also a temple that attracts pilgrims from Tibet and beyond. The top of the stupa is in the shape of a square with four sets of Buddha’s eyes – one on each side. The Buddha’s eyes watch over the entire Kathmandu valley and symbolise compassion and wisdom. The main stupa of the complex is located at the very top and is surrounded by a variety of shrines and temples. It is believed that when the dome was rebuilt many years ago that they used 20kg of pure gold in its decoration.
A total of 365 steps lead up to the very top of Swayambhunath, or Monkey Temple as it is also known, for the population of primates that run around the grounds of the complex. The magnificent views make each of those steps worth the climb. You feel like you’re standing on top of the world. Everywhere you look there are Nepalese prayer flags connecting temples and shrines to the next. Take your time soaking it all in.
Boudhanath – Kathmandu Valley
Boudhanath is the largest stupa in Nepal and perhaps its most important. In 1979 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with a number of other monuments in the Kathmandu Valley. Boudhanath shelters over 16,000 Tibetans who have made Nepal their home since fleeing their homeland in 1959. Believers walk in a clockwise direction around the stupa to pay their respects and have their wishes granted. For Buddhist people it is a daily ritual to walk three or more times around the stupa while repeating the mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’, either quietly or aloud. It is believed that walking around in an anti-clockwise direction is bad luck and disrespectful.
There is a wall surrounding the bottom of the stupa with prayer wheels for devotees to spin so that their prayers will be heard and answered. Prayer wheels are used to accumulate wisdom and good karma and purify negativity. It helps to bring practitioners ever closer to realising enlightenment. Each turn of the wheel represents one prayer and there are dozens of wheels to turn so this small journey often takes a considerable amount of time.
World Peace Pagoda & Lake Phewa – Pokhara
The World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara is painted a bright white and sits on top a hill overlooking the amazing Annapurna mountain range. Below, the beautiful Lake Phewa Tal reflects the dramatic snow-capped peaks. Lake Phewa is the second largest freshwater lake in Nepal. The centre of Lake Phewa is home to the most important religious monument in Pokhara – Tal Barahi Temple. You can reach the temple by boat from the shores of the lake.
The World Peace Pagoda was built just after World War II by Buddhist monks from the Japanese Nipponzan Myohoji organization. It is one of over 80 world peace pagodas in the world today. They are built to inspire peace and are open to those of all races and faiths. There are a few ways you can reach the pagoda – some hike and cycle while for those not in the best physical shape, there’s the option to take a car up to the top.
Pashupatinath – Kathmandu Valley
Pashupatinath is located in the Kathmandu Valley and is where Nepal’s most important Hindu temple stands on the banks of the holy Baghmati River. The Shiva temple is surrounded by busy market stalls selling incense, rudraksha beads, conch shells, pictures of Hindu deities and temples, tika powder in rainbow colours, glass lingams, models of Mt. Meru and other essential religious items. Sadhus and devotees of Shiva flock to Pashupatinath from across all of Nepal. Many elderly followers of Hinduism come here to spend the last several weeks of their lives and to be cremated on the banks of the Baghmati River.
This temple attracts international visitors curious about ritualistic cremations and interested in observing the daily activities that unfold on the riverbank ghats. However, Pashupatinath is home to 518 temples and monuments so there’s plenty else to keep you occupied. Pashupatinath is situated close to Boudhanath stupa so you can easily visit both sites in one day and really get under the skin of Nepal’s spiritual way of life.
Bhaktapur Durbar Square – Kathmandu Valley
The Bhaktapur Durbar Square is located in the town of Bhaktapur, 13km east of Kathmandu. It is a highly visited place in the Kathmandu Valley. The square is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site though the larger complex consists of four distinct squares – Durbar Square, Taumadhi Square, Dattatreya Square and Pottery Square. You can walk around all day and there is still something new and interesting to see. You can meet local pottery makers and visit the Thangka painting school. Here you can observe how mandalas are made in the traditional way. Did you know that it can take months to paint a one-metre-square mandala? It is quite amazing watching the artists at work with such precision and the results are simply stunning.
It would be a sin to list the highlights of Nepal and not mention the Himalayas. The Annapurna mountain range is the second biggest mountain range in Nepal. The highest peak in the Annapurna range is just 759 metres shy of the famous Mount Everest. Some would argue that trekking the Annapurna range offers you more – more villages, more accommodation, easier trails, more hillside communities and slightly more of a cultural feel compared to Everest. It’s also easily accessible from Pokhara.
The trek to Australia Camp is a great route for people of all fitness levels who want to experience trekking but are short on time. On this trail you pass through Hyanjakot and Dhampus village, one of the most photographed villages in the Himalayas. Here you can spend the night sharing stories over a camp fire with your sherpas and the local families. It’s an unforgettable experience but wrap up warm as otherwise it may be memorable for all the wrong reasons!
If you want to enjoy these highlights yourself, have a look at our range of tours and trekking holidays to Nepal.