Home to eight of the tallest mountains in the world, Nepal is the right place to be if you want to get high, in every sense of the word. By Vaughn Lim
From the breathtaking Annapurna circuit to the mesmerising views of Pokhara (the city of lakes), Nepal will wow even the most seasoned traveller. With influences from neighbouring countries such as India, Bhutan, and China, Nepal has a diverse culture with over 40 different ethnic groups and a mind-boggling 92 languages dispersed by geography.
The mishmash of cultures means that different parts of the landlocked country can offer unique experiences, from the Terai plains to the terraced agriculture slopes dotting the hilly regions, and the alpine habitats in the mountain ranges. There is no other better time to visit Nepal than in 2016 as the country recovers from the April 2015 earthquake. Here are five reasons why:
Let’s face it. The April 2015 earthquake did no favours to the tourism industry. While Nepal looks set to recover in the coming months, this year will be a good time to visit when prices are still depressed. Hotels, travel agencies, and tour operators are dangling discounts to attract visitors to Nepal, making it easier to find the right deal for your travel plans. In my opinion, the easiest way to help Nepal with its rebuilding efforts is by visiting them!
A weak currency and deflated prices also mean that Nepal is a shopping paradise. Stroll through the alleys of the Thamel neighbourhood — the capital’s ghetto area for hippies and backpackers — and you’ll find plenty of shops selling wool, cashmere, pashmina textiles, and assorted mountaineering equipment. Bargaining is highly encouraged. Beware of fake products, though, especially when it involves safety i.e. mountaineering equipment.
The picturesque scenery in Nepal is the stuff legends are made of. As you travel higher in the hills and mountains, the views get even more spectacular. Nepal is mainly divided into three kinds of terrains, each offering unique experiences. The Himal (Mountains) makes up the northern part of Nepal, and lends its name to the Himalayas. Here, it is breathtaking figuratively and metaphorically, with the air getting thinner as you ascend, but the scenery more than makes up for it.
For inexperienced climbers looking for an easy trek with good scenery, the hill regions are a good place to start with its stunning scenery and manageable routes. The urbanised Kathmandu and Pokhara valleys fall within the hill region, where the population density is higher. Pokhara, the city of lakes, offers scenic views of the water bodies, and are ideal for leisurely picnics.
Bordering India is the Terai plains where grasslands, scrub savannahs, and forests can be found. It sounds like a good idea for treks due to the low elevation, but be warned: the terai is extremely malarial.
Nepal is a paradise for adventure junkies. From conquering the mountains to caving, biking, rafting, and even paragliding, Nepal has a wide variety of activities for those seeking that adrenaline high. Beginners who are reasonably fit can try trekking to the Annapurna Base camp (ABC), while the fitter and more adventurous can try trekking to Everest Base Camp (EBC).
In fact, travelling across the country is an adventure itself due to difficult terrains. When you ride in a vehicle during the monsoon season, be prepared for an extremely bumpy (and occasionally hazardous!) journey. Sit tight and hope for the best.
Nepal is the perfect place for travellers seeking a sense of inner peace. While they may not have all the creature comforts of developed countries, it makes up for that with its charming, laid-back atmosphere. You can easily get lost in the tranquility of the countryside but even the commercial neighbourhood of Thamel in Kathmandu provides some respite. It isn’t as crowded as other major cities like Bangkok or Tokyo, making it an ideal place to unwind, read a book and sip on some masala chai.
Nepal has heavy Hindu and Buddhist influences from neighbouring Tibet and India, and these are reflected in its architecture. With four UNESCO world heritage sites in Nepal, history buffs will have a field day exploring the country’s rich legacy. In Kathmandu Valley alone, there are seven groups of monuments and buildings highlighted by UNESCO for its historic and artistic achievements: The Durbar Squares of Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu), Patan and Bhaktapur, the Buddhist stupas of Swayambhu and Bauddhanath, and the Hindu temples of Pashupati and Changu Narayan.
The other three UNESCO world heritage sites are Sagarmatha National Park which includes Mount Everest, Chitwan National Park in the Terai region, and Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha.
Beyond all the sights and activities Nepal has to offer, I reckon it’s the inaccessibility of the landlocked country that adds to its enigmatic charm. As the New York Times wrote, some places we pass through, but others pass through us.
Namaste, what are you waiting for?