My excitement for the country of Nepal was hardly contained as I touched down in Kathmandu. After traveling through India and Southeast Asia, I was expecting Nepal to be similar to the countries in the region. Nothing could be further from the truth, this little landlocked nation is truly its own country, insular from its bordering nations, China and India.
Nepal straddles the world’s largest mountain range, The Himalayas, in her borders is the legendary Mt. Everest, as well as eight of the world’s peaks above 8,000 meters. The sheer extremes of the topography has created an independent Nepali culture that is as welcoming and friendly as it is fascinating to experience.
The reason for my travels to Nepal was to hike to Everest Base Camp, nearly 18,000 feet in elevation, the hike is legendary in backpacking circles, and I had to experience it. Not only did I experience basecamp, but I also stumbled upon plenty of other sights to see. Depending on your physical abilities and your time frame, there is enough diversity in Nepal to match anyone’’s travel style. Here’s top things you should do in Nepal.
1. Get to Everest Base Camp
Perhaps Nepal’s most famous hike, Everest Base Camp Trek is long, difficult, and high enough in elevation to cause serious complications in people. If you are confident in your physical health I highly recommend embarking on this trek. The weather in Nepal can be intense and there are two main seasons to understand, winter and monsoon season. Winter takes place from November to April, and snows will block many of the high mountain passes. From June until September, it is monsoon season, and the summers are often plagued with heavy rainfalls, especially in the mountains. I actually hiked to Base Camp during monsoon season, and it was a very unique experience. There are a couple different ways to tackle the Everest Base Camp Trek, and both options can be just as rewarding.
– Lukla to Everest Base Camp – Probably the most popular way to execute the hike, if not the most popular hike in Nepal, this route begins in Lukla. The Lukla airport is considered the world’s most dangerous, built high in the Himalayas, its landing strip is shorter than most, and every year a plane crashes. The mountains are so large that the plane does not fly over them; instead, the route goes through the mountains. On cloudy days, the plane will not take off for fear of flying into a mountain. There are plenty of lodges to stay in and food along the route; the amount of tourists has made the trek more of a pilgrimage than a wilderness excursion. When starting the hike in Lukla, to and from Everest Base Camp will take between 11-14 days.
– Jiri to Everest Base Camp – If you want to experience Everest Base Camp by following in the footsteps of Tenzing and Hillary, then this is the route for you. Between 21-27 days round trip, beginning the Base Camp Trek in Jiri will offer you plenty of time to experience rural Nepal. Less than 10% of all trekkers use this route, and local Nepali culture is on full display in every village you walk through. When I took this route during monsoon season, I was the only tourist in many of the villages, and seeing how the people of Nepal lived was incredible.
2. Thamel in Kathmandu
Thamel is a neighborhood in Kathmandu, Nepal’s largest city, and it is based around tourism. Every store and restaurant caters to trekkers who come to the Himalayas.
If shopping is your thing, Thamel will offer you weeks of exploration and enjoyment. The U.S. dollar goes very far in Nepal, and haggling is necessary with every purchase made. I really enjoyed the outdoor gear stores that line every street in Thamel. Every style and brand is available, all knockoffs, but after searching thoroughly, I was able to find plenty of gear, with better quality than can be found stateside. I bought 100% of my gear for Everest Base Camp in Thamel, and I still use most of it to this day when I go hiking.
Thamel also has incredible restaurants, featuring Nepali, Indian, Chinese, and even American food. Rooftop bars and outside dining experiences are not an exotic luxury, but a natural phenomenon in Kathmandu. Nearly every restaurant features comfortable dining, and the atmosphere is always friendly. Walking out of the city center, it is easy to find a small cafe to grab a bite with incredible views of the valley and metropolis of Kathmandu.
3. Swayambhu (Monkey Temple)
A short walk from Thamel is the Monkey Temple. A historical Buddhist site, this beautiful temple is worth every step to the top. Named because of the monkeys that live in large numbers around the temple, people of all ages can enjoy this walk. Climbing to the top offers 360 degree views of the entire city and on clear days, the Himalayas can be seen standing guard in the distance.
The starting point for so many on the Everest Base Camp Trek, but also the heart of Nepal’s Khumbu region. The town is home to an airport and because of that, tourists from around the world can always be found here. There are a couple of bars and some excellent views that can be had, perfect if you are short on time. Here and in the next town of Namche, you can revel in the night life and enjoy the company of the world’s intrepid travelers as they make their way to Mt. Everest.
5. Chitwan National Park
Only about a day’s bus ride from Kathmandu, this part of Nepal is not in the mountains, instead, it is flat and at an elevation almost equal to sealevel. As much as 30 degrees warmer than Kathmandu, this national park features some of Asia’s only large mammals left in the wild. Wild Asian Rhino’s and Elephants call this park home, even the rare Tiger can be spotted here with some frequency. The town outside of Chitwan is built for throngs of tourists; hotels and restaurants abound.
6. Bardiya National Park
This park is smaller than Chitwan, but more remote and offers some of the best Tiger viewing in the world. If a longer bus ride and a more remote wildlife experience sounds like a vacation for you, then this park could be your ideal destination. Endangered Rhinos have been reintroduced and poaching efforts have been stemmed in recent years, increasing the herd.
7. Annapurna circuit
Even without the famous Mt. Everest, this Nepal hike is becoming almost as popular as Everest Base Camp. Snowcapped peaks and drier conditions makes hiking Annapurna throughout the summer a more realistic possibility, especially for those not wanting to battle leeches. This is an excellent hike for those not comfortable with the extremes elsewhere in the country. There is plenty of tourist infrastructure, and hikers of all ages and experience can find enough comfort and/or solitude on this hike.
8. Ama Dablam Basecamp
Mt. Ama Dablam is considered by many mountaineers the most beautiful mountain in the world. Resembling a Dr. Seuss picture, this mighty peak is often overshadowed by the larger Mt. Everest, and is not far off the Everest Base Camp Trail, if you are a climbing aficionado, stopping by and pitching a tent at base camp can be a once in a lifetime experience.
9. Eat some Momo
My favorite dish, this Nepalese dumpling is as delicious as it is affordable. Consisting of pinched dough, stuffed with your choice of meat or vegetables, it comes with a dipping sauce. Found in almost every restaurant, these dumplings were truly lifesavers while trekking during monsoon season. Some places stuff the momo with yak meat, try one for an authentic Nepalese experience. Compared to everything else on this list, a food item may seem almost lacking in comparison. But you cannot fully experience Nepal without eating this treat, and that is why it is number 9 on the list.
10. Have a plate of Dal Bhat
Not so much a food as it is an experience. Dal is another name for lentils, and Dal Bhat is a lentil and rice dish that is famous for its ability to feed hikers. Because electricity is never reliable, all food in Nepal is made fresh, when sitting down to a meal of Dal Bhat, buckle in. Dal Bhat is served piping hot with a large plate of rice, the Dal scooped on top, creating a delicious and filling meal. In Nepal, Dal Bhat is served with a side of pickled vegetables. Spicy carrots and peppers, marinated in vinegar are always available, and their flavor profile adds another layer to the dining experience. Dal Bhat is not over until you cannot eat anymore. The chef will refill your plate until you stop eating and if you can’t finish what is in the pot, they will insist that you find a way to do so.
Nepal is a beautiful region with an exceptional people that beckons travelers of all experiences. One of my favorite countries, I highly recommend visiting Nepal at least once in your life.