A Kingdom in the Himalaya
There are few places like Nepal where you will find such a charming variety of sight-seeing attractions, cultural tours and adventure opportunities. This delightful diversity is the result of wildly varying ecosystems supporting an array of vegetation types, wildlife species, cultures and habitats. The land changes from the tropical jungles in the south to the snowy heights in the north – with green hills and valleys in between – all within a distance of 200 km.
Eight of the 10 highest peaks on earth, including Mt. Everest, lie within the Kingdom. Kali Gandaki, the deepest gorge in the world, slices through western Nepal. The highest lake in the world, Tilicho, lofts in the central Himalaya at an altitude of 4,919 m. Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, and Pashupatinath, one of the world’s holiest Hindu shrines, are here too.
The Kathmandu Valley contains three ancient cities, including the nation’s capital. Each of them is an enchanting urban work of art, filled with statues, temples and medieval palaces. They provide the setting for an exotic culture highlighted by vibrant festivals and a level of piety rarely encountered elsewhere. Over the centuries, the Valley’s indigenous Newar inhabitants developed a refined civilization, based on a unique synthesis of Hinduism and Buddhism. The cultural heritage is so rich that seven of the monuments have been designated as World Heritage Sites.
If you think the Kathmandu Valley is overwhelming, wait till you see the rest of the Kingdom. Nepal’s people are a colorful mosaic of different races, ethnic communities and languages.Their lifestyles reflect the changing terrain. On the southern Terai plains, the climate is sultry and the culture is spicy. There you will find Tharus in communal longhouses, Maithili women adorning their homes with vibrant wall paintings, and villages that transport you back to the times of Buddha and Sita.
In the balmy hills, the people are as dazzling as the scenery – a hillscape of lush terraces pocketed with villages of the Tamangs, Rais, Gurungs and Magars of Gurkha soldier fame. The people of the north are as rugged as the mountains they inhabit. Here, on the chilly edge of Tibet in the shadow of the Himalaya, live the Sherpas with a Buddhist culture as rich as their yak-butter tea.
More than 16% of Nepal’s total land area is covered by national parks and wildlife reserves. Over 30 species of large wild animals and 180 species of mammals make their home here. Rare wildlife like the Royal Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris), one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), gharial crocodile (Gavialis gangeticus) and the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) lurk in Nepal’s jungles.
The Kingdom is also home to more than 800 species of birds, or about 10% of the world total. Nepal has nearly as many kinds of birds as the whole of North America. Endangered varieties like the Bengal florican, Sarus crane and swamp partridge thrill nature lovers. Egrets, herons, wren babblers, green babblers, blue magpies, Himalayan vultures and other magnificent species criss-cross the skies over Nepal. The Royal Chitwan National Park to the southwest of Kathmandu is one of the richest wildlife habitats in Asia. The Royal Bardia National Park in western Nepal is another excellent safari destination. Here you can go on elephant-back safari to view wild animals and a variety of birds.
Trekking in the Himalaya
If the tropical jungles of the southern plains provide close encounters of the wild kind, the snow-capped Himalaya mountains in the north offer unbeatable scenic allures. One in every four visitors to Nepal goes trekking. Walking through the picturesque foothills of the Himalaya is an experience guaranteed to change your outlook of things. The treks last from a few days to a few weeks and reach elevations in excess of 5,000 m.
Popular trails like the Everest trek take you to the base of the world’s tallest peak, and the Annapurna Circuit, which starts and ends at the lakeside resort town of Pokhara in north central Nepal, takes you through the world’s deepest gorge and all around the Annapurna mountains. Langtang to the north of Kathmandu is another popular trekking destination. Treks in Mustang offer stark landscapes and bizarre rock formations of the Tibetan plateau. Treks can be tailored to any need or interest: animal-watching or people-watching, a tight or leisurely schedule, thrills or relaxation.
If walking is not your scene, there are mountain viewing flights which cruise alongside the Himalaya to give you a close-up panorama of the snow peaks.
White water rafting
White water rafting means bouncing down a river in an inflatable rubber raft over crashing waves and swirling rapids for the excitement of a lifetime. Since the entire country is like a steep incline, the rivers that thunder down from the high Himalaya churn with extra ferocity to provide some of the fastest and most challenging white waters in the world. Foaming with the waters of melting glaciers, the agitated rivers crash down mountain gorges and pass through hills, valleys and jungles on their way to the plains in the south. As they flow between ever-changing landscapes, they offer a tableau of flora and fauna.
River running is thus a terrific way to enjoy Nepal’s natural beauty and observe its rural lifestyles – and from a perspective that may not be available to a trekker. Rafting is also a cultural experience. Rivers are held sacred in Nepal, and many religious ceremonies are performed on their banks.
Accommodation and transport
In Kathmandu and Pokhara, there are deluxe hotels with world-standard comforts, state-of-the-art communication facilities, classy restaurants serving a variety of international cuisine, fashionable shopping centers and modern sports and convention facilities. Fine accommodation is available in the jungle for safari-goers. Elegant resort hotels dot the hillsides to delight Himalayan sight-seers. And, of course, if you like to rough it off the beaten path, there are numerous places to camp in the wilderness or enjoy the hospitality of remote village lodges!
Wherever you want to go in the Kingdom – a restful resort or the rugged backcountry – there are good transport facilities at your disposal. Royal Nepal Airlines provides an extensive air network spanning the Kingdom.