Top Attractions in Nepal
The lure and romance of Nepal comes from its very remoteness.
Nestled high in the Himalaya the kingdom was closed to the outside world until 1951. Since then it has become one of the premier tourist destinations of the world.
Apart from Nepal’s world-renowned physical attractions – frozen peaks, broad valleys, lush jungles and exotic wildlife – it is a country with an ancient, rich and diverse cultural heritage.
With a recorded history of almost 3000 years, and legendary beginnings dating back further still, the legacy and influences of the past are a constant presence in modern life. Traditional architecture mingles with the modern, busy streets divert around sacred shrines, festivals celebrate gods and heroes and suited-businessmen offer kayak’s to departing visitors.
The lives of all of Nepal’s numerous ethnic groups and castes are strongly influenced by religion. Whether Hindu, Buddhist, Shamanist or, as is common, an amalgam of belief, daily and life-long routines - morning puja, making offerings at a shrine on the way to work and the bigger events of birth and death – are a vibrant aspect of Nepalese life. Architecture follows styles that provide for household shrines, deities are painted in vibrant color and festivals are an integral part of life.
Capital city: Kathmandu
Area: 147,181 sq km
Population: 29.5 million
Currency: Nepalese Rupee (NPR)
Time zone: GMT 5.75
Dialing code: 977
People: Hindu (75%), Buddhists (20%), Others (5%)
Thai flies daily between Kathmandu and Bangkok with connections throughout the world.
From Europe there are daily flights via the Middle East on Emirates, Gulf Air and Qatar Airways as well as connections via Delhi on Lufthansa and KLM.
There are daily flights from Delhi on Indian Airways and RNAC.
RNAC has twice weekly flights to Osaka via Shanghai and to Hong Kong.
China Eastern Airways is due to begin operating between Beijing and Shanghai and Kathmandu early 2004.
Visas and Permits
Visa for Nepal: All foreign nationals (except Indians) require a visa to enter Nepal. Visas are obtainable from embassies abroad or on arrival at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan airport. If getting the visa at the airport be prepared for long queues. There have been instances when passengers were asked to show return flight tickets. You will also need to provide two passport photos and the following fees in US dollars cash only: multi entry visa valid for 15 days - US$25, multi entry visa valid for 30 days - US$40, multi entry visa valid for 90 days - US$100.
***Please note if you are staying in Nepal for less than 24 hours while in transit a transit visa can be issued on presentation of your international flight ticket, there is a nominal charge of US$5 and two photos are required
Nepal has a generally temperate climate, however altitude makes distinct variations. The monsoon sweeps up from India each summer, making mid June to mid September humid and wet. The three other distinct seasons are all suitable for trekking and each has its own advantages.
Changing global weather patterns have had their effect on the Himalayan climate and mountain weather is notoriously changeable. Always be prepared for a change in conditions and note that if severe or dangerous weather conditions occur your guide’s decision on any course of action is final.
Winter (December-February) It is cold and you will need to be prepared, but the air is very clear providing the best mountain views.
Spring (March-May) Days are increasingly warm and the rhododendrons are in bloom. Mist and clouds are not uncommon.
Summer (June-August) The monsoon season. It will rain every day, although generally in the evening and night. The hills turn lush and green and at higher elevations the alpine plants will bloom.
Autumn (September-November) The most pleasant trekking season where days are warm, but not hot; there is little chance of snow and skies are clear.
Religion and Culture
Religion is the lifeblood of the Nepalese, defining art, culture, social position and the ritual of daily life. Religion in Nepal comprises a net of magical, mystical and spiritual beliefs with a multitude of gods reflecting the diverse facets of Nepalese life.
Officially Nepal is a Hindu country, but in practice religion is a complex and unique interweaving of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs with a pantheon of Tantric deities tagged on, all against a background of ancient animist traditions. In very broad terms lowlanders are Hindu, highlanders are Buddhist and the middle hills are a mixture of both. The greatest intermingling is in the Kathmandu valley where there is a hardly a ‘pure’ temple to be found and everyone joins in the major celebrations and worships the most popular deities. For about 95% of people these deities are not a matter of faith, but living beings to be pleased or appeased by devotees.
The majority religion is Hindu, with a substantial number of Buddhists (being the birthplace of Buddha)
Nepalese society is traditional and conservative
Couples should be aware that public displays of affection are considered inappropriate
The left hand is considered unclean so the right hand should always be used for giving, taking, eating, shaking hands, etc
The feet are also considered unclean so it is impolite to kick someone, put your feet up on a chair or table, point your feet at someone or something revered or to touch someone else's feet
Cleanliness in appearance and modesty are greatly appreciated
Hindu caste Groups
These constitute 80% of the population of the middle hills, particularly in western Nepal.
Brahmans: are at the top. Traditionally they served as priests and moneylenders, today they are found in government, education and commerce. Chettri are the largest Hindu caste specializing in military and political affairs. The royal family belongs to this caste.
The traditional middle-castes are absent in Nepal, filled instead by ethnic groups. At the bottom are the occupational castes- blacksmiths, cobblers, tailors etc. and at the very bottom, the outcaste sweepers and butchers.
Terai Ethnic Groups
Approximately 25% of Nepal’s population belongs to the Indo-Aryan groups of the Terai. The Maithili comprise Nepal’s largest single ethnic group.
Hill Ethnic Groups
Newar: are the indigenous inhabitants of the Kathmandu valley. Originally Buddhist the majority is now Hindu or a tangled mixture of the two beliefs. Newari society is divided into 64 occupational castes, the largest being the Jyapu, peasant farmer.
tamang are one of the largest ethnic groups whose homeland is central and eastern Nepal. To a greater extent than the Newars they have retained their farmers, porters and craftsmen.
Gurung inhabit the foothills of the Lamjung and Annapurna Himal. There, intensively farmed hillsides surround neat villages of stone houses, linked by a network of trails paved with precisely cut and fitted stone blocks. They speak an unwritten Tibeto-Burman language and, at higher altitudes, retain Buddhist traditions whilst in lower regions they have generally become Hindu.
Magar people inhabit roughly the same region as the Gurung, but farm the lower slopes. Originally followers of an animistic folk religion with a Buddhist veneer most are now Hindu. Along with Gurungs, Magar’s make up the bulk of the Gurkha and Nepalese armed forces.
Thakali, natives of the Thak Khola region near Annapurna are known as shrewd and aggressive traders who enjoyed a profitable position as middlemen in the salt trade between Tibet and lowland Nepal. Originally a mix of Tibetan Buddhist and Shamanist, many have converted to Hinduism.
The Kirati Rai and Limbu can trace thier history at least 2,300 years when they were mentioned in the epic Mahabharata. Said to have once ruled the Kathmandu valley thay have now resettled in the eastern hills following a mixture of animist, Buddhist and Hindu beliefs.
Mountain Ethnic Groups
Bhotia is the term used throughout the subcontinent to describe the northern mountain peoples with close ties to Tibet. They speak a variety of Tibetan-based dialects and are followers of Vajrayana Buddhism with Shamanist Bon influences. Inhabiting the high valleys they live by a mixture of farming, herding and trade. There are dozens of Bhotia groups including the Dolpo-pa, Lo-pa, Manang-pa and the famous sher-pa of the Solukhumbu region. Although the name Sherpa has become synonymous with ‘porter’’, properly speaking the sher-pa are a group tracing their origins to eastern Tibet from where they immigrated about 400 years ago.
Festivals of Nepal
t is said about Nepal that every other structure is an holy shrine and every other day a festival. Well, if the number of annual festivals, both religious and national, is any indication, the saying couldn’t be more true. Festivals are essential part of Nepalese life that garner tremendous local participation. Festivals also offer visitors a valuable opportunity not only for having fun but gaining insight into various aspects of Nepalese culture.
The religious festivals follow the lunar calendar, while national festivals have fixed dates. Wherever or whenever you arrive in Nepal, you can be pretty sure of being at the right time for one or more special events. Some of the major and interesting festivals are presented below:
New Year (Nava Varsha): The Nepalese New year’s Day usually falls in the second week of April. i.e. the first day of Baisakh. The day is observed as a national holiday. The people celebrate it with great pomp and show. On this occasion, Bisket Jatra is held in the city of Bhaktapur.
Buddha Jayanti: In Nepal, Buddha Jayanti is observed by both Hindus and Buddhists. In the Kathmandu valley, the celebration centers around the ancient Buddhist Shrines of Swayambhunath, situated on a hill west of Kathmandu, the light of butter lamp blazes all through this night as it has for over 2000 years. It is a night of fasting and chanting. Morning finds the stupa gaily decorated with fluttering prayer prayer flags. Thangkas and religious paintings, are unrolled and displayed in front of the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries around the stupa. Monks performs long rituals and walk in procession with horns, cymbals and colorful head-dresses. On the other side of town, at the immense white stupa of Boudhanath, crowds of Tibetans, Tamangs and Sherpas gather for merrymaking. An image of the Buddha is mounted on an elephant leading a procession which circles the stupa and winds through the streets to another stupa.
Large symbolic lotus petals are painted on the stupa with yellow dye made from pounds of expensive saffron. Prayer flags fill the air, and when night falls, the stupa and balconies of monasteries and homes sparkle with the light of thousands of candle and butterlamps.
It’s a time of joy and devotion and a time of thanks to the prince who left his palace to bring to the world the teachings of great compassion.
Dashain: Dashain is also known as Durga Puja, for it is the worship of Mother Goddess Durga. It is Nepal’s longest and most lavishly celebrated Hindu festival. Like Christmas, it is the holiday when families unite to exchange blessings and gifts, to spread goodwill and to forget feuds and quarrels. Everyone wears new clothes, feasts are spread, and the businesses and government functions come to a pleasant halt as one and all make festive visits to their relatives’ homes.
Throughout Nepal during the two weeks preceding the full moon of September or October, Hindu as well as Buddhist households celebrates Dashain. In villages throughout the Kingdom, in the homes, streets and temple courtyards of Kathmandu valley, the great Goddess Durga is propitiated with elaborate dances and ritual animal sacrifices. For it was Durga, in a momentous victory, who saved the world form evil forces. The gods and goddesses of Hinduism take may alternative forms. Durga, Divine protectress, is represented either as a simple holy water pot or in her full powerful form with 18 hands holding 18 weapons. Durga also manifested as ferocious Kali with a protruding tongue and necklace of Skulls; or as Taleju-the fearsome protector Goddess of Nepal; or as Kumari, the gentle virgin Living Goddess. Durga is compassionate when treated to generous offerings of blood and spirits, but she is vengeful is scorned with neglet; thus the fervor with which Hindus celebrate Durga puja.
For each of the first nine nights, the narrow lanes surrounding Patan’s Durbar square pulsate with masked dancers aglitter in jeweled costumes, each personifying one of the eight mother Earth goddesses, the Asta Matrika. It is celebrated upto 10 days.
Deepawali (The festival of Lights): Deepawali, which literally means “the row of lamps” is celebrated as the festival of lights. This festival is also known as ‘Tihar’ which lasts for five consecutive days and is observed in honour of Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth and good luck. It is the most friendly of festivals observed throughout Nepal and also India. Laxmi, the Goddess of prosperity and good fortune is invited into every home. All people enjoy five days of feasting and family gatherings. It also heralds the advent of autumn in Nepal.
Laxmi puja is observed on the auspicious occasion of Deepawali. This is the third day of Tihar when the sacred cow is worshipped with great honour. Hindus worship and regard cow as their holy mother. So we worship the holy cow in the morning with garlands of flowers and apply red tika on her foreheads.
A few days before Tihar, preparations are seen in full swing for cleaning and whitewashing to add new look to houses and buildings. During this festival houses, shops, offices, factories and mills are brightly decorated with lights and traditional lamps. It is a time of lights and tinsel decorations. This type of illumination is done for three consecutive days, beginning from the first day of Tihar. But special light arrangements are done on the day of Laxmi puja. Flickering oil-tradtional lamps lighten al courtyards, doorways, roof-tops, verandahs and windows. People stroll around in new clothes and buy sweets and gifts. In this way, this festival gives glimpse of a traditional Christmas.
Teej(The festival of women (August to September) Teej festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm and devotion by women in Nepal. Teej is an annual festival. Married women observe observe Teej to honor lord Shiva and for long and healthy life of their husband. According to Hindu mythology Goddess Parvati reunited with Lord Shiva on this day. According to the holy books, the Goddess Parvati fasted and prayed fervently for the great lord Shiva to become her spouse.
Touched by her devotion, he took her for his wife. This is why women also fast on this day for their husbands or for their husbands to be. Unmarried girls also observe fast on this day for a good husband. Red color is an eminent part of this festival as it is considered auspicious for women observing Teej Fast and so most of them dress up in red or bridal clothes
Teej celebrations last for three pious days. Women are busy shopping for this festival buying new clothes, bangles, potes, and preparing dishes they have the day before the fasting day. Teej is the only fasting day that women are not allowed to have anything the whole day including water.
Some of the attraction of Teej Festival are:
?Pote (Red bead necklace)
?Dhago(Bunch of threads in red color)
Maha Shiva Ratri (February-March): The night of Lord Shiva, where tens of thousands of devotees and pilgrims from all over Nepal, India and other parts of the world converge at Pashupatinath temple complex.
During Shivaratri the temple of Pashupati Nath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, becomes all spruced up in anticipation of the arrival of Sadhus, Yogis and other holy men as well as hundreds of thousands of devout Hindu pilgrims. The fact that all devout Hindus believe a visit to the holy Pashupati Nath temple will absolve all past sins and the preference to make this pilgrimage during the time of Shivaratri, the most auspicious of Shivaratri festivals, is one of the main reasons for the annual congregation of this vast multitude of humanity.
The days before and after Shivaratri sees the collection of vast numbers of people from all walks of life as well as providing a Kaleidoscope of many different ethnic and tribal races of Nepal and India. People fill roads around Pashupati Nath temple-holy men, some half clad, some covered in ash but entirely nude; pilgrims in their distinct and colorful tribal costumes; vendors selling practically everything from vermillion powder, Rudraksha beads, Monkey nuts to Coca cola and snaks. The curious foreign tourist also form part of this vast collection.
People gather on the hillside across the river from the Pashupati Nath temple as well as around the vicinity of the temple complex, in groups around campfires and in making shift shelters, singing Bhajans, reciting mantras, discussing various religious topics while maintaining a fast and a vigil in anticipation of the religious ceremonies. Some with photographable hairstyles dot the area, serene and trance-like, emulating Lord Shiva himself, who it is believed to smoke the ‘stuff’.
Holi (The festival of colors): Holi or Faagu, the festival of color, falling in the month of march, Faagu Purnima (Full-moon day), according to Nepali calendar, is a colorfully distinct and unique festival in Hindu culture, celebrated amid greater jubilance and festivity by the Hindu youth-boys and girls in particular.
On this day, all young and old, usually garbed in white costume, wearing red-powder on their foreheads, and varieties of liquid colors thrown on their white Pyzama or Pant Shirts, wander in groups from place to place reaching their friends, relatives, kith and kin, hugging each other, receiving and offering the red-powders on foreheads. The mood and the atmosphere is one of the state of happiness, victory.
In similar fashion, the young girls and women of the household, too, play Holi among themselves, some with their male relatives, friends and kith and kin.
To add intensity to the Holi mood or to forget their sufferings, perhaps the youth consume Opium paste called Shiva buti or ghotta which adds momentum to the festivity. The revelers sing and dance in a complete state of happiness wearing strange look, a bizarre appearance, resulting form applying of several colors on their faces.
The significance of Holi festival, like other Hindu festivals in Hindu mythology, is of greater theological importance.
The tradition in the Terai of Nepal and India has it that a day before Holi festival is cermonically observed, the local youths collects, to some extent, steal wood and timber in the evening from vicinity and, pie them up in some isolated field where they, after observing some rituals, set the wood on fire.
Krishna astami: (July-August): It marks the birthday of Lord Krishna. On this day, impressive ceremonies are conducted at the Krishna Temple in Patan and at Changu Narayan.
Gai Jatra(Cow festival): (July to August): It is a carnival that lasts eight days. Dancing, singing, comedy and anything that causes mirth and laughter are its highlights.
Red Machchhendranath Rath Jatra(May-June): This festival is the biggest socio-cultural event of Patan. The wheeled chariot of a deity known as Bungdyo or Red Machchhendranath is made at Pulchowk and dragged through the city of Patan in several stages till it reaches the appointed destination. The grand finale of the festival is called the ‘Bhoto Dekhaune’ or the “Showing of a vest”. A similar kind of chariot festival to Machchhendranath(white) is also held in Kathmandu city in the month of March-April.
Lhosar: This festival is most impressively observed in the month of February by the Sherpas. They organize folk songs and dances on this occasion. These dances can be seen in Khumbu, Helambu, and other northern regions of Nepal and also at Boudhanath in Kathmandu.
Ghodejatra(March-April): Known as the festival of horses, it is one of the most exciting festivals of Kathmandu. Horce race and other sports take place at Tundikhel on this day. In other parts of the city, various deities are carried shoulder-high on Palanquin to the accompaniment of traditional music.
Inrajatra(August-September): The festival of Indra, the God of rain, is observed with great enthusiasm in Kathmandu valley. The festival lasts for eight days. The Chariot of Kumari, the Living Goddess, is taken out in Procession through the main streets of Kathmandu. The festival is specially noted for the echoes of drums and dancing feet of the masked dancers almost every evening.
We use a wide range of accommodation, ranging from clean and comfortable hotels and guesthouses, to basic tea houses that are often multi-shared and waterproof tents on our fully assisted trekking and rafting programs.
Our hotels rooms are generally twin bedded, with private facilities which are usually of Western style.
When traveling in remote areas, toilet facilities are usually local squat style and can often be quite primitive.
On shorter routes we take the rather run-down local buses and mingle with the locals.
Jeeps or minibuses are often used to get us to and from our trekking and rafting departure points.
On longer routes, we use private or tourist buses, which provide a slightly higher degree of comfort and safety.
Around Kathmandu and Pokhara bicycles are a great way to take in the atmosphere and scenery.
Widely found in Kathmandu and Pokhara, all licensed taxis are metered, but drivers are often reluctant to use them.
Make sure to negotiate the fare before departing.
Great way to be traveling around in the old part of the city though their movement is restricted on the main, traffic-congested roads at the day time.
Besides, it's an environment friendly mode to explore the backstreets and narrow alleyways of Kathmandu.
For fare, you'll have to haggle with the driver.
The traditional way of getting to places in the Himalaya.
food & drink
Traditional Nepali food is plain and simple, not very spicy, but full of flavors.
While trekking in the mountains, (especially in Everest and some part of Annapurnas) the Tibetan influence becomes more evident in the food
Many Indian dishes are found in the plains in the south.
Dal-bhat-tarkari - a thick lentil soup (dal), with rice (bhat) and vegetable curry (tarkari)
Vegetarians are well-catered for
Chang is a mild beer made from millet or rice and is the home brew of the Himalaya.
Racksi is a country liquor usually made from millet, wheat or corn.
The Nepali morning normally begins with a cup of tea
Locally produced soft drinks are widely available.
Lassi is a curd based drink which may be either savory or sweet. It is popular and refreshing.
The legal drinking age is 18
Do not drink the water unless you are sure it has been filtered.
The same applies to ice.
Bottled water is readily available in the main centre although a more environmentally-friendly option is to take water purification tablets with you, or a camping bottle with an in-built filter.
All the major cities have internet access either in hotels or internet cafes
Expect connection speeds to be slow
International calls can be made from nearly all the centres we visit except for when you're rafting and trekking in the remote regions
Mobile phone coverage is available but is unreliable
Global roaming agreements exist with some international phone companies. Check with your provider before leaving home if you wish to access roaming
Receiving post is not convenient as we are normally doing something or traveling during the opening hours of most post offices
When posting mail to international addresses it is best to leave your mail at the post office rather than in a post box.
Nepal the currency is the Nepalese Rupee (NPR).
It is best to bring a mixture of cash and travelers checks in major currencies - USD, CAD, EUR, AUD - and ensure you have a mixture of large and small denominations. Money may easily be exchanged at Kathmandu airport on arrival and banks and licensed moneychangers in cities. Credit card cash advances and ATM withdrawals are in NPR only.
Shopping is difficult to predict, but most people buy more than they intended. If you intend to buy quality art works including hand-painted thangkas, carpets or traditional jewelry allow significantly more – you can easily spend USD200 for top quality items.
What to buy?
Nepal is great for all kinds of handicrafts, textiles and artworks
Popular buys include clothing, embroidered items, Tibetan carpets, traditional religious paintings, hand-woven pashmina shawls, pottery, jewellery, traditional masks, puppets, bronze, traditional knives, prayer wheels, wood carvings and traditional musical intruments
Thangkas are traditional Buddhist painted banners. They make great souvenirs as they are designed to be rolled up and easy to carry
Check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to import some items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand for example have strict quarantine laws.
Art of Bargaining
The art of bargaining is something you can work on during your trip. Here are a few pointers to help you on your way:
- Start bargaining with some idea of what you consider a fair price for the item to be. This will usually involve sourcing the item in a number of different stores.
- The correct price for an item is the price you agree to pay, that keeps both you and the seller happy. Therefore, there’s no “right” price.
- Don’t appear too interested in an item. Walking out of a store is often a good way to get the price to drop.
- Shop with a friend – buying in bulk will often reduce the price.
- Learn the numbers in the local language. It will win respect from the seller and will certainly make the process a lot more interesting.
- Be polite, patient, but firm in your bargaining. No one ever has received a cheaper price through being rude or insensitive
- Most importantly, enjoy the experience, and remember you are often only bargaining over only a couple of dollars- Keep it in perspective.
- Once a price you have offered is accepted it is not appropriate to back out of the deal.
- Only say you’ll buy something later if you intend to buy later. The sellers usually have amazing memories, and will come hounding you on your promise!
Trek/ Trip Grades
Experience is not necessary at this level: anyone who is in good health and fit enough to enjoy a good weekend hill walk can manage this trek. However, walking always involves some exertion: trails are seldom flat, and you must still expect to have a reasonable amount of ascent and descent.
Days are generally short in duration (3-5 hours)
Altitude is less than 3000m
Most people who enjoy a weekend in the hills or mountains at home are capable of undertaking a trek at this level: you need to be in good health and reasonably fit, and taking regular exercise.
Days generally involve 4-6 hours walking – it may include the occasional longer or more difficult day.
Altitude is around 3000m
Easy – relaxed sightseeing with private transport to sights.
Moderate – Whilst no strenuous activity is involved conditions will be harsher than you are used to. Accommodations on some days will be extremely basic with shared ‘pit’ variety toilets and no washing facilities. Food will be sometimes be basic, with little variety available. Driving days can be long, dusty and bumpy and you may feel some effects of altitude.
Challenging – All the aspects of a moderate trip, but sustained over a longer period of time. The koras (circumambulation) of Mount Kailash and/or Lake Manasarovar are challenging due to the altitude, but generally achievable by anyone in good health.
Brief highlights of Sightseeing places
The old city of Kathmandu is located on a bluff at the confluence of the Bagmati and Vishnumati Rivers – an easily defended site with rich soil and a plentiful water supply.
Kathmandu’s number one tourist attraction swarms with life. Though a few of the square’s 50-plus monuments date from the 12th century, most are from the time of the Malla Kings. Probably the most famous building here is the Kumari Bahal, a building richly decorated with beautiful woodcarvings, which is home to the Royal Kumari, the Living Goddess, a manifestation of the great goddess Durga. Nearby the former Royal Palace is a Mall Dynasty dwelling, once considerably more extensive than today. Within, the courtyard Nassal Chowk, originally hosted dramatic dance performances, now it is the coronation site of the Shah kings and contains some of the finest wood carvings you will see anywhere in the kingdom.
The 14th century Jagannath Mandir is the oldest temple in the area, its steps carved with inscriptions in many languages, nearby Telaju Mandir is one of the largest and finest temples in the Valley. It is dedicated to the patron deity of the royal family, Taleju Bhawani, a wrathful form of Durga who once demanded human sacrifices.
The most ancient and enigmatic of the Valley’s holy shrines the golden-spired stupa of Swayambhunath tops a wooded hillock. Records of its history date as far as the 5th century, but its origins are believed to be older. It is the Kathmandu Valley’s most sacred Buddhist shrine and whilst its worshippers include the Vajrayana Buddhists of northern Nepal and Tibet, Newari Buddhists are the most fervent devotees.
This is Nepal’s most sacred Hindu shrine and one of the subcontinent’s great Shiva sites. The supreme holiness of the site stems from the Shiva linga enshrined in its main temple and its location. It expresses the very essence of Hinduism as pilgrims, priests, devotes, temples, ashrams, images, inscriptions and cremation ghats intermingle with the rituals of daily life, all sprawled along the banks of the sacred Bagmati River. The temple’s origins are obscure, an inscription dates from 477, but a shrine may have stood here for 1000 years before that.
This great stupa is one of Nepal’s most distinctive monuments and one of the most important Buddhist sites in Nepal and, with a diameter of over 100 meters, amongst the largest in the world. There are a number of legends accounting for the stupa’s construction, but it is generally believed to date from the 5th century. All stupas contain holy relics and Boudha is said to contain the remains of the past Buddha Kasyapa.
Boudha is a particular focus for Kathmandu’s Tibetan community and throughout the day there is a constant stream of people circling the stupa spinning prayer wheels and reciting mantras. Surrounding the stupa are six major monasteries and a host of smaller ones as well as cafes, restaurants and shops selling Tibetan carpets and Newari silversmiths.
This ancient city, once a kingdom in itself, is situated across the Bagmati River to the south of Kathmandu. Approximately 80% of the inhabitants are Newars and they fiercely retain their identity as separate to Kathmandu.
Patan’s origins are clouded in mystery. It claims its place as capital of the mythic Kiranti Dynasty and association with the great Indian emperor, Ashoka, who is credited with the building of the 4 grass-covered stupas surrounding the city. For many centuries Patan’s importance eclipsed that of Kathmandu and by the 7th century was one of the major Buddhist centers of Asia attracting pilgrims, scholars and monks from India, Tibet and China. Medieval Patan was the largest and most prosperous of the three Valley kingdoms. It was annexed to Kathmandu in the late 6th century and most of its magnificent architecture dates to the late Malla era (16th-18th centuries).
Patan’s Durbar Square offers the finest display of Newari urban architecture in Nepal. There are temples devoted to Shiva, Krishna, Ganesh and Vishnu all actively visited by residents and visitors. At the northern end of the square the ancient sunken water tap has been restored and is still in use with young girls filling huge jugs from the carved stone waterspouts. The courtyards of the Royal Palace with their ornamented windows, columned arcades, shrines and sunken royal bath are amongst the most lovely in all Kathmandu.
Old Patan comprises a small area with individual neighborhoods dedicated to metalworking, stone carving, and woodwork as well as some lovely old temples. One of the most lovely is the Kwa Bahal or ‘Golden Temple’, a lavish, gilt-roofed shrine – the main façade covered in gilt and silver, the whole surrounded by images of real and mythical beasts, scenes from the Buddha’s life.
Once the capital of the Valley, Bhaktapur is the most unchanged of the three cities. Retaining something of its medieval atmosphere, Bhaktapur embodies the essence of the Newari city. Despite frequent rebuilding as the result of earthquakes the city’s architecture and organization remain an excellent example of town planning. Neighborhoods, roughly organized by caste, are centered on a main square with a public water source, temples and a Ganesh shrine. The 12th century the King of Banepa moved his capital here and it ruled a unified Valley for the next 3 centuries. It was the last of the cities to fall to Prithvi Narayan Shah in 1768 and since then its importance has diminished considerably.
Much of Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square was destroyed in the 1934 earthquake and appears much emptier than those of Kathmandu or Patan. Amongst its many attractions are substitute shrines for the four great Indian pilgrimage sites and the Golden Gate. This is the most famous piece of art in all Nepal, an exquisite monument of gilded metalwork constructed in 1753.
The neighborhood of the potter caste, where hundreds of clay vessels are set to dry in the sun before being fired in makeshift kilns. Families work in the open producing tiny oil lamps, teacups, bowls, vases and water jugs.
This square is more important to the locals and more intimately tied to daily life and festivals than Durbar Square. It is dominated by the 5-roofed, 30-meter high Nyatapola Temple, the tallest in
This brick paved street and its offshoot alleys reveals the heart of Bhaktapur as life spills into the street – women pond laundry, children play, old men squat in doorways for a chat and shopkeepers sell all the necessities of daily life.
The original town center, dating from the 8th century. Many of the pilgrim rest houses and those that sheltered ascetics have become private dwellings others remain as fully-fledged temples. The famous ‘Peacock Window’ is down an alley off the square.
Outside the Valley
Bandipur is a charming hill town midway between Kathmandu and Pokhara. It is an ancient trading post inhabited by Magars (the original inhabitants of the area) and Newars. Nestled in the hills Bandipur offers excellent opportunities for day hikes or relaxing enjoying the panoramic mountain vistas. Untouched by modernization, and laced with an abundance of ancient houses, temples of great significance, and historical architecture, this medieval-era town boast festivals all year around, besides plethora of cultural offerings. Neighboring Magar, Gurung, Bahun, Chhetri, Damai and Sarki villages all contribute to the cultural diversity of the region. The hilltop town not only overlooks the incredible expanse of the Marsyanngdi river valley, but also offers a breathtaking sweep of the Himalayan range, from Langtang in the east to Dhaulagiri in the west. From nearby hilltops, one can see as far as Manakamana and Gorkha to east the great Chitwan plains to the south, among others.
The tiny ridge-top village of Daman offers some of the best Himalayan views in Nepal – a panorama from Dhaulagiri to Kanchenjunga, including all five Annapurna peaks. 75 kilometers southwest of Kathmandu it is reached by a rugged mountain road, which is lauded by many mountain bikers as one of the best rides in Nepal.
Once an important stop on the trade route between Kathmandu and Tibet, the wealth amassed through trade is depicted in the handsome buildings with intricate woodcarvings. Sadly many of these fine structures have been neglected, but this is an xcellent place if you are interested in collecting fine pieces. The population of Dhilikhel is a mixture of Newar, Tamang and Brahman-Chhetri. The main square includes a Narayan shrine and a rare temple to the deity Harasiddhi. The best mountain views are from a small Kali shrine on a ridge above the town – sunrise is the most spectacular.
This typical hill town is the ancestral home of Nepal’s ruling family. It was from Gorkha’s hilltop fortress that King Prithvi Narayan Shah (1723-1775) launched his attempt to unify the independent states of Nepal. Gorkha's centerpiece is the magnificent Gorkha Durbar with a fort, a palace and a temple with excellent views of the surrounding valleys, and the Mansalu range.
Gorkha Bazaar is primarily a cobbled street market place where by people from neighboring hill dwellings come to trade. There are a few temples near about and it is worth a visit as it provides a very good vista of the quiet charm that soaks a typical hill village of Nepal.
Gorkha Durbar is the main attraction of Gorkha, an hour steep walk up a hill from the bazaar area. It used to be the dwelling of King Prithvi Narayan and his ancestors. The Durbar itself is a humble, yet quite impressive, complex of a temple, fort, and a palace built in the Newar style of Kathmandu. The view of the Himalayan range and the deep valleys from up there is quite breathtaking.
Gorakhnath Cave, ten meters below the palace's southern side, is the sacred cave temple of Gorkhanath. The cave is is carved out of the solid rock and is among the most important religious sites for mainstream Brahmins and Chhetris of Nepal.
Situated in the Terai of southern Nepal, Lumbini is the place where Siddhartha Gautam, Buddha of this era, was born in 623 BC. This sacred place is marked by a stone pillar erected by Emperor Ashoka of India in 249 BC, is listed as a World Heritage Site and is being developed as a place of pilgrimage and symbol of world peace. Many countries have built shrines and monasteries here reflecting the architectural traditions of their respective cultures.
Near the Ashoka pillar is the Mayadevi Temple which houses a bas relief depicting the birth. Recent excavations have turned up a stone bearing a "foot imprint", indicating the exact place of birth. The Puskarni pond, where Queen Mayadevi, the Buddha's mother, had taken a bath before giving birth to him lies to the south of the pillar. Kushinagar is the place where Lord Buddha passed into Mahaparinirvana. The Muktabandhana stupa is believed to have been built in the Malla dynasty to preserve the temporal relics of Lord Buddha. A smaller shrine nearby contains a reclining Buddha, which was brought from Mathura by the monk Haribala. Bodhgaya is the place where Buddha attained enlightenment. The tree under which Buddha attained wisdom is called the Bodhi tree, while the temple marking the sacred spot is known as Mahabodhi temple.
The Lumbini Museum, located in the Cultural Zone, contains Mauryan and Kushana coins, religious manuscripts, terra-cotta fragments, and stone and metal sculptures. It also possesses an extensive collection of stamps from various countries depicting Lumbini and the Buddha.
Lumbini International Research Institute (LIRI), located opposite the Lumbini Museum, provides research facilities for the study of Buddhism and religion in general. Run jointly by the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) and the Reiyukai of Japan, LIRI contains some 12,000 books on religion, philosophy, art and architecture.
Kapilvastu Museum is situated 27 km west of Lumbini in the village of Tilaurakot. The museum holds coins, pottery and toys dating between the seventh century BC and fourth century AD. The museum also has good collection of jewelry and other ornaments of that period.
Situated at 2300 meters, on the valley’s eastern rim, Nagarkot offers an excellent view of the Nepal Himalaya including Everest, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Makalu and Manaslu. It also has sweeping panoramas of the terraced hillsides so typical of Nepal. It is a popular place for sunrise views.
This ancient Newar town is built at the confluence of two streams, with a third visible only to sages. The confluence is a famous bathing and pilgrimage site where a festival is held on the first day of the month of Magh and a month-long Mela once every 12 years. The centerpiece of this charming, unspoiled village is the Indresvar Mahadev temple. Dating back to 1294 this is the oldest extant example of a Newari Temple. Along the river there is a collection of more recent shrines and ghats, including an old Krishna temple, a suspension bridge leading to a recently renovated 17th century Brahmayani Mandir dedicated to the patron goddess of Panauti and a rest house popular with old men. Add ducks, laundry and drying grain and you have a truly lovely corner of old Nepal.
Pokhara is a place of remarkable natural beauty. The enchanting city has several beautiful lakes and offers stunning panaromic views of Himalayan peaks. The serenity of the lakes and the magnificence of the Himalaya rising behind them create the ambience that has made Pokhara such a popular place to relax and enjoy the beauty of nature. Tourism focuses on the districts of Damside and Lakeside (or Pardi and Baidam, in Nepali, respectively). These two areas, packed with hotels and restaurants, are a few kilometers southwest of the main Pokhara bazaar.
Pokhara lies on a once vibrant trade route extending between India and Tibet. To this day, mule trains can be seen camped on the outskirts of the town, bringing goods to trade from remote regions of the Himalaya. This is the land of Magars and Gurungs, hardworking farmers and valorous warriors who have earned worldwide fame as Gurkha soldiers. The Thakalis, another important ethnic group here, are known for their entrepreneurial skill.
The climate of Pokhara is slightly warmer than Kathmandu with daytime temperature hovering around 15 degrees Celsius in winter and 35 degrees in summer. The monsoon season which lasts from mid-June to mid-September is very wet; in fact Pokhara records the highest rainfall in the country. Best time to visit is between October and April. The activities of foreign visitors to Pokhara focus around two districts
Tansen, an ancient hill town, with architecture strongly influenced by Newari migrants from the Kathmandu valley is waiting to be discovered. Situated at the southern slope of the Mahabharat range the town offers an opportunity to experience genuine Nepalese culture, away from westernized places like Thamel in Kathmandu or Lakeside in Pokhara. Though the Newar community forms one of the major communities in this place now, the place originally belonged to the Magar community, one of the most delightful ethnic groups of Nepal. Old artistic Newari houses and cobbled streets shape the townscape. The town's hill, Shreenagar, allows breathtaking views of the Himalayan range from Dhaulagiri in the west to Ganesh Himal in the east.
Tansen is the district administrations headquarter of Palpa district, and is itself often referred to as Palpa, and its people as Palpalis.
Amar Ganj Ganesh Temple is a beautiful three-storey pagoda style temple. The large rest house has been converted into a school and within the grounds is a small old temple of Bhairab. The mask of Bhairab, which is worshipped here, was snatched from Kathmandu by Mukunda Sen, King of Palpa.
Amar Narayan Temple is one of the largest temples in Tansen. The whole temple complex, including the temples, the ponds and the park was built under the reign of Amar Singh Thapa, the first governor of Palpa. According to a legend, a holy spring (or lake) is hidden under the three-storey pagoda style Narayan Temple. The two other temples of the ensemble are dedicated to Vishnu (to the west, next to one of the ponds) and to Shiva (to the south, next to the staircase). The remarkable huge dry stone masonry wall surrounding the whole premises is called "The great wall of Palpa".
Sital Pati (shady rest place), near Ason Tole, is the most popular square in Tansen and is named for the white octagonal shaped building at its center. The Sital Pati was built under the order of the governor of Palpa (1891-1902) an ambitious politician who was exiled from Kathmandu after plotting against the Prime Minister
The gate opposite to the palace leads to Makhan Tole, the main bazaar of Tansen that focuses the town's commercial activity, notably the sale of Dhaka cloth. Of woven cotton or muslin, this cloth is characterized by jagged, linear designs originally made famous in Bangladesh. With principal colors of red, black and white, the cloth is used to make saris as well as "topis" (Palpali topi), the hat that is an integral part of the national dress for men.
Taksar is an interesting area where, for centuries, the famous bronze and brass works of Tansen were produced. One can have a look at how the famous ancient articles such as Karuwa (water jug), Hukka (water pipe), Antee (jug for Nepali brandy) etc are produced.
Shreenagar Hill (1525m) is about an hour from the town center. The top reveals a breath-taking panoramic view of the Himalaya from Dhaulagiri in the west to Ganesh Himal in the east. The hill is covered by forest, pine plantations and beautiful rhododendron flowers. At the eastern end of Shreenagar ridge there is a statue of the Buddha with a monkey and an elephant, donated by Thai monks, which commemorates one of the eight great events in the Buddha’s life.
The Responsible Traveler: Code of Conduct for Travelers
- Respect cultural differences
Local customs, traditions and values may be different from your own. Take the time to learn what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t.
2. Learn a few phrases
Take the time to learn about the country you are visiting. Learning about the customs and a few words in the local language can go a long way and is appreciated by the local people. It also makes your interactions more meaningful and memorable.
- Save ‘face’
A very important concept in Asia.Try not to raise your voice, embarrass someone or display anger. Smile – the traveler who wishes to have a happy and successful trip in Asia should stay calm, cheerful and friendly.
- Dress Respectfully with an awarness of local standards. Covered thighs and shoulders are expected in most of Asia. Dress modestly at all religious sites and check what is suitable for the beach.
- Support local businesses
Make use of local services(hotels etc) and eat in local restaurants-not only will your experience of the culture be greater, you are directly supporting the people.
- Respect wildlife & endangered species
Viewing animals from a safe distance is fine; touching, feeding , or cornering them is not. Do not buy products that exploit wildlife, aid in habitat destruction, or come from endangered species.
- Take photos with care
Always ask permission to take photos of people and respect their wishes if they refuse. If you do take a photo, offer to send copies back to them and make sure to follow through with your promise. If your subject wants immediate compensation in return for the photo taken, offering a piece of fruit or bread, or a souvenir from your home are ways to do it.
- Giving gifts
Royal Mountain Travel highly discourages offering money to people begging on the streets. Parents often send their children out into the streets, since a child can make more than their parents make begging on the street. This promotes further dependency and encourages more parents to send out their children. Instead, we would suggest offering a piece of bread or fruit. Perhaps you could offer postcard from your home, or a small pin etc.
- Do not litter & Reduce waste
This is one time when the old adage” When in Rome, do as the Romans” doesn’t apply. Even if you see a local person littering, set an example and dispose of your garbage approximately. Recycling is extremely limited or non-existent in most developing countries. Avoid products with excess packaging; opt for beverages in glass bottles as they tend to be re - used. Use
- Protect local water systems
Use only biodegradable soaps and shampoos while camping. Avoid sun block while snorkeling as the chemicals are harmful to the coral reef – wear a T-shirt instead.
- Stay on the trail
Straying from the trail while hiking can cause erosion and other environmentally harmful impacts.
Nepal: A Brief History
Nepal’s recorded history began with the Kirantis, who arrived in the 7th or 8th century BC from the east. Little is known about them, other than their deftness as sheep farmers and fondness for carrying long knives. It was during this period that Buddhism first came to Nepal; it is claimed that Buddha and his disciple Ananda visited the Kathmandu valley and stayed for a time in Patan. By 200 AD, Buddhism had waned, and was replaced by Hinduism, brought by the Licchavis, who invaded from northern India and overthrew the last Kirat king. The Hindus also introduced the caste system (which still continues today) and ushered in a classical age of Nepalese art and architecture.
By 879, the Licchavi era had petered out and was succeeded by the Thakuri dynasty. A grim period of instability and invasion often referred to as the ‘Dark Ages’ followed, but the Kathmandu valley’s strategic location ensured the kingdom’s survival and growth. Several centuries later, the Thakuri king, Arideva, founded the Malla dynasty, kick-starting another renaissance of Nepali culture. Despite earthquakes, the odd invasion and feuding between the independent city-states of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, the dynasty flourished, reaching its zenith in the 15th century under Yaksha Malla.
The rulers of Gorkha, the most easterly region, had always coveted the Mallas with wealth. Under the inspired leadership of Prithivi Narayan Shah, the Gorkha launched a campaign to conquer the valley. In 1768 – after 27 years of fighting – they triumphed and moved their capital to Kathmandu. From this new base the kingdom’s power expanded, borne by a seemingly unstoppable army. Until progess was halted in 1792 by a brief and chastening war with Tibet.
Further hostilities followed in 1814, this time with the British over a territorial dispute. The Nepalese were eventually put to heel and compelled to sign the 1816 Sugauli Treaty, which surrendered Sikkim and most of Terai(some of the land was eventually restored in return for Nepalese help in quelling the Indian Mutiny of 1857), established Nepal’s present eastern and western boundaries and, worst of all, installed a British ‘resident’ in the country.
The Shah dynasty continued in power until the ghastly Kot Massacre of 1846. Taking advantage of the intrigue and assassinations that had plagued the ruling family; Jung Bahadur seized control by butchering several hundred of the most important men while assembling in the Kot courtyard. He took the more prestigious title Rana, proclaimed himself prime minister for life, and later made the office hereditary. For the next century, the Ranas and their offspring luxuriated in huge Kathmandu palaces, while the remainder of the population eked out a living in medieval conditions. In 1948, the British withdrew from India and with them went the Rana’s chief support. Around the same time, a host of insurrectional movements emerged. Sporadic fighting spilled onto the streets and the Ranas, at the behest of India, reluctantly agreed to negotiations. King Tribhuvan was an appointed ruler in 1951 and struck up a government comprised of Ranas and members of the newly formed Nepali Congress Party.But the compromise was short-lived. After toying with democratic elections- and feeling none too pleased by the result King Mahendra(Tribhuvan’s son and successor) decided that a ‘party less’ panchayat system would be more appropriate for Nepal. The king selected the prime minister and cabinet and appointed a large proportion of the national assembly, which duly rubber-stamped his policies. Power, of course, remained with only one party – the king’s.
Cronyism, corruption and the creaming off of lucrative foreign aid into royal coffers continued until 1989 when the Nepalese, fed up with years of hardship and suffering called the Jana Andolan or ‘People’s Movement’. In the ensuing months, detention, torture and violent clashes left hundreds of people dead. It all proved too much for King Birendra, who dissolved his cabinet, legalized political parties and invited the opposition to form an interim government. The changeover to democracy proceeded in an orderly, if leisurely, fashion and in May 1991 the Nepali Congress party and the communist party of Nepal shared most of the votes. Since then, Nepal has discovered that establishing a workable democratic system is an enormously difficult task- especially when it is the country’s first such system. The situation has been further exacerbated by a wafer-thin economy, massive unemployment, illiteracy, and an ethnically and religiously fragmented population that continues to grow at an alarming rate. The fractured political landscape in Nepal was torn apart in June 2001 with the massacre of most of the royal family- including King Birendra. Civil strife erupted again in Kathmandu, with a curfew imposed to quell street violence. Prince Gyanendra, the brother of King Birendra, ascended to the throne, and although relative calm has replaced the widespread civil unrest that immediately followed the massacre, there is still much political uncertainty.
.In February 2005, King Gyanendra dismissed Nepal’s elected government, declared a state of emergency, and announced his assumption of full executive authority. He justified the coup on the pretext of trying to curtail the 10-year-old Maoist insurgency that claimed more than 13,000 lives. The police, the army, and the Maoists were all responsible for numerous human rights abuses during the conflict. After the coup, Maoist leaders reached an agreement with the main political parties to join forces and oppose the King. They organized massive protests and in April 2006, after tens of thousands of people took to the streets, King Gyanendra was forced to return a civilian government.
Chief of these is the Maoist rebellion against the government, which has claimed 1700 lives over the past six years. The first round of peace talks between the rebels and the government took place at the end of August 2001 and a ceasefire was declared – then abruptly ended. Any talk of détente is at risk from the government’s proposed land reforms and budget decisions, and major political challenges. In early September 2001 a tentative alliance comprising 10 left-wing political party emerged, along with calls for a united government of representatives from all political directions, including Mao rebels, and changes to the constitution. Hopes of a settlement were again dashed with coordinated Maoist bombings in November 2001.
In (2006-2008) Nepal’s coalition government and the Communist party to Nepal (Maoist) signed a comprehensive peace agreement to end the fighting. The Nepali Army and Maoists agreed to an arms management pact, under which each side would put away most of its weapons and restrict most of its troops to a few barracks, under the supervision of monitors from the United Nations. They also agreed to participate in elections to create a constituent assembly that would rewrite the country’s constitution, including whether it will remain a monarchy. Elections to the Constituent assembly held on 10, April 2008 and maoists got the absolute seats in the elections. Thereafter, the parliament declared Nepal as Federal Democratic Republic overthrowing the 240 - year old shah dynasty. King Gyanendra left the palace and the was palace then turned into National museum. Soon the coalition government is going to be formed under the initiative of Maoists and Pushpa Kamal Dahal (alias Prachanda) is likely to lead the government as the new premier in Nepal. According to the interim Constituent the president will be the ceremonial head of state and the premier will remain the Executive head of the government.
On July the newly elected president Dr. Ram Baran Yadav became the first president of Nepal through presidental run-off held on 21 July in the parliament, After the abolishment of the institution of monarchy in the country and after the King Gyanendra was dethroned by the constituent Assembly, Nepal has found a farmer’s son become the first president of republic
Maoist revolutionary supreme leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda has been democratically elected as the new prime minister of Federal Democratic Republic Nepal on 15 August 2008.Prachanda who led 10-year long insurgency against the monarchy and under his able leadership the Maoist party scored the major seats in the Assembly election in April, 2008.The coalition government headed by Maoist party was brought down after a 9 month rule and another coalition government headed by UML(United Marxist Leninst) party formed the government with the support of Nepali Congress, Nepal Prajatantra Party, Madhesi Janadikar Forum and other small political parties. This new coalition government was formed under the premiership of Madhav Kumar Nepal and the government is now in full swing.