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Sunday, 11 October 2020

Beautiful Nepal

                    For many reasons, Nepal is a  travel destination remarkably diverse country that attracts tourists. Some are drawn to the call of the mountains and want to climb or trek in the Himalayas, others are fascinated by Kathmandu's culture and popular region, and yet others are hoping to find some kind of spiritual awakening. Nepal can be a life-changing experience, an adrenaline trip, a cultural eye-opener, or all of the above.

            The majority of travelers spend time visiting sacred and historic attractions in Kathmandu, a popular destination place and then head out to other parts of the world. Chitwan National Park for wildlife watching, and the lakeside town of Pokhara, a common area for treks, are some of the best places to visit outside the capital.

            Throughout Nepal, trekkers can find a number of choices, with the Everest, Annapurna, and Langtang areas being the most important peaks of the Himalayas, the highest mountain in the world.

            A major earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, causing serious damage in Kathmandu and other regions, but reconstruction is underway, and significant progress has been made. While some historical treasures have been lost forever, but much of the damages has been restored.

Kathmandu

                The capital and largest city, Kathmandu in Nepal, is like no other city in the country. A stark contrast to the beautiful environment that permeates the streets is the crumbling buildings in the centre of the city. As street vendors drive their products, the scent of incense wafts from shops, and people go about their everyday lives, all against a backdrop of ancient temples and carved statues.


            Kathmandu was one of three rival royal cities, along with Bhaktapur and Patan, for several 100 years. Located in close proximity to one another, these three nearly run together today.

            Durbar Square, the biggest of the palace squares in the 3 royal cities and a UNESCO world heritage site, has long been the attraction of Kathmandu. Visitors can find temples and monuments of different shapes, sizes, styles, and religions here. The 2015 earthquake seriously damaged Kathmandu's Durbar Square, with many constructions destroyed beyond repair, but it still remains a spectacular place to visit.

Temple of Pashupatinath

            The Pashupatinath Temple, one of the holiest Hindu temples in Nepal, extends across both banks of the magnificent and sacred Bagmati River on the eastern edge of Kathmandu, the main city. Thousands of devotees who come to give their prayers and seek blessings from him draw from the glorious sanctum devoted to Lord Shiva. It is believed that the Jyotirlinga housed in the Pashupatinath temple, splayed over a wide area with temples and ashrams, is the head of the body made up of the twelve Jyotirlinga in India. The majestic shrine was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1979.

Bhaktapur

            In the Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur is one of three medieval towns, the other two being Kathmandu and Patan. It is also referred to as Bhadgaon and Khwopa and has a mixture of people who are Hindu and Buddhist. Situated approximately 12 km from Kathmandu, this town is divided into 3 squares, each packed with temples and other religious structures. However, access to this city is not free and visitors have to pay a city entry fee of NPR 1600. This goes into the restoration of the temples in Bhaktapur, "the city of culture," which was sadly devastated in April 2015 during the 8 magnitude earthquake, causing loss of life and terrible destruction of some of the temples of historical significance.

            This city is situated on the Indian-Tibet trading route and offers a clear view of the Himalayas. Being Nepal's third-largest city indicates that Bhaktapur is one of the most popular tourist attractions, with the most famous attraction being Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

Boudhanath Stupa

            Just outside, 11kms from Kathmandu, the Boudhanath Stupa has been one of the world's largest stupas of its kind and dates to some time around the 6th century, probably even earlier. It lies on the old trading route to Tibet, just like Bhaktapur, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, South Asia.

          The stupa is a sign of awakening itself, but the symbolism is especially clear in Boudhanath. One of the 5 elements, earth, water, fire, air, and sphere, which are also the attributes of the five Buddhas, describes each distinct form. Brought together in the stupa's shape, their unity represents the structure of the universe itself in an abstract fashion. During the 2015 earthquake, the stupa suffered minimal damage and is now completely restored.

Swayambhunath Monkey Temple

                Set on a mountaintop to the west of Kathmandu, after Boudhanath, Swayambhunath is the 2nd most important temple in the Kathmandu Valley. It is known more lovingly as the Monkey Temple due to the resident monkeys that occupy parts of the temple.

            The centerpiece of the temple complex consists of the Swayambhu Stupa, carved with the eyes of the omnipresent deity. Initially, it was a prehistoric cult site, but the complex of temples dates back to the 5th century. In the lives of the Vajrayana Buddhists of northern Nepal and Tibet, but especially of the Newari Buddhists of the Kathmandu Valley, Swayambhu plays a major role. In 2015 earthquake caused a lot of damage to the Swayambhunath temple complex, but repairs are now finished, and the temple is back to its former.

Chitwan National Park

            The place to come to see a new aspect of Nepal is Chitwan National Park. This is a fantastic place (952.6 square kilometres) to see animals and it has a safari-type feel. Chitwan has a tropical monsoon climate, very different from what you would expect to find in Nepal, at an altitude of just 105 meters in some places, much lower than Kathmandu at 1.410 meters.

            Travelers come to see the wildlife here. Rhinos, Bengal tigers, leopards, sloth bears, gaur (buffalo), deer, and many other species are housed in the park. The rivers and streams are populated by freshwater dolphins (Gangetic) and crocodiles but are seldom seen. More than 500 bird species make Chitwan an ornithologist's paradise. For close-up pictures of the animals, tours from the lodges take you out into the forest, either on foot, or more frequently, on elephants. Chitwan lies close to the Indian border, southwest of Kathmandu, and is included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.

Pokhara

            Set at the base of the foothills and covered by Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, and Annapurna I, some of the world's highest mountains, Pokhara is one of the most picturesque cities in Nepal. Pokhara, at an altitude of more than 900m, is the doorway/gateway to the Himalayas for trekkers and the place to start for treks to Jomsom and the area of Annapurna. It is also a great place to chill for a little while, either before or after a hiking trip.

            It is the 2nd largest city in Nepal by the citizenry, after Kathmandu, but it still doesn't feel like a big city. You will note the much cleaner air and friendly atmosphere almost instantly as you drive from Kathmandu, 195 km to the east. For those looking for a little downtime, Lake Phewa, with its cluster of lakeside hotels, restaurants, and shops, is perfect.

        The town is a stunning contrast between the busy Lakeside Pokhara and Old Pokhara, home to many beautiful historical temples and the commercial centre of the town as well. A beautiful lake bordering Lakeside Pokhara and Old Pokhara, Phewa Lake (Phewa Tal) perfectly represent the mountains bordering it, making it a stunning photo-op.

Lumbini

         Lumbini, known as Buddha Shakyamuni, is famous for being the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, the historic Lord Buddha. Located off the main tourist path, nearly 240 km away from Kathmandu, Lumbini is a worthwhile detour from Pokhara to Chitwan National Park.

            There is a sense of tranquility in this pilgrimage area, a UNESCO world heritage site. Buddhist pilgrims from around the world are most of the tourists, retracing Buddha's footsteps through the locations of his life. It is believed that the Maya Devi Temple, dedicated to the mother of Buddha, is the place where Buddha was born. It includes a 2nd century AD ancient stone relief portraying the birth of Buddha.

Helambu Trek

                  The Helambu region is a popular area for trekking, especially with guided hikes offered by trekking companies. This is mainly because it is close to Kathmandu, does not cross elevations that are surprisingly high, and provides some beautiful mountain scenery. Many hikers who come here on tours, however, find it more difficult than they think they have been led to believe and harder than they predict.

                    It is always demanding to trek in the Himalayas, and while it is not as high as other treks, it is still a physically challenging hike and trekkers should be in well physical shape. This is a lovely trek with that in mind and well worth the effort.

            Inhabited by the Sherpas, the Helambu area is located in the upper part of the Malechmi Khola valley. In Kathmandu, trekkers can start the Helambu Trek and complete it in five to eight days.

Annapurna Trekking

                One of the most famous Nepal trekking regions is the Annapurna Zone. Three major routes converge and merge in places in the Annapurna Zone, and visitors can choose to do a part or a variation on the routes. The routes are well signposted and simple to follow. It takes approximately 21 days to complete the Annapurna Circuit about Annapurna Hill and is immensely popular with people who have enough time. The "Apple Pie Circuit" is often called this path.

                The trek to Poon Hill (3,200 metres) near Ghorepani is a popular hiking destination in this area, often offered in hiking packages in connection with the Annapurna Circuit. Most travelers try to see sunrise early on Poon Hill and a breathtaking view of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South, Machapuchare, and Singa Chuli.

                In 1986, the Annapurna region was designated as a protected area. Importantly, to help the many trekkers who come through this area, it has good infrastructure. The paths are well kept, and there is plenty of food and accommodation.

Mount Everest Trekking

              The summit of Mount Everest, the highest peak on earth, is 29,028 ft (8,848 metres) tall. Following the now legendary first ascent of the peak in 1953 by Edmund Hillary from New Zealand and Sherpa Tensing Norgay, trekking in the Mount Everest region became popular.

            Since then, several more have reached the top of the mountain, but many more are hiking the path to Everest Base Camp just to glimpse the summit far above. The peak has seen its fair share of drama and tragedy in recent times. Along with disputes between climbers on the mountain, the 2015 earthquake and former avalanches have left their mark on Everest trekking and hiking.

            In general, the Everest area is not considered the most beautiful trekking region in the world, but the attraction of Everest makes it an attractive place, both for climbers and trekkers. There are different base camp entry routes and many choices for planning a tour.

          Many climbing companies, either with Nepalese businesses or western-based businesses, offer a guided hike. It's also possible to hire a private guide or porter and do it yourself, but a guide is theoretically mandatory for all trekkers. From March to May and September to December, the major hiking seasons are in the spring and fall.

            It's possible to see it on bright days from the hill station of Nagarkot near Kathmandu for those not looking to trek to Mount Everest but still wanting to see the peak. On clear nights, hotel workers can knock on guests' doors if Everest is visible. This may be the lazy traveler's best chance of reaching the highest point in the country.

The best time for visiting Nepal

(September- late November)

                October to December (try to avoid June to September) is the perfect time to visit Nepal. It also, however, largely depends on the type of operation or the places that one hopes to visit within the country. For hikers who are rewarded with clear skies and spectacular views, the autumn periods of October and November are touted as the best time. The next best time to visit Nepal is in March-April, the spring season. The rhododendrons are in flower, and the weather is hot, but not so hot and scorching. The winter months are perfect for those who want a holiday in Kathmandu and the low-lying regions.


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