Tracing the line of the mighty Himalayan mountain range, Nepal is a vast adventure playground for lovers of the great outdoors. Trekking trails climb past ancient temples to the tips of the world’s highest mountains, while down in the plains, swamps and jungles hide rare tigers and one horned rhinos.
The best way to explore Nepal is on foot, via the thousands of kilometres of trekking trails that climb to the flanks of Nepal’s highest peaks. Most trailheads can be reached by bus, or via domestic flights from Kathmandu. Nepal’s magical national parks are best explored on foot, by jeep or on elephant back.
Before heading for the mountains, devote some time to Kathmandu, Nepal’s timeless capital. Even earthquakes have failed to diminish the grandeur of Kathmandu’s medieval squares and its towering, tiered temples. The royal palaces in Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur and the Buddhist stupas at Bodhnath and Swayambhunath represent the zenith of Himalayan architecture.
Kathmandu is just one of dozens of ancient townships dotted around the Kathmandu Valley. Beyond Bhaktapur and Patan are photogenic villages of historic Newari houses, where the pace of life has hardly changed in centuries, and the valley rim is circled by lofty lookouts that offer front row seats onto an epic sweep of Himalayan peaks.
As well as some of the world’s most spectacular mountain trails, Nepal has some of the world’s best trekking infrastructure. Within 24 hours of arriving in Kathmandu or Pokhara, you can be out amongst the snow-peaks, en route to the Annapurna range or mighty Mount Everest (8848m).
Nepal’s sprawling plains are another world. Pristine national parks provide a home to some of Asia’s last royal Bengal tigers and one-horned rhinos. In between are sacred towns such as Janakpur, the home town of the goddess Sita from the Ramayana, and Lumbini, the birthplace of the historical Buddha.
With so many mountain valleys to hide in, it’s easy to escape in Nepal. If the trekking trails to Everest Base Camp and Annapurna are too crowded, consider the trek to Kangchenjunga in the far east. Even in the midst of the Kathmandu Valley, you can find space for inner reflection. With a rented taxi or bicycle, you can wander through medieval townships such as Panuati and Kirtipur, and explore atmospheric Buddhist monasteries and Hindu pilgrimage sites around the valley rim. To experience Patan and Bhaktapur at their best, stay overnight, and explore at first light, when you may be the only visitor.
The definitive Nepali dish is dhal bhat – the trekking fuel of the Himalaya. This simple meal of curried lentils, rice and vegetables is packed with carbohydrates to power epic ascents and descents over rugged mountain passes. At the end of your trek, Kathmandu awaits. Hungry trekkers can choose from pretty much every cuisine under the sun, from oven-baked pizzas to Thai curries, Tibetan momos and Korean barbecues. For an upmarket dinner, consider Kathmandu’s excellent Newari restaurants, serving traditional dishes such as choyla (lamb curry) with chiura (pounded rice) at traditional low Nepali tables. Krishanarpan at Dwarika’s Hotel and Baithak at Babar Mahal Revisited are top choices.