When it comes to Nepal, DO believe the hype. I’d heard brilliant things about Nepal from several well-travelled friends, so I jumped at the chance to go and visit myself. After returning from my own recent trip, I understand exactly what they mean. It's a really special place. I love mountains, I love Asia, so I’ll never know why it took me forty years to get to Nepal!
I absolutely loved Nepal and I would happily go back. It has all the characteristics that I love about Asia and it's blissfully hassle-free. The Nepalese people are utterly charming and the weather in November is just perfect - sunny and warm, but not humid. To help you plan your own visit, here are my top places to visit in Nepal:
My 12-day trip to Nepal started in the capital - Kathmandu. I stayed in a lovely hotel in the centre, about a 10-minute walk from the commercial tourist district of Thamel. The area of Thamel is a real travellers’ mecca, full of outdoor adventure wear shops, bars and restaurants. It’s a good place to stock up before an adventure or chill out and reflect at the end of your trip. Sure, it’s busy and commercial, but I still found it charming. I really enjoyed wandering around and haggling for Christmas pressies before my journey home.
Kathmandu’s Durbar Square is listed as one of UNESCO's eight World Heritage sites. It’s a cluster of ancient temples, palaces, courtyards and streets that date back to the 12th century. The square is known to be the social, religious and urban focal point of the capital city, so you really can’t miss it if you’re in Kathmandu.
Kathmandu’s hilltop temple of Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple, is worth a visit. The complex is full of mound-like structures called stupas, and it’s a very important place of worship for the Buddhist Community. On top of that, the views across the city are stunning, and the monkeys are pretty entertaining!
The Boudhanath Stupa in Central Kathmandu is the largest in the world. Draped with multi-coloured prayer flags and painted with the eyes of Buddha, it gazes down on everyone below. At ground level, there’s a buzz of activity, with locals praying, spinning prayer wheels and presenting offerings of incense.
Bhaktapur is a lovely town about an hour from Kathmandu by road. We spent the afternoon here, but I could have easily stayed longer, as the place seemed to have a good vibe. The main square is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO for its rich culture, well-preserved palace courtyards, temples, and wood, metal and stone artworks.
Fancy a taste of trekking without committing yourself to a full Himalayan expedition? Try signing up for a day hike. This one was an easy 3 to 4 hour hike - not a strenuous task at all. Our minibus dropped us off at the starting point, and we walked along well-marked local roads and hillside paths. There were great views of the local farmlands and terraced rice paddies along the way, as well as stunning views of the Himalayan peaks across the valley.
I’d always thought of Nepal as mountainous and cold, so I didn’t expect to find subtropical jungle! Chitwan is the jewel in the crown of Nepal’s National Parks, with a great heritage and approach to conservation. Established in 1973, it was Nepal’s first National Park. Today, it’s one of the last remaining refuges of the Bengal tiger and the one-horned rhino.
We took an afternoon jeep safari into Chitwan National and were very lucky to experience four different rhino sightings during our 2-hour safari drive. Two of these sightings were mothers with rhino calves, which - despite their size - were very cute. We also saw deer, monkeys, thin-nosed crocodiles, peacocks and all kinds of brightly coloured birds. Unfortunately, we didn’t see tigers, but sightings are notoriously rare.
For our final hour, we transferred onto a small boat and drifted down the river as the sun started to set - just perfect. The local guides were incredibly knowledgeable and answered all sorts of questions about the environment and the wildlife in Chitwan.
Pokhara is a lovely place, and somewhere I could happily have spent far longer. It reminded me of Queenstown in New Zealand, and I would love to go back. Set on the massive Phewa Lake and surrounded by stunning mountains, the town itself specialises in all sorts of active pursuits. There are dozens of adventures to choose from, including mountain-biking around the lake, day treks, kayaking, paragliding and even heli-hikes.
Pokhara has a well-established tourist centre with a mix of restaurants, bars and shops. There’s something for all budgets, from basic to splash-out. There's also a vast range of hotels here, from small, mid-range options to high-end establishments with swimming pools.
On our first day, I was whisked up to the hillside that overlooks the city for my first ever go at paragliding. It’s quite a sensation to be harnessed up and run straight off a cliff! It did, however, go seamlessly. Seconds later, we caught a thermal that took us soaring up over the town. The views were just incredible, with the city and lake below us and clear views of the Himalayas along the horizon. Just wow. We zipped around for around 40 minutes before descending to the landing strip next to the lake. Not one for anyone that suffers from a fear of heights, but it was really amazing.
The helicopter ride up to Annapurna Base Camp put an enormous smile on my face. It was the absolute highlight of my trip. I’d never been in a helicopter before and, while the journeys there and back were beautiful, it's the moment we arrived at the base camp will live with me for forever. We left before dawn and – trust me – it was worth the early wake-up call!
Annapurna Base Camp is nestled in the Himalayas, and we landed just as the morning sun started to peek over the mountains. Together, the indigo skies, the 360-degree snow-capped mountains and the prayer flag memorial combined into something truly beautiful. It left me lost for words. Base camp is a series of small huts offering basic lodging and meals for the hardy folk who trek all the way up from Pokhara. The helicopter was far less work.
There are more gentle things to do in Pokhara too, such as an hour-long walk to watch the sunrise at the World Peace Pagoda or Sarangkot. From Pokhara, we flew back to Kathmandu on the comically named Yeti Airlines. Although it was only a small propeller plane, I found it quite comfortable, with great views of the Himalayas all along the way.
Nepal has some great homestays that can give you a real taste of authentic Nepali life. I stayed in two homestays during my time in Nepal and both of them were very warm and memorable experiences. The unfiltered glimpse into the daily local life that you get in a homestay will leave you with a very vivid sense of the community. I would recommend it to anyone.
My first homestay was located in a town called Panauti, a short drive into the Kathmandu Valley. It is home to the indigenous Newar people. Here, the local community has established a non-profit homestay project with a focus on women’s empowerment. Today, it's a vital source of income for the whole town.
The ladies of Panauti welcomed us off the bus in full ceremonial dress and presented us with flower garlands while singing and drumming. I slept in the spare room of my host’s house and spent the afternoon watching the kids playing and singing songs at home. They reminded me of my children, highlighting how similar we are.
My second homestay was the Barauli community homestay project in Chitwan, where I stayed with the Tharu people. It was a magical place. I slept in my own little private cottage set amongst the rest of the village, which was clean and functional. We ate breakfast and dinner in the central village hall and enjoyed sundowners there at the end of the day too.
In the afternoon, we hired some bikes and took an easy trip around the village. The local kids ran alongside us shouting and laughing all the way, which reminded me of my first time in Asia when tourists were more scarce.
As we enjoyed a cold beer in the evening, we were treated to wonderful singing and dancing. The famous Tharu women’s 'stick dance' was the definite highlight, and as the evening reached its climax, we were dragged up to join the final dance with the locals.
I was lucky enough to spend one night at the Neydo Tashi Choeling Monastery, an ideal place to learn a little more about Buddhism. Around 200 monks live in the adjacent monastery, and we had the privilege to join them for morning prayers at 5 am the following morning. The chanting was much louder than I thought it would be!
Our small group tour leader was exceptional. His local knowledge of each destination was tremendous, and he answered all of our questions brilliantly. His relaxed manner put the whole group at ease and he was a real credit to his company. It reminded me (again!) why small group trips are a great way to explore the world. You can visit all these places independently, but it's easy to miss the little things that make every destination unique. Travelling with a leader, your understanding of the culture will be increased tenfold.
You can read more about Jim here, call us on +44 1273320580 or contact us by email to starting planning your own Nepal adventure. Whether you're looking for a small group tour or a private tailor-made trip, we can help.