The Himalayan nation of Nepal—home to eight of the ten tallest mountains in the world—is rightly known as the ultimate destination for adventure seekers. However, you don’t have to be a mountain climber or a super-fit long-distance trekker to explore the country and see some of its best sights. Travellers who prefer a gentler pace, or who are travelling with children, find that there are a wealth of other natural and cultural attractions in the diverse nation. Here are some alternative adventures.
Safari in the Chitwan or Bardia National Parks
The Chitwan National Park, on the jungly plains bordering India, are about as far from visions of snow-capped mountains as possible. The park is home to an extremely successful one-horned rhinoceros conservation programme, and now boasts more than 600 of the enormous, prehistoric animals. You are all but guaranteed to spot at least one rhino when visiting the park. Numerous other animal and bird species—such as vultures, gharial crocodiles and even Royal Bengal Tigers—can be seen while on safari at Chitwan.
Further west is the lesser-frequented Bardia National Park, where the chances of spotting a tiger are much higher! It’s worth the trip out there.
Serene Lake Views from Pokhara
It’s necessary to pass through pollution-choked Kathmandu if you’re flying into Nepal, as it’s home to the only international airport in the country. But those wanting to experience a more tranquil town should head to Nepal’s second city, Pokhara. The focal point is Phewa Lake, a glassy turquoise body of water ringed by forests and punctuated by colourful boats, reflecting the snow-capped Himalayas nearby.
Popular activities on and around Phewa Lake are paddling on a small boat, swimming (if you go far enough from the murky shores), cycling the perimeter, hiking to lookout points, or simply watching the sunset while enjoying a happy-hour cocktail at one of the many lakeside bars. If you’re feeling more adventurous, Sarangkot Hill overlooking Pokhara is one of the best places in the world to try paragliding. The air thermals are stable, and the mountain, lake and forest views are awe inspiring.
Homestays with Local Families
If you want to get to know some local people and learn about their culture, homestays are a great idea. Rather than just providing a bed, homestays often include guided walks around villages and other sightseeing activities with the host family, as well as cooking classes and meals together. A homestay network is under development throughout the country, with particularly successful branches in Panauti (close to Kathmandu) and the Chitwan National Park. As well as providing an authentic experience for the traveller, such homestays are designed to benefit the local communities. Women run the programs and make some extra money so they don’t have to be totally reliant on their husbands.
Visit Nineteenth-Century Tea Estates in Ilam
The Darjeerling area of India is better-known for its tea estates, but Nepal’s Ilam is just over the border. Nepali tea may not be as famous, but it tastes just as good. The first tea estates were set up in Nepal in 1864. The damp climate in the hills is ideal for growing tea, and between April and November (the warmer months) you can see tea-pickers at work. Not very many travellers venture to these eastern parts of Nepal, which is a shame as the rolling green landscape of tea estates is ideal for gentle hiking.
The Ilam area—particularly the nearby Mai Valley—is also renowned for its birdlife. Hiring a local guide is the best way to spot some of the 450 local species, including drongos, bulbuls and flycatchers.
Relax in Medieval Inns
Nepal has some beautiful old architecture, the most noteworthy of which is probably Newar architecture. The Newars are an ethnic group with a distinct culture who mostly reside in or near the Kathmandu Valley. Their wood and metal handicrafts are especially attractive, and much architecture that has become representative of Nepali culture in fact has Newar roots.
Many old palaces and merchant town houses have been renovated into boutique inns. These are largely concentrated in the Kathmandu area, such as Patan, Bhaktapur and nearby Panauti, but can also be found further afield, such as in the peaceful hilltop town of Bandipur. These come according to all budgets, from extremely luxurious to more rustic. Each is unique and memorable, and you will also get to enjoy local home-cooked cuisine in an intimate atmosphere.
Scenic Mountain Flights
Even if you’re not planning on trekking in the Himalayas, you can still enjoy close-up views on a scenic flight. If you’re travelling between Kathmandu and Pokhara by air (about 30 minutes) you’re in for a treat—as long as you sit on the correct side of the aeroplane! Otherwise, you can take a scenic Everest flight from Kathmandu. These leave early in the morning to avoid the winds and clouds of later in the day, and include a champagne toast. Everyone is guaranteed a window seat, and it doesn’t matter which side you sit on, as you’ll get amazing views either on the way or way back. At times, the snowy slopes of the highest mountains in the world seem so close that it feels like you could jump from the plane and have a soft landing.
If you are looking to go on similar tours, you can use Royal Mountain Travel , one of Nepal’s leading tour operators providing all relevant services.