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Top Destinations for 2017: Nepal

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Nestled at the foot of the youngest and highest mountain system, and home to a captivating culture, Nepal is certainly a traditional destination for mountaineering enthusiasts and those who want a truly unique cultural experience.

While preparing for what will certainly be a life-changing journey, it’s important to make note of when exactly it’s best to visit.

The optimal time would be in autumn (the high season), as clear skies and warm days make perfect weather for trekking (and pictures). Between late September and late November, however, as thousands of people take the trails in the Everest and Annapurna regions, accommodation costs in the capital Kathmandu go up, and it’s harder to find a room.

The second best time to visit is in the shoulder period, between March and April, when spring brings warm weather and the rhododendron blossoms. It’s also the best time to enjoy Nepal’s diverse wildlife, despite the increasing heat. The disadvantage to that time is that haze can hide the mountains from lower elevations (although it’s possible to trek above it), and stomach bugs are more common.

The pre-monsoon (mid-April to early June) and monsoon (usually mid-June until late September) seasons are possibly the most inconvenient time to travel to Nepal. The monsoon makes the fields come alive with rushing water and green shoots, and that’s when Nepal is at its most Nepali. But despite the clean air, blooming flowers, butterflies, and abundant fresh produce, the weather makes it very inconvenient to travel. Mountain views are rare, leeches come out on some trekking routes, landslides block roads and paths, and flights may be cancelled.

With that out of the way, now it’s just a matter of choosing the path you would like to take in Nepal – oftentimes literally.

Where to go

Most visitors’ journeys start at Kathmandu, as flights land in the Tribuvan International Airport.

The city of Kathmandu boasts an incredibly diverse historic architecture with stunning Newari architecture, centuries-old Hindu and Buddhist religious sites along with tourist-friendly accommodation and restaurants.

The capital is located in the Kathmandu Valley, which envelops two other beautiful cities - Patan, and Bhaktapur, which were once independent countries ruled by the Malla kings.

Bhaktapur, the City of Devotees, is the perfect representation of what the whole valley looked like in the Middle Ages, while Patan is home to the valley’s finest craftsmen who have preserved ancient art techniques.

But it is in Kathmandu that trekkers need to acquire their permits and other documentation, either from a trekking agent or from the appropriate offices. These documents will be checked along trekking routes. For those who can’t afford a lot of time to go mountaineering, there are half-day hikes from Kathmandu to witness breath-taking Himalayan views.

For those interested in trekking, the Everest region (also known as Khumbu) will definitely be on their list of places to visit. The standard trek, passing through the legendary Sherpa villages, is a mix a deeply cultural and spiritual experience in addition to the physical one. In fact, many have described it as a journey close to Nirvana.

If you are taking a direct flight from the capital, the journey to Everest or Everest Base Camp, begins from Lukla. Taking a flight saves time, but the alternative route, starting from ethnically diverse and flora-rich Jiri, provides the opportunity to truly enjoy the experience. The option from Jiri will take around ten days to reach the famous Sherpa village Namche Bazaar.

Namche Bazaar (3,500m) would be the staging point for most expeditions to Everest and other Himalayan peaks in the area. A historic trading hub, famous for its homemade yak cheese and butter, Namche has now made its name as a prosperous market town selling anything from Tibetan artefacts to trekking and climbing equipment. It’s situated on the slope of an arch-shaped mountain, which allows you to oversee the sights of glorious mountain peaks throughout the valley, day and night.

Another place to definitely visit is the Sagarmatha National Park in the Khumbu, with some of the rarest bio-diversity on earth. A ten-12 day trek through Solu to the Khumbu and the Sagarmatha National Park is an excellent itinerary both for acclimatisation and experiencing the changing local customs. 

For those looking for some real trekking, the Everest Base Camp trek is quite simply the classic trek in Nepal. Starting from Lukla, the “Gateway to Everest”, the path takes you to Namche Bazaar, follows the Imja Khola valley.

The valley offers spectacular views of Thamserku, Kangtega and Ama Dablam mountains, and dominating the skyline ahead are the giants, Lhotse and Everest. The Tengboche Monastery is definitely worth visiting while there.

The trail then descends through Pangboche, and ends at the last settlement known as Gorak Shep. A couple of tea houses offer shelter for the night before the last part of the journey over the glacier to Everest Base Camp.  

What to do

Study Buddhism and meditation…

One of the most popular monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism is the Kapan Monastery, which is perched on a hill not far north of Boudha. Lots of foreigners and local people come to the monastery to study Buddhism and meditation. The spiritual programme at Kapan offers introductory level courses in the so-called Discover Buddhism series, and a more advanced series called Next Steps.

Try the local food

The ancient cities of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan offer small little alleys, filled with the smell of traditional Newari food cooked on wood ovens. Newar cuisine is famous for its large range of dishes, but meals made out of buffalo meat, and the vegetable soup, made of potato and bamboo shoot, are a must-try.

Discover Nepal’s temples

Nepal is rife with Buddhist and Hindu temples, but Pashupatinath Temple should definitely be on your list.

The largest temple complex in Nepal, it’s a hub for a mix of religious, cultural and spiritual experiences. Build in the 5th Century and dedicated to Lord Shiva, Pashupatinath is an active religious centre, with daily rituals and special ones observed through the year. Another temple to visit is Muktinath at the foot of the Thorong La mountain pass in Mustang. 

Re-discover your adventurous side

From sky-diving, paragliding and bungee jumping to rafting, kayaking and mountain biking, there’s definitely no shortage of adventures for a different holiday experience. Everest skydiving, for example, is done from the world’s highest drop zone, right in front of Mt. Everest (8,848m) and should definitely be on the bucket list of adrenaline junkies.

Enjoy the numerous festivals taking place throughout the year

Tengboche Monastery is the leading Buddhist centre in the Kumbu, with a residing Rinpoche (“precious one”) who blesses pilgrims and travellers to the area. But what the monastery is arguably most famous for is the colourful Mani Rimdu festival, which is a culminations of Buddhist celebrations with religious gatherings, songs, dances and re-enactments of legends.

Different beautiful festivals take place from May (the Tiji Festival), through June and July (Ropain Rice Planting Festival and Janai Purnima) to August, when Gai Jatra, Krishna Ashtami, Kushe Aunsi, and Haritalika Teej take place.

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