Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is electrifyingly exotic, with its medieval warren of alleys, Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas, and its uniquely relaxed nightlife. The city is increasingly hectic, however, so many visitors make day-trips into the semi-rural Kathmandu Valley, and the astoundingly well-preserved medieval cities of Patan and Bhaktapur, or overnight at one of the mountain view-points on the valley rim, such as Nagarkot, in the Central Hills. A few explore the valley’s wealth of temples, towns and forested hilltops in more depth, or make road trips to the Tibet border or down the tortuous Tribhuwan Rajpath towards India. Most people will take the tourist bus six hours west of Kathmandu to Pokhara, an engagingly easygoing resort town in the Western Hills, set beside a lake and under a towering wall of white peaks. While many visitors are happy just to gaze at Pokhara’s views, or hang out in its bars, it also makes a great base for day-hikes and mountain-bike rides, yoga and meditation courses, and even paragliding and microlight flights. Other towns in the Western Hills – notably Gorkha with its impressive fortress, Manakamana with its wish-fulfilling temple, and Bandipur with its old-world bazaar – offer history and culture as well as scenery.
Few travellers head into the flat Terai, along the border with India, unless it’s to enter the deservedly popular Chitwan National Park with its endangered Asian one-horned rhinos. Bardia National Park and two other rarely visited wildlife reserves are out there for the more adventurous. In the Western Terai Lumbini, Buddha’s birthplace, is a world-class pilgrimage site, as is Janakpur, a Hindu holy city in the east.
Nepal is most renowned, however, for trekking – hiking from village to village, through massive hills and lush rhododendron forests and up to the peaks and glaciers of the high Himalayas. The thrillingly beautiful and culturally rich Annapurna and Everest regions are the most oriented to trekkers, but other, once-remote areas are opening up, notably Mustang and Manaslu. Rafting down Nepal’s rivers and mountain biking, meanwhile, offer not only adventure but also a different perspective on the countryside and wildlife.