Nepal is unsurprisingly often synonymous with mountain-trekking. The country has eight of the world’s top ten highest summits including Mount Everest. I’m not very into mountain-trekking, so I had been avoiding Nepal for the longest time until I learnt that the small country is packed with activities for non-trekkers as well! So off I went for an unforgettable experience in Nepal!
Explore Durbar Squares in Kathmandu Valley
My first day in Nepal was spent strolling around the Durbar Squares in Kathmandu Valley. Durbar Squares are essentially plazas located just across the old palaces in Nepal, packed with ancient temples and statues. Most date back to the 17th and 18th centuries and some are even older.
I got a chance to visit all the three famous Durbar Squares in Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Each square still exudes the rich history and culture of Newar kingdoms, especially with the traditional Newari architecture of magnificent carved wooden windows, balconies, and stone carvings of Hindu and Tibetan deities. Of all the three Durbar Squares in the valley that I went to, my favourite was Patan Durbar Square. The centuries-old temples and palace compound in Patan were so impressive and beautiful — I wonder how these buildings can stand the test of time!
Visit towering temples and stupas of Kathmandu
My visit to Nepal wouldn’t be complete without visiting some of their towering temples and stupas. Being a melting pot of Hinduism and Buddhism, Nepal has an eclectic mix of ancient temples.
My temple-hopping journey started with Swayambhunath, also known as the Monkey Temple. The Tibetan-Buddhist temple complex consists of shrines, monasteries and a stupa with a dome and structure painted with eyes of Buddha looking in all four directions of Kathmandu. Besides the massive structure, what I love about this temple is its hilltop location — the panoramic view of the city below was simply breathtaking!
My next stop was Pashupatinath Temple, one of the sacred Hindu temples situated on the banks of the Bagmati River. The temple is named after Lord Pashupatinath, Nepal’s national deity, and is known for its open creation funeral ghats along the river. With 518 temples and monuments within the temple complex, the compound also has a fortified courtyard guarded by the police and the army.
I couldn’t leave the country without visiting its iconic stupa: Boudhanath. Being one of the world’s largest stupas, Boudhanath buries the remains of Kassapa Buddha. When I went there in the evening, scores of pilgrims circumambulated at the dome of the stupa while chanting mantras. A captivating view you can hardly get elsewhere.
Shop ‘til you drop in Thamel
Thamel is THE place to shop in Kathmandu as the narrow streets and alleys have seemingly everything that a traveller needs. I was pretty amazed by the wide range of shops here — from restaurants, bars, and bakeries to bookshops, outdoor gear shops and electronics shops. Name almost anything that you wish to buy in Kathmandu and you will likely find it in Thamel! My advice for you: always bargain! As the area is swarmed with tourists, prices can be rather steep.
Thamel is also a popular area to stay as it has a wide range of accommodation from guesthouses to budget and boutique hotels. One of the famous boutique hotels in Thamel is the well-established hotel chain Kathmandu Guest House by KGH. I didn’t stay in the heart of Thamel but at Hotel Tibet which is a mere 5-minute drive away.
Hotel Tibet where I stayed throughout the trip
Go on a jungle safari in Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park is one of the best wildlife national parks in Asia to spot deer, monkeys, crocodiles, one-horned rhinos and elusive Bengal tigers. A range worthy of their listing as a World Heritage site!
There are plenty of things you can do in Chitwan. Boat cruises, farmland walks, visiting elephant camps, as well as a jungle safari on an open-top Land Rover. We decided to take the boat cruises since we wanted to have a slower-paced day. We also dropped by the elephant camps to snap a few photos of elephants taking a shower in the river. A good change from all the temple-hopping!
Boating on Narayani River in Chitwan National Park
Seek enlightenment in Lumbini
Another World Heritage-listed site and also with religious significance is Lumbini. Many visitors flock to the Lumbini Development Zone for pilgrimage as Lumbini is known as the birthplace of the Buddha. Within the same compound, you can also find Puskarini (Holy Pond) where Queen Mayadevi performed the ritual dip before giving birth to Buddha.
I love strolling around the serene temple gardens, finding shades under many Bodhi trees decorated with colourful prayer flags.
Relax in lakeside town Pokhara
After a couple of days of sightseeing and long drives, there’s no better place to relax than in Pokhara. Pokhara is a beautiful town situated on the banks of Lake Phewa set against the backdrop of the Annapurna mountain range.
Although Pokhara is often known for mountain-climbing treks, the lakeside town is also popular for non-trekking activities. For example, boating on Lake Phewa or walking up Shanti Stupa for incredible views of the city, lake and mountains.
With fellow travellers at a temple on Lake Phewa
How to go to Nepal
There are many international flights from Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu, which allows you to choose the cheapest flight!
What to eat in Nepal
Dal bhat is a common dish in Nepal, served on a steel platter similar to Indian thali. Rice with dal (lentil soup) is curried with spicy-pickled vegetables, yoghurt and papadom crackers. You can opt for meat as well.
Another local dish you should try is momos, Tibetan-style dumplings served with spicy chutney. The popular street snack can be either fried or steamed.
Image source: @veggiedelightnp