Nepal is often associated with adventurous travellers. With eight of the world’s top ten highest summits in Nepal including Mount Everest, it is no wonder that travellers come to this small country only to trek the Himalayan hiking trails.
But is that all there is to see in Nepal?
Many are not aware that Nepal is a diverse country, packed with amazing sights from ancient temples and tropical jungles to picturesque valleys and snow-capped peaks within a short distance.
To enjoy Nepal that doesn’t involve long arduous journey on foot at high altitude levels, here are non-trekking activities that never fail to deliver an unforgettable experience:
1) Explore Durbar Squares in Kathmandu Valley
One of the first tour activities to do upon arrival in Kathmandu is to explore the historical grounds of Durbar Squares in the Kathmandu Valley. There are three Durbar Squares in the valley – Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan – these historical grounds are essentially palaces, quadrangles, courtyards and ancient temples that date back to 17th and 18th centuries (some even older).
The attraction of the Durbar Squares are mainly the strikingly impressive traditional Newari architecture of magnificently carved wooden windows and balconies, and timeless stone carvings of Hindu and Tibetan deities.
*Also Read: Temples and Streets of Kathmandu – A Photo Essay
2) Have a communion with God at ancient temples
Nepal is known as the melting pot of Hinduism and Buddhism, therefore it is a must to visit some of their spectacular stupas and temples.
Sitting atop a hill overlooking Kathmandu, Swayambhunath is a Tibetan-Buddhist temple complex consisting of a stupa, shrines and monasteries. The stupa has a dome with a structure painted with eyes of Buddha looking in all four directions of Kathmandu. The temple is also called the Monkey Temple as there are many monkeys roaming around the complex. Because of its hilltop locations, Swayambhunath is the best place to watch the sun set over the sprawling city.
As for the Hindu faith, Pashupatinath Temple is one of the sacred temples situated on the banks of the Bagmati River, built in Nepalese pagoda style and dedicated to the national deity, Lord Pashupatinath. The main temple is opened to Hindus only while non-Hindus are free to walk around the surrounding complex where there are religious stalls selling marigold flowers, prasad (offerings), prayer beads, incense, and sadhus readily available for photo opportunities for a small fee!
One of the interesting things to observe at Pashupatinath Temple is the open cremation for Hindus and Buddhists at the funeral ghats along the Bagmati River. It was mentioned that cremation fires were burning continuously on these funeral ghats for weeks in the aftermath of 2015 earthquake as hundreds of families lost their loved ones in the disaster.
Situated outside the city centre is Boudhanath, the largest spherical Tibetan-Buddhist stupa in Nepal. The best time to visit Boudhanath is in the early evening when scores of pilgrims converged at the dome of the stupa to do the kora (ritual circumnavigation clockwise) and chant mantras.
*Also Read: 4 Must-See Places in Kathmandu for First-Timers
3) Spot wildlife in Chitwan National Park
Chitwan National Park, a World Heritage-listed reserve covers 932 sq. km of jungle and grasslands, is one of the best wildlife national parks in Asia to spot deers, monkeys, a variety of bird species, and the elusive Bengal Tiger, of which as many as 120 tigers are in the national park.
Chitwan has had embarked on successful campaigns in protecting and preserving animals, two of which are the anti-poaching patrols that have led to an increase in the population of the one-horned rhino, and elephants are now used as walking guides in the jungle rather than as rides for tourists.
4) Be at peace at the birthplace of Buddha in Lumbini
Another World Heritage-listed site of huge religious significance is Lumbini, the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama – Buddha.
Right in the spiritual heart of Lumbini is the Lumbini Development Zone, a huge park consisting of monasteries built by Buddhist communities from around the world. Many visitors also flock to the Maya Devi Temple which marks the spot where Queen Maya Devi gave birth to Buddha, and the adjoining gardens to see the pillar of Ashoka, ancient ruins and Bodhi trees decorated with prayer flags.
5) Relax in laid-back Pokhara
After all the sight-seeing in Nepal, there’s no better place to recharge your batteries than in Pokhara. Pokhara lies on the bank of a tranquil Lake Phewa, surrounded by the Annapurna mountain range. Depending on the weather, you may find yourself lucky to have a clear view of the snow-clad mountains from your hotel room!
Should you feel the need to be more active, you can go on a boat cruise on Lake Phewa or walk up Shanti Stupa for beautiful views of the city, lake and mountains.
*The edited version of this article was published in the August 2017 issue of MalindoMag, in-flight magazine of Malindo Air.
**My trip to Nepal in 2017 was part of the Himalayan Travel Mart FAM trip sponsored by Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) Nepal Chapter. Opinions expressed in this post are, as always, my own.
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