what to see in nepal

Holy men in Nepal. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Is Nepal on Your Bucket List? Here Are 5 Reasons It Should Be

Stretching along the Himalayas, Nepal has been a mystical destination for decades. But much has changed since the 1970s, when the young drifters on the overland “Hippie Trail” traveled the distance from London to Kathmandu in search of enlightenment and cheap thrills.

Today’s Nepal is fast-developing and looking forward, offering something to every traveler. These are 5 reasons why we think Nepal should be next on your bucket list.

1. The lure of the Himalayas

what to see in nepal
En route to Mount Everest. (Photo: Getty Images)

Nepal’s worldwide fame is thanks in part to the lure of its incredible mountains: One side of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, and Kanchenjunga, the third biggest, are in Nepal.

Thousands of travelers come here to strike off on one of its famous trekking trails. The Annapurna massif, just north of Pokhara, Nepal’s second-biggest center, has a number of popular routes that easily bring hikers through pristine mountain scenery along “tea house treks.”

The Khumbu region surrounding Everest is harder and less forgiving but offers some of Nepal’s most stunning high-altitude scenery. The Langtang trek, to the northeast of Kathmandu, is another popular option and famous for its low-altitude forested slopes covered in bamboo and rose tree forest.

2. Explore a forward-looking capital city steeped in history

what to see in nepal
Kathmandu is a whirlwind of culture. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kathmandu is ever-changing: Long gone are the hazy times of the hippie travelers who used to gather in the cheap hostels along the once-shabby district of Thamel.

Today, it’s packed with outdoor shops rubbing elbows with international restaurants, cafés and a plethora of guesthouses and hotels to suit every budget. The Kathmandu Marriott Hotel is a perfect option in the center of the city, only 10 minutes away from Thamel and close to the main transport hubs.

But Kathmandu is not just modernity and comfort foods; take a stroll down the small lanes that jut out of Thamel, and you’ll bump into charming little squares dominated by traditional temples and fluttering prayer flags.

A tour of Durbar Square, the city’s old center, amazes with its characteristic Newari architecture, as does a trip to nearby Patan, to the south of the city, and Bhaktapur, east of Kathmandu’s center. This UNESCO Heritage–listed town conserves exquisite palace courtyards and has the best-preserved old city in the whole of Nepal.

A visit to the Pashupatinath Temple on the Bagmati River, another UNESCO-listed monument, offers a chance to observe Hindu sadhus — the Subcontinent’s holy men — meditate while traditional religious funeral pyres flame along the river’s ghats.

3. Learn about Buddhism

what to see in nepal
Visit a temple. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Kathmandu Valley is also a cradle of Buddhism: Start in Boudhanath, home to a UNESCO-listed stupa. After visiting the stupa’s square, proceed to Kopan Monastery, Kathmandu’s prominent Buddhist teaching center, and browse the rare volumes collected in its impressive library.

Be on the lookout for monks at work bent over their thangkas — traditional Buddhist scrolls. With a couple extra days, you could visit the pilgrimage town of Lumbini on the Nepal/India border. It’s said to be the birthplace of Buddha, with a dedicated memorial park and many international monasteries offering study retreats and accommodation.

4. Nepal is not just about the mountains

what to see in nepal
Meet the wildlife. (Photo: Getty Images)

Few people consider that Nepal’s geography offers much more than high altitudes. The Terai, the flat prairie stretching all the way from the Himalayan foothills to India, is home to some incredible nature reserves and conservation efforts.

Chitwan National Park, set between Kathmandu and the Indian border, is a safe haven for the rare one-horned Indian rhino. And in the western part of southern Nepal, the Royal Bardia National Park — to which Leonardo DiCaprio donated $3 million for conservation in 2013 — still harbors the protected Bengal tiger.

For striking architecture, the town of Janakpur has one of Nepal’s most interesting Hindu temples, the Janaki Mandir. And on the eastern side of Nepal, towns like Dhankuta and Ilam are surrounded by rolling hills chiseled into tea estates and offer a low-altitude respite from the heat of the plains.

5. Opportunities for off-the-beaten-track adventures

At last, the beauty of Nepal is the fact it’s still so undiscovered. You can literally start walking from any village and find yourself in amazing uncharted hiking territory.

For example, the village of Dunge in Ramechhap district is just a couple hours east of Kathmandu. It’s the trailhead of the lesser-known Indigenous People’s Trail. Created in 2012 to showcase the rich ethnic diversity of this region, the trail suffered great damage in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake but still snakes through friendly villages that very few travelers visit.