More to Nepal ... than Mount Everest
Sue Livsey, a Senior Manager at Cox & Kings, gives her tips on the best ways to visit some of Nepal’s more well-known sights and uncovers some of its hidden gems along the way.
Quiet corners of Kathmandu
Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, is a cultural and sensory overload. A stroll through Durbar Square and the maze of narrow streets stuffed with wooden temples and beautifully decorated palaces is essential for any visitor, but if you need to escape the crowds and the noise then I would recommend two oases of calm. The first is the spacious Itum Bahal, a Buddhist monastery courtyard which offers welcome respite from the bustle of nearby Ason market. The second is the Garden of Dreams, located in buzzing Thamel district. Created in 1920 as a private retreat for Field Marshal Kaiser Sumsher, this neoclassical garden includes three pavilions, central ponds, pergolas and fountains. The atmospheric setting of the Kaiser Café is the perfect spot to enjoy afternoon tea.
Garden of Dreams, Kathmandu
Aarti ceremony at Pashupatinath, Kathmandu
Just north-east of the capital on the banks of the Bagmati river is the sprawling complex of Pashupatinath, one of Nepal’s most important Hindu religious sites. The countless temples, ashrams and ghats, busy with worshippers, can be quite baffling and parts of the complex can only be entered by Hindus, so to better experience the colourful rituals and powerful spirituality of the Hindu religion, come for the mesmerising evening aarti ceremony. This takes place on the river bank at 6pm every day and everyone can take part. The priests light lanterns and oil lamps and, moving them in a circular motion, dedicate their act to the gods and goddesses while devotees sing sacred songs. It’s a beautiful and moving sight, whatever your beliefs, and a lovely way to connect with the people and customs of Nepal. Holidays, festivals and Mondays are the best times to see this ceremony.
Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu
Blessing from a monk, Bodhnath
Located just east of Kathmandu, Bodhnath is set on what used to be a major trade route between Nepal and Tibet. Today, the main attraction is an enormous Buddhist stupa, one of the largest in the world and of huge religious importance to Tibetan Buddhism. Visit one of the outlying monasteries and gompas in the evening, when Buddhist monks carry butter lamps and prayer wheels to the Bodhnath stupa. The monasteries that surround the square offer vantage points from which to watch this spectacle and, for a small donation, you can also receive a blessing from a monk.
When to visit Patan and Bhaktapur
Travel just a short distance away from the noisy capital and you come to Patan, or Lalitpur, meaning the ‘City of Beauty’. Formerly an independent city state, it boasts stunning Newari architecture and medieval streets adorned with colourful thangka paintings. To the south of Patan Museum, a homage to the religious art and architecture of the Kathmandu valley, lies one of the largest and oldest squares in Patan’s Royal Palace – the tranquil Mul Chowk. It is best visited in the late afternoon, when it glows a dusky red in the fading sunlight.
Mal Chowk. Royal Palace, Patan
Also located in the Kathmandu Valley is Bhaktapur, or the ‘City of Devotees’, so named for its many beautiful temples. It’s also renowned for its master craftsmen, pottery workers and artists. Early morning is one of the best times to visit, as the city wakes up and bargaining is easier as shopkeepers strive for the good luck that is heralded by their first sale of the day.
Stay at Baber Mahal Vilas, Kathmandu
A quaint, family-run boutique property in an excellent location in Kathmandu, Baber Mahal Vilas was originally built by the descendants of Nepal's longest-ruling prime minister. The property reflects the four distinct architectural styles found in Nepal and echoes the grand lifestyle of the Rana period. Every guestroom has a different design featuring either a Newari, Buddhist or Victorian style. The rooftop swimming pool affords good views of Kathmandu while the adjacent maze of streets is packed with eateries and shops. Be sure to try one of the delicious desserts at Chez Caroline.
Baber Mahal Vilas lounge, Kathmandu
Newari lunch with a local family, Panauti
Just 35km from Kathmandu lies one of Nepal’s oldest towns, Panauti. At its heart are ghats and the 13th-century village temple, while the surrounding hills offer opportunities for short walks amid lush fields of crops. The local community homestay project aids local women by supporting them in opening up their homes for overnight stays or a delicious Newari lunch.
Sue with women involved in Panauti Community Homestay Project
Walk to Ramkot village from Bandipur
Midway between Kathmandu and Pokhara, perched high along a ridge, lies the picturesque Newari village of Bandipur. Its location along the ancient trading route between India and Tibet once made it prosperous, evident in the beautifully preserved Newari buildings. The Magar and Gurung ethnic groups inhabit the surrounding hills, their houses dotted amid colourful terraced fields growing rice, millet, corn and mustard. This fertile landscape is perfect for hiking, including the stunning 5-hour return walk to Ramkot village.
Watch the sun rise over the Annapurna Range
Basanta Lodge is one of the comfortable Ker & Downey properties that dot the foothills surrounding Pokhara. Sitting at 4,920ft, it offers panoramic views of the Phedi and Mardi valleys as well as a vantage point from which to watch the sun rise over the Annapurna Range. Sit on the terrace of your room with a warming cup of tea or coffee and marvel at the changing colours of the peaks in the dawn light.
Breakfast on the banks of the Rapti river, Chitwan
Sail along the placid waters of the Rapti river looking out for crocodiles and several wetland species. If you’re lucky, you might get a close-up view of rhinos wallowing in the shallows. At the confluence of the Rapti and Narayani rivers, enjoy a mouth-watering breakfast, set up by the staff of the Barahi Jungle Lodge– quite possibly the most beautiful locale that I have dined in.
Breakfast with views of Rapti river, Chitwan
Dine at Krishnarpan, Kathmandu
The sophisticated Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu offers one of the city’s best dining experiences at its traditional Nepali restaurant, Krishnarpan. This is a slow dining experience with menus ranging from six to 22 courses, showcasing regional cuisine from around the country. I opted for the delicious six-course taster menu, which was served in the traditional manner, in brass and earthenware. My personal favourites were the momos (dumplings) and long gourd and soybean curry cooked in thick gravy.
Momo (traditional Nepali dumplings)
Cox & Kings offers group and private tours of Nepal. Private tours can be tailor-made to include any of the above experiences. Please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.
- Tags: Art & Architecture, Cox & Kings Staff, Culture & History, Food & Wine, Hotels, Indian Subcontinent, Landscape, Nepal