Nepal... a first-timer's guide

| November 2, 2014

We speak to Cox & Kings’ expert Roop Kumar, who offers a wealth of useful tips for first-time visitors to Nepal.

Mount Everest is one of Nepal's key attractions

Nepal's towering mountains have long made it a celebrated trekking destination. Cultural discovery and even the chance to unwind in soothing spas are among the other amazing experiences that await you in this fascinating country in the Indian Subcontinent.

If you are curious about what Nepal has to offer you as a traveller, or are keen to find out more about the practical side of visiting, our first-timer's guide can help. Here, Cox & Kings' very own Roop Kumar, sales development manager, shares his expertise to shed light on this unique destination.

Reasons to travel to Nepal

Of course, the first question that comes to mind when considering whether to visit any holiday destination is 'Why should I travel there?'. Nepal's prestige as a walker's paradise is extremely well established, so it won't surprise you to hear that trekking is a primary reason to visit the country.

Indeed, Roop notes that no matter whether you simply want to see Mount Everest or you're interested in trekking, Nepal is a very worthy destination. What's more, it has one of the world's finest trekking infrastructures, offering everything from light to challenging routes, meaning all kinds of walkers are catered for.

Cultural discovery is another key reason to visit. Having only opened up to travellers in the 1950s, Nepal offers a fascinating mix of the traditional and the modern in cities such as Kathmandu, while traditional culture definitely reigns supreme in more rural areas.

As you travel, you can get a taste of Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which are deeply embedded in the local culture. While Hinduism is the nation's official religion, there are some wonderful sites pertaining to Buddhism - most notably Lumbini. This is where you can see sacred Buddhist sites, it being believed to be where Buddha was born.

Of course, you don't need to pick between having either an adventure-based (or perhaps, more accurately, trekking-based) experience or a cultural holiday. Indeed, for a well-rounded trip it is best to combine the two, splitting your time between scenic treks and cultural experiences.

Nepal: the basics 

A walker's paradise, Nepal is a wonderful destination - especially if you want to get back to nature and feel the sense of adventure coursing through your veins. Its most famous mountain is, of course, Everest, but there are a wealth of less demanding – but no less rewarding – routes for those eager to have the Nepalese experience without overtaxing themselves.

Below, we will talk about some of the best things to do and finest places to visit on your holiday to Nepal, but first, here is a little practical information.

- The local currency in the Nepalese Rupee, which you can buy once you arrive in the country – there will be plenty of opportunity to do so from the moment you land.
- You need a visa to visit Nepal, which is issued upon arrival at a cost of $25 (approximately £15).
- The national language is Nepalese, but you will find Hindi is widely spoken as well.
- Nepal is officially a Hindu country.
- There are no mandatory inoculations to have before visiting Nepal but, as ever, it's important to speak to your GP a few months before you travel to discuss your personal medical needs.

Travelling to and within Nepal

While there aren't any non-stop direct flights to Nepal, there are several options offering a single stop, which take approximately 11 hours total. Among the options are travelling with Qatar or Etihad via Doha or Abu Dhabi, or flying via Delhi with British Airways or Virgin.

Once you arrive in Nepal, you will travel via road. Generally speaking, the roads are good but, because of the monsoons, potholes can develop quite quickly – so don't be alarmed if you come across a few, as they tend to be present even on newer roads.

Nepal's top destinations 

Nepal has several key destinations, all of which have a lot to offer first-time travellers. Kathmandu, Pokhara, Lumbini and Chitwan National Park all rank among its most fascinating destinations.

Being the nation's capital, Kathmandu is a main port of call on holiday itineraries. As well as being a good start point for exploring the nation, it possesses plenty of attractions of its own, including beautiful palaces and wooden temples threaded throughout its narrow streets.

Pokhara, meanwhile, is the chief base for trekking, it being surrounded by the famous Annapurna mountain range. Sitting on the shores of the tranquil Phewa Tal lake, it is also a wonderful place for peaceful contemplation.

As we previously mentioned, Lumbini is a must-visit if you are interested in seeing some of Nepal's most important religious sites. Chitwan National Park has something altogether different to offer – the opportunity to see a staggering wealth of wildlife. The chance to see Royal Bengal tigers, wild boar, leopard and one-horned rhinos make this a real highlight on any Nepalese itinerary.

Roop also mentioned that Nepal can act as a gateway to Tibet, explaining that you don't have to visit this destination via China, which is a common misapprehension. Combining a trip to Nepal with a foray into Tibet is a particularly attractive prospect for more adventurous travellers.

When to visit 

Broadly, the best times to visit Nepal are between September and November and from March to May, which is when the weather is at its best. Generally speaking, during these periods you can look forward to warm temperatures and clear skies – the latter being particularly important for good visibility when trekking.

It is usually best to avoid travelling between June and September, which is the wet season. However, Roop highlighted that the climate varies slightly from one place to the next, noting that Kathmandu is good to visit between October to April, but it's best to avoid May, June and July, while Pokhara is best avoided in January, when it's coldest.

Of course, climate is not the only thing that should influence when you travel. Roop noted that Diwali, which can be celebrated any time from the end of October to the beginning of November depending on the lunar calendar, can be a wonderful time to visit. The whole country celebrates this Hindu festival with the lighting of oil lamps and paper lanterns, not to mention wonderful food, creating a magical atmosphere.

Tips from our expert

Being something of an expert in travel to Nepal, Roop had a few additional tips to offer first-time travellers. Fitness, he noted, is really important if you will be trekking. Hastening to add that you by no means need to be an athlete, he explained that the level of climbing means you need to have a reasonable level of fitness and be injury-free.

And in terms of trekking, he suggested watching the sunrise over Pokhara from Fishtail Mountain, describing it as a "fantastic" experience.

What might surprise you is that he also recommend Nepal as a relaxation destination. There are a wealth of spas and yoga facilities, which makes it perfect for people who want to get away from it all – and of course, you can always mix this with a spot of wildlife viewing, trekking or cultural sightseeing to create a more varied itinerary.

Cox & Kings offers a range of holidays to Nepal, from group and private tours to tailor-made packages.

Photo credit: Thinkstock/ iStock

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