As the Mecca for climbers and adventure-seekers, Nepal is home to Mount Everest - the tallest mountain, Kali Gandaki - the deepest gorge, and Tilicho Lake - the highest lake in the world. In addition, it stands out with the only national flag on the planet to be shaped with a double pennant, rather than a quadrilateral. Massively diverse, with over 80 different ethnicities represented in Nepal’s population, this country is a hive of vibrant handicrafts, colours, flavours, tastes, smells and sounds. One particularly distinct sound is that of car horns honking in the capital, as a road safety measure. Legend has it that the yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman) inhabits Nepal’s Himalayas.
With its ancient culture and the Himalayas as a backdrop, mountainous Nepal is a wealth of centuries-old stupas and temples. Bhutan, with the happiest citizens on earth, is an oasis of tranquillity. On this trip you will enjoy VIP treatment at a traditional mask dance and cultural show, explore the bustling streets of Thamel by rickshaw and flex your culinary skills preparing some Bhutanese delicacies.
Located between India and China, this landlocked country was the birthplace of Siddhartha Gotama, the founder of Buddhism. It is also a destination where cows are considered sacred, and there are certain courteous customs adopted, including: never using the left hand to eat with; not touching anyone on the head, as this is the most scared part of the body for the Nepalese; and formally greeting one another with hands pressed together (as if in prayer), while saying ‘Namaste’. Nepal also has its own calendar, running 57 years ahead of the Gregorian calendar.
The capital city of Kathmandu is alive with an almost electric hustle and bustle. This modern ‘buzz’ beautifully contrasts with Kathmandu’s historical DNA, with an impressive seven UNESCO World Heritage sites located here. Durbar Square and the ancient Royal Palace complex, abundant with a myriad of sacred temples, courtyards, and statues, has been the dwelling place of the Kumaris. These little girls are believed to be ‘Living Goddesses’ who are worshipped as manifestations of divine female energy. On the outskirts of Kathmandu, is the much-loved Buddhist temple of Swayambhunath, surrounded by smaller temples and shrines, and dating back to the 5th century. Alternatively known as the ‘Monkey Temple’, owing to its permanent wildlife residents, Swayambhunath is spirituality significant to both Buddhists and Hindus as a place of pilgrimage.
Separated from Kathmandu by the Bagmati River, Patan boasts the sky-piercing temple of Teleju, the Statue of Yogendra Malla, and Tibetan Handicraft Centre – all of which are worth visiting. On the banks of the Bagmati, lies the Pashupatinath Temple, known to be one of the holiest Hindu shrines and an architectural wonder. Further afield, Bodnath is another must-see destination, serving as one of the most important sites in the world to Buddhists. This stupa was likely built in the 14th century and is the biggest stupa in Nepal. Situated in the Jalgaon district, the Bhadgaon is the main square containing a wealth of temples and architectural showpieces that are awe-inspiring and humbling.
Neighbouring Tibet, China and India have all influenced the style of regional cuisine offered in Nepal, where potatoes, lentils, tomatoes, chilies, peppers, and strong flavours reign supreme. Rice forms the base of many dishes, with pulao (fried rice) available country-wide. Dal Bhat is a medley of rice or rice-substitutes, lentils, and side dishes such as pickles and chutney. If you like dumplings, Nepal’s momo are the closest match, with a meat or vegetable filling, and accompanied with dips. Curries such as Gorkhali lamb, goat, fish head, pork, and potato, pea and tomato curry prove to be among some of the most popular choices. Other savoury traditional dishes include: aalu tama (a blend of bamboo shoots and potatoes), chatamari (the Nepalese take on pizza), and gundruk dhido (fermented vegetables with corn porridge). Given that the cow is deemed sacred by those of faith, eating beef is prohibited.
Like main dishes, many Nepalese desserts make use of rice as the base ingredient and milk-based recipes are also common. Cow’s milk or buffalo’s milk is used to make a creamy, sweet curd known as juju dhau. Kheer consists of rice, nuts, dried fruit, sugar and saffron, combined to create a thick pudding. Another creamy dessert is sikarni – where sugar, green cardamom and saffron are used to flavour drained yoghurt. Even anarsa (a cookie) has rice as it’s foundation, combined with lemon, sesame seeds, ghee, cardamom, sugar and nuts. Carrot pudding is well-liked, as are all manner of sweets that not only taste divine but look beautiful too.
Rice even earns its place in Nepalese drinks, for example the alcoholic drink called chyang is made from fermented rice. Millet is another key ingredient in alcoholic beverages such as Tongba, which equates to a kind of hot beer. Aila is a liquor that can be made from fermented millet, grains and rice. Nepal makes its own wines, with popular choices being Nettlange (comprised of nettles and oranges), Divine (containing grapes, fruits, spices and tea), Hinwa (a fruity wine with raspberry, barberry and saffron), and different flavours of Dadaghare wine (made with fruit and honey). Local rum and whiskey prove to be cheaper alcohol choices than beer in Nepal. Drinking bottled mineral water is advisable and keep this in mind when choosing fruit juices as they are sometimes diluted with water. Common soft drinks available in the west can also be found here.
Landscape and wildlife
Nepal’s landscape includes the glorious mountains of the Himalayas, exotic jungles, wetlands containing caves, and lowlands. Turtles, crocodiles, lizards, and a variety of snakes, such as vipers, pythons and cobras, can all be found in Nepal. A broad range of mammals of varying size make Nepal a sought-after destination among wildlife-lovers. Wolves, sloths, bears, monkeys, hyenas, antelopes, wild boar, the Asiatic elephant, Royal Bengal tigers, leopards, deer, buffaloes and the one-horned rhinoceros all reside here. Kathmandu has a high percentage of Nepal’s species of bird inhabiting its valley, some of which are exceptionally rare breeds. Differing landscapes offer the ideal habitat for vultures, cranes, storks, partridges, pheasants, eagles, raptors, and a multitude of additional breeds.