Wedged between the high Himalaya and the steamy Indian plains, Nepal is a land of snow peaks and Sherpas, yaks and yetis, monasteries and mantras. Nepal is the very watershed of Asia. Squeezed between India and Tibet, it stretches from rich subtropical forest to soaring Himalayan peaks: from jungly tiger habitat to the precipitous hunting grounds of the snow leopard. Climbing the hillside of one valley alone, you can be sweltering in the shade of a banana palm in the morning, and sheltering from a snowstorm in the afternoon.
The Nepal Himalaya is the ultimate goal for most mountain lovers. Some of the Hima‑ laya’s most iconic and accessible hiking is on offer here, with rugged trails to Everest, the Annapurnas and beyond, and most trekking areas escaped with only minor damage in the 2015 earthquake. Then there’s the adrenaline kick of raft‑ ing a roaring Nepali river or bungee jump‑ ing into a bottomless Himalayan gorge.
Canyoning, climbing, kayaking, paragliding and mountain biking all offer a rush against the backdrop of some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes.
- Old Kathmandu
Even after the 2015 earthquake, the historic centre of old Kathmandu remains an open-air architectural museum of magnificent medieval temples, pagodas, pavilions and shrines. Once oc- cupied by Nepal’s cloistered royal family and still home to the Kumari, Kathmandu’s very own living goddess, Durbar Square is the gateway to a maze of medieval streets that burst even more vividly to life during spectacular festivals.
- Everest Base Camp Trek
Topping many people’s travel bucket list is this two-week-long trek to the base of the world’s highest, and most hyped, mountain. Despite some earthquake damage, and only limited views of Mount Everest itself, the sur- rounding Himalayan peaks are truly awe- some, and the half-hour you spend watch- ing the alpenglow ascend beautiful Pumori or Ama Dablam is worth all the altitude headaches you will doubtless suffer. The crowds can be thick in October but the welcome at the Sherpa lodges is as warm as the fresh apple pie that is served.
- Mountain Biking
Fat tyres, a soft padded seat and 17 more gears than the average Nepali bike the mountain bike is an ideal, go anywhere, versatile machine for exploring Nepal. These attributes make it possible to escape sealed roads, and to ride tracks and ancient walk‑ ing trails to remote, rarely visited areas of the country. Importantly, they allow a liberating freedom of travel you can stop whenever you like and they free you from crowded buses and claustrophobic taxis.
Of the three former city-states – all Un- esco sites – that jostled for power over the Kathmandu Valley, medieval Bhaktapur (p152) is the most atmospheric. Despite severe damage in the 2015 quake, its back- streets still burst with temples and pagodas. Winding lanes lead onto squares used by locals for drying corn and making pottery – you’ll have to pick your way around earth- quake damage to explore but the streets are still fabulously evocative. For the full experi- ence, stay overnight in a guesthouse or attend one of the city’s fantastic festivals.
- Views from Pokhara
Nepal’s second-biggest tourist town (p207) may lack the historical depth of Kathmandu, but it more than makes up for this with a seductively laid-back vibe and one of the country’s most spectacular locations. The dawn views of Machhapuch- hare and Annapurna, mirrored in the calm waters of Phewa Tal (p207), or seen from the town’s hilltop viewpoints, are simply unforgettable. Take them in on a trek, from the saddle of a mountain bike or, best of all, dangling from a paraglider high above the valley floor.
High Season (Oct–Nov)
Clear skies and warm days make autumn the peak season.
Thousands of people hit the trails in the Everest and Annapurna regions, accommodation in Kathmandu gets booked up and prices peak.
The second‑best time to visit and trek, spring brings warm weather and spectacular rhododendron blooms.
Low Season (Jun–Sep)
The monsoon rains (mostly at night) bring landslides, and clouds often obscure mountain views. Rain, mud and leeches deter most trekkers, but hefty hotel discounts are common and this is a popular time to travel overland to Tibet.