Nepal – More than Mountains & Mountaineers

I have almost been avoiding writing this post.

Since returning from Nepal, I have been struggling to order my thoughts and photos, and process all that I have seen. I really am at a bit of a loss to know where to start.

First point though: Don’t believe the travel brochures. There is so much more to this country than its glorious mountains. Although we only enjoyed a ridiculously short four-day visit, it was jam packed with exotic sights, sounds and smells and NOT ONCE did I pull on my hiking boots!

If you enjoy contrasting culture, riotous colours and super-friendly people – all at a very cost-effective price – then make sure you bump Nepal up your Bucket List.

Walking with Nabin through Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu Nepal
Walking with Nabin through Bhaktapur, near Kathmandu Nepal

Our Nepalese guide, Nabin, informed us that 20% of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product comes from tourism, and of that, 80% is hiking or trekking related. Our group was determined to make up for the remaining 20%! I doubt that Nabin had ever struck a noisier bunch of women, or more dedicated shoppers!

So, here are a few recommendations:

Use a Guide and/or Driver: Yes, we could have ‘easily’ moved around Nepal as independent travellers, but I feel we gained so much more by having a guide and a driver to move us from point to point, and to share information along the way. I learned fascinating things like:

  • If you intentionally kill a cow in Nepal, the penalty is 20 years jail.
  • It takes around six hours to drive 100km in Nepal.
  • It costs $US150 for a wood cremation at the river in Kathmandu, or $US50 for an electric cremation.

I know I am strange, but I just love these little insights. I am not sure you could gather all this trivia by traveling solo.

A traditional Nepalese curry dinner.
A traditional Nepalese curry dinner.

Food: If you love curry, then you have come to right country! It is possible to eat curry at every meal of the day as well as in between, but don’t worry, in the hotels and cafes Western food is readily available. I adopted a ‘when in Rome’ attitude and sampled the local food at every opportunity. On the whole, the curries were delicious, although a couple did blow my head off and thoroughly cleansed sundry passages (sorry, too much information I know). The Nepalese tend to eat only two meals a day, and a favourite format is like a tasting plate with small bowls of lentil soup, various curries, all surrounding a not-so-small mountain of white rice.

For the less adventurous, momos are a good option. Tasty little steamed buns of meat and vegetables. Almost like a Chinese dumpling. Add some super-spicy Druk’s Lime Pickle to really make those taste buds tango around your whole mouth.

The Buddhist Stupa in Kathmandu
The Buddhist Stupa in Kathmandu

Temples: Take your pick of a religion, and there is a stunning temple to match. The Hindu temples are sometimes more subdued, but often feature the most intricate carving and gilt work. Of course the Buddhist stupa in Kathmandu is a riot of colour, and I simply could not get enough of the vibrant prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.

Some of the temples in Kathmandu and surrounding suburbs are still being pieced back together after a massive earthquake hit the region in 2015. It was pleasing to see the World unite behind this task with many foreign countries providing aid funds to carry out the restoration. It will be a very long and labour intensive process, but perhaps it is a true labour of love.

Young women being trained in the fine art of Mandala painting, Bhaktapur. Nepal
Young women being trained in the fine art of Mandala painting, Bhaktapur. Nepal

Shopping: OMG! I am not a shopper, but there is enough temptation in this country to weaken even the strongest resolve. There are the usual mass-produced trinkets that seem to pop up in every Asian city, but Nepal has its own unique range of arts and crafts, mostly in vivid colours, that almost leapt off the shelves and into my shopping basket:

  • Glorious shawls, scarves and pashminas in limitless colour mixes and designs. Heavy woven ones that would repel the worst Nepalese Winters, to seductively silken shawls that seem to drip through your fingers like gold.
  • Carpets that sing with local design motifs, in every size imaginable.
  • Jewellery weighed down by local stones and ornate metal work, and
  • More brightly coloured clothing than you could ever hope to wear in a million lifetimes.
Temple restoration projects in Bhaktapur, Nepal
Temple restoration projects in Bhaktapur, Nepal

My favourite purchase for around $AUD12.00 (Yes, I probably paid too much) was a stone that had been tumbled down the river from the Himalayan Mountains. When it was split open, it revealed a stunning ammonite fossil, in almost perfect relief. Now that is my kind of souvenir.

Aid Projects: Other than the multiple temple restoration projects, the aid dollar is busy in Nepal – training deaf and blind people or upskilling widowed ladies. Many of these projects have a retail arm providing the all-important income stream from the workers. No, you don’t haggle in these outlets as your tourism dollar is going to a good cause. (I will go into more detail about the good things achieved by these projects in a future post).

Spices, anyone? Nepal
Spices, anyone? Nepal

Or Simply Walk the Streets: There is so much activity on the streets in Nepal, it is day-long free entertainment. Whether it is marvelling at the traffic as it flows onto the wrong side of the road and around a mob of sleepy cows, trying to mentally unravel the electrical cabling that defies gravity suspended from leaning power poles, or watching the passage of women in brilliantly-hued saris as they go about their daily routine. What is not to love?

Wherever you turn in Nepal, there is a photo opportunity and a shake-your-head moment.

Don’t be put off by the saturation promotion of hiking in the Himalayas. While that would be a wonderful experience too, anyone can enjoy Nepal without even breaking a sweat!

Are you ready for a gentle Nepalese adventure?

April 2017

The Basics

Fresh coconut for sale at Pokhara, Nepal
Fresh coconut for sale at Pokhara, Nepal

What: A four-day NSW Country Women’s Association tour to Nepal. Those ladies REALLY know how to shop!

Where: We visited Bhaktapur, Patan, Pokhara, and Kathmandu.

When: We visited Nepal in late April – their Spring. A perfect time to visit with beautiful temperatures during the day and only a light jacket needed at nightime.

Why: Visit Nepal to meet warm and welcoming people, see stunning architecture and learn A LOT.

How: We flew from Kuala Lumpur to Nepal on Malaysian Airlines, and internal flights on Buddha Air.

Who: Nine Country Women’s Association members, three daughters and one exceptionally brave husband!

Related Posts: For more of my Asian adventures, have a look at my post about volunteering in Vietnam for a month.

Related Blogs: For really comprehensive coverage of Nepal, including mountains, have a look at:

Read About It: for a limitless range of guide books, fiction and non-fiction stories about Nepal, check out Book Depository

Shopping expedition in Patan, near Kathmandu Nepal
Shopping expedition in Patan, near Kathmandu Nepal

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