Probably the only place in the world where you can sit at 1000 m and glance the panoramic views of marvels at 8000 m.
Beyond Kathmandu’s obvious touristy choices like Bhaktapur, Patan, Basantpur, Thamel etc lies a road less taken. The road takes you even closer to the Newari culture and scenic beauty that one craves to find in Kathmandu but fails to.
Not everyone can make it to high altitude Himalayan regions of Nepal. Places like Pokhara fulfils that void that exists between 100 percent of a city and mountain life. Century-old cities like Kirtipur and Bandipur are centres of Newari lifestyle which one should not miss when in Nepal.
Another City to Experience Newari Lifestyle – Kirtipur
On the outskirts of Kathmandu, one would think that there isn’t much to see. But here I got additional flavours of Newari lifestyle as if they weren’t enough from what I got at Bhaktapur, Basantpur or Patan.
The origin of Kirtipur town dates back to the Pre-Lichhavi period making it as one of the oldest Newari settlements in Kathmandu Valley. The city started rising as an anti-monarchy since the residents were against the Shah dynasty. The movement helped in overthrowing the king’s rule in Nepal.
Though even being conquered by Prithvi Narayan Shah in the 18th century, it faced constant discontentment from people’s side since the King got the nose of all people cut after their defeat. All of this became history as the Battle of Kirtipur.
Before entering into this mosaic of closely spaced concrete boxes, this collage of colourful human inhibited cuboids stunned me. I took a good look at it. Once I entered inside, I was taken aback. Inside, laid the real gems. The gems of Newari Architecture. Little detailed houses that looked like from an era back then.
The premises of Bagh Bhairab Temple
The Durbar Square also offers splendid aerial views of the Kathmandu valley since it’s located on a hilltop. Very interestingly, the northwest part of the town is Hindu while the southeast is Buddhist.
Places to see in Kirtipur
· Chilancho Stupa built by Emperor Ashoka, Taudaha Lake, Uma Maheshwar Temple, Naya Bazaar having Thai style Theravada Buddhist Temple and Dev Pukku which is Kirtipur’s only source of water are some places to see.
· Neighbouring areas of Chovar and Panga can also be visited.
Places to stay in Kirtipur: Kirtipur Hillside Hotel
Places to eat at in Kirtipur: Newa Lahana serves authentic Newari food.
How to reach Kirtipur?
Buses from Ratna bus park in Kathmandu leave in every 30 minutes for Kirtipur. (time taken: 25 mins) (bus fare: 15 INR)
Distance from Kathmandu: 8 km
Thamel to Naya Bazar, Kirtipur Cab fare: 400 INR
Tips: There are plenty of things to do and see here. I couldn’t do much in just 1 hour. But it is suggested to spend at least 2 night here.
Located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, this Buddhist monastery is now famous for teaching Buddhism to its western visitors.
The only memory from here was to watch a rainbow rising from the Kathmandu valley.
Distance from Thamel: 8.6 km (It is nearby to Boudanath)
Sightseeing Route Options:
Thamel – Shree Pashupathinath Temple – Boudanath Stupa – Kopan Monastery – kirtipur (overnight stay)
Life in the Mid Hills – Nuwakot District
At an altitude of 900 m, an extremely fertile valley with red soil and middle hills sit right in between the planes of the city and higher extremities of the Himalayas. Nuwakot is a warm and lush green area fed by the Trisuli river which originates from Tibet.
Tourist flow isn’t much here and I guess that feels like the greatest blessing for someone looking for solitude away from Kathmandu. The roads take your body for a jerky ride but the destination will be worth it.
The 18th-century seven-story palace (Saat Tale) in Bidur Municipality has a tentative timeline of 2021 completion.
In this area, Prithvi Narayan Shah got another Durbar Square made. The presence of this fortified citadel is a piece of evidence to the age-old Trans Himalayan trade practices.
The region came under Shah dynasty once Prithvi Narayan Shah became the king of neighbouring region Gorkha. From here the king started his invasion over Malla cities of Kirtipur, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur/Patan.
Pujari Ji from the temple takes care of the surrounding area and looks after the visitors coming to seek blessings. The idol is currently kept in a makeshift temple since the original Bhairabi Mandir is under construction.
A two-way stroll around the Bazar area while going towards the Durbar Square gave me an idea about people’s life. I saw a lot of houses which got damaged during 2015 earthquake.
This region suffered the maximum damage since the Gorkha region, being the epicentre, is located just 40 km west of Nuwakot.
A lot of houses were still getting rebuilt and a lot of them stood transformed. To save on expenses and time, locals chose to do only the front façade in Newari architectural style.
50 km up from the Durbar Square area, Langtang Himal provides great trekking opportunities.
I was constantly juggling between concentrating on my clean Nepali Bhoj and the views that I could gaze at, no matter from whichever corner, each side looked majestic.
Etymologically, Nuwakot means ‘Nine Hills’. Nine deities are said to dwell on these nine hills protecting the whole Nuwakot. And by construction, there is a total of nine forts included the Nuwakot one.
· Langtang National Park and Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park, both are located within this district. Make sure to visit them too.
· Devighat (near the confluence point of Trisuli and Tadi rivers) is a historically significant point where the death place of Prithvi Narayan Shah is.
· Kakani is another village in the district which is a good sunset spot.
· Malika Temple and Kalika Temple are nearby to the Nuwakot Durbar Square. One can plan to visit those too.
· Try planning your trip around the Bull Fighting festival that happens only in villages like Taruka & Betrawati.
· Sindure Jatra (on April’s full moon) is another unique festival that is celebrated at the Durbar Square.
Distance from Kathmandu: 224 Km
Regular buses ply from Gongu Bus Park in Kathmandu till Trishuli Bazaar (time taken: 3-4 hours). Nuwakot is another hour away from here. (2-hr hike)
Recommended Stay in Nuwakot
The Famous Farm, Nuwarkot
A citadel located just in the centre of a beautiful valley overlooking lush greenery, Nuwakot’s Famous Farm takes you back to the time of traditionally decorated royal cottages.
The lodge is a place to spend at least a week at. Though I was here for a day only, I felt it became close to my heart. I wanted my little world to be just here. Few times during the day, I used to walk between the organic gardens, open kitchen, lounge chairs to watch the sunset and my room’s balcony.
Royal camping in the Wild – Begnas Lake Area, Kaski District
I was eventually made assured that Nepal government invested all its money in the mountainous regions to provide world-class facilities to trekkers. All along my journey to Kaski district, the highways that we had to cross were in horrendous condition. Narrow, tarmacked yet muddy roads and decreased vehicular speed due to trucks made the ride miserable.
But once I was taken to my stay place in Saaldanda, things eventually settled down in my mind and body.
The huge Begnas lake looked glittering in the afternoon hours. From my viewpoint, I couldn’t make out how big it was. By facts, I got to know that it was the second largest lake in the region and third-largest in Nepal. And apart from Begnas and Phewa, there were seven more lakes in the district.
I have to admit this was the best ‘WORK WITH A VIEW’ scenario of my entire life. I never thought that I would be lucky enough to see the entire mountain range even in the monsoon season. The clouds showed some mercy. And I was on cloud nine!
The lake was a 15-min walk from my stay place. The region is known for its trekking routes to Ghandruk, Dhampus and Poonhill which are in the Annapurna ranges.
Possible Hiking Routes:
Annapurna Royal Camp – Ban Pokhari Community – Begnas Lake – Maidi Lake – Trail to Leknath Museum (Time taken: 4 hours)
Distance from Kathmandu: 194 km (time taken: 6 hours highway drive)
Regular buses do ply at a cost of 1000 INR and take about 8 hours.
Distance from Pokhara: 40-min by bus
Recommended Stay near Begnas Lake
Annapurna Royal Camp, Saaldanda
The royal camps are located in Saaldanda. For a day I felt close to the massive peaks of the Annapurnas, Lamjung Himal and Machhapuchhare. For two mornings, I saw the sun rising yet staying misty all day since it was a monsoon season.
And the advantage of monsoons was to camp royally in the lush green beauty which was around Begnas Lake.
The tent was extremely spacious with luxurious attached bathrooms and individual balcony spaces.
· One can also opt to stay in a dorm room. ‘Sanu lake on d water’ is a great option with dorm rooms at around 500 Npr per person.
· Do stop by Mom’s Bakery at Begnas Tal for a quick sugar level-up.
To one of the most Scenic Valleys – Pokhara
I have visited numerous mountainous regions in my life and Pokhara stands firmly holding its position in the top. My love affair with Pokhara initiates from the shores of Phewa/Fewa Lake and stretches up to the Annapurna Ranges.
Just being in that environment, surrounded by the vibes of the place, you would instantly feel like climbing those mountains and looking at them up and closely, even if you are not a trekker.
In 1977, when Annapurna got opened for foreign trekkers it saw a tourism boom. As a result, the main Pokhara Bazaar (Pokhara Lakeside) came up with cafes, restaurants, hotels, bars and guest houses.
Distance from Kathmandu: 200 km (Time taken: 7-8 hours)
How to reach Pokhara?
Volvo buses: Regular Volvo buses and govt. buses ply from Kathmandu till Pokhara. They start early morning from Kathmandu and take about 7-8 hours to reach Pokhara.
Private Volvo charges: 883 INR
There is a night bus too by Jagdamba Operators. (departs at 8 pm from Balaju Bus park) (cost: 1100-1500 NPR)
Local buses: Depart every hour once they are full from Kalanki Bus park in Kathmandu. (6 am – 5 pm) (cost: 450 NPR)
White minivans also operate (cost: 500 NPR)
Daily flights operate from Kathmandu to Pokhara but it advisable to take the road to reduce your carbon footprint due to plane emissions. (time taken: 25 minutes) (cost: 119 USD)
Places to see in Pokhara
I have seen the sunrise while slowly drifting on a lake. I have ended my day doing nothing
but just gazing at the sunset across the Phewa Lake. I have lived the best days of my life and
I am grateful to the universe for giving me multiple chances to visit Pokhara.
The Phewa Lakeside is always bustling with tourists since all the fancy cafes and restaurants
occupy both sides of the street. I always enjoy walking from the South end to the North.
The best views of the lake are from this shady park at Phewa Dam in dam side early in the morning.
Sarangkot happened again after a gap of 1 year and I had to get a picture at my favourite spot.
The process of seeing a sunrise is rigorous, trust me. It requires you to lift your lazy asses off those comfy mattresses, get ready for a ride up the hill by 4.30 am and reserve your perfect spot to see the sun waking up the valley in a way you couldn’t wake yourself up with. In the monsoon season, with the rising sun, the cloud cover starts to get dense instead of getting diminished.
There are three parts to this dramatical show by nature.
On the extreme left, mountains like Dhaulagiri range, Annapurna and Machhapuchhare change their skin colour from white to orange, extreme right side goes under a blanket of clouds which keep floating at an unbelievably low altitude and then there is this middle part.
It is busy in making way for the rising sun.
To witness this, I am always readily available to follow the above-mentioned rigorous process.
I have also heard about a new place called Kahun Danda for sunrise spotting but didn’t visit it.
Peace Pagoda or Shanti Stupa at Ananda Hill
At 1100 m on Ananda Hill, this white marvel is the epitome of splendour. Not just because of it being white, huge and an element of Buddhist architecture but also standing midst the Himalayas flanked by a huge lake.
This symbol of peace was built by Japanese Buddhists in 1999. It requires a little hike of 15 minutes via stairs. Once the pagoda starts coming into the picture, everything starts to make sense.
Tip: Instead of getting your vehicle till here, there is another interesting route. Take a boat ride from lakeside to the other side of the like. Then from there, the hiking trails begins once you have crossed the Lychee Garden Hotel on the lakeshore. It winds up to the lush Raniban forest. (Hiking time: 45 mins one way)
This gushing waterfall is a result of river Pardi Khola which comes from Phewa lake, disappearing deep underground, travelling for 1 km before sprouting out at Devi’s waterfall.
Gupteshwor Mahadev Temple and Cave
A naturally occurring Shiva Lingam was found in this 3 km long cave during the 16th century. It is located near the place where river Seti emerges from underground.
Apart from this, there are limestone caves too which are known for their stalagmites and stalactites, they are Bat cave and Mahendra cave. One can visit those too. I was too afraid of the bats to actually visit it.
Seti River Gorge
The emerald-coloured river is known for its deceptiveness. It often turns to milky white when in full force. There is a park in Old Pokhara from where the gorge can be seen.
Taal Barahi Temple
The small island temple is 10-min boat trip away from Barahi Chowk on lake side. The two-storey pagoda temple is dedicated to Ajima, the boar manifestation of Shakti, the Hindu mother goddess who is the origin of universal creativity and power.
The place is usually crowded on Saturdays which is a day for sacrifices.
The local boat ride was a fun element. The design innovation here is commendable. Two wooden boats are joined with a seating space attached to a motor! Genius!
Tibetan Refugee Settlement
There are four such settlements in Pokhara; Tashi Palkhiel, Tashi Ling, Jampaling and Parjorling.
I visited Tashi Palkhiel and found these women making carpets in one of the factories.
There is a monastery too, Jangchub Choeling.
Pokhara Old Town
The old Bazaar of Pokhara is a Newari settlement. I got to know this on my second visit to Pokhara. Both sides of the streets, like all other Newari settlements, takes you back in time. With orange and red facades, 2 to 3 story buildings looked vintage to me which they actually were. Most of them were carefully preserved.
The ground floor of most of the buildings was being used as a retail shop. Due to this reason, some facades were plastered with ugly billboards.
At the northern end of the old bazaar, Bindhyabhasini Temple is one of the most important Hindu temples here. Saturdays and Tuesdays are the days for animal sacrifices.
International Mountaineering Museum
This mountain-inspired skyline structure is made at the foothills of Machhapuchhare peak. I loved how the museum apart from telling all about the history of mountaineering included deep information on different communities of Nepal as per different regions.
Apart from this, you can also visit the Gorkha Memorial Museum.
Possible routes within Pokhara
Pick up from Hotel – Sunrise at Sarangkot – Seti River – Mountaineering Museum – Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave – Davis Fall – Tibetan Settlement – Pokhara Market drop off
For this route, my taxi drives charged me 1800 INR in total.
- Bicycles are the best option to get around Pokhara. You will be accompanied by fellow bikers and travelers on the road. The roads are also pretty nice for the ride.
- If you plan to go with a cycle up till Sarangkot and Peace Pagoda, make sure you rent a good quality mountain bike.
- Pokhara is a hub of adventure activities. You name it and this place has it. From paragliding to one of Asia’s highest bungee jumping, kayaking to river rafting; fulfil your adrenaline dreams in this gorgeous place.
Recommended Stay in Pokhara
Lake Side Retreat, Pokhara
Just at a walking distance from the lake, Lake Side Retreat with its serene setting and luxurious facilities becomes a perfect retreat.
The plush rooms with ultra-modern interiors and exteriors with facilities like a swimming pool and gardens takes one on a holiday retreat journey. The retreat also comes with facilities like a spa and a beauty health care centre. Rooms’ balconies overlook the beautiful gardens and a huge swimming pool.
Other then this, Zostel Pokhara and Pokhara Backpacker Hostel are the best hostels of this region.
Cafe Recommendations from Pokhara
- Himalayan Java Coffee
- Mo2’s Delights
- The New Marwadi Restaurant
- French Creperie
- White Rabbit Coffee
- Godfather’s Pizza
- Caffe Concerto
- Sukra Bar
- Asian Tea House
- The Kebab King
- The Lemon Tree
Having Elephants and Rhinos as my Neighbours – Chitwan National Park
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is known for its protection of One-Horned Rhino, Royal Bengal Tiger and Gharial crocodile. With the facts that I have read online, it seemed like one of the best national parks of Asia to spot wildlife. The area of the park is around 932 sq km.
Our guide from Machan Country Villa was quite a daring soul to pick this snake with his bare hands.
I spotted Rhinos and Deer the most. Spotted some of them bathing, some looking for food and some just roaming freely.
Spotting the Royal Bengal Tiger is always a task. My guide was depending on its paws’ imprints and his years of experience of driving down around the tiger’s favourite locations. But, hard luck!
The nights were thoroughly made fun-filled by the dance of the local Tharu community. The performance was a part of my stay at Machan Country Villa.
- Opt. for a jeep safari instead of an animal one. Riding domesticated animals like elephants is against animal rights and classified as animal abuse.
- Apparently, monsoons aren’t the best season for wildlife spotting. I would suggest you plan your trip around winters where you will find most animals sunbathing. And in summers, you will find them bathing in water.
- Do visit the elephant breeding centre and the villages of Tharu community. Breeding centres are an important measure towards the protection of endangered species. Some people may consider it as another form of animal abuse but it’s the lowest form of it. There are two sides to this practice in different countries.
- There are many other activities which one can do like canoe ride on Rapti river, jungle walk, bird watching, jeep safari and village tour.
- During your time in the jungle, avoid talking loudly, wearing bright colored clothes or playing loud music.
- Do carry a strong mosquito repellent.
Read about my Manas National Park, Assam experience from India, here
Recommended Stay in Chitwan National Park
Machan Country Villa
For a night, I was surrounded by the orchestra played by hundreds of insects, birds and a few animals that were around me in then Sal Forest of Chitwan National Park. Even though I was sleeping in the villa which was in the wild, I had a peaceful time at the Newari styled property of Machan Country Villa.
The villa especially focuses on water and electricity conservation. I loved their grand dining hall, it had cosy little corners to it.
Kathmandu – Kirtipur – Kopan Monastery – Nuwakot (overnight stay) – Begnas Lake (overnight stay) -Pokhara (2-night stay) – Chitwan National Park (Overnight stay)
How to reach Chitwan National Park?
Regular tourist buses ply from Kathmandu (cost: 500-600 INR) (time taken: 7-8 hours)
From Thamel end of Kantipath, it departs at around 7 am.
From Pokhara, it departs at 7:30 am. It drops at Bachhauli tourist bus park. (cost: 400-450 INR) (time taken: 5-6 hours)
How to reach Nepal?
By road (How to reach Nepal by road from India?)
Sunauli border crossing is the busiest India-Nepal border crossing. The buses take you to Bhairahawa in central Nepal.
Panitanki Border Crossing is another point in far eastern Nepal to cross the border. The route goes towardsKakarbhitta in far eastern Nepal via Siliguri in West Bengal. It is open for 24 hours. Kathmandu is 14-16 hours away from here.
Birganj and Raxaul are the other two crossing points for tourists between India and Nepal.
Via Raxaul: from Patna (a state in India), it is a journey of 6 hours.
Via Birganj- How to go to Kathmandu from Birganj?
From Birganj, India-Nepal border is 3-km away.
Border opening timings: 6 am-11 pm
Visa issuing time from Nepal side: Until 6 pm
Once you are in Nepal side of the border, there are regular buses that ply to Pokhara and Kathmandu. Sharing taxis are also available.
How to go to Birganj (India) from Kathmandu?
From Gongabu Bus Park (10 minutes from Thamel), buses leave for Birganj
Prices: Regular Bus- 550 NPR
A/C deluxe or Tourist bus- 800 NPR
Direct Bus service from Delhi to Kathmandu
Yes, this exists since 2014. The AC Volvo buses start from Dr.Ambedkar Stadium Bus Terminal. It departs daily at 10 a.m.
Cost: 2300 INR (one way)
Time takes: 30 hours
If crazy Himalayan views interest you, then by air from Delhi to Kathmandu is the best option. Tribhuvan International Airport is currently the only one of its kind in Nepal. Pokhara airport is expected to open by 2021.
I loved my experience with Nepal Airlines.
Travel time: 1 and a half hours
From Delhi to Gorakhpur, trains are available. Then from Gorakhpur till Kathmandu, it is a 15-hour long journey on a bus.
Gorakhpur to Sunauli (Indian border)- 3 hours journey
A new direct passenger train between India and Nepal will soon be on the run.
Best season to visit Nepal
The summer months May to July are really hot. The sun feels like a burn on the skin.
From July till early October, monsoon season stays. It rains sometimes during the day otherwise it becomes too hot and humid in Pokhara. Kathmandu stays hot but less humid. It rains mostly post afternoon during this season and that too almost every day.
October till January the season is one of the best times to visit Nepal. During day time, it`s bright and sunny which seems perfect in the winter months. The nights become cold and chilly. December till March remain particularly chilly.
Indians don’t require any visa or passport to enter Nepal. Only an authorised identification card is required (Voter ID card)
For countries other than India, you may check out the visa details here.
Things to Remember
· Even if you are an Indian and don’t require a passport to enter Nepal, just carry it anyway. It makes the hotel check-in processes and every other thing quite smooth.
· In Nepal, Indian currency notes of 500 and 2000 are banned. Carry only Rs 100, 200 notes and notes lower than this denomination.
· Personal transportation in Nepal is extremely expensive. Look for shared taxis and public buses in the region to commute.
· Don’t be disappointed when you see construction going on at all of the Durbar Squares. Respect the spirit of rebuilding the heritage again. Nepal is slowly but surely recovering from the effects of the 2015 earthquake.
· Travel sustainably by carrying your basic cutlery and a refillable water bottle.
· You can buy a Ncell sim as soon as you reach the airport. It is reasonably priced with average data and call charges.
· While withdrawing cash from the ATM, make sure to get a good amount in the first transaction only because otherwise bank fees of 500 Nepali rupees will be levied on every transaction.
· Though all currencies are widely accepted but Indian, US Dollars, Euros and Pounds seems like the best option.
· One can assume a backpacker budget between 1000-1500 Indian Rupee per day for survival.
Nepal is a lot like India. Many similar traditions, religions, religious activities and rituals exist. Yet every time I visit the country it feels different to me. Maybe because like India, each city has its own charm and is embedded with an unfathomable amount of history. It’s out there and yet so mysterious. The trip got completed with unimaginably beautiful views of the mighty Himalayas.