Home to eight out of ten of the world’s tallest mountains including the world’s highest peak, it is unsurprising that most people’s first thought when planning to travel Nepal is: Everest. In spite of the behemoth shadow cast by Everest on Nepal’s tourist industry, I managed to travel the length and breadth of Nepal without setting foot on the infamous mountain, in fact, I didn’t even pack my hiking boots. There is so much to Nepal that is not mountain-based. Here is a snippet of my experience.
You can’t spend time in Nepal without passing through its colourful capital, Kathmandu. Home to the country’s largest international airport, odds are if you are flying into Nepal you will pass through Kathmandu, so you may as well stop and stay a while. I landed in the capital city in June, just on the precipice of the rainy season. I was clad in a long-sleeved shirt and sensible trousers that reached past my knees.
Accompanying me was my trusty backpack, my comfiest trainers and two of my university friends whom I was introducing into the brand new world of travelling. To the avid traveller, Kathmandu has an air of familiarity about it. Potholed streets run by cluttered shop doorways that glitter with mementoes and souvenirs, that you promise yourself you will not buy this time. The enticing aromas of street food vendors mixed with the rich perfume of incense overwhelm your senses and you pass by bicycles and baskets filled with ripe mangoes being waved at you in a bid to attract the attention of your wallet.
For myself, arriving in Nepal’s capital, I felt a thick vein of pseudo-familiarity, interwoven with the tingling thrill you get when exploring a brand new city. Unfortunately for us, our all too brief visit to the capital did not fall over any of the amazing festivals that dominate the social calendar of Kathmandu valley. I myself was desperate to throw myself into the festivity of these events particularly if that included throwing holy powder in someone’s face. But alas we did not come at the right time. My companions and I were, however, lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Kumari: the living Goddess around whom one of the major festivals in Kathmandu was held. Supposedly the embodiment of the Goddess Taleju, Kumari, to me, was a young girl with a lot of pressure on her small shoulders.
Spoiled for choice when it came to National Parks, my friends and I opted to travel to Chitwan National Park in the south of Nepal. During our time there we got a taste of Nepalese rural life, we got to support the community and were welcomed in by families that had so much life to share with us. This is an experience that I thoroughly recommend and you too can experience when volunteering with WorkingAbroad in Nepal. Visit community projects and make a meaningful difference by supporting healthcare or environmental issues whilst you travel to a fascinatingly beautiful country.
Our experience with the local community of Chitwan was just a side bonus of our visit. We chose to head to the elongated elephant grasses of this national park because we wanted to trek for rhinos! Armed with daypacks and very comfortable shoes, we joined a walking safari on the chance that we would spot the endangered greater one-horned rhino and hopefully wouldn’t put us in the path of the infamous Bengal tiger.
The walking safari took us through dense forests littered with ‘rhino apples’ – small hard apples that are somewhat akin to a crabapple – made us wade through leech-infested waters and had us crouching amongst the sharp elephant grasses inspecting rhino droppings. We were very lucky in that our guide was born and bred in Chitwan so his local knowledge of the native flora and fauna was incredible but we were unlucky in that his sense of humour included gasping, “tiger!” at every turn and then laughing at our terrified faces! We saw six rhinos that day. A few barking deer, plenty of stork and herons and millions of bugs that ravages any exposed skin.
But the itching was worth it as we stopped for a water break in the shade of a mango tree and got to experience the zingy taste of the freshly fallen mangos that surrounded us. Despite not setting foot on anything that could be remotely described as a mountain, I do not feel that I missed out on anything in my trip around Nepal. So when you are next looking for a destination to travel to, look beyond the towering mass that is the world’s tallest mountain, to the vibrant and eclectic culture that envelops the country of Nepal. You might be surprised at what this beautiful, friendly country can offer.