Nepal is known as the abode of the gods. For many years a secret, unknown country, it was, in the 1950s, faced with making a leap from the 11th century to modern times. Visited first by mountaineers and trekkers, it later became the haunt of hippies. In 1989, restrictions barring several areas to tourists were lifted. The Nepalese Government has set aside more than 35 per cent of the total area of the country as natural sanctuaries. There are now nine National Parks and three wildlife reserves, located both in the mountainous zones as well as in the tropical plains. The Terai lowlands in the south form the richest habitat in the country. Five protected areas are located in the region and many species of wildlife, including the rare Royal Bengal tiger and leopard, can be observed.

, the capital and also the cultural, commercial and business hub of the Kingdom, is a magical place. In the centre is Durbar Square where there is a wonderful collection of temples and shrines, both Buddhist and Hindu. They are generally built in the pagoda style with a mass of intricate exterior carving. The old Royal Palace is in the square, as is the Statue of Hanuman the Monkey God, clad in a red cloak. Here also is the house of the living goddess - the Kumari. A few kilometres from Kathmandu is the hugely impressive Bodnath Stupa. It has become a centre of Tibetan exile culture and is a good place to buy Tibetan handicrafts and artefacts. Climbing upwards from the city one can reach the famous Buddhist stupa of Swayambhunath, popularly known as the Monkey Temple. There are a great many steps leading up to the temple, which is frequented by an even greater number of monkeys. The monkeys should be treated with some caution since their behaviour can be unpredictable. The monkey temple is noted for its large staring eyes. There are also a number of monasteries. Respect should be shown for local sensitivities when visiting religious sites or temples.

EXCURSIONS : Just 5km (3 miles) west of the city, below the Nagarjun Forest, are the Balaju Water Gardens, with a reclining statue of Lord Vishnu and a 22-headed seadragon fountain. Around 19km (12 miles) south of Kathmandu, and accessible by taxi, are the Godavari Royal Botanical Gardens housing trees, shrubs and beautiful orchids in an idyllic setting.

BHAKTAPUR: Kathmandu was once one of three equal cities, the other two being Patan and Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur (also known as the ‘temple city’) is located some 12km (7.5 miles) from Kathmandu in the eastern part of the valley. The Kathmandu Valley’s rich cultural and natural heritage has prompted UNESCO to list seven World Heritage Sites in the area. The National Art Gallery, located in the old Malla Palace, has unusual, colourful animal paintings on the second floor which are worth a look. Other museums in Bhaktapur are the National Woodworking Museum, showing fine examples of Newari woodcarving (for which the city is renowned), and the Brass and Bronze Museum, both in Dattatreya Square.

PATAN : Patan is located at the southern end of the Kathmandu Valley and is famous for its bronze and silverware. The city contains many ancient historic and artistic landmarks, including Patan Durbar Square (also the location for the interesting Patan Museum), Krishna Mandir, the Royal Bath, the Kumbheshwor Temple and the Golden Temple. Patan has the Jawalakhel Zoo, housing exotic South Asian animals.

ELSEWHERE : There are shrines for every purpose in the valley, such as the Shrine of Ganesh the Elephant God, reputed to bring good luck. There are four Ganesh temples in the valley, each a masterpiece of Nepalese architecture - one in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, one in Chabahil, one in Chobar and one near Bhaktapur. Lumbini, being the birthplace of Lord Buddha, is one of the world’s most important pilgrimage sites. The Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal’s first national park, is a jungle overflowing with wildlife. There are many lodges here offering visitor accommodation, canoeing, white-water rafting and elephant rides. Nagarkot Village, situated on rice steppes in magnificent countryside, provides spectacular views of Mount Everest, mist permitting. The hill town of Gorkha is the ancestral home of the Shah Dynasty and residence of the original Gurkha soldiers. There is a lively bazaar and the Royal Trek to Pokhara begins here.

The secluded town of Pokhara lies 200km (125 miles) west of Kathmandu in the centre of Nepal on Lake Phewa. No other place in the world commands such a view of the Himalayas. It is a starting point for mountaineers and trekkers, and was at one time the home of JRR Tolkien.

, an enchanting city nestled in the tranquil valley (827 m), is the starting point for many of Nepal's most popular trekking and rafting destinations. The serenity of Phewa lake and the magnificence of Fishtail (Machhapuchhre 6,977 m) rising behind it create an ambience of peace and magic. The valley surrounding Pokhara is home to thick forests, gushing rivers, clear lakes and the world famous views of the Himalayas. Pokhara is a place of remarkable natural beauty.

One of the principal reasons for visiting Nepal must be either to see or to climb the mountains, especially Mount Everest. Located in Sagarmatha National Park in the Khumbu region bordering Tibet, the mountain’s appropriate Nepalese name is Sagarmatha (Head of the Sky). The Sherpas and Tibetans worship it as Chomolongma (Mother Goddess of the Earth). At an altitude of 8848m (29,022ft), Everest is the world’s highest peak and has been opened for commercial mountaineering for decades. It is part of the Great Himalayan Range, which stretches for some 800km (500 miles) and which includes a further eight peaks above 8000m (26,240ft). The countryside offers an astonishingly varied topography as the snowy mountain peaks give way to intricately green terraced hills, scenic rivers and tropical jungles in the interior.

For walkers and trekkers, Nepal is a true paradise: the picturesque hamlets and mountain villages are linked by hundreds of trails that have been used for centuries, with little change noticeable even today. The practicalities for trekking are now easy to arrange (see Sport & Activities section for further details). Numerous temples and Buddhist shrines can be also be discovered en route and visitors should make sure that, when visiting them, they stick to the proper religious protocol (see also Social Conventions in the Social Profile section).

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Information provided by Nepal Tourism Board.


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