Nepal is known for spirituality, its beautiful landscapes – tropical mountains, the people and the culture. Living in India and never traveled out of the country, this was the first foreign country I visited. And I am glad it was! Getting to Nepal if you are Indian is extremely easy – you just have to flash your national identity card (driver’s license, aadhar card, pan card, passport, etc) and you can cross the border without any questions asked. For people of other nationalities, you can get the visa on arrival. For a two week stay, you need to pay $25 along with a photograph and you’re all set! Since I love traveling on a budget, I decided to do the same. Not only do you get to save money (yay), but you also get a much more intimate travel experience, both of which are extremely important, if traveling is your thing. I went to Nepal without an itinerary and thought it would be best to figure things out as I go, keeping the season and what I would be told by the locals in mind. Here is a consolidated list of what you must absolutely not miss out on when you are in the Land of Peace-
The birthplace of Buddha, this is the first place you will encounter if you enter Nepal through the Sunauli border. What I loved about this place is that you can feel the peace flowing through you, even if you are not religious. Idols of Buddha can be spotted in the middle of nowhere, in forests, flashes of gold peeking in through the lush greenery. A place for Buddhism pilgrimage, Lumbini is filled with beautiful temples and monasteries. Panditrama Vipassana Centre is great for yoga workshops and attracts many yoga enthusiasts from all over the world.
Go to Swayambhunath Temple in Kathmandu
Another Buddhist Temple in the capital, Swayambhu temple is an escape from the bustle of the city. Even though there is traffic around, there is absolutely no honking (which is very surprising and I have never seen anything like that in India). But once in a while, being around trees and a lot of monkeys is all you need. Swayambhu temple is also fondly known as Monkey Temple, because of the sheer number of monkeys you get to see around the place. The temple has a swimming pool for all the monkeys to cool off in the heat, and you can stay there, watching these guys having the time of their lives, jumping and splashing around. I was almost envious. The temple also has a small marketplace where you can pick up a bunch of adorable souvenirs.
Swim in the Phewa lake (Pokhara)
The best time to visit Pokhara is September-October when you can see the entire Annapurna range from the lake. Choose from a boat ride, the variety of beautiful cafes or just put on your swimsuits and jump right in! Float all your worries away. In the evenings, jugglers, fire dancers, and musicians usually flock to the lakeside to display their talents and soon enough the scene changes to that of an impromptu party!
Discover great musicians all over Pokhara
Pokhara is a bustling hub for musicians from all over the world. Everyone is drawn to the mystical and spiritual aura Pokhara emits, and they find it best to create art in such a conducive space. Most of the cafes in Pokhara have live music almost every other day, and this is a great way to catch local and international musicians.
Try the variety of Nepali beers they have to offer
Nepal Ice, Everest, Gorkha and many more… Nepalis love their beer and after one sip, you will have no doubt that they like it strong! Usually, when you are invited to a local’s home for drinks, they like to eat meat along with their beer. The Nepalis do know how to get a party started!
Hike up to Dhampus
A village about 2 hours from Pokhara lakeside, Dhampus is quiet (almost too quiet) and serene. What makes this even more appealing is the view from up there–I remember reaching up and being completely flabbergasted by the sheer size of the Machhapuchhre.
Momos, momos and more momos!
Nepali food has a lot of Tibetan influence, which means one thing – Momos are readily available everywhere! Mutton momos, chicken momos and buffalo meat momos are very very popular here wherever you go.
Go to Phat Khat
If you are a budget traveler and prefer staying at hostels (like I do), you must go to Phat Khat, a backpacking hostel in Pokhara and Kathmandu. The hostel has a great vibe and even greater prices! The dorms are basic but extremely clean and safe. The food is delicious and the people there make the whole experience 10 times more pleasant. You get to interact with travelers from all over the world and learn so much more, more than you ever can from any article you may read online.
Marvel at the beauty of the Boudhnath
The Boudhnath is the biggest stupa in the world and is also a UNESCO world heritage site. What I love the most about Buddhist temples and stupas is that they are always painted with vibrant colors and emit so much peace and quiet. The Boudhnath is always perpetually crowded but you can not feel any rush or hurry among all the visitors. It is a beautiful temple and surrounding it, there are a variety of coffee shops, artifact stores, and restaurants. A great way to spend your evening!
Try your hand at Thangka paintings
A traditional art form which is super intricate and can be found almost all over the country, Thangka is beautiful and often tell the story of the ways and life of Buddha. Sign up for a workshop, try painting under a Thangka master and take the masterpiece home with you, as a small reminder of a wonderful place.